Clumps of pickerelweed, an emergent perennial, are found along the shallows of Sandy Lake, in northeast Ohio. Identified by their rich green leaves (heart to lance shaped) and purple flower spikes, these plants are native to eastern North America, from Labrador to Florida and Texas.
Favoring the shallow rim of ponds and lakes, pickerelweed may also colonize sluggish, meandering streams. Since it spreads by both seed and rhizomes, this aquatic plant often forms extensive colonies and helps to stabilize shorelines and river banks. It is also highly beneficial to wildlife; a variety of bees and butterflies feast on and pollinate its flowers, deer, muskrats and ducks feed on its foliage, fruits and seeds and dense clumps of pickerelweed provide cover for waterfowl and fish. Even humans consume its leaves and seeds.
Gliding past a stand of pickerelweed in my kayak, I notice the pollinators and the numerous predatory insects (dragonflies and damselflies) that hover above the plants, snaring mosquitos, gnats and other small prey. What I cannot see are the nurseries of numerous aquatic invertebrates that lie beneath the surface, thriving amidst the tangles of roots and stems; these tiny creatures are primary consumers, vital to the ecology of ponds, lakes and rivers.