Ecology of Wetland Plants
Plants have evolved many mechanisms to survive in wetlands, ecosystems that have both good and bad attributes. On the good side, wetlands typically have plenty of water and the nutrient supply is often adequate to support plant growth. Wetlands are thus among the most productive ecosystems on earth and plant growth is often greater than the most productive agricultural crops.

On the negative side, wetland soils are sometimes saturated which mean that there is very little oxygen for plant roots. Saturated substrates also can contain chemicals that are naturally produced under waterlogged conditions by the plants themselves or by microbes. Many of the chemicals are toxic to plants and animals. As one might expect, the range of physical and chemical conditions associated with wetlands has resulted in a wide range of evolutionary adaptations that are of ecological interest.

People who study wetland plants typically divide them into three groups based on how closely they are affiliated with wetlands. Obligate wetland plants must live and grow in wetlands in order to survive. Facultative wetland species can do equally well in wetlands and non-wetland habitats and facultative upland species do best in non-wetland habitats but are able to grow in wetlands. The two species that we use as examples of our research on wetland plants are obligates.

In areas near SERC, Swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) occurs in non-tidal freshwater wetlands, tidal freshwater wetlands, and brackish wetlands. Three-square (Scirpus olneyi ) is limited to brackish wetlands. Click on the species name to learn more about these two wetland species.

Top of page