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Coontail

Ceratophyllum demersum

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

Coontail is made up of slender, densely branched stems that can grow to 8 feet long and stiff, forked leaves with fine teeth along one edge. Leaves grow in whorls of 9 to 10 along each stem. Whorls become more crowded toward the tip of the stems. Leaves keep their shape when taken out of the water. With no true root system, the plant to floats freely in the water

Habitat:

This grass grows mostly in still or slow-moving fresh waters. It is usually found in areas with moderate to high nutrient levels. It floats in dense masses just beneath the water’s surface and can also grow near the bottom in channels and other deep areas. It is sometimes found within large beds of other types of bay grasses.

Range:

Coontail is found in the upper Chesapeake Bay and in freshwater streams, rivers, lakes and ponds throughout the Bay watershed. It also grows in the low salinity waters of some moderately brackish tidal rivers such as Maryland’s Middle River and the Potomac River near Alexandria, Virginia.

Predators:

Migratory waterfowl feed on coontail.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

This grass usually reproduces asexually when stem fragments break off in autumn, overwinter on the bottom and develop into new plants in spring. It also 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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