A perennial aquatic plant with long, branching stems and floating oval leaves that may reach 4–5 inches in length and resemble small water lily leaves, only without a split. There is a thick, jellylike covering on the young stems, buds, and lower leaf surfaces. Underwater parts have a reddish or purplish tinge. It spreads quickly via rhizomes. Flowers are small, reddish purple, and not showy; they are held above the water’s surface.
Similar species: Water lilies (Nymphaea spp.) have large, showy flowers and leaves that are split or cleft.