The objective of this study was to determine how macrophytes commonly used in treatment wetlands (TWs) respond to water with low pollutant concentration. We measured pollutant removal efficiency and compared growth and nutrient uptake of five macrophytes in demonstration scale units (volume >40 m3) irrigated by water with pollutant concentrations representative of average urban stormwater quality. All species showed a strong productivity gradient along the beds, starting with high biomass – high density near the inlet, then decreasing progressively with distance. Cyperus was by far the most productive species. Phragmites and Thalia had higher biomass in the first few metres of the beds than Typha and Arundo. In terms of pollutant removal, decreasing plant growth may be interpreted as indicative of high efficiency when caused by nutrient depletion. Differences in aboveground biomass between species did not translate into measurable differences in removal efficiency at the outlet. Although Phragmites australis is the species most commonly used in TWs, under the low nutrient load, Cyperus had twice its biomass, and higher N and P uptake. These results highlight the importance of considering wastewater characteristics when selecting macrophyte species for TWs.

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