• Ryan O'Hanlon

Species Profile: Eel Grass

Updated: 5 days ago

Vallisneria americana

Eel grass

Species Profile

Introduction

The name eel grass, also called tape grass and wild celery, describes this plant well. Its green leaves are long, 3+ feet in the right conditions. It naturally occurs throughout most of North American and it's a staple in fisheries management. The females produce flowers in spring through fall, and the seed pods resemble those of green beans.


Where does it grow?

As a submerged plant, eel grass can be found in streams, ponds and lakes. The depth it grows in is dependent on light availability and frequency of high flow events.


How tough is it?

It is very hardy, on occasion staying green through winter in southern states. It will however struggle in water bodies with carp species such as the common carp (Cyprinus carpio) and grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella), as herbivorous species seem to favor it.


How is it beneficial?

It’s most frequently used for fisheries management. The underwater forest the long leaves construct, provide a wonderfully complex habitat for aquatic bugs and fish. It’s common for fisherman to target areas with eel grass. A ‘hidden’ benefit is the root system, which holds soils and sediments on the bottom of a water body. They will also utilize nutrients in those soils and sediments. Preventing the nutrients from being released into the water column helps maintain water quality.

How does it spread/grow?

Local spread is typically via daughter plants called runners. This creates a carpeted forest, covering nearly every inch of hospitable space. Like many other plants we discuss, these runners can be divided to easily spread the plant. They also produce seeds after flowering. Seed pods can typically be seen in the summer and fall. To create these pods, the female will open its flower at the water's surface, where floating pollen will be collected.

How to tell it from other plants?

Eel grass is almost one of a kind. There are a few other similar species, but they are associated with the aquarium hobby.


What else should you know about this plant?

The habitat this plant can create cannot be underestimated. It’s frequently utilized in habitat restoration projects and fisheries management.


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