Coontail is a rootless submerged aquatic plant, native to most of the United States and Canada. Coontail ranges in color from light to olive green and is capable of forming dense colonies in the water column. The plant gets its name from the tight bunching of leaf whorls at each branch's end, resembling a “raccoon tail.” Coontail is commonly confused with many submerged species such as hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) and the macroalgae, chara (Chara spp.)
Above Coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum) with bifurcated leaves (Provided by aurther). Below, Chara sp. which lack bifurcation (Provided by Ryan O'Hanlon).
Where does it grow?
Generally speaking, coontail prefers slow-moving areas of streams and rivers and is common in ponds and lakes. Lacking true roots, coontail prefers eutrophic waters where it has easy access nutrients in the water column. In optimal conditions, coontail is capable of growing up to 5 inches per week, making it one of the fastest growing aquatic plants.
How tough is it?
Coontail is capable of tolerating a wide range of environmental conditions and grows well in low light areas. As a result, it can inhabit waterbodies that are not conducive to the growth of other species. Coontail is also very temperature tolerant and will actively grow in water as cold as 55ºF, allowing it to grow throughout much of the winter here in the south.
How is it beneficial?
Fruits and shoots of coontail are considered a desirable food source for many species of waterfowl. Its dense, bushy growth patterns create excellent habitat for juvenile fish and aquatic invertebrates. In some cases coontail can also be utilized as a filter for capturing suspended particles and removing nutrients from the water column.
How does it spread?
Like many other species of submerged aquatic vegetation, coontail has multiple vectors of reproduction. It is capable of multiplying from plant fragments or annual seed production. Since coontail lacks true roots, mature plants are capable breaking loose from the sediment, drifting, and establishing in new areas.
How to identify it from other plants?
As previously mentioned, coontail is often misidentified and confused with other common submerged species. Coontail has long fibrous stems containing rings or whorls of leaves that get denser near the tip. It can be distinguished from chara and hydrilla by the presence of bifurcation on each leaf, meaning that each individual leaf on the whorl has a fork. Coontail leaves also contain hornlike projections, giving it the nickname “hornwort.”
What else should you know about this plant?
Coontail is not commonly planted in ponds and lakes but is easily established. It is a unique, hardy plant, capable of tolerating conditions many other species can not. Overall, coontail is a desirable plant and can be very beneficial to wildlife and fish when present in acceptable quantities.
About the author:
Garrett Stamport earned his bachelors degree from Texas A&M in 2022. While in College Station he spent time working at the Aquatic Research and Teaching Facility and the Aquatic Diagnostics lab. After graduation, he started Stamport Pond and Wetland Management before working for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. He is now the fisheries biologist at Pristine Pond Solutions managing aquatic plants, conducting fisheries surveys, fish stockings etc.