Freshwater Marsh

These are common plants found in Virginia’s tidal freshwater marshes where the salinity remains less than five parts per thousand.  These plants decompose rapidly and completely each winter giving the appearance of a mud flat, then they re-appear each spring.

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.

Yellow pond lily (Nuphar lutea)

Forms large colonies in tidal and non-tidal ponds, streams, and freshwater marshes; leaves and flower stalks emerge from rhizomes in spring; Yellow bulbous flowers bloom May to October with broadcast seed dispersal on water surface, followed by rapid decay of leaves and flower stalks in fall; provides cover for fish and attachment sites for small aquatic animals; waterfowl eat the seeds.

Soft rush (Juncus effusus)

This plant resembles black needlerush of saltwater marshes but it is not nearly as stiff 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.

Common threesquare (Schoenoplectus pungens) 

A sedge with stout, triangular cross-section stems; Grows in freshwater and low salinity tidal marshes and along high-energy intertidal shores; waterfowl eat seeds, muskrat gather stems for lodge construction.

Marsh hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos)

A perennial that grows up to 6 feet tall with large, showy white or pink flowers and a rose-red flower center.  Blooms July to September.  Leaves are alternate with irregularly serrated edges, smooth above and velvety underneath.  Also grows well in regular garden soil and containers.

Marsh mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica)

A perennial 2 to 4 feet tall with pink blooms 1 to 2 inches across from July to August.  Both the stems and foliage are rough to the touch because of dense star-shaped hairs visible only with a hand lens

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.

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.