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Living Shorelines: Freshwater Marsh Plants

There is plant diversity in fresh water marshes. Some of these plants also grow at the upland margin of salt marshes where fresh water drains or collects.

Peltandra virginicaPeltandra virginica

Arrow arum - Peltandra virginica. The dominant characteristics of this plant are the large triangular leaf blades and the pod-like fruiting heads. Leaves emerge in May or June and surround a fleshy, cylindrical inflorescence. In late summer and early autumn, the inflorescence transforms into a pod-like seed case drooping into the marsh and releasing its seeds.


Pickerelweed - Pontederia cordata. Grows from 2-4 ft. tall in association with arrow arum. The leaves of the pickerelweed are heart-shaped with closely paralleling veins. The inflorescence is a spike of blue flowers on a single leaf-like bract. Blooming period runs from May to October.

Soft rush

Soft rush - Juncus effusus. This plant resembles black needlerush of saltwater marshes but it is not nearly as still or have the sharp tip. The branched inflorescence emerges from the stem which stands 1-1/2 to 3 ft tall. It flowers from June through August.

Marsh hibiscus

Marsh hibiscus or rose mallow - Hibiscus moscheutos. Has large showy white hibiscus flowers and alternate leaves. Grows up to 12 ft. and blooms July to September.

Button Bush
Button Bush Fruit

Button bush - Cephalanthus occidentalis. This bush stands 4 to 10 ft. tall with multibranched stems. Opposite leaves are leathery smooth on the upper surface with even margins. White ball-like flowers emerge from early summer through late fall. Seeds or nutlets result in a brown sphere and are eaten by wood ducks.

Kosteletzkya virginica

Marsh mallow - Kosteletzkya virginica. Has showy pink hibiscus-like flowers with alternate leaves that have dense hairs. It grows 2-3 feet and blooms from July to August.

Typha augustifolia

Narrow-leaved cattail - Typha angustifolia. Has narrow leaves and a characteristic velvety, brown flower spike with a distinct gap between the upper, male portion (staminate) and the lower, female (pistillate) portion. The broad-leaved cattail, Typha latifolia, is more common in freshwater marshes and can be recognized by no gap between the staminate and pistillate portions of the spike and wider leaves 1-1/2 inches wide. Rootstocks of both species are eaten by geese and muskrats.