Streams, ponds, wetlands

Protecting our water

If your property includes a wetland, such as a permanent or intermittent stream or river, or a pond or a lake, or a swamp or a marsh, it is important to protect water quality by providing a buffer of native plants between the wetland and any developed area including mown lawn. Ideally, that should be at least 100 feet wide, though any buffer is better than nothing.

However, PLEASE NOTE! If the wetland is already buffered by natural vegetation, it is our job to control invasive plants, and we should avoid adding new species, as that will disturb the existing plant community. Be a good steward by letting the native plants and wildlife sort themselves out the way they have been doing for thousands of years. But if you have been mowing down to the edge of a stream or a pond, why not stop mowing and fill the area with native plants? Try to choose ones that normally would be there - see below for guidance. By planting combinations that occur in nature, you are more likely to be creating real habitat in which the complicated interactions between flora and fauna can play out.

 

Properties that include streams are the last bulwark against the damage inflicted by runoff from impervious surfaces. This “riparian buffer” captures and cleans stormwater runoff that can erode the banks and flood the streams. That floodwater carries tons of sediment down to the Chesapeake Bay, where it buries the sea grasses that are the basis of the ecosystem there. In addition, healthy streams need to be lined with trees to keep the water temperature cool and to provide leaves to feed the underwater ecosystem.  The Commonwealth has a brochure on this subject.

Before you think about adding more, try to identify the plants that are there. Natives worth keeping may already be growing there. Don't make the mistake of taking things out that you may later discover are valuable natives! Apps such as iNaturalist can help, and you can also invite an Audubon-at-Home Ambassador to take a look.

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Do you need a permit?

Land-disturbing activities are prohibited within floodplains or within 100 feet of a stream, shore, or wetland, whether the land is publicly or privately owned, unless you obtain a permit. (“Land-disturbing” includes removal of vegetation and planting new plants.)  Maps of these “Resource Protection Areas” can be found here.

Choosing plants

The spreadsheet below of plants that are currently available for sale can give you guidance about which native plants to choose. There are two reasons to give this thoughtful consideration.

  • How wet the soil is will determine which plants will flourish.

  • Restoring a functional ecosystem means combining species that normally live in community and thus support the complicated web of associated animal species. Biodiversity includes not only many plant species but also a variety of heights - canopy and understory trees, shrubs, and the ground layer.

 

Along streams, there are plants that live on the side of the banks where their roots have good drainage but there may be occasional flooding. In the lower reaches of streams, the next zone is floodplains - the soil is saturated intermittently - or swamps or marshes with permanently saturated soil. Upstream, smaller streams that never jump their banks do not have floodplains (or only have tiny areas within the banks) but are simply buffered by woods. It is ideal to determine the plant community type of nearby woods to guide your planting decisions. But if you are planting a riparian buffer near a stream or pond that has minimal floodplain (and no bordering swamp or marsh), choosing plants from the Mixed Mesic plant community would be a good guess. 

Ponds and lakes in Northern Virginia are human-made creations, so there is no local natural reference. You can use the same scheme as for streams plus add marginal plants - ones that actually grow in the standing water.

In all cases, also check the light requirement for each species.

Marshes are sunny wetlands, swamps are wooded.

If your property is in a tidal area, or includes a seep or bog, note the column for that. Wetlands are precious. Please consult an expert in plant communities before attempting to “help” them.

This is a very big spreadsheet. To open it in Google Drive or download it from there, click here.  The term "forb" is what gardeners know as perennials and annuals (most of these are perennial.)

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Scientific name
Common name
Category
shade
part_sun
sun
Marginal (in the water)
Water depth
Stream banks (the side of the channel)
Flood plain (intermittently saturated)
Woodland just uphill from floodplain (Mixed Mesic Hardwood Forests)
Swamp (constantly saturated)
Inland marsh (constantly saturated)
Swamp hummocks
Freshwater tidal
Seep or seepage swamp
Bog
Floating
Comments
Liquidambar styraciflua
Sweetgum
Tree
x
x
x
x
x
x
Usually seen in floodplain forests where they may be periodically inundated but soils are usually unsaturated
Liriodendron tulipifera
Tulip-tree
Tree
x
x
Magnolia virginiana
Sweetbay Magnolia, Swamp Magnolia
Tree
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Bogs and swamps, not floodplains
Nyssa sylvatica
Black Gum
Tree
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Usually seen in floodplain forests where they may be periodically inundated but soils are usually unsaturated
Ostrya virginiana
Hophornbeam
Tree
x
x
x
x
Oxydendrum arboreum
Sourwood
Tree
x
x
x
Pinus taeda
Loblolly Pine
Tree
x
x
x
Not a NOVA native?
Platanus occidentalis
American sycamore
Tree
x
x
x
x
x
Prunus serotina var. serotina
Black cherry
Tree
x
x
Quercus alba
White Oak
Tree
x
x
x
Quercus bicolor
Swamp White Oak
Tree
x
x
x
x
Quercus coccinea
Scarlet Oak
Tree
x
x
Quercus falcata
Southern Red Oak
Tree
x
x
Quercus michauxii
Swamp Chestnut Oak, Basket Oak
Tree
x
x
x
x
x
Quercus palustris
Pin Oak
Tree
x
x
x
Usually seen in floodplain forests where they may be periodically inundated but soils are usually unsaturated
Quercus phellos
Willow Oak
Tree
x
x
x
x
x
Usually seen in floodplain forests where they may be periodically inundated but soils are usually unsaturated
Quercus shumardii
Shumard Oak
Tree
x
x
Quercus stellata
Post Oak
Tree
x
x
x
Quercus velutina
Black Oak
Tree
x
x
x
Salix nigra
Black Willow
Tree
x
x
x
x
x
Black willow typically grows at the edges of ponds or lakes or swamp hummocks, low energy flood zones where the root plate is above the normal saturation zone
Sassafras albidum
Sassafras
Tree
x
x
x
Taxodium distichum
Bald Cypress
Tree
x
x
x
0-3 feet
x
x
x
Not a NOVA native?
Carya glabra
Pignut Hickory
Tree
x
x
x
Carya ovata
Shagbark Hickory
Tree
x
x
x
Carya tomentosa
Mockernut Hickory
Tree
x
x
x
Cornus florida
Flowering Dogwood
Tree
x
x
Bignonia capreolata
Cross-vine
Vine
x
x
x
x
x
x
Campsis radicans
Trumpet Creeper
Vine
x
x
x
Clematis virginiana
Virgin’s-bower
Vine
x
x
x
x
Lonicera sempervirens
Coral Honeysuckle
Vine
x
x
x
Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Virginia Creeper
Vine
x
x
x
x
x
x
Scirpus cyperinus
Woolgrass bulrush
Grass
x
x
0-6"
x
x
x
x
x
Typha angustifolia
Narrow-leaf Cattail
Grass
x
x
x
0-12"
x
Typha latifolia
Common Cattail
Grass
x
x
x
0-12"
x
x
x
Zizania aquatica
Southern Wild Rice
Grass
x
x
0-12"
x
Chasmanthium laxum
Slender Wood Oats
Grass
x
x
x
Danthonia spicata
Poverty Oat Grass
Grass
x
x
x
x
Aronia arbutifolia
Red Chokeberry
Shrub
x
x
x
x
Aronia melanocarpa (Photinia melanocarpa)
Black Chokeberry
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
Baccharis halimifolia
High Tide Bush, Groundsel Tree, Mullet Bush
Shrub
x
x
Can tolerate the edge of standing water. also colonizing moist, abused land, roadsides, ditches, old fields, and a variety of other disturbed areas,
Cephalanthus occidentalis
Buttonbush
Shrub
x
x
x
0-3'
x
x
x
Cornus amomum
Silky Dogwood
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
Eubotrys racemosus
