DON’T TOSS THAT PLANT!

Controlling invasive species with proper disposal methods

An invasive parrot feather plant. Photo credit: Matt Ankney, Michigan Department of Natural Resources
An invasive parrot feather plant. Photo credit: Matt Ankney, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Managing a client’s water feature can sometimes mean
helping him or her make tough decisions about
excess or unwanted aquatic plants and animals.
Plants can reproduce and outgrow the feature, as can fish, frogs
and snails. The client may be tempted to release plants and/or
animals into a ditch, drain, pond or natural waterway — but
they shouldn’t.

Because many popular water feature
plants and animals are not native to
U.S. waters (and even appear on
state and federal prohibited
species lists), it is important
to guide clients in the
responsible disposal of
these organisms. Releasing
any aquatic organism into
the environment is not an
accepted practice and may
even be punishable by law.

Little Green Invaders

Many water garden plants and animals
have the potential to become invasive, outcompeting and destroying
the rich diversity of native aquatic species. Because they have
evolved together, native plants and animals have a symbiotic relationship; they rely on each other for
nutrients, sunlight and water and keep
each other in balance so that one species
does not dominate the environment.

When non-native plants or animals
are introduced into waterways, however,
they can become invasive due to an
absence of natural controls (predators,
disease, climate, et cetera) that would
normally keep them in check. Exotic
non-native plants and animals have
proven over and over again their ability
to adapt to colder environments and
water temperatures. These non-native
invaders of our waterways are called
Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS). They
not only negatively impact the aquatic
environment, but they create negative
recreational and economic impacts for
individuals, businesses and communities
as well.

Floating mats of invasive European Frog-bit can crowd out native wetland plants.
Floating mats of invasive European Frog-bit can crowd out native wetland plants.

Frog-bitten

A case in point is last summer’s
discovery of European Frog-bit
(Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) in the
City of Alpena, Michigan’s Wildlife
Sanctuary — a beautiful, 500-acre
coastal wetland adjacent to Lake
Huron. Understandably popular with
water gardeners, E. Frog-bit is a small
but attractive floating plant that looks
like a miniature water lily with tiny
white flowers.

Contrary to its pleasant appearance,
E. Frog-bit is an aggressive invader
that grows in dense, floating mats that
crowd out native wetland plants. These
mats of tough, intertwining roots and
waxy leaves also shade out submergent
aquatic plants. As it spreads, E. Frogbit
creates a monoculture that reduces
the diversity and complexity of habitat
that native wetland plant communities
normally provide to the birds, fish,
reptiles, amphibians and mammals
that utilize wetlands for some or all of
their life cycles. E. Frog-bit reproduces
vegetatively through the movement of
plant parts and limited seed dispersal
through fruit development … and, most
significantly, by overwintering buds
called turions that break loose from the
plant and float to new locations.

This invasive parrot feather plant has escaped and is covering the surface of a storm water detention pond in southeast Michigan.Photo credit: Matt Ankney, Michigan Department of Natural Resources
This invasive parrot feather plant has escaped and is covering the surface of a storm water detention pond in southeast Michigan.Photo credit: Matt Ankney, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Fighting Back

As there is currently no aquatic herbicide
proven safe yet effective in the
treatment of E. Frog-bit, the Michigan
Department of Natural Resources AIS
Early Detection, Rapid Response Unit
(EDRR) worked with the city over a two-week
period to remove over 1,000 pounds
of E. Frog-bit from the sanctuary by hand.
But according to EDRR Coordinator Matt
Ankney, the EDRR “barely scratched the
surface of the current infestation.” Upon
further investigation, the MDNR found
E. Frog-bit upstream in the Thunder Bay
River watershed as well, and large-scale
removal efforts are being planned for next
spring and summer.

Prevention Begins with You

What can water gardeners and managers
do to help prevent the spread of AIS?
For starters, never assume a
plant or animal is native to
your area. Never assume a
plant or animal is harmless
or benign. Understand that
retail names and descriptions
of plants and animals can be
misleading. The national
Habitattitude Campaign
(www.habitattitude.net)
recommends the following
options for safe disposal:

Fanwort
Fanwort
  • Contact a retailer for
    proper handling advice or
    for possible returns
  • Give/trade with only well-informed
    water gardeners
  • Donate to a local aquarium society,
    school or aquatic business
  • Seal aquatic plants in plastic bags and
    dispose of them in the trash to be landfilled
  • Contact a veterinarian or pet retailer
    for guidance about humane disposal of live
    animals
  • DO NOT RELEASE water garden
    animals and plants into the outdoor environment
    — even if they appear to be dead
  • DO NOT COMPOST these organisms
    — even if they appear to be dead
  • Floating mats of invasive European Frog-bit can crowd out native wetland plants.
    Floating mats of invasive European Frog-bit can crowd out native wetland plants.

    Before purchasing non-native plants
    and animals, know which aquatic species
    are prohibited and restricted in your state.
    Water garden retailers, managers and
    enthusiasts should know that it is illegal
    to be in possession of, sell, offer to sell or
    introduce into the environment prohibited
    plants and animals … and hefty fines may
    be incurred. State-prohibited aquatic plant
    lists may include such popular water garden
    and aquaria plants as European Frog-bit,
    Fanwort, Parrot’s feather, Yellow floating
    heart and others, along with many fish
    and snails.

    Habitattitude is Helping

    More than 13 million homes in the
    United States have water gardens or
    aquaria, and these industries generate more
    than $1 billion in our economy. However,
    non-native plants or animals can be very
    difficult to control once they become
    established in the environment, diminishing
    recreational opportunities, impacting
    native species and costing billions of dollars
    to control. According to the national
    Habitattitude campaign, the cost of trying
    to control these aquatic invasive species in
    the U.S. is more than $100 billion per year
    — or approximately $1,100
    per household.

    A closeup of the overwintering bud, or turion, of European Frog-bit. Turions break loose and float to new locations within a waterway. Photo: Jane Herbert.
    A closeup of the overwintering bud, or turion, of European Frog-bit. Turions break loose and float to new locations within a waterway. Photo: Jane Herbert.

    Habitattitude encourages
    enjoyment of water features
    and protection of our lakes,
    streams and wetlands by
    offering responsible solutions
    to the disposal of dead,
    dying or unwanted aquatic
    plants and animals. The
    campaign also offers tips
    for thoughtful planning of
    your water feature to avoid heartache and the possible
    spread of AIS. Habitattitude
    is a national education
    campaign encouraging
    proper disposal of exotic
    plants and animals to
    protect waterways from AIS.
    For more information, visit
    www.habitattitude.net

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