Use this field guide to learn about common wetland plants like ferns, grasses, shrubs, and trees of the Piedmont region and explore how wetlands can be protected, mitigated, and restored.
What is a wetland? Wetlands are diverse areas where the presence of water for extended periods of time exerts a controlling influence on the plant communities, soil properties, and animals that exist in them. You can learn more about specific wetland plants in our Wetland Plant Field Guide (PDF).
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Definition of 1979: "Wetlands are lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water."
More complex than the definition of wetlands has been society's relationship with them, which has been characterized by a long history of misunderstanding. Historically wetlands were viewed as unappealing, useless, disease-ridden places. As a result of this perception many wetlands were drained, cleared and put into crop production. In urban areas, other wetlands were filled for houses, industrial facilities, office buildings and sanitary landfills. Between the mid 1950's to late 1970's, the Chesapeake Bay watershed experienced substaintial losses of wetlands, averaging over 2,800 acres a year! Such a history has left us with a landscape devoid of about 42% of Virginia's original wetlands.
The Fish and Wildlife Service definition also states that in order to be classified as a wetland the area must have one or more of the following three attributes:
- The land supports predominately hydrophytes, which are water-loving vegetation,
- The soil is classified as hydric, which means water is present long enough during the growing season to create low oxygen conditions,
- The hydrology of the region is such that the area is saturated at some point during the growing season.