Abstract：The vegetation of wetlands show strong zonation patterns, but the mechanisms determining these patterns are not fully understood. In the present study, growth and morphological responses to a water level gradient (–20 cm (i.e. water level 20 cm below soil surface), –10 cm, 0 cm, 10 cm, 20 cm) were compared between a higher elevation plant (Imperata cylindrica) and a lower elevation plant (Carex brevicuspis) in the Dongting Lake wetlands of China. For both species, the aboveground, belowground,and total biomass were greater at –10 cm than at any other water level.. However,when the water level increased from –10 cm to 0 cm, there was a greater decrease in the biomass of I. cylindrica than in that of C. brevicuspis. Plant height, tiller number, leaf length, leaf width and leaf area showed greater variation along the water level gradient in I. cylindrica than in C. brevicuspis. Generally, with increasing water level, root length, rhizome number, and adventitious root biomass and number all decreased in I. cylindrica. However, in C. brevicuspis, neither the rhizome number nor the primary adventitious root biomass differed significantly among the five water levels. These results indicate that I. cylindrica have a lower tolerance for flooding and higher water sensitivity than C. brevicuspis and these differences may explain why I. cylindrica is found at relatively higher elevations that are not prone to flooding, while C. brevicuspis is found at comparatively lower elevations in the Dongting Lake wetlands.