Georgian Court University

Components of the Native Marsh Ecosystem


1.      Sun: Source of energy for all plants in the ecosystem.

2.      Marsh Mallow (Hibiscus) –  Tall herb (four to six feet tall).  Its showy, pink or white colored flowers are pollinated by bees seeking nectar for food. Many herbivorous insects eat its seeds.  Its seeds are eaten by red winged blackbirds and wood ducks.  

3.      Blue flag iris (Iris versicolor) – Perennial plant with sword shaped leaves, and distinctive blue flowers, this plant can grow to 2-3' tall Muskrat eat its roots and aphids feed on the sap of its leaves. It is particularly sensitive to being outcompeted by rhizome forming plants like Phragmites

4.      Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) – Tall herb (two to four feet), pink to purplish flowers clustered atop plant in early summer, produces a milky sap when broken. Grows in marshes and along the edges of lakes, ponds and streams. Many insects depend on this plant exclusively for their food and have evolved unique strategies for detoxifying chemicals produced by it.

5.      Cattail (Typha latifolia.) – Tall herb with long, blade-like leaves, often growing in  dense stands, produces a sausage-like flower head. Grows in marshes and along the edges of lakes, ponds and streams. One of the most ecologically important native wetland plants, cattails grow abundantly in marshes in large colonies and provide food and habitats for many insects, birds and mammals.

6.      Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) – Thorny shrub producing pale pink flowers in early summer. Grows in marshes and along the edges of lakes, ponds and streams. Many insects, birds and mammals eat various parts of the swamp rose, especially its flowers and rose hips fruit, although most of these animals do not eat it exclusively.

7.      Bumblebees (Bombus sp.) – The primary pollinator of swamp rose as they collect its nectar for food. Also pollinates swamp milkweed as it collects nectar from it for food.

8.      Aphids (Aphis sp.) – Suck on sap produced by leaves and stem of swamp rose, cattail, milkweed, native Phragmites and marsh mallow.

9.      Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) – Caterpillar feeds milkweed leaves. Caterpillar absorbs toxins from milkweeds that make it distasteful to birds. Orange with black veins and white spots on the butterfly advertise it is poisonous to predators. The adult butterfly pollinates swamp milkweed as it seeks nectar from the flower for food.

10.  Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) – Regularly eat cattail rhizomes and occasionally its flower stalks.  Will also eat native and invasive Phragmites.

11.  Muskrat (Osap ndatra zibethicus) – Cattail rhizomes, growing under the mud, provide a major source of food for these rodents. Muskrat also eat stems and make their lodges out of cattail leaves. Muskrat populations shape the character of a marsh by controlling the growth of cattail stands.

12.  Cattail Moth (Limnaaecia phragmitella) – Caterpillar feeds on leaves of cattail.

13.  Stinging Rose Caterpillar (Parasa indetermina) – Feeds on the leaves of swamp rose.

14.  Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) – These insects spend their entire life cycle on this plant, eating its seeds and nectar.

15.  Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta) – Eat cattail stems and seeds, in addition to other plants and small animals.  The dense growth of invasive Phragmites can reduce areas suitable for basking (the warming up needed to allow them to be active) and can make it hard for the large males to hunt since they can’t move between the plants’ stems.

16.  Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) –Eat seeds and insects, including butterflies and on occasion bumblebees. Often nest in cattails but will also nest in native and invasive Phragmites.

17.  Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) – Eat seeds from marsh mallow and swamp rose.  Also eats spiders, beetles, worms.  Nest in Typha but not in Phragmites

18.  Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana) - Feeds on insects that are found on cattail plants. Nests in cattail stands and both native and invasive Phragmites.

19.  Lady Beetle (Hippodamia convergens) – Larvae are important predators on aphids.

20.  Raccoon (Procyon lotor) – Preys on eggs, fish, muskrats, insects, spiders, worms and a large variety of plants. Unlike mink, raccoon are omnivorous and eat a greater range of food and are therefore more adaptable to changes in their environment.

21.  Mink (Mustela vison) – Feed mainly on muskrats but also eat marsh birds and other prey. Often den in former muskrat burrows.

22.  Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) – Kill muskrat, mink, raccoon and Canada geese, in addition to other mammals, small birds and reptiles like black snakes. Great Horned Owls are the top nocturnal avian predators in many ecosystems, including marshes.

23.  Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) – Prey on muskrat, mink, raccoon, and Canada geese, in addition to small birds, mammals and insects.

24.  Black rat snake (Elaphe obsolete)Eats bird eggs including duck and goose eggs, small mammals and small birds

25.  Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) – eats a wide variety of dead plant material as a tadpole.  As an adult it mostly eats insects such as beetles, butterflies and moths.  It will also eat spiders.

26.   Earthworm  (Lumbricus sp.) - eats dead and decaying leaves from a wide variety of plants

27.  California Wolf Spider- (Hogna carolinensis): This eight-legged, eight-eyed nonpoisonous arachnid does not spin a web; it hunts insects at night by scurrying along the ground.  It will eat any insect it comes in contact with.  It often hides its gray-brown body from predators in large, bushy plants

28.  Ground Beetle (Pterostichus sp.) -  Scavenger.   Eats the dead bodies of other animals.

Sources for information about the Animals in the Marsh Community: