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Coontail

Ceratophyllum demersum

Coontail keeps its shape when taken out of water. (Maryland Department of Natural Resources)
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Coontail keeps its shape when taken out of water. (Maryland Department of Natural Resources)

Coontail is a bushy-looking bay grass with whorls of stiff, forked leaves along densely branched stems. It grows mostly in quiet freshwater areas such as the upper Chesapeake Bay and rivers, streams, lakes and ponds throughout the Bay watershed.

Appearance:

  • Slender, densely branched stems that can grow to 8 feet long
  • Stiff, forked leaves with fine teeth along one edge
  • Leaves grow in whorls of 9-10 along each stem
  • Whorls become more crowded toward the tip of the stems
  • Leaves keep their shape when taken out of the water
  • No true root system, which allows the plant to float freely in the water

Habitat:

  • Grows mostly in still or slow-moving fresh waters
  • Usually found in areas with moderate to high nutrient levels
  • Floats in dense masses just beneath the water’s surface
  • Can also grow near the bottom in channels and other deep areas
  • Sometimes found within large beds of other types of bay grasses

Range:

  • Found in the upper Chesapeake Bay and in freshwater streams, rivers, lakes and ponds throughout the Bay watershed
  • Also grows in some moderately brackish tidal rivers such as Maryland’s Middle River and the Potomac River near Alexandria, Virginia

Predators:

  • Migratory waterfowl

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Usually reproduces asexually when stem fragments break off in autumn, overwinter on the bottom and develop into new plants in spring
  • Occasionally reproduces sexually when the plants flower and produce tiny nut-like seeds

Other Facts:

  • Also known as hornwort
  • Gets its name from its appearance, which is similar to a raccoon’s tail
  • Provides important shade, shelter and spawning areas for some fish
  • Can be confused with Eurasian watermilfoil. You can distinguish coontail by its stiff leaves that keep their shape when taken out of the water.

Sources and Additional Information:

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