Fetterbush, Swamp Dog Hobble
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Found on acidic, low nutrient soils. Usually seen in areas where their root plate is above the saturation zone.
Euonymus americanus
Strawberry-bush, Heart’s-a-bustin’
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
Gaylussacia baccata
Black Huckleberry
Shrub
x
x
x
x
Hamamelis virginiana
Witch Hazel
Shrub
x
x
x
x
Hydrangea arborescens
Smooth Hydrangea
Shrub
x
x
x
At least a couple feet above the normal waterline
Ilex decidua
Possum-Haw
Shrub
x
x
x
Ilex verticillata
Winterberry, Winterberry Holly, Black Alder
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Usually seen in areas where their root plate is above the saturation zone.
Itea virginica
Virginia Willow, Virginia Sweetspire
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
x
Lindera benzoin
Spicebush
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
A couple feet above the normal waterline
Physocarpus opulifolius
Ninebark
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
Rhododendron maximum
Great Rhododendron
Shrub
x
x
x
x
Rhododendron periclymenoides
Pinxterbloom Azalea
Shrub
x
x
x
Rhododendron viscosum
Swamp Azalea, Clammy Azalea
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
x
Rosa palustris
Swamp Rose
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Salix sericea
Silky Willow
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
x
Sambucus canadensis
Common Elderberry, American Elder
Shrub
x
x
x
x
Spiraea alba
Meadowsweet
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Vaccinium corymbosum
Highbush Blueberry, Northern Highbush Blueberry
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Found on acidic, low nutrient soils. Usually seen in areas where their root plate is above the saturation zone.
Vaccinium fuscatum
Black Highbush Blueberry
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Likes swamp hummocks & vernal pools as well as floodplains. Acid soil. Best fruit in full sun.
Vaccinium pallidum
Early Lowbush Blueberry
Shrub
x
x
x
Viburnum dentatum
Arrow-wood, Southern Arrow-wood Viburnum
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Viburnum nudum
Possum-haw Viburnum, Southern Wild Raisin
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Viburnum prunifolium
Blackhaw Viburnum, Nannyberry
Shrub
x
x
x
x
Morella cerifera
Wax Myrtle, Southen Bayberry
Shrub
x
x
x
x
x
Alnus serrulata
Smooth Alder, Hazel Alder
Tree
x
x
x
x
x
Alder typically grows at the edges of ponds or lakes or swamp hummocks, low energy flood zones where the root plate is above the normal saturation zone
Acer rubrum
Red Maple
Tree
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Seems to create its own hummocks in a swamp
Amelanchier arborea
Downy Serviceberry
Tree
x
x
x
x
x
x
At least a couple feet above the normal waterline
Amelanchier canadensis
Canadian Serviceberry
Tree
x
x
x
x
x
x
Amelanchier laevis
Smooth Serviceberry
Tree
x
x
x
x
Asimina triloba
Paw Paw
Tree
x
x
x
x
x
x
Betula nigra
River Birch
Tree
x
x
x
Carpinus caroliniana
American Hornbeam, Ironwood
Tree
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Carya cordiformis
Bitternut Hickory
Tree
x
x
x
x
Celtis occidentalis
Common Hackberry
Tree
x
x
x
x
Chionanthus virginicus
Fringe Tree
Tree
x
x
x
x
x
At least a couple feet above the normal waterline
Diospyros virginiana
Common or American Persimmon
Tree
x
x
x
Fagus grandifolia
American Beech
Tree
x
x
x
x
Ilex opaca
American Holly
Tree
x
x
x
x
Juniperus virginiana
Eastern Red Cedar
