DON’T TOSS THAT PLANT!

Published on July 1, 2014

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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