INVASIVE SPECIES – PARROT FEATHER
Despite its label as a prohibited species in Michigan, parrot feather was recently spotted in the southeastern Lower Peninsula.
This aquatic invasive species is closely related to the all-too-familiar Eurasian Water Milfoil that is found scattered throughout Michigan’s lakes. Parrot feather plants trace their origin to the banks of the Amazon River in South America. They are a popular ornamental pond plant and often sold under the wrong species name, which allows the plant to slip quietly into unsuspecting bodies of water.
There is no established population of parrot feather in the Great Lakes, however, small outbreaks of the species have been identified and contained by respective Great Lakes states’ natural resource departments. Indiana DNR first discovered parrot feather in Meserve Lake in 2006, while its presence in Michigan occurred only recently in 2014. The plant is much more common along waterways in the southern states, and creeping up the eastern and western coast states.
Confirming the presence of parrot feather is no easy task as it closely resembles Eurasian water milfoil and other native species, so it is best to contact a botanist to confirm the identity of the species. An established colony of parrot feather will look like a submerged stand of fir trees. The plant has submerged and above-water leaves and can grow to almost a foot above the water. There have been no recordings of male parrot feather plants in the United States, which means that the only way this plant can reproduce is through fragmentation of female parrot feather plants.
An established parrot feather population can choke out native vegetation. By becoming a mass of tangled leaves, parrot feather prevents sunlight from reaching through the water column; which also causes a decrease in the available phytoplankton and other small fish food. The fish will generally avoid swimming through the mop of parrot feather, while mosquitos tend to prefer the plant as a larvae habitat.
Methods of control for parrot feather include hand-digging and herbicide application, though both methods pose their own set of challenges. Approved herbicides require multