by Dylan Reynolds
December 26, 2019
Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) is a dazzling perennial plant found in freshwater ponds, lakes and tidal wetlands throughout the Chesapeake Bay. The aquatic plant has broad, heart-shaped leaves and vibrant stalks of violet-blue flowers, which produce a sweet nectar that attracts bees, butterflies and other pollinators. It takes its name from the pickerel, or the northern pike—a freshwater gamefish that inhabitants similar environments to the pickerelweed.
Pickerelweed plays an important role in protecting the Bay’s wetland habitat. It has a dense, mat-like root system that holds sediment in place, therefore preventing erosion along unstable shorelines. Pickerelweed is a hardy plant and can withstand heavy flooding, making it an ideal addition to wetland regions throughout the Bay.
Wetlands are critical in supporting the healthy waters and diverse wildlife of the Bay region. They act like a buffer between land and water, soaking up storm surges and trapping polluted runoff. Plants such as pickerelweed go a long way in conserving this valuable resource by minimizing wetland damage from shoreline development and rising sea levels.
Pickerelweed is also an asset to the Bay’s wetland wildlife. The pickerelweed’s fan-like leaves and densely clustered stems provide cover for a variety of wetland fish, birds, insects and small mammals. Ducks and rodents eat the plant’s fruits, while animals such as deer, geese and carp snack on its leaves, roots and stems.
Pickerelweed can also make a tasty snack for humans. It produces nutritious, flavorful seeds that you can mix into a bowl of granola or even roast in the oven. The plant’s leaves are also edible and can be eaten raw in salads, or else boiled and served in melted butter.
Pickerelweed is sometimes confused with arrow arum, a similar looking plant that grows in wetland environments. You can distinguish arrow arum from pickerelweed by its arrowhead-shaped leaves and white flowers.
Whether it’s protecting our wetlands, beautifying our waterways or adding some flavor to our plates, pickerelweed is an invaluable contributor to life in the Bay watershed.