In quiet lakes and backwaters, floating meadows provide sustenance for unknown kinds of animals. Hence,
water plants play a key role in Amazon ecology. Many animals, such as the manatee, feed upon the plants.
Their underwater roots are used for shelter and spawning by small fish, amphibians and crustaceans. The
vegetation above water is home to a host of insect and spider species. Mats of water plants provide nesting
sites for water birds such as the Jacana. The habitat also supports large water dwelling reptiles, such as
caiman, monitor lizards and snakes, especially constrictors: the boas and the Anaconda.
There are many distinctive water plants but only a few are especially abundant and common. These play and
especially important part in the dynamics of the forest and river. The water hyacinth and water lettuce are
the two most common fully aquatic species. These can quickly block water ways, especially if their main
consumer, the manatee, is absent, as it is in many places. Cane species then take over. If floods are
insufficient to dislodge the mass of vegetation, it will remain and eventually undergo the succession
process. During heavy floods, plant mats are broken up and passively float around the ecosystem, moved by
river currents. This is undoubtedly important in distributing animals to places they may not otherwise reach
an effective re-shuffling of the ecological deck of cards. (see also floating meadows)
Of the water plants, the Giant (or Victoria) Water Lily (Victoria amazonica) is the most famous for being
by far the world's largest water lily. The pads measure up to six feet across, compared with most other species
that reach at most one or two feet across. The plant genus is named in honor of Britain's Queen Victoria,
after its discovery in the 19th century. Other important species are water hyacinth, water
lettuce, water fern and various aquatic grasses (next page, see also floating grass).