Due to their constant year round temperatures and stable discharges , Florida's springs support a variety of plant life, including ancient cypress trees, rare orchids and lillies, and lush underwater carpets of eel grass. Collectively, these plant communities nourish a freshwater food web that is among the most unique in all of North America.
Eel Grass is a rooted, submersed plant with ribbon-like leaves. It is common in spring runs where it provide excellent habitat for aquatic organisms including damselflies, snails and fish. Sometimes confused with Strap-leaf Sag, Eel Grass leaves are broader and blunter without the raised veins.
Wild rice is a tall - three to four feet -- native grass that grows on the edges of spring runs and other water bodies. The yellow to reddish rice grains are excellent food for wildlife. Many people also eat wild rice and consider it to be a delicacy.
The Bald Cypress is among the most magnificent and stately trees in the Southeastern United States. Although not as tall at 100 to 120 feet, it is closely related to the California Redwoods. Bald Cypress is easily recognized by its flat needle-like leaves, large buttressed base, and the "knees" formed by the cypress, thought to stabilize the trees in mucky soils. Contrary to popular belief, the knees are not "breathing tubes."
Spider Lilies are wetland plants, arising from an onion-like bulb, with strap-like leaves. They produce beautiful, delicate flowers with six narrow white petals connected by a white membranous tissue. Spider Lilies, which bloom in spring and summer, are often found in swamps, floodplain forests, and the edges of spring-run rivers.
Red Ludwigia is a submersed or emergent aquatic plant commonly sold as an aquarium plant. This pretty plant offers habitat for aquatic organisms.
Water hemlock is an herbaceous aquatic plant with compound leaves and showy white flowers. It is poisonous if eaten. The toxic drink that killed Socrates may have been from a type of water hemlock.
Spanish Moss is not truly a moss. It is actually a flowering plant, known as an epiphyte or "air plant." Although it grows on many types of trees, it is not considered to be a harmful parasite. Spanish Moss gets its nutrients from dust and rainfall. Here's an old legend about how Spanish Moss got its name: When the Spanish explorers first came to Florida, one gray-bearded soldier was attracted to a Native American princess, but she wanted nothing to do with him. To escape, she climbed a tree. As he chased her up the tree, he slipped and his head got stuck in the crook of the tree where two limbs met. As legend has it, from then on his gray beard grew throughout Florida, and became known as Spanish Moss.
Sometimes confused with Tape Grass, Strap-leaf Sag is a submersed plant that forms tall underwater meadows in cool, swift-flowing spring runs.
Commonly found near the surface of spring-run rivers, Pond Weeds are submerged, rooted aquatic plants that prefer swift, clear, calcium-rich waters. It is an important resident of many spring ecosystems on account of the habitat it provides to aquatic organisms, as well as for the food its seeds provide to wildlife.