Pickerelweed is native over a monstrously big range, from Nova Scotia to Argentina. In our country pickerelweed calls 36 states home. I assure you “Where the Pickerelweed Grows,” a spectacle of nature is waiting for you to see the show.
My experience with pickerelweed can best be described as the I-95 corridor from South Carolina through Georgia, a small dot on the overall map. When it comes to pickerelweed there are two categories of people, those who hate it and those like me who love it. I suppose there could be a third group, those who are clueless about what we are talking about.
Pickerelweed is known botanically as Pontederia cordata and is actually an aquatic plant, living in what is described as shallow quiet water. It is deciduous, reaching 3 to 4 feet tall, topped by a gorgeous blue flowering spike. It easily colonizes, creating a show of blue flowers equal to that of any of our treasured salvias growing up on dryland. It gets its name as if emanating a coexistence with the pickerel or pike fish. To a southern guy who has caught largemouth bass, crappie, perch and catfish, the pickerel is like a barracuda or piranha on steroids. It does provide cover for fish.
Where the pickerelweed grows is a magical place where the blue flowers are treasured by bees, along with hummingbirds and butterflies. The pickerelweed plants and blue flowers are like natures demarcation for the real show of aquatic birds, reptiles and fish. On the other side of those tall flowers it’s the rules of the Serengeti as applied to the pond: Everybody wants to eat!
Oh, and what a thrilling adventure it is. You never know what species of bird will come in, some on a glide pattern, others more like a missile. There is of course water and fish to eat, and yes there is a meal to be had of pickerel weed for some. Wood Ducks, Mallards, Canadian Geese and White-tailed deer will browse. The plants are prime birthing sites for damselflies and dragonflies.
The ponds at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Townsend, Ga., are some of the most wonderful sites for watching the show. Imagine Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, Great Egrets and the monolithic-winged wood stork gracefully gliding on 5-foot wingspans to partake of all the pond has to offer. It is a National Geographic moment.
A few months ago, I was at a pond near Bluffton, S.C., and quickly ventured out to see the pickerelweed flowers. I was looking through the camera lens and noticed a sign in my peripheral. It read DANGER WATCH FOR ALLIGATORS. I had completely let my guard down and forgot about the king of the pond in the southeastern landscape. Though they are everywhere in Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge ponds I just simply didn’t think. I quickly retreated to a safer observation point.
At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden, we had a large water garden. Sure, we had waterlilies but my favorite was a grouping of the blue flowered pickerelweed, white blooming American crinum lilies, and the stunning red lobelia or cardinal flower. This dreamy red, white and blue partnership worked because we had them in submerged containers thereby diminishing any aggressive tendency.
Your first thought might be this seems a little artificial. I assure you the alligators, snakes, beavers and birds kept it all very natural-like. Whether you have a pond or contemplating a water garden the pickerelweed gets a hearty amen from The Garden Guy. Despite being native they are easy to find for sale.
Pickerelweed might not qualify as an apocalyptic type plant but you may find it worthwhile to know that it is edible. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says the seeds can be eaten straight from the plant or dried and added to granola or cereal. The dried seeds can be boiled and or roasted to add flavor or ground into flour.
The young leaves have sometimes been eaten raw or boiled and served with butter and for sure added to salads. Judging from what is online this looks like a plant for the culinary artist. Omelets to grilled fish wrapped in pickerelweed leaves sounds enticing. Even if you don’t grow or eat pickerelweed go visit a pond or bog “Where the Pickerelweed Grows,” nature awaits.
(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)