Pickerelweed, Pontederia cordata, is one of those plants that are easily overlooked and its beauty taken for granted. Pickerelweed's electric blue lights up a sea of green.
Pickerelweed is a Florida native found in almost every county of the state. It's also native of eastern and central North America as far north as Quebec and Ontario and as far west Minnesota, Kansas and Texas, with Oregon thrown in for good measure. It's native to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America.
It is an aquatic plant, growing in and along shallow, still or slow-moving bodies of water like marshes, swamps and sloughs. It is capable of forming large, dense colonies, spreading via rhizomes, or underground stems. The resulting mass protects the shoreline against erosion while providing cover for birds, fish, snakes, frogs and insects.
Pickerelweed is medium-sized in the panoply of wetland plants, growing to about two to four feet tall. The leaves are large, long and narrow but can vary in shape and size considerably The real tell on pickerelweed is its single spike with hundreds of tiny blue flowers that appear from March into November. The collective effect is spectacular, at least in our eyes. Rarely, the flowers are white.
The spikes attract hungry bees and butterflies, skippers in particular. Deer, muskrats and geese eat the vegetation, while the nut-like seeds are gobbled by birds, who return the favor by helping with seed dispersal.
The seeds and young leaf stalks are edible for us human types. The seeds can be eaten like nuts, cooked and eaten like rice, roasted or ground into flour. The leaf stalks can be added to a salad, cooked like greens or added to a soup. The one caveat: if you're going to eat it, make sure you're picking it from clean water. Native Americans used it medicinally, as a contraceptive and as a remedy for general sickness. It's use today: in water gardens.
Which brings us to the dark side of pickerelweed. Because of its beauty, it's been introduced around the globe as an ornamental. In a few places, South Africa being one, it's become an invasive pest. It clogs waterways and drainage canals, crowds out native plants and blocks access to the water's edge. It can interfere with crops in irrigated fields. In South Africa, in spreads exclusively by fragment rhizomes rather than by seed. It's also considered an invasive in Kenya. However, it apparently is better behaved in Europe and Australia, other places where it has adapted to living in the wild
Pickerelweed's tendency to vary in form has spawned numerous synonyms by naturalists thinking they're looking at a different variety or species.
Other common names and spelling variations include pickerel rush and pickerel weed. Pickerelweed is a member of Pontederiaceae, the pickerelweed family.