Aims The research aimed at studying the effect of flooding with sulfate-rich water on the activity, abundance and diversity of sulfate-reducing micro-organisms present in the root zone of an oxygen-releasing plant growing on two riparian grassland soils with contrasting amounts of iron. Methods A series of microcosms was used to investigate the effects. Plants were grown under controlled conditions in microcosms containing a rhizosphere and bulk soil compartment for a period of 12 weeks in the presence of sulfate-rich flood water. Molybdate-treated systems served as non-sulfate-reducing controls. Results At harvest, activity and numbers of sulfate-reducing micro-organisms were higher in the absence of molybdate, but a rhizosphere effect and an impact of the presence of high levels of iron were not observed on activity and numbers. Both soils had in common a diverse community of sulfate-reducing micro-organisms covering all major cultured bacterial taxa. The appearance of members of the Desulfovibrionaceae exclusively in the rhizosphere of G. maxima was the only unambiguous indication of a plant effect. Conclusion The presence of sulfate-rich flood water stimulated the activity and growth of a part of the sulfate-reducing community leading to a change in community composition. The proximity of aerenchymatous plant roots and the abundance of iron in the soil had a negligible effect on the sulfate-reducing community.