ECHOcommunity Conversations

Tropical Plants for Soggy Soil

We are developing a half-acre property for food production in Guatemala (at around 5,100 feet altitude) and discovered that the back quarter of the long, narrow property is pretty wet, since it runs along a lagoon. Can anyone recommend some plants (bonus points for tropical/native species or perennials!) that can withstand occasional flooding and standing water, and thrive in wet conditions? I don’t have experience with growing rice, but I’m not sure that it’s quite wet enough for that. We were told to expect at least some level of flooding during the worst of rainy season, and are working to find creative ways to still use as much of the land as possible. Thanks in advance!

2 Likes

Camu Camu works great in hot wet places and can even be flooded a meter or 2. It gives a red cherry type fruit super high in Vitamin C. It works in the Amazon Jungle in Peru, but it’s lower altitude. I couldn’t find if it would work at 5,100’.

Aztecs used Chinampas some of the most productive growing system in history, so having a wet area can be beneficial (although the Chinampas were with standing water, the idea is that the surrounding water provided the mini land islands constant hydration). You could have for example a raised area bordered with logs or rocks that is fed by the damp conditions. The damp soil could possibly be rich in nutrients as top soil runs downhill thanks to erosion. You could do this by piling some good soil on top of rotting logs as a type of hugelkultur.

Just brainstorming some ideas with you, not sure if they would work for your situation.

2 Likes

Greetings,

Sugarcane might be an option. Usually when planting sugar can in a swampy area with a high water table it works best to build mounds during the dry season then plant on the mounds that will stay above water.

2 Likes

Try taro, also called coco yams/arrowroot and tanier spinach/Tahitian taro as they are great for wet areas and if you use the Chinampas system (a wonderful system) grow them down near but above the water line (mulch deep for dry season) and then water chestnuts and watercress at the water line if you have a location on the edge of your Chinampa or other location that does not fluctuate greatly. Asparagus is a possibility. Skirret carrot likes wet areas and naturally grows along streams but would do best in cooler part of the year. Guava is very tolerant of wetter conditions and dry conditions both as long as it is not too wet or too dry too long. The Aztecs used to fertilize with waterweeds and if you get azola growing there in the water in a Chinampas system that is a nitrogen fixer. If the water disappears completely for part of the year the azola plant may not work as well since it may have to be reintroduced. Fish can thrive where the water stays for 5 or 6 months or longer. Shorter duration tilapia will need all male system to grow rapidly enough when fingerlings are introduced. I would not recommend rice unless you don’t have other options since it is a low-value crop and you could be growing high-value horticultural crop/s.

1 Like

Also I developed a system here on the flood plains of South Sudan where I made raised beds that had occasional cross ditches and then I dug a hole in the lowest places, particularly at corners of beds. The hole can be dug deeper each year and allows for some drainage and if you destroy the soil structure enough (puddling as they do in rich production but you can do by compacting the hole) you can store water for later irrigagion but if you need additional drainage then best not to compact, You can make the holes as deep as you want but make sure no one breaks a leg in one that is narrow or child falls in a deep one. This system works best when you put a lot of organic matter in the planting hole which helps the soil hold more water and make the little catchments more effective.

If you wanted to try rice, you could try using the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). There are various differences between SRI and traditional methods for growing rice, but one major difference is that the paddy isn’t flooded the entire time. Rice can survive with flooded conditions, but when the soil is allowed to drain, it encourages root development and can lead to larger yields per plant (along with planting individual seedlings and wider plant spacing). Here is an article with more details. https://www.echocommunity.org/en/resources/75a310fa-507f-4061-9730-9546839295b0

2 Likes

I’m not sure if I can find Camu Camu in Guatemala, but I will definitely keep my eyes open for it. And I hadn’t considered using a hugelkultur. That could be a good way to create beds in the back of the property! Thanks so much!

Our property ends just before the lagoon & standing water, so I don’t think we would be able to do fish or chinampas, but I may try getting some taro to plant in the wettest area, during rainy season. And I like the idea of having some kind of drainage holes at the corners of some of the raised beds. Thanks for your recommendations!

Many parts of cattails (Typha spp.) are edible. It can also be used for compost/mulch. Other wetland food crops include taro, water lotus, Neptunia, and watercress. Azolla or duckweed (small floating plants) can be grown in water for fodder/compost/fertilizer. Water hyacinth and Aeschynomene (as well as Neptunia) can also be used as fodder or compost/mulch. Pachira aquatica is a wetland tree with edible leaves, flowers, and nuts. Some Sesbania species (shrubs/trees) can withstand submergence after establishment. Sesbanias can be used for fodder, firewood, or mulch/compost. Some of these species have the potential to be invasive.

Camu camu:


Seed sources:

out of stock at:

Xanthosoma sagittifolium, Elephant ear, is similar to Taro and also has an edible root.

Info on both at:

I would be conscious of planting a crop familiar to the local culture. You can find crops that do well in your plot of land but if it’s something that is unfamiliar to the Guatemalans it defeats the purpose of growing it in the first place. One of Roland Bunch’s principle in Two Ears of Corn is to be cautious about introducing crops not readily used in the local culture. On the other hand if this is for your own use there is value in showcasing to the locals what new crops available.