Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


page June 14, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:

Since last month the native Floating Pondweed, POTAMOGETON NATANS, has been spreding its broad, surface-floating leaves slowly across the pond's surface, as seen above.

In that photo the slender, upward-pointing item in the center emerging from the water is the flowering spike. A close-up showing green, crammed-together, maturing ovaries topped with fuzzy, whitish stigma arms is below:

flowering spike of Floating Pondweed, POTAMOGETON NATANS

Once the ovaries mature into fruits the spikes fall over and become a squishy mess that provides a banquet for small wildlife such as ducks, coots and rails. You can see some fruits perfect for eating below:

mature fruits of Floating Pondweed, POTAMOGETON NATANS

A shot showing how the floating leaves arise from long, underwater petioles attaching to the main stem is below:

petiole attachment of Floating Pondweed, POTAMOGETON NATANS

Floating Pondweed occurs all across North America except in the Southeastern states.

What a pleasure to focus on pondweeds, or Potamogeton, of which about a hundred species are known, about 33 occurring in North America. Wherever they live, a complex aquatic ecosystem develops around them where earlier there was just open water and free-floating microscopic organisms. As I photographed, Pacific Forktail damselflies and dragonflies flitted all about, the forktail females on the pondweeds' floating leaves bending their abdomens over the blades' edges to insert eggs on the undersides. Tiny fish schooled inside the tangle of submerged pondweed stems and petioles, sheltering from bigger fish in the open water. Each submerged leaf surface and stem was encrusted with a soft, spongy layer of algae and other microorganisms. On some days I lie on the little bridge crossing the pond just watching the pondweed, knowing how it's so busily and generously photosynthesizing carbohydrate to share with the rest of the ecosystem, spewing out oxygen for me and everyone to breathe in the process.

Beyond the ecology, there's the pondweeds' sheer color and pleasing textures, the shiny, yellow-green leaf- ovals floating atop black water, the blades maturing toward a reddish blush, the chill water indenting at leaf edges, the water's reflections and three- dimensionality, patterns of cloud reflections mingling with stiff underwater stems, all this blossoming into the odor of rich mud, into birdsong and sunlight, and me there on the bridge watching, watching, watching.

Sometimes I dream of being a small fish silent but totally alive to pondweed blades translucing yellow- green sunlight above me.