Plants That Grow in Land & Water

Mangroves are one species of plant that can live on land and in water.
••• Mangrove image by Denis GELIN from

Which plants grow on land and in water? While there are thousands of plants that grow on land and many others that live specifically in water, there are relatively few that can do both. Plants that have adapted to live on both land and water are typically found along the edge of the water, as they are actually rooted to the muddy bottom of the lake, river or coast. This area – the transitional area between land and water – is called the ​littoral zone​, according to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Plants that live in the littoral zone thrive in soggy conditions, with their roots anchored in the mud and their leaves growing above the surface of the water.

Land Plants vs. Water Plants

Plants that grow on land are called ​terrestrial plants​. According to the Carolina Biological Supply Company, there are many important differences between terrestrial plants and ​aquatic plants​, which are plant species that live in water.

First, aquatic plants have few leaves, while terrestrial plants like oak trees can have thousands of leaves. Second, aquatic plants tend to have thick, spongy leaves that allow the plant to float on the water. In contrast, terrestrial plants usually have bigger, broader leaves to capture more light for photosynthesis.

Along those lines, aquatic plants like water lilies are usually broader in shape than they are tall, which also helps with floating. Terrestrial plants like giant sequoias grow taller rather than broader, as their roots anchor them firmly to the ground.

The roots of aquatic plants are different from those of terrestrial plants. Plants that live in the water tend to have a single root for each leaf, and the roots hang into the water. Plants that live on the ground have roots that are branched to help keep the plants in place, extending outward for stability and to maximize water absorption.

The In-Between Zone

Living in the area between land and water, the littoral zone, takes a unique combination of characteristics. Plants that live on land and in water can be found in the muddy area along the shores of rivers, lakes and oceans. The littoral zone is an important area for the health of the entire body of water as the plants living here help provide wildlife habitat and prevent erosion of the shoreline.

Plants living in the littoral zone have adaptations that help them survive in challenging conditions. For example, plants that live along the shore of the ocean have evolved techniques for dealing with the high salinity of sea water.

With their roots anchored in soggy or flooded soil of the littoral zone, plants that live in this in-between area also have methods for getting oxygen to their submerged roots and staying in place. Some plants, like mangroves, have special structures that emerge from the water to aerate their roots, notes Smithsonian Ocean. Other species grow stilt roots, which extend out from the central trunk, to keep them anchored to the shoreline.

Plants in the Littoral Zone

It's easy to create a list of land plants names – just look around your home or school and start writing down names of the species you see. The list of plants that grow on land and in water is much shorter, and the species may be less familiar to you, depending on where you live.

A commonly known plant that grows in the littoral zone is the cattail (​Typha​ spp.). There are about 30 species of cattail that grow around the world, and they are often found in bogs, wetlands, marshes and the edges of lakes and rivers. With their characteristic brown, sausage-shaped flower, cattails are easy to identify.

In the southern United States, you probably have bald cypress (​Taxodium distichum​) growing nearby. Common in swamps, bayous, rivers and coastal areas, bald cypress trees are deciduous trees that look like evergreens in the summer, according to North Carolina State Extension.

If you live in the tropics or subtropics, mangroves may be familiar to you. A group of about 54 species and several genera, mangroves live in sheltered coastal areas, and communities of these plants help keep the ecosystem of the shoreline healthy by providing habitats for plants and animals that live on land and underwater.

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