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The common coontail is a submerged aquatic angiosperm plant. It is a perennial native to North America that has spread worldwide. It survives well because it grows both by asexual reproduction of broken or complete stems and by sexual reproduction of many seeds. It has a wide ecological tolerance and grows relatively fast. It tolerates a vast range of environmental conditions from fully open to shaded areas. Coontail also tolerates a variety of water quality. This plant is an important cover for fish and is a valuable source of food for waterfowl. Submerged portions of all aquatic plants provide habitats for many micro and macro invertebrates.
Coontail forms dense stands under water. Unless taken out of the water, coontail cannot be properly identified. The long, occasionally branching stems (with a single branch produced per node) are usually cord-like and flexible.
Coontail is a unisexual plant, with most reproduction occurring through fragmentation of the stem. Flowers are unisexual, both staminate and pistillate on the same plant and are very small. The staminate flowers have 4 to 10 stamens, with very short filaments, anthers with a connective projecting distally and ending in 2 bristles. Pistillate flowers have 1 pistil and a superior, 1-locular, ovary. Fruit is a small nutlet that us elliptical-shaped, tightly packed and smooth.
Coontail leaves grow in whorls of 5 to 12 leaves. They are stiff and forked and usually grow about 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) long. Leaves denser towards tip.
This plant can grow up to 3 metres (3') in length although typically they are closer to 1 metre (3'). Coontail is known to grow in waters to 4.5 metres (15') deep. Stems are yellow-green to almost pinkish depending on water. This is a rootless aquatic macrophyte, but modified leaves sometimes anchor the plant.
Coontail grows in shallow and standing waters such as in marshes, ponds, bayous, canals, bogs, fens, lakes, ditches, oxbows, etc. This aquatic plant is considered invasive in many countries and can grow at elevations up to 2,700 metres (8,900').
According to PFAF the leaves are edible. Interestingly, it has been used medicinally for treating dermatitis, fevers, sunburn, and scorpion stings. Aqueous and methanolic extracts exhibit strong analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic qualities.
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