by Mary Reid Barrow
Oh, yuck, algae, I thought, when I saw the pond of green water along the 64th Street Trail in First Landing State Park.
But there was something different about the color that made me wonder. It was spring green, lighter looking than algae, which. to me, is a duller green. Algae also looks heavy, more like a blanket on the water, and this green spread seemed to be lightly floating.
Then another spring green pond showed up farther down the trail. It was serendipitous that Jim Harrison, a park trail maintenance volunteer, was nearby. I ask him what the green stuff was.
Duckweed, he said.
Harrison obligingly went down to the pond and scooped up a handful of tiny one- stemed plants to photograph. To me, the leaves look like many tiny butterflies, all fresh and green:
And I changed my tune. How beautiful, I began to think, when I was sure it wasn’t algae. Harrison said he had seen duckweed, a native plant, on other occasions in the still waters of the freshwater ponds around the state park.
Turns out duckweed is one of the smallest flowering plants in the world and species of it are actually found worldwide.
Though beautiful, it grows abundantly and too much duckweed can be too much of a good thing in some ponds. Like algae, it grows quickly and can choke the oxygen out of the water which causes fish to die. So some owners of smaller ponds tiny don’t like this little native so much.
On the other hand, besides being beautiful, when it is behaving, duckweed has a whole lot of attributes for being the smallesst flower in the world!
It has always been a source of food for fish and for ducks, as its name implies. In some places duckweed is commercially grown for cattle feed and also as a component in bioplastics, of all things.
Some duckweed species are safe for human consumption too. It is said to taste like watercress and it is a commonly used vegetable in some Asian cuisine.
I read that some biologists and agriculture specialists have touted duckweed as the world’s next superfood, because it is so nutritious and easy to grow.
Duckweed is like one of those special big things that comes in a small package.
Do you have a favorite tree or plant with a story to tell? What relationships have you observed between plants and critters? Who eats whom? Who has babies where? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org