When you drive past a Florida swamp, it’s easy to see the duckweed without seeing the duckweed for it often covers the surface completely.
Swamp plants are classified as submersed, immersed, and free floating. As a group, they’re referred to as aquatic macrophytes to distinguish them from algae. All of them are large enough to be seen by the naked eye. Florida’s varieties of duckweed are included in the free floating group:
- Water Meal (Wolffia columbiana) the world’s smallest flowering plant is a duckweed variety
- Duckweed (Lemna valdiviana)
- Giant Duckweed (Spirodela polyrhiza)
Even though private property owners are often at war with the duckweed that covers the surfaces of their ponds, the plant has more protein in it than soybeans. It’s eaten by waterfowl, can be skimmed off the surface and fed to cattle, and humans consume it in some parts of the world. It also “cleans the water” of farm and industrial waste.
Ansel Oommen writes in The Incredible, Magical Properties of the Ugly Duckweed “the common duckweed provides an almost magical solution [to water pollution]. Duckweeds are natural super-filters, sucking up minerals and organic nutrients from the water, which then accumulate into the plants’ biomass. This process, called bioremediation, is not only safe, but effective. Central to the duckweeds’ success is their ability to grow at a rapid rate and hence, their ability to consume large quantities of contaminants such as ammonia, lead, and arsenates. In fact, duckweeds can double their weight in one to two days under ideal conditions.”
It’s often hard to convince those who see duckweed as a habitat-choking, invasive pest that there are benefits to it, including potential use as a biofuel.
Why do I read about duckweed? It’s in the Florida Panhandle swamps where I grew up, and Eulalie and Lena, two of the characters in my Florida Folk Magic series of novels see it and (in the work in progress) have to contend with it.
I love tromping around in the swamps and leafing through the stack of reference books that remind me what everything is–and whether it will attack me. As far as I know, ducks don’t dry it and smoke it in order to fly.