Tree
x
x
x
x
Packera aurea
Golden Ragwort
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Peltandra virginica
Arrow Arum, Green Arrow Arum, Tuckahoe
Forb
x
x
x
0-6"
x
x
x
Phlox maculata
Meadow Phlox, Wild Sweet William
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Podophyllum peltatum
Mayapple
Forb
x
x
x
Pontederia cordata
Pickerel Weed
Forb
Full sun
x
x
0-12"
x
x
Pycnanthemum tenuifolium
Narrow-leaf or Slender Mountain-mint
Forb
x
x
x
Rhexia virginica
Virginia Meadow Beauty, Deergrass
Forb
x
"depression ponds"
?
x
Rudbeckia laciniata
Cut-leaf Coneflower, Common Cut-leaf Coneflower, Green-headed Coneflower
Forb
x
x
riverbanks
x
x
x
x
x
Sagittaria graminea
Grass-leaved Arrowhead
Forb
x
x
x
0-12"
x
Sagittaria latifolia
Wildenow
Forb
x
x
0-3"
x
x
stream margins
Saururus cernuus
Lizardtail
Forb
x
x
x
0-6"
x
x
Scutellaria integrifolia
Rough or Hyssop Skullcap, Helmet Flower
Forb
x
x
"ponds"
?
x
x
x
x
x
Sisyrinchium angustifolium
Narrow-leaved Blue-eyed-grass
Forb
x
x
x
Solidago rugosa
Wrinkle-leaved Goldenrod
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
Symphyotrichum lateriflorum
Calico Aster
Forb
x
x
Symphyotrichum novi-belgii
New York Aster
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
Symphyotrichum racemosum
Small White Aster
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
x
Thalictrum pubescens (T. polygamum)
Common Tall Meadow Rue, King of the Meadow
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Verbena hastata
Blue Vervain, Common Vervain, Swamp Verbena
Forb
x
x
riverbanks
x
Vernonia noveboracensis
New York Ironweed
Forb
x
x
riverbanks
x
x
x
x
Veronicastrum virginicum
Culver's-root
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Viola pubescens
Yellow or Downy Yellow Violet
Forb
x
x
Viola sororia
Common Violet
Forb
x
x
x
x
Viola striata
Striped White or Cream Violet
Forb
x
x
Zizia aurea
Golden-alexanders
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
x
Aralia spinosa
Devil's Walking Stick
Forb
x
x
x
Andropogon virginicus
Broomsedge, Broomstraw, Sedge Grass
Grass
x
"Depression ponds"
Carex amphibola
Eastern Narrowleaf Sedge
Grass
x
x
x
x
Carex crinita
Long-fringed Sedge
Grass
x
x
x
0-6"
x
x
x
x
x
Carex glaucodea
Blue wood sedge
Grass
x
x
x
x
Carex grayii
Gray's Sedge
Grass
x
x
x
x
?
x
x
x
Carex laxiculmis
Spreading sedge
Grass
x
x
x
Carex lupulina
Hop Sedge
Grass
x
x
x
x
0-6"
x
x
x
Carex lurida
Lurid Sedge
Grass
x
x
x
x
0-6"
x
x
x
x
Carex radiata
Eastern Star Sedge
Grass
x
x
x
x
x
Carex rosea
Rosy Sedge
Grass
x
x
x
Carex stricta
Tussock Sedge
Grass
x
x
x
0-6"
x
x
x
x
x
x
Carex swanii
Swan's Sedge
Grass
x
x
x
x
Carex vulpinoidea
Fox Sedge
Grass
x
x
x
0-6"
x
x
x
Chasmanthium latifolium
Northern Sea Oats
Grass
x
x
x
x
x
Dichanthelium clandestinum
Deer-Tongue Grass
Grass
x
x
x
x
x
Dulichium arundinaceum
Three-Way Sedge
Grass
x
x
x
x
0-4"
x
x
x
Elymus riparius
Riverbank Wild Rye
Grass
x
x
x
x
Elymus virginicus
Virginia Wild Rye
Grass
x
x
x
x
x
Equisetum hyemale
Tall Scouring Rush, Scouring Horsetail
Grass
x
x
x
x
0-6"
Riverbanks
x
Juncus effusus
Common rush
Grass
x
x
x
0-6"
x
x
x
Lemna minor
Common duckweed
Grass
x
Limnobium spongia
American Frogbit
Grass
x
x
x
Panicum virgatum
Switchgrass
Grass
x
x
x
x
x
Saccharum giganteum
Giant Plumegrass
Grass
x
x
x
?
x
x
Matteuccia struthiopteris
Ostrich fern
Fern
x
x
x
Onoclea sensibilis
Sensitive Fern, Bead Fern
Fern
x
x
x
x
x
x
Osmunda spectabilis var. spectabilis
Royal Fern
Fern
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Favors seeps
Osmundastrum cinnamomeum
Cinnamon Fern
Fern
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Likes swamp hummocks
Parathelypteris noveboracensis
New York fern
Fern
x
x
x
x
x
Polystichum acrostichoides
Christmas Fern
Fern
x
x
x
Pteridium aquilinum
Bracken Fern
Fern
x
x
x
Asplenium platyneuron
Ebony Spleenwort
Fern
x
x
x
Athyrium asplenioides (Athyrium filix-femina)
Southern Lady Fern
Fern
x
x
Polygonatum biflorum
Solomon's Seal
Forb
x
x
x
Arisaema triphyllum
Common Jack-in-the-pulpit
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
Asclepias incarnata
Swamp Milkweed
Forb
x
x
? "River and stream shores"
x
x
x
Azolla caroliniana
Mosquito Plant
Forb
Floodplain sloughs and pools
x
x
Brasenia schreberi
Watershield
Forb
x
x
Caltha palustris
Marsh Marigold, Cowslip
Forb
x
x
x
0-1
x
Chelone glabra
White Turtlehead
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Conoclinium coelestinum
Mistflower, Ageratum
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
Dicentra eximia
Wild Bleeding heart
Forb
x
x
"cobbly terraces and stream banks formed in massive alluvial fans"
Eupatorium perfoliatum
Boneset, Common Boneset
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Eutrochium dubium
Joe-pye-weed "Little Joe)
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
Eutrochium fistulosum
Purple Joe-pye-weed
Forb
x
x
x
Riverbanks
x
x
x
x
Eutrochium maculatum
Spotted Joe Pye Weed
Forb
x
x
x
Fragaria virginiana
Wild Strawberry
Forb
x
x
Gentiana clausa
Bottle Gentian, Closed Gentian
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
Goodyera pubescens
Downy Rattlesnake Plantain
Forb
x
x
Helenium autumnale
Sneezeweed
Forb
x
x
x
x
?
Riverbanks
x
x
x
x
Helianthus angustifolius
Narrow-leaved Sunflower
Forb
x
x
0-2
x
Hexastylis virginica
Wild Ginger
Forb
x
x
Hibiscus laevis
Halberdleaf Rosemallow
Forb
x
x
x
?
x
Hibiscus moscheutos
Swamp or Eastern Rose-mallow
Forb
x
x
x
0-6"
"river shores"
x
x
x
x
Houstonia caerulea
Common Bluet
Forb
x
x
Hydrocotyle umbellata
Marsh Water Pennywort
Forb
x
x
x
0-6"
x
x
x
Hydrocotyle verticillata
Pennywort
Forb
x
x
x
x
Impatiens capensis
Orange Jewelweed, Spotted Jewelweed
Forb
x
x
x
0-4"
x
x
x
x
x
Iris versicolor
Water Iris
Forb
x
x
x
0-6"
x
x
x
Iris virginica
Virginia Blueflag, Southern Blueflag
Forb
x
x
x
"A few inches over the crown"
x
x
x
Lilium canadense
Canada Lily
Forb
x
x
x
x
Lilium superbum
Turk's Cap Lily
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
Lobelia cardinalis
Cardinal Flower
Forb
x
x
x
x
0-3"
x
x
x
x
x
Lobelia siphilitica
Great Blue Lobelia
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Ludwigia alternifolia
Seedbox
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
Lycopus uniflorus
Northern Bugleweed
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
x
Near the waterline
Lysimachia ciliata
Fringed Yellow Loosestrife
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
x
Mitchella repens
Partridgeberry
Forb
x
x
x
Mertensia virginica
Virginia Bluebell
Forb
x
x
x
Mimulus ringens
Square-stemmed Monkeyflower, Allegheny Monkeyflower
Forb
x
x
x
x
x
Monarda didyma
Scarlet Beebalm, Oswego Tea
Forb
x
x
x
x
Nymphaea odorata
Fragrant Waterlily
Forb
x
x
x
Orontium aquatic
Golden Clubtail
Forb
x
x
0-18"
x
x
x
Osmorhiza claytonii
Sweet Cicely {or O. longistylis}
Forb
x
x

Looking for design ideas?

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources has posted planting plans for 24 “buffer” gardens, from small to large.

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