Banana Water Lily Improves Waterfowl Habitat
The Banana Water Lily can increase food dramatically and draw a variety of ducks on your property.
Banana Water Lily is an under-appreciated and under-utilized waterfowl food that is gaining acceptance as a real winner.
Long known to be a great food source for diver ducks, Banana Water Lily, or Nymphaea mexicana or Castalia mexicana as it used to be called, has been shown in our demonstration impoundment in Georgetown, South Carolina to be a superior waterfowl food source for dabblers, as well. We have approximately 15 acres of Banana Water Lily in a 19-acre impoundment that consistently held roughly 600 waterfowl from late October till mid-March. At its peak just prior to duck season, there were 3,000 ducks on this small pond.
The surprising thing we discovered was when we lowered the water level from our normal 21 to 35 inches of depth to 12 to 18 inches deep, the number of different species of waterfowl increased dramatically. We went from primarily ring necks, coots and green wing teal, to adding blue wing teal, shovelers, gadwall, widgeon, pintails, mallards and wood ducks. In February we had 40 canvasbacks show up.
Quickly we learned that lower water levels was a key to maximum usage by a wide variety of ducks during the winter.
Anything that can lower the cost of duck hunting gets our attention. While there is a cost associated with acquiring and planting the Banana Water Lily, the costs diminish dramatically after the first year. You don’t plow it, fertilize it, spray it with herbicides, and you don’t have to fence out the deer. Consequently, the labor cost for managing Banana Water Lily is very low after installation.
Here’s what to expect after you plant. Flowers emerge from the water mid-morning on day one. They open to be pollinated, and then they close in late in the afternoon. The flower stays above water for a second day, opening and closing as the previous day, and then it submerges to form a fig-like fruit under the water. The fig-like fruit produces as many as 60 seeds, each the size of milo. Every flower you see stays visible for two days, so it is easy to see why this plant, that begins to flower in early May and continues into the fall, is such a prolific food source. Every day the numbers of blooms submerge after pollination to produce fruit, and new blooms emerge for pollination. As it gets later in the fall the plants begin to form the starchy banana-like tubers that hibernate below the root system until a duck eats it or it sprouts next spring.
The Banana Water Lily reproduces in three ways: from seeds, from rhizomes that sprout from another plant, and from the banana hibernacula that awaken in the spring to form a new plant. Waterfowl will consume the fruit, seeds, banana tubers and small plants. They will even uproot entire large plants that will float to the surface to then be picked apart by the feeding waterfowl.
For best results, plant live plants in 12 to 18 inches of water in February, March and April. Plant at 5-foot intervals for coverage in one year or 10-foot intervals to get decent coverage in two years. If you have a well established plant population in an existing pond and you wish to change to Banana Water Lily, you may need to prepare your pond the previous fall with herbicide work to eliminate the potential competition the following spring.
The folks over at Frost Waterfowl are happy to lend advice on best practices when it comes to planing Banana Water Lily plants and for improving your waterfowl habitat in various ways.
The author is a waterfowl consultant with Frost Waterfowl Trust and has projects in 11 states as well as two foreign countries. He can be contacted via email at [email protected] or on the phone at 843.546.9104.
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