Aquatic plants are plants that have adapted to living within aquatic environments. They are also referred to as hydrophytes or aquatic macrophytes. These plants require special adaptations for living submerged in water or at the water's surface. Aquatic plants can only grow in water or in soil that is permanently saturated with water. Aquatic vascular plants can be ferns or angiosperms (from a variety of families, including among the monocots and dicots). Seaweeds are not vascular plants but multicellular marine algae, and therefore not typically included in the category of aquatic plants. As opposed to plant types such as mesophytes and xerophytes, hydrophytes do not have a problem in retaining water, due to the abundance of water in their environment. This means that aquatic plants have less need to regulate transpiration, which would require more energy and be of little benefit to the plant.
Characteristics of aquatic plants:
- A thin cuticle. Cuticles primarily discourage water loss; thus most hydrophytes have no need for cuticles.
- Stomata that are open most of time because water is abundant and therefore there is no need for it to be retained in the plant. This means that guard cells on the stomata are generally inactive.
- An increased number of stomata, that can be on either side of leaves.
- A less rigid structure: water pressure supports them.
- Flat leaves on surface plants for flotation.
- Air sacs for flotation.
- Smaller roots: water can diffuse directly into leaves.
- Feathery roots: no need to support the plant.
- Specialized roots able to take in oxygen.
For example, some species of buttercup (genus Ranunculus) float slightly submerged in water; only the flowers extend above the water. Their leaves and roots are long and thin and almost hair-like; this helps spread the mass of the plant over a wide area, making it more buoyant. Long roots and thin leaves also provide a greater surface area for uptake of mineral solutes and oxygen.
Wide flat leaves in water lilies (family Nymphaeaceae) help distribute weight over a large area, thus helping them float near surface.
Many fish keepers keep aquatic plants in their tanks to control phytoplankton and moss by removing metabolites.
Many species of aquatic plant are invasive species. Aquatic plants make particularly good weeds because they reproduce vegetatively from fragments.
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