Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission

Native Species

What is Native Aquatic Vegetation?

Native aquatic vegetation is often defined as plants that occur naturally, without human interference, in a body of water. During the past ten years, much attention has been given to aquatic vegetation in Smith Mountain Lake. Both native and non-native aquatic vegetation exist in SML. In our efforts to protect SML, it is important that we differentiate between the two. Protecting the native vegetation is extremely beneficial to the Lake. Some of the benefits include:

  • Maintaining a healthy biodiversity in the lake ecosystem
  • Providing food and shelter for a wide variety of animals, including insects, fish, birds and mammals
  • Helping to reduce shoreline erosion by reducing the force of waves
  • Protecting water quality by using nutrients that might otherwise be available to less desirable plants like some species of algae.

More information can be found at this website:
Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Aquatic Plant Id and Treatment

Native Vegetation - Waterwillow

Through aquatic vegetation surveys completed for TLAC since 2002, several native vegetation species have been identified at SML.

Native Aquatic Vegetation in Smith Mountain Lake

Native Vegetation - Chara

Chara – Linnaeus (muskgrass, stonewort)

Description:  Chara is a native, submerged algae. Chara is gray-green or yellow in appearance and feels gritty. It has a strong garlic-like odor, especially when crushed. Chara can grow up to 39 inches in length.

Stems:  The round stem-like feature is round and hollow and grows from 2 inches to over 39 inches in length.

Leaves:  This algae lacks true leaves. There are 6 to 16 leaf-like branchlets that grow circular around the stem.

Flowers:  Algae do not produce flowers.

Reproduction:  A ball-like spore forms on the branchlets and is carried away by water or waterfowl to replant itself on the lake bottom.

Often Confused With:  Nitella

Distribution:  Chara has been identified in several locations at Smith Mountain Lake.

Native Vegetation - Sago

Sago Pondweed – Potamogeton Pedctinatus

Description:  Sago pondweed is a submersed perennial plant. Sago pondweed appears bushy with numerous branches and tiny leaves. Sago pondweed can be found throughout the United States. It is a valuable source of food for waterfowl. It is also a great shelter for small fish and invertebrates.

Leaves:  The leaves are thin, about 1/16 inch wide, and 2 to 12 inches long. They grow in thick layers

Flowers:  Flowers from June to September and its fruit are nut-like. Flower is about 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch long and 1/10 to 1/8 inch wide.

Reproduction:  Sago pondweed reproduces by seed any by vegetative reproduction. The vegetative reproduction happens when tubers form at the ends of the underground stem and the leaf shoots. The tubers will persevere through winter and new plants will form in the spring.

Often Confused With:  Horned pondweed and Widgeon Grass.

Distribution:  Sago pondweed has been identified at Smith Mountain Lake.

Native Vegetation - Elodea

Common Elodea – Elodea Canadensis

Description:  Common elodea has several different names such as Canadian waterweed, American Waterweed, and Anacharis. Common is an attractive aquarium plant. It lives entirely underwater and can grow in shallow to deep water. It can be perceived as a nuisance, but is greatly significant to the ecosystems. It offers a good habitat for aquatic invertebrates and cover for young fish. Common elodea is food for ducks, beavers and muskrat.

Leaves:  The leaves are bright green and narrow with fine teeth along the edge of the leaf. The three leaves are in a circular arrangement.

Flowers:  The flower is on the surface of the water. It blooms from mid-summer to early fall.

Reproduction:  There are two ways for the Common elodea to reproduce. In the fall, leafy stalks break apart and float away. The rootstalk forms a new plant. It can also reproduce by seed.

Often Confused With:  Common elodea is often confused with Brazilian elodea and Hydrilla.

Native Vegetation - Southern Naiad

Southern Naiad – Najas Guadalupensis

Description:  There are about 40 species of Southern naiads in the world. All of them are submersed and annual plants. Southern naiad may be found in springs, lakes, ponds and canals.

Stems:  The stems are long and slender and can be up to 24 inches long.

Leaves:  Southern naiad leaves are very narrow and one inch in length. The leaves are less than 1/16 inch wide and have teeth on the edges of the leaf, which cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Flowers:  Southern naiad produces a flower, but it is very small and inconspicuous.

Reproduction:  The plant can multiply by seed and fragmentation. The Southern naiad is a brittle plant, which easily breaks into smaller pieces, which then root and produce more plants.

Often Confused with:  Southern Naiad can be confused with Slender Pondweed.

Distribution:  Southern Naiad has been identified at Smith Mountain Lake.

Native Vegetation - Coontail

Coontail – Ceratophyllum Demersum

Description:  The Coontail is an annual plant that has no roots. It is a submersed plant that grows in deep water and often cannot be seen from the surface. The plants are usually rough to the touch. Coontail can grow up to 15 feet or longer and form large colonies.

Stems:  The stems are long, branched, free-floating and are tenuously attached; thus they fragment readily.

Leaves:  The feathery leaves circle around the stem, which resembles a racoon’s tail. The leaves are ½ to ¾ inches long and each leaf has several small teeth in its center vein.

Flowers:  The flower is nestled in the center of the leaves and is entirely submersed. The plant will flower from late summer through fall.

Often Confused with:  Fanwort.

Distribution:  Coontail has been identified at Smith Mountain Lake. 

Native Vegetation - Nitella


Description:  Nitella are native, submerged algae. It is light to dark green with soft bushy branches. Nitella has no odor, and will not extend above the surface of the water.

Stems:  Similar to Chara, Nitella has a hollow stem like structure with forked branches.

Leaves:  No true leaves. Six to eight evenly forked branchlets spaced evenly along “stem”.

Flowers:  Does not produce flowers.

Reproduction:  Spreads by spores and plant fragments.

Often confused with:  Chara or Coontail

Distribution:  Nitella has been identified at Smith Mountain Lake.

Native Vegetation - Waterwillow

Waterwillow – Justica Americana

Description:  Waterwillow is a native, submerged plant that can grow up to 3 feet above the water’s surface. It grows best in shallow water (1– 4 feet).

Stems:  The stems, which emerge from rhizomes, can be several feet long and become spongy where submerged. The stems can arch over and develop roots where they dip into water.

Leaves:  The leaves are lance-shaped (2” – 6”) and are arranged in pairs or whorls of three.

Flowers:  Violet, to nearly white flowers with purple markings.

Reproduction:  Plants spread by rhizomes and by seeds which are forcibly ejected from the plant.

Often confused with:  Purple Loosestrife

Distribution:  Waterwillow has been identified at Smith Mountain Lake.

This information was obtained from:
Through the Looking Glass…A Field Guide to Aquatic Plants
By: Susan Borman, Robert Korth, Jo Temte – Wisconsin Lakes Partnership

Native Vegetation - Potamogeton

Floating/Longleaf Pondweed – Potamogeton Natans, Potamogeton Nodosus

Description:  This pondweed has both floating and submersed leaves.

Leaves:  Oblong leaves are 3″ – 5″ long and float on the surface. Submersed leaves are usually longer and thinner. Stems are thin and can grow to 6′ long.

Flowers:  Flower spikes are found poking out on the surface (look like tiny brown corn cobs).

Reproduction:  New growth starts in the spring from buds formed on the rhizomes.

Habitat:  Common aquatic vegetation found in ponds, streams and lakes. Typically found in water less than 5′ deep.

Distribution:  Floating / Longleaf pondweed has been identified at Smith Mountain Lake.

Native Vegetation - Water Lilies

Water Lilies – Nymphaea Odorata

Description:  The Water Lily is a perennial plant, which is native to the eastern United States. The Water Lily will flower from late spring through fall.

Leaves:  The leaves are nearly circular; each leaf has a deep cleft to the stem. The color on the underside of the leaf is red or purple, and it has many veins. The leaf can get up to 11 inches in diameter.

Stems:  The stems are connected to the center of the leaf.

Flowers:  Each lily may have a single flower. The flower is three to five inches wide and is generally white, although some may be yellow, pink, or purple.

Reproduction:  Water Lilies reproduce by seed and by stems sprouting from near the roots.

Distribution:  Water Lily has been identified at Smith Mountain Lake.