Wild Celery (Vallisneria americana): Food for Wildlife

Other Names: Eel-grass, tape-grass, water-celery, Vallisneria

Plant Family: Frog’s-bit, Hrdrocharitaceae

Wetland Indicator Status: OBL

This is a submergent plant usually found growing in water from 2.75- 6 feet, often in firm substrate, with excellent benefits to wildlife (see below).  Wild Celery’s (Vallisneria americana) reproductive cycle is fascinating.  Female flowers rise to the surface of the water on long thin stalks that arise from the base of the plant.  The male flowers near the base of the plant release and float to the surface where they release pollen, which then floats to the surface and reaches and fertilizes the female flowers by chance.  After fertilization occurs the female flower stalk begins to coil like a telephone cord, pulling the developing seeds down near the bottom.

At the end of the growing season Wild Celery does what is sometimes called “sloughing off”.  This is where the leaves and small roots dislodge from the sediment, float to the surface, and invariably get deposited on or along someone’s shoreline.  This can cause the impression that there is a large, dense plant bed growing along a shore when in fact it is a large, somewhat annoying mass of floating aquatic plants, which may have drifted in from miles away.  In not too much time it will decay and return to the water.

Above is an underwater video showing Wild Celery growing in the slow moving Grand River in central Wisconsin.  The long ribbon-like leaves of Wild Celery offer less resistance to water flow than many other submergent aquatic plants.  The vegetation in this river provides excellent fish habitat, wildlife food, and removes excess nutrients from the water.

Wildlife Use

Although Wild Celery provides good fish habitat it is much more widely known as one of the best aquatic plants for ducks, geese, swans and coots.  Nearly the entire plant–leaves, roots, tubers, and seeds–are eaten by waterfowl, but it is the starchy tubers that are especially relished.  The Canvasback Duck is so closely associated with it, its scientific name is Aythya valisineria.  Because of its excellent quality as wildlife food, it is often planted in attempts to restore former beds, or establish new ones.

Central Wisconsin’s large shallow lakes like Poygan and Puckaway once had vast beds of wild celery, making them some of the best lakes in North America for hunting “Cans.”  As the plant’s populations have collapsed so has the numbers of Canvasback Ducks using central Wisconsin as a flyway.  Fewer Canvasbacks and other duck species have led to fewer hunters, the major advocates for aquatic vegetation.

Wild Celery Leaves

Wild Celery in blowing in current of the Grand River, just upstream of its confluence with the Fox River.

Wild Celery on Shore

Lat in the summer wild celery breaks loose for lake bottoms and floats to the surface and ends up on shore.  This is a a natural seasonal process like leaves falling from the trees in fall.  Foam on the water can be caused by natural processes, or by pollution in the lake.

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