Skip to main content
Hero Image
Aquatic grass growing in a drainage ditch

Aquatic Plants to the Rescue!

Leersia oryzoides, commonly known as rice cutgrass, growing in a farm ditch.
Leersia oryzoides, commonly known as rice cutgrass, is an aquatic plant that grows in farm ditches. (Photo by Jason Taylor, D5041-1)

Farmers sometimes remove aquatic plants growing in drainage ditches because they believe these plants will impact water flow or are unpleasing to the eye. However, ARS researchers at the Water Quality and Ecology Research Unit in Oxford, MS, a part of the National Sedimentation Laboratory, found that keeping plants in drainage ditches can benefit the aquatic ecosystem. Their research has shown that allowing managed vegetation to remain in farm ditches can result in significant nitrogen and phosphorus removal through the biological activity of bacteria and algae, and uptake by the associated aquatic plants.

Nitrogen and phosphorus in surface runoff can be serious threats to our waterways. Although these nutrients are naturally present in aquatic ecosystems, too much in the environment can pollute air and water. This pollution can result in hypoxia, a state of low or depleted oxygen in a water body. Managing vegetation in ditches can impede runoff, providing optimumal conditions for nitrogen removal by denitrification and retaining excess nitrogen and phosphorus. Reducing excess nitrogen and phosphorus in agricultural drainage networks could help lessen the farm impact of excessive nutrients in our waterways.

Related Information

Research Project: Ditch Plant Response to Variable Flooding: A Case Study of Leersia Oryzoides (Rice Cutgrass).

Explore Other Discoveries

Let’s Hear It for Biogas!

ARS scientists are sounding out a new way to improve biogas production and help the environment.

Predicting High-Risk Areas for Wildfires

Researchers developed a forecast tool to determine which areas have the highest probability of a large rangeland fire.

Centipedegrass Food for Pollinators

ARS researchers discovered that bees collect pollen from centipedegrass flower heads.

When the Grass is Greener on All Sides

ARS researchers investigated whether vegetative filter strips could remove excess nitrogen from runoff.

How Healthy is Your Soil?

Researchers have developed a new, easier way to find the answer to the question, "How much carbon is stored in soil?"