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A Focus on Vallisneria

two women in lab with grass samples

Vallisneria americana, commonly known as tape grass or American eelgrass, is a rooted aquatic plant with wide, strap-like leaves that can grow several feet in length. It is found throughout the United States and is an important component of Florida’s freshwater ecosystems. Tape grass is often the dominant submerged plant species in aquatic ecosystems and provides valuable ecosystem services that result in improved water quality. Healthy tape grass patches also serve as nurseries and forage habitat for a wide range of vertebrate and invertebrate species including certain Imperiled Species of Florida, such as the Suwannee cooter, the Florida sandhill crane, the tessellated darter, and the Florida manatee.

This important species has been lost from many of its historical locations across Florida, including the Everglades, the Caloosahatchee River, the St. Johns River, and the Springs Coast. Because tape grass is often the primary or sole provider of habitat and food in many freshwater systems, it is the subject of multiple restoration efforts throughout the state (e.g., Crystal River/King's Bay, Lake Apopka, and the Caloosahatchee River). While tape grass is a resilient species in many instances, often found growing in ditches and canals and other non-pristine waterways, restoration success at historical sites has been mixed. Many restoration techniques have been developed, but the success of these restoration projects has been inconsistent. To ensure the longevity of this key species, researchers need to understand what factors govern the success of restoring this habitat.  The Freshwater Plants research team is working on evaluating the current restoration strategies, and the factors that affect the success of restoration programs, to maximize the effectiveness of future restoration programs. Additionally, the team is collecting tape grass from around the state of Florida to create and establish a living library of plants. The goal is to maintain this living library to study the plant’s response to a lab setting, to grow established tape grass for future in-lab experimentation, and in return, contribute any information to the restoration efforts of this critical species.

tape grass bed, runners, and flower

A healthy tape grass bed (left), tape grass runners (middle) and a tape grass flower (right).