Sometimes the solution to a problem has been right in front of us all along. People have been walking and boating by the unassuming little aquatic plants of the family Lemnaceae for centuries without realizing their full potential.
Ducks knew. Hence the nickname “duckweed” for the diminutive free-floating plants that serve as a nutritious, protein-packed staple in the diets of many waterfowl. But it is the plant’s alternate name of “water lentil” that hints at its promise for humans.
Perhaps a metaphor from“Gulliver’s Travels” is apt here: The water lentil is a Lilliputian plant with Brobdingnagian potential. Members of the family Lemnaceae are the smallest known flowering plants in the world, sprouting atop bodies of fresh water across the globe. Their flowers may measure just a fraction of a millimeter, and their leaves just a few millimeters. But, thanks to the work of a local company, the water lentil is poised to take center stage in the arenas of food security, sustainability and plant-based diets.