Mississippi River water hyacinth, water lettuce and parrot feather, oh my!

In recent years, three invasive species of aquatic plants have been found in Pool 5 of
the Mississippi River near Buffalo City, WI.  These three species – water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes), and parrot feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum) – are plants often found in the water garden and aquaculture
trade. They can be very invasive when introduced into natural waterbodies.  Water hyacinth and water lettuce were first found in 2011 in Pool 5; in 2012 parrot feather was found in an isolated bay of Pool 5. Nearly one thousand water lettuce and water hyacinth plants were found in Pool 5 in 2011 and by 2012 the populations exploded into the tens of thousands. These species had not been found to this extent in Wisconsin before so immediate action was taken to prevent the spread of these invasive species to other areas of the Mississippi River and possibly to inland lakes.  Multi-agency rapid response control efforts included a team of experts from the Wisconsin DNR, Minnesota DNR, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and county aquatic invasive species (AIS) coordinators as well as interested citizens and university scientists.

Water Lettuce (front and rear) and Parrot Feather (center) in Pool 5 (Photo by Paul Skawinski)

Water Lettuce (front and rear) and Parrot Feather (center) in Pool 5 (Photo by Paul Skawinski)

Parrot feather is currently a prohibited invasive species in Wisconsin regulated by Chapter NR 40 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code (commonly known as NR 40 or the invasive species rule).  Water hyacinth and water lettuce are not yet included on the state’s regulated list, but have been proposed for inclusion as prohibited invasive species.  It is illegal to possess, transport, transfer or introduce a prohibited species, with certain exceptions. On Oct. 28, 2013 DNR released proposed revisions to NR 40, along with the draft economic impact analysis documents. The current proposal calls for adding 51 new species for listing as prohibited including the plants water lettuce and water hyacinth.  DNR is accepting public comments on the economic impacts of the proposed revisions through Dec. 31, 2013. Read the full press release to learn more.

DNR's John Sullivan collecting water hyacinth from Pool 5.  (Photo by Paul Skawinski)

DNR’s John Sullivan collecting water hyacinth from Pool 5. (Photo by Paul Skawinski)

In September 2013, staff from Wisconsin DNR as well as other government agencies and non- profit groups concluded that the intensive efforts of the multi-agency rapid response team were successful in controlling the invasive water hyacinth, water lettuce and parrot feather from areas mapped with original infestations.  Learn more about the discovery of these Pool 5 invaders and the multi- agency team’s efforts in containing these species in DNR 2013 Water Success Stories.

In addition to sharing your opinion on NR 40 revisions, there are ways you can help prevent the spread of plants commonly used in aquaculture:

  • Build your aquascapes away from natural waterways and flood zones.
  • Learn to recognize invasive species.
  • Purchase and plant non-invasive and native plants.
  • Check plant orders for unwanted invasive hitchhikers.
  • Do not use invasive plants, fish, crayfish or snails in your garden.
  • Do not release any plants, fish or invertebrates into natural waters.
  • Learn more on how you can “Protect Your Water Garden” at http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/invasives/documents/ss1115PondsBro.pdf.
 Entry written by Heather Smith, DNR Water Management Specialist


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2 Responses to Mississippi River water hyacinth, water lettuce and parrot feather, oh my!

  1. Greg Gempler says:

    Hi Quick question. If I am out fishing or just close to the water and see these invasive plants, can I harvest them to use as fertilizer on my garden. It would only be a small amount every time that I do so, but would help in two ways: Fertilize my garden and get rid of some of the invasive plants. Also would I need a permit or license to transport the invasive plants to my garden to be used as fertilizer?
    My garden in nowhere near a watershed and the runoff is nonexistent even in very heavy downpours.
    Thanks in advance Greg Gempler
    Thanks in advance Greg Gempler

    • mikeputnam says:

      Thank you for the good, straightforward question. The answer is a bit more complicated than your question.

      The three species of invasive plants mentioned in our blog – Water Hyacinth, Water Lettuce and Parrot Feather – are not yet specifically regulated by the invasive species law NR 40. Instead, they are proposed for listing and might be added as prohibited or restricted species in 2014. While they are not yet specifically regulated, it is still illegal to introduce any non-native plant into a Wisconsin waterbody.

      Once a plant is listed as either prohibited NR40.04(3)(g) or restricted NR40.05(3)(g) they can be removed from a waterbody for purposes of disposal. In the case of prohibited species, you are required to report to DNR the location in which you found it. For restricted species, you are required to report the location to DNR if it is a previously unknown location. You can check which aquatic invasive species have been reported at individual waterbodies on the DNR website http://dnr.wi.gov/lakes/invasives/AISByWaterbody.aspx. Also, it is illegal to transport water away from a lake or river, so drain any water from the container you might use to transport the plants.

      In addition, aquatic plant removal in regulated under NR109.06(2)(a). With this law, DNR waives the permit requirement if non-native species are removed manually (without auxiliary powered equipment) or if they are already uprooted and piled up on shore.

      So, aquatic invasive plants can be removed by hand and transported to fertilize your garden as long as water doesn’t accompany them and, in certain cases, you report to DNR where the plants were obtained. Finally, if the plants have any seeds, please use extreme care in bagging, transporting and disposing of them so as to not introduce seeds or any plant fragments elsewhere in that waterbody or to another.

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