How people value rivers, wetlands and floodplains influences their attitudes, beliefs and behaviours towards these ecosystems, and can shape policy and management interventions. Better understanding why people value rivers, wetlands and floodplains and their key ecosystem components, such as vegetation, helps to determine what factors underpin the social legitimacy required for effective management of these systems. This study sought to ascertain perspectives on the value of non-woody vegetation in river-floodplain systems via an online survey. The survey found that participants valued non-woody vegetation for their provision of a range of ecosystem functions and services, with strong emphasis on ecological aspects such as regulation functions, habitat provision and biodiversity. However, the inclusion of a question framed to focus on stories or narratives resulted in a different emphasis. Responses indicated that non-woody vegetation, and rivers, wetlands and floodplains were valued for the way they made people feel through lived experiences such as recreational activities, personal interactions with nature, educational and research experiences. This highlights the important role of storytelling in navigating complex natural resource management challenges and ascertaining a deeper understanding of values that moves beyond provision of function to feeling. Improved understanding of the diverse ways people value and interact with river-floodplain systems will help develop narratives and forms of engagement that foster shared understanding, empathy and collaboration. Appreciation of plural values such as the provision of functions and services along with the role of emotional connections and lived experience will likely increase lasting engagement of the general public with management to protect and restore river-floodplain systems.