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Aquatic Plant ID

They go by different names. You may call them “weeds,” “grass” or “moss.” Aquatic plants are an integral part of the Tennessee River’s ecosystem, whether providing nutrients for the species at the bottom of the food chain, cover and ambush areas for largemouth bass or food source for the multitude of local waterfowl.

This guide provides information to help you understand when these plants are most productive, where they grow and—most importantly—help you identify them. Whether you are an angler, property owner or any other lake user, we invite you to learn more about the aquatic plants present in our Tennessee Valley region reservoirs.

The guide also offers season-by-season tips for fishing among these plants.

Floating and Floating Leaf Plants

American Lotus

American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea), a native species, will grow rapidly through the summer. Large colonies of the plant will form along the shoreline with some leaves floating and others standing high above the water resembling a tuba.


Duckweed (Lemna minor), native, is also known as water lentils or water lenses. This plant floats on or near the water’s surface.

Fragrant Waterlily

In early spring, patches of freshly sprouted fragrant waterlily (Nymphaea odorata), a native plant, can be some of the only vegetation actively growing in the area.

Frog's Bit

Frog's Bit (Limnobium spongia), a native plant, will likely go unnoticed in spring as the perennial grows back from overwintering buds, floating to the water surface to sprout new growth. Mature plants provide perfect cover for bass to ambush their prey.

Mosquito Fern

Mosquito Fern (Azolla caroliniana), native. may not be visible to the naked eye during early growth. Colonies become more apparent by late summer, growing thicker through fall.

Salvinia, Common

Common salvinia (Salvinia minima), a non-native species, rarely overwinters in the TVA system. It grows rapidly in warm weather, forming dense colonies.

Salvinia, Giant

Salvinia, Giant (Salvinia molesta), is a non-native plant. In late spring, it can form floating mats. Giant salvinia thrives in calm, backwater areas.


The submersed portions of spatterdock (Nuphar advena – formerly N. lutea), a native plant, provide refuge for baitfish and juvenile bass. The stems of spatterdock make excellent spots for predatory species like bass.

Water Hyacinth

Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), a non-native plant, will rapidly grow and expand, producing new plants that will result in large floating colonies.


Watermeal (Wolffia columbiana), is a native species. Individual plants are barely visible to the human eye, but colonies can cover the water’s surface.


Watershield (Brasenia schreberi), a native plant, beings to grow from an existing root system in late spring, sending up slime-covered leaves that eventually reach the water’s surface.

Shoreline Plants

Alligator Weed

Alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides), non-native. emerges from shoreline and near-shore areas in spring, vertical stems begin to spread along the water’s surface, forming an interwoven mat.


Arrowhead (Sagittaria sp.), native. takes its name from its distinctive shape. Arrowhead plants have long grown in the Tennessee Valley region.

Common Cattail

Waterfowl and other shoreline birds eat the seeds of the native common cattail (Typha latifolia) and use the plant for nesting.

Giant Cut Grass

The large seed head of the native giant cut grass (Zizaniopsis miliacea) releases seed into the water during fall as leaves will begin to die off and decay.


As native pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) drops seed and begins to decay in fall, areas of water will start to open up around the thick stands left over from summer.

Water Primrose

While most species of water primrose (Ludwigia sp.) are native to the region, Ludwigia hexapetala, Uruguayan water primrose, is non-native. Once water primrose reaches the surface, it will rapidly spread out across the water's surface, forming interwoven, impenetrable mats.


Native water-willow (Justicia americana) flowers in early summer through fall. It creates shoreline habitat for invertebrates and attracts various fish species.

Submersed Plants

American Pondweed

American pondweed (Potamogeton nodosus) is among the first grass to emerge from waterways, popping up in late April and early May. Waterfowl enjoy eating seeds from the native plant, but dense growth can impact water use.

Brazilian Elodea

Brazilian elodea (Egeria densa), a non-native plant acts much like an evergreen, coming back from existing plants in the spring. It grows fast, creating dense, tangled mats on the water’s surface.

Brittle Naiad

Brittle naiad (Najas minor), a non-native species, prefers to grow within stands of other vegetation. It is often found intermixed with other species, often resembling bright green clumps.

Canadian Elodea

Canadian elodea (Elodea canadensis) emerges in early spring from overwintering buds. While this native species is not as aggressive as other plants, its growth increases in the summer.


Native coontail (Ceratopyllum demersum) gets its name from its appearance. It absorbs nutrients from the water, helping improve water clarity in some cases, and provides food and water for fish and wildlife.

Curlyleaf Pondweed

Curlyleaf pondweed (Potamogeton crispus), a non-native plant, can thrive in areas with low water clarity. It emerges in early spring and blooms in June.


You will find two types of eelgrass in the Valley region, native Vallisneria americana and non-native "Rockstar" Hybrid (V. spiralus x V. densaserrulata). Eelgrass provides food and shelter to fish, waterfowl and sea turtles.

Eurasian Watermilfoil

Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), a non-native species can be a key resource for waterfowl in the Tennessee Valley region, not because of its nutritional value, but because of its abundance.


In fall, native fanwort (Cabomba caroliniana) mats seem to persist longer than those of native annuals like slender pondweed and southern naiad.


Two types of non-native hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata), D-hydrilla and M-hydrilla, have different growth habits but will both eventually form dense canopy mats during the summer.


Native muskgrass (Chara sp.) can be finicky in growth cycles, seeing boom and bust years. When in a “boom” year, muskgrass will likely be one of the first species to begin growing.

Parrot Feather

Non-native parrot feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum), a non-native plant grows well in calm, cool water. Introduced through the aquarium trade, this plant can be found in at least 26 states throughout the United States.

Sago Pondweed

Native sago pondweed (Potamogeton pectinatus) is among the first grass to appear in the spring. Waterfowl rely on it for food, consuming the whole plant.

Slender Pondweed

Slender pondweed (Potamogeton pusillus), a native plant, will begin dying back early in fall, opening up space between other plants.

Southern Naiad

Native southern naiad (Najas guadalupensis) will increase growth and begin to top out during summer. Reaching the surface, the plant will begin to flower and continue to bloom through fall.

Water Stargrass

Water Stargrass (Heteranthera dubia) Bright yellow star blooms just over the water surface make water stargrass easy to identify.