Abstract Water level fluctuation and inorganic nitrogen enrichment are two serious problems caused by anthropogenic disturbances in aquatic ecosystems. They cause resource fluctuation and thus might influence the invasive-ness of alien plants. Alternanthera philoxeroides is an amphibious and widespread clonal plant which exhibits significant invasiveness. This experimental study examined the plant's morphological traits under different nitrogen concentrations and water levels. The responses of A. philoxeroides to water levels and nitrogen concentrations were similar for both land-like and riverbank-like initial conditions. A. philoxeroides showed an escape strategy of shoot elongation when its growth was suppressed by shallow submergence. No toxic symptoms but increased clonal spread was observed at high nitrogen concentrations, suggesting that A. philoxeroides not only tolerated but benefitted from nitrogen-polluted water. High nitrogen level mitigated the negative effects of submergence on its leaf survival, thereby enhancing its adaptation to water level fluctuation. Such strong adaptability and clonal spread helps A. philoxeroides to grow and invade successfully in shallow eutrophic water.