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Washington State Department of Ecology > Water & shorelines > Freshwater studies > Lake water quality > Aquatic Plant Guide home > Submersed Plants > Lilaea scilloides

Aquatic Plant Identification Manual for Washington's Freshwater Plants

Submersed Plants

Species: Lilaea scilloides (Poiret) Hauman, flowering quillwort
Family: Juncaginaceae

Flowering quillwort is an annual plant with tufts of onion-like leaves and inconspicuous green flower spikes. The round leaves emerge from the plant base and are taller than the flowering spikes. The leaf base is surrounded by a sheath of leafy tissue. Flowering quillwort is not common in Washington or British Columbia, but when present is typically found growing in shallow water or on coastal tide flats.
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Leaf: Several leaves arise in a tuft. The leaves are 5-35 cm long, 1-4 mm thick, and round in cross-section. Each leaf has a pointed or rounded tip and a sheathing base where it joins the short stem.

Stem:  The modified stem is very short and grows partly underground.

Flower: The small flowers lack petals or sepals. There are 3 types of flowers on each plant: bisexual flowers and male flowers are small, greenish, and occur in short spikes (0.5-4 cm) on long stalks (3-20 cm); female flowers occur singly near the base of the plant and are enclosed in the leaf sheaths. 

Fruit: The strongly-ribbed woody nutlets are 2-10 mm long and have a beaked tip.

Root: Fibrous roots emerge from a modified stem that grows partly or completely below the ground.

Propagation: The plant spreads by seeds which are probably dispersed by water. 

Importance of plant: Unknown, but the fibrous roots may help stablize sediments.

Distribution: North and South America from Canada to Chile, and also in Australia.  

Habitat: Shallow water in alkaline, saline, or brackish areas from coastal tideflats to interior valleys. Often found growing in sediments at the edge of receding water.

May be confused with: Quillworts (Isoetes spp.), which have distinctly swollen leaf-bases containing spores and are strictly freshwater plants. Other low-growing, shallow water plants such as awlwort (Subularia aquatica), water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna), lilaeopsis (Lilaeopsis occidentalis), and mudworts (Limosella spp.). Look for differences in leaf and flower structure to distinguish them.

Photographs:  http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/othrdata/westflor/species/4/lilascil.htm

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