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Aquatic and wetland species


Nymphaea candida have characteristic, white flowers
and the bottom layer of their leaves is reddish

A significant number of vascular plant species present in the Wigry National Park (WNP) is associated with the aquatic environment and wetlands. Many of these plants are now rare in Poland and thus included in a species protection programme. Their existence depends on the diversity and quality of the aquatic and wetland environment, such as lakes, rivers, water-heads, wet meadows, moors and wet forests.


In the lakes of the Park one can observe the plants with large, round or oval floating leaves and white or yellow flowers. Among those plants four species can be distinguished: common white waterlily Nymphaea alba, Nymphaea candida, yellow waterlily Nuphar lutea and Nuphar pumila. The latter species, a late-glacial relic and very rare in Poland (it was therefore placed in the "Polish Red Book of Plants” with the status of an endangered species), was observed in the Park at one site only and has not been found again recently.


Yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea) grows delicate
underwater leaves, apart from leathery leaves
floating on the water surface

The other one, yellow waterlily, is common in this country can be found in significant numbers in many lakes and slow rivers of the Park. Its leathery, floating leaves are attached to the ends of long, thin sprouts that grow from thick rootstocks buried in the mud. The sprouts can be as tall as 4 meters. Apart from the floating leaves, yellow water lilies also have underwater leaves, which are thin and visually similar to cabbage leaves. Large, yellow flowers protruding above the water surface give off an intensive, alcohol resembling scent which attracts the insects that pollinate them. Nymphaea can be distinguished from Nuphar by the white colour of flowers and the colour of the bottom layer of the leaves (reddish in case of Nymphaea and green in case of Nuphar). It is much more difficult to distinguish from each the other two species of Nymphaea existing in the Park. They are very similar and therefore often mistaken. That is why the distribution of those plants is not entirely known. It must be added here that north Nymphaea are also included in the "Polish Red Book of Plants” with the status of an endangered species. When cut off the rootstock, the floating leaves of Nymphaea and Nuphar quickly wither, even if the sprouts remain dipped in water. Such a situation is caused by the fact that water is being pushed up into the leaves as a result of pressure present in the rootstock, and not because of the usual sucking force of the sprouts. The beautiful flowers of Nymphaea and Nuphar are often thoughtlessly picked by people, which is one of the reasons for the decrease of the population of those plants.


Wet meadows provide favourable conditions
for the growth of many species of orchids

The extensively used wet meadows, featuring an abundance of vanishing and protected species, are a very interesting, however slowly disappearing element of our landscape. These sites vanish irreversibly as a result of changes in terrain management. Some of them become overgrown by bushes after they are no longer cultivated, others transform as a result of increasing meadow utilisation and drainage. The wet meadows located in the area of WNP feature many protected species, including the orchids of the Dactylorhiza genus: Dactylorhiza baltica, D. incarnata, D. maculata and D. ruthei, as well as superb pink Dianthus superbus and Greek valerian Polemonium coeruleum. Some of those species grow rather numerously on many sites (e.g. Dactylorhiza incarnata), while others are very rare and observed only on single sites (e.g. Dactylorhiza ruthei).


Dactylorhiza ruthei is one of the rarest
species of orchid in the Park

"The List of Vascular Plants Endangered in Poland" includes Dactylorhiza maculata and superb pink, both with an endangered species status, however Dactylorhiza ruthei is included in the "Red Book of Plants" with the status of an endangered species. Greek valerian is a late-glacial relic, which appeared in the area covered by Würm glaciation during the withdrawal of the ice wall. The flora of wet meadows resembles the flora of lowmoor and transitional moor. The moors are swampy areas connected to fertile, slowly flowing waters. Rush-plant clusters (lake-river lowmoors) and lowmoors connected to wet forests (alder carrs and riverside carrs) are also rated among this group. These environments, often turning into wet moors, feature the greatest abundance of rare plant species, including numerous species of orchids such as: Epipactis palustris, Liparis loeselli or adder’s-mouth orchid Malaxis monophyllos. In particular, the two latter ones are currently very rare elements of our flora – both are included in the "Polish Red Book of Plants" with the status of an endangered species.




Shrubby birch (Betula humilis)
is a late-glacial relic of our flora



Among the other protected plants, Toefield’s asphodel Tofieldia calyculata and shrubby birch Betula humilis, which is a late-glacial relic of Polish flora, can also be mentioned. Epipactis palustris and Liparis loeselli as well as low birch Betula humilis were listed on "The Red List of Vascular Plants Endangered in Poland" with a status of an endangered species, and adder’s mouth orchid was listed in "The Red Book of Plants" with a status of a species endangered by extinction. Another type of moors are highmoors, associated mainly with poor rainwaters. The subsoil of those moors is very acidic and the nutrient elements are difficult to intake by plants. The border of those moors lies in Poland – they can be found mainly in the northern and north-eastern parts of the country, as well as in the mountains. This type of environment features many rare and protected plant species. Leafy adder’s mouth orchid Hammarbya paludosa, being a post-glacial plant relic, deserves special attention.







Long-leaved sundew Drosera anglica
in much harder to come across
than common sundew Drosera rotundifolia

Two species of insectivorous plants are also interesting – great sundew Drosera anglica, very rare in Poland, and the much more numerous common sundew Drosera rotundifolia. Insectivorous plants grow mainly in the areas that lack mineral substances, particularly in those with nitrogen deficiency in the soil. As the unquestionable majority of the plants, the sundew is an autotrophic organism that requires water, light, carbon dioxide and mineral salts in order to grow. However, it is capable of acquiring some of the nutrient substances from a different source, namely small animal organisms. Sticky leaves, armed with numerous gland hairs with tiny drops of sweet liquid at the ends, are a trap for insects. The attracted insect sticks to the leaf which closes and holds the victim. The victim is then covered with a secretion containing digestive enzymes, spilled from the gland hairs. Some of the elements and chemical compounds that are freed during the degradation of the victim are absorbed by the plant and used for its life processes. After the victim is digested, the leaf slowly opens revealing an empty chitinous shell that remained from the victim. The digestion process can take from one to several days, depending on the size of the victim and the age of the leaf. Great sundew and Hammarbya paludosa were included in "The Red List of Vascular Plants Endangered in Poland" with a status of an endangered species, and common sundew was enlisted as rare species. Moreover, Hammarbya paludosa was listed in "The Polish Red Book of Plants" with a status of a species endangered by extinction.