Philodendrons, Elephant Ears, and Other Aroids forum→Aroid of the Day: Pistia stratiotes

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Name: Gina
Florida (Zone 9a)
Tropical plant collector 35 years
Region: Florida Tropicals Aroids
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Gina1960
Oct 11, 2019 6:54 AM CST
Pistia stratiotes, (water lettuce, water cabbage, shell flower) might well be termed a living fossil. The genus Pistia is monotypic, meaning there is only one species in the genus. Water lettuce is known from paleobotanical records from the late Cretaceous, Paleocene, Oligocene and Miocene eras from Europe, Western Siberia, Eastern Asia and North America. It was known to the ancient Egyptians and was first described in modern times by Linnaeus in 1753.

It is found globally but its spread is checked by severe cold. It can regrow leaves damaged by a moderate frost however. Allowing it to dry totally or incinerating it is the preferred method of killing it as it has been know to survive composting.

In the US, it is found in the Southern tier of states up to the level of about New Jersey on the East Coast. It is in dispute whether this plant is native to the US or not. If not a native, it is believed to have been introduced from ballast water dropped by early explorers on sailing ships.

This plant is the only free swimming member of the Aracaea. It doesn't shoot or form tubers, but can reproduce vegetatively by means of stolons, or from seeds. The flowers are tiny and often overlooked. In fact for many many years, it was assumed that the plant did not flower because the flowers are hard to see. The inflorescence produces a single female flower and between 3-9 male flowers.

Water lettuce is a threat to natural waterways and is on the list of noxious weeds in most Southern states including Florida, Texas, Louisiana and others. It is illegal to sell or possess in some states. It can be legally sold in colder states, but is prohibited from being shipped into states that outlaw it. Fines can be significant. The plants are densely mat forming, and will block out all sunlight from emersed plants growing under the mats. Biological diversity is decreased in infested areas because it alters the habitat by blocking animals from obtaining water to drink or fish in and blocking them from access to the plants that they depend on for food, shelter and nesting. The long trailing roots are termed 'water purifiers' by pond enthusiasts because they suck up all the nutrients needed for algae to grow and prosper; at the same time, these nutrients are also denied to other plants.

Programs for removing and destroying water lettuce from natural waterways have been in place for a long time in Florida, and currently the weed is considered to be under maintenance control.
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[Last edited by Gina1960 - Oct 11, 2019 6:57 AM (+)]
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Name: Lin Vosbury
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)

Region: United States of America Deer Region: Florida Charter ATP Member Million Pollinator Garden Challenge I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
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plantladylin
Oct 11, 2019 7:34 AM CST
Gina, thanks so much for the "Aroid of the Day" pages, they are so educational and informative! Thumbs up

Having lived in Florida for almost 53 years, I've seen a lot of Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) but never realized that it was in the Aroid family! We used to see mats of it in the St. Johns river years ago and I think it's the same stuff that used to float in the canal behind my mother in laws house in Oviedo. At times, it would literally cover the entire top of the water and my mother in law (who was in her early to mid 80's at the time) would get into her little row boat and pull tons of that stuff out of the water and throw it up on the bank. She couldn't swim and I recall one time when she was in the boat, with a rake or something, pulling the lettuce from the water and the boat tipped and she fell into the water! She said that the only thing she could think to do was hold her breath when she went under and then when she surfaced, she grabbed onto the side of the little boat and managed to pull herself up. The incident didn't seem to faze her a bit and all I could think about were the gators in that canal and the fact that she could have drowned!! She was a little woman but oh so strong ... and fearless!
~ I'm an old gal who still loves playing in the dirt!
~ Playing in the dirt is my therapy ... and I'm in therapy a lot!


Southern Indiana (Zone 6a)
I'll quit while I'm ahead...
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CrazedHoosier
Oct 11, 2019 7:59 AM CST
I LOVE water lettuce. I used to have to care for it when I worked at the garden center. Changing the week-old water was not fun, but getting new orders of water lettuce, and other aquatic plants, always interested me for some reason. It's a plant I always wanted in my fish tank, but was worried about adding because they're mostly for sale in outdoor ponds. I don't want to introduce anything harmful into my tanks.

It's sad to know it's so invasive in the Southernmost states. It isn't up here, but we make up for that in the amount of invasive honeysuckle we have. Rolling my eyes.
Maybe we should get a second opinion...
Name: Gina
Florida (Zone 9a)
Tropical plant collector 35 years
Region: Florida Tropicals Aroids
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Gina1960
Oct 11, 2019 9:23 AM CST
Lin, I remember going to one of the springs several years ago and it was literally a bowl of water lettuce. It has been said that water lettuce at least CAN be controlled here, unlike Water Hyacinth which is really a menace.

We used to be allowed to have both in California.
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Name: Gina
Florida (Zone 9a)
Tropical plant collector 35 years
Region: Florida Tropicals Aroids
Image
Gina1960
Oct 11, 2019 9:33 AM CST
@plantladylin, I am really glad you like the Aroid of the Day! Its fun for me. You know I am a certified plant geek. Its also beneficial for me to look again at cultural, morphological and updated information that comes out about plants. I can;t wait for the Revision of Monstera to come out. The genus was last revised in 1977. And there is a Revision of the Genus Pothos in the works as well. The Anthurium revisions have moved plants from one section that was taxonomically wrong for them into new sections, and of course the new Genus Thaumatophyllum has emerged to contain several of the 'old' plants we have been growing for years as Philodendrons. ts fun to try and keep up.
Award winning beaded art at ceinwin.deviantart.com!
Name: Lin Vosbury
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)

Region: United States of America Deer Region: Florida Charter ATP Member Million Pollinator Garden Challenge I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Garden Procrastinator Birds Butterflies Bee Lover Hummingbirder Container Gardener
Image
plantladylin
Oct 11, 2019 9:43 AM CST
Gina, you are a wealth of great information! My old brain doesn't retain stuff like it used to and I love being able to read and refresh my memory right here on the forum!

You are a great asset to this site and I thank you for sharing the knowledge! Thumbs up
~ I'm an old gal who still loves playing in the dirt!
~ Playing in the dirt is my therapy ... and I'm in therapy a lot!


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