Underwater Atrium

It’s officially summer, and that means (hopefully) sunny days are ahead of us and the rain is gone! If that turns out to be the case, wetlands are always an excellent place to visit at twilight to appreciate natural beauty. Flickr member cindy-lou-boo captured this excellent photograph, titled “Underwater Atrium”, on a clear evening at a local wetland. A refreshing change from the usual terrestrial images showcased, we thought this photo would be an excellent opportunity to highlight the thriving aquatic life that wetlands provide!

Plants that exist in wetlands are unique; after all, they have to be highly tolerant of constant water exposure. These plants are a small and specialized group within the plant world, and are known to be aquatic plantsalso referred to as hydrophytes. They contain systems or mechanisms that enable them to capture and deliver oxygen to their roots! The systems and/or mechanisms by which they achieve this varies: some have openings on the surface of their leaves, others have air spaces or several trunks.

Throughout the world, and even throughout British Columbia, the types of aquatic plants that are present in wetlands vary. This variance results from the fact that an array of factors determine what plants are suitable for growth in a given wetland: the water levels and flows, underlying geology, and the acidity, for example. Four classes of hydrophytes exist: submerged, floating, emergent, and surrounding. In this photo of the month, it is evident we are looking at submerged hydrophytes.

Two examples of common submerged hydrophytes are eelgrass and pondweed. Eelgrass are magnificent, in that they can grow to form large, tall underwater meadows. Pondweed, meanwhile, refers to many species and genera that occur throughout the world. Elodea (waterweeds) and Potamogeton (often referred to as pondweed), are the two types that can be found in Canada. Elodea is typically known as the ‘generic water weed’, and can be found in many locations. 

Despite the importance and abundance of submerged plants in wetlands, most people will think of lilies when the topic of aquatic plants comes up. These plants, such as the yellow pond lily (Nuphar polysepalum), will typically occur in shallow-water wetlands where water supply remains year-round with large fluctuations in levels. Duckweeds are a less well-known example, but are common in many wetland systems. Like lilies, these are classified as floating hydrophytes, and therefore have small roots and are found in slow-moving, nutrient-rich bodies of water (ie. many wetlands). 

Together, the four classes of hydrophytes – submerged, floating, emergent, and surrounding – make up the flora we see in our wetlands. Given the vast variety of wetland flora, one could read for weeks about the topic. If you’d like to educate yourself more on the topic, why not visit a wetland? Most wetlands will have informative signs that will educate visitors about the flora; at the very least, you may see certain aquatic plants that interest you and thus provide you with a starting point to be a researcher! Turns out wetlands are good for education, and not just nature!

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