The larger aquatic plants growing in wetlands are usually called macrophytes. These include aquatic vascular plants, aquatic mosses and some larger algae. The presence or absence of aquatic macrophytes is one of the characteristics used to define wetlands, and as such macrophytes are an indispensable component of these ecosystems. As the most important removal processes in constructed treatment wetlands are based on physical and microbial processes, the role of the macrophytes in these has been questioned. This paper summarizes how macrophytes influence the treatment processes in wetlands.
The most important functions of the macrophytes in relation to the treatment of wastewater are the physical effects the presence of the plants gives rise to. The macrophytes stabilise the surface of the beds, provide good conditions for physical filtration, prevent vertical flow systems from clogging, insulate the surface against frost during winter, and provide a huge surface area for attached microbial growth. Contrary to earlier belief, the growth of macrophytes does not increase the hydraulic conductivity of the substrate in soil-based subsurface flow constructed wetlands. The metabolism of the macrophytes affects the treatment processes to different extents depending on the type of the constructed wetland. Plant uptake of nutrients is only of quantitative importance in low-loaded systems (surface flow systems). Macrophyte mediated transfer of oxygen to the rhizosphere by leakage from roots increases aerobic degradation of organic matter and nitrification. The macrophytes have additional site-specific values by providing habitat for wildlife and making wastewater treatment systems aesthetically pleasing.