Cape Pond Weed
The decorative leaves of indigenous aquatics and the showy blooms in season always command attention. Cape Pond Weed are easily grown in full sun, in still water that is protected from strong wind, and they can also be displayed in large water-filled ceramic containers in sunny courtyards. In addition to their ornamental qualities, the mats of floating leaf pads serve as a platform for frogs, dragonflies and other insects while simultaneously providing protection from predators to a host of pond creatures, including fish fingerlings and tadpoles.
Their scented flowers attract bees and those of at least one species are edible. For the home gardener, three of the best indigenous aquatics that have ‑floating leaves are Aponogeton Distachyos, Nymphaea Nouchali and Nymphoides Thunbergiana. A word of caution is necessary though: under ideal conditions these plants can become overwhelming and require annual thinning.
Of the approximately 30 Aponogeton species, nine occur in southern Africa, of which Aponogeton Distachyos is certainly the most well known. It is a member of the family Aponogetonaceae. Aponogeton Distachyos is deciduous in the wild and found in seasonal pools in clay soils all over the Western Cape.
It grows from a rhizome and its scented flowers appear from late winter to midsummer. Although winter-growing in the wild, in cultivation it remains more or less evergreen in mild climates, unless forced into dormancy by sustained drought. The striking oblong leaves are often attractively mottled with brown and produced on long petioles up to one metre long. Consisting of two opposite branches, the flower spike is held above the water surface and flower colour varies from pure white to light rose pink or sometimes light violet.
The rhizomes begin active growth in autumn and can either be planted directly into the soil layer at the base of garden ponds, or in submerged plastic baskets at a depth of up to 50 cm. They can also be grown in deep ceramic bowls. The plants need full sun to flower well and can be grown in a variety of soils, including heavy clay. They can either be left in the water during the summer resting phase, or lifted and stored in dry soil for the summer months.
Cape Pond Weed can take light frost and is a vigorous plant that readily seeds itself; excess seedlings should occasionally be raked up from the base of the pond. Apart from its ornamental qualities, the edible buds and flowers of Aponogeton Distachyos are used in traditional Cape cuisine in the recipe for Waterblommetjie bredie, a delicious winter stew with mutton, potatoes and onions, and which is served with rice. The plant became immortalized in Sonja Herholdt’s hit song ‘Waterblommetjies in die Boland’.