Isoetes echinospora (Spiny-spore Quillwort)

Plant Info
Also known as: Spiny Quillwort, Spring Quillwort, Braun's Quillwort
Family:Isoetaceae (Quillwort)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; shallow to 5+ feet deep water; soft water lakes, ponds, rivers, streams
Fruiting season:summer
Plant height:2 to 6 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information


Flowers are not produced, reproduction is by spores.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are all basal, narrowly grass-like, erect to spreading, pliant, bright green but paler towards the base, 2 to 6 inches long (rarely to 16 inches), about 1 mm wide, gradually tapering from the base to a blunt or pointed tip, and arise from a nearly round rootstock.

[photo of plant base] The leaf base is abruptly expanded and white to brownish. Plants are commonly completely submersed but in shallow water may be emersed or become stranded on land when water recedes.

Fruit: Fruit type: spores on leaf

[photo of sporangium] Spores are produced starting in early summer, in a nearly round sac (sporangium) on the inner face of the leaf base. Translucent tissue (velum) covers at least a portion of the tip end but usually not more than half of the sac.

[photo of megaspores] Two types of spores are produced: megaspores (female) are visible to the naked eye, white at maturity, .25 to .55 mm diameter with numerous protrusions on the surface giving a spiny appearance; microspores (male) are gray to light brown and less than 1/10th the size of megaspores.


Spiny-spore Quillwort, formerly Isoetes tenella, is the most common of the 3 Isoetes species in Minnesota, found in soft water lakes, ponds and slow moving rivers and streams, most often in less than 2 feet of water but sometimes deeper. It is usually completely submersed but near shorelines it can be emersed or become stranded on land when water levels drop.

Spiny-spore Quillwort, as its common name suggests, is best recognized by the spiny texture on its megaspores, but also by pliant leaves that have a long, gradual taper all the way to the tip. Most similar is Lake Quillwort (Isoetes lacustris), which is also found in the northeast quadrant of Minnesota, but has stiffer leaves that are more parallel-sided with a shorter taper at the tip end, and its megaspores are larger, .55 to .8 mm diameter, with irregular ridges across the surface. A good hand lens or microscope is recommended. The third species, Prairie Quillwort (Isoetes melanopoda), is only found in rainwater and seepage pools in quartzite rock outcrops in the southwestern corner of Minnesota.

The Quillworts resemble some other aquatic species with basal clumps of linear leaves, such as Water Lobelia (Lobelia dortmana), Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum), American Shoreweed (Littorella americana) and others, all of which are flowering plants that lack any sporangium at the leaf base.

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More photos

Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Aitkin, Cook and Crow Wing counties.


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