Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) Identification Key

​​The bay grass key was designed to allow you to identify most species of bay grasses found in Maryland. Although bay grasses are notoriously difficult to identify using standard taxonomic keys, the flexible format of the Internet allows us to combine detailed pictures, simple line drawings and text messages in a stepwise sequence that makes identifying bay grasses simple. You may find it useful to have a clear metric ruler with millimeters marked, a magnifying glass, and a Ziploc plastic bag to help you in the process of identifying your plant.

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Common Name:  
Scientific Name:

Common Name:Wild Celery

Scientific Name:Vallisneria americana

Native or Non-native:Native

Illustration:Wild Celery collage

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Wild celery is found from the Atlantic Coastal Plain states west to Wisconsin and Minnesota. It is primarily a freshwater species. Wild celery seems to prefer coarse silty to sandy soil, and is fairly tolerant of murky waters and high nutrient loading. It can tolerate wave action better than some other bay grass species. Wild celery is cosmopolitan in Maryland and is common in rivers, lakes and throughout the freshwater regions of Chesapeake Bay.

Long, flattened, ribbon-like leaves arising from a cluster at the base of the plant are minutely serrate with bluntly rounded tips. Leaves grow to 1.5 m (5 ft) in length and approximately 1 cm (1/3 in) width. A light green stripe runs down the center of the finely-veined leaves.

Ecological Significance:
Wild celery is particularly valuable as a food source for waterfowl (Korschgen and Green 1998). For example, the scientific name for the canvasback duck (Aythya valisineria) is derived from its association with wild celery. Canvasback and other diving ducks such as scaups, scoters and redhead, rely on the winter buds and rootstocks of wild celery for food during migration and in their wintering habitats (Korschgen and Green 1998).

Similar Species:
Wild celery can be confused with eelgrass (Zostera marina). However, wild celery has a light green stripe in the center of its leaves and its leaves are much longer and wider than those of eelgrass. All wild celery leaves start at the base of the plant, whereas eelgrass leaves emerge alternately from a main plant stem. Because wild celery prefers lower salinity and eelgrass higher salinity, the two species do not co-occur in the same location.

Sexual and asexual reproduction are both common. Asexual reproduction occurs when winter buds, or turions, form at the base of wild celery plants in late summer. These winter buds elongate in spring, sending a stolon to the sediment surface from which a new plant emerges. During the growing season, each plant can send out rhizomes that grow adjacent to the parent plant. Sexual reproduction occurs in late July to September. Wild celery is dioecious and individual plants are either male or female. Individual pistillate flowers have three green, leaf-like petals and three white petals, and occur in a tubular spathe that grows to the water surface at the end of a long peduncle. Staminate (male) flowers are crowded into an ovoid spathe borne on a short peduncle near the base of the plant. Eventually the spathe of staminate flowers breaks free and floats to the surface where it releases its pollen. Fertilization occurs when pollen floats into contact with female flowers. When fertilization is complete the peduncle of the pistillate flower coils up and fruit develops underwater. Fertilization produces a long cylindrical pod containing small, dark seeds.

Print out a complete version of the key in PDF format (Adobe Acrobat file 18MB)

For permission to reproduce individual photos, please contact Mike Naylor

The text and photos used in this key were produced through a collaborative effort among the following partners.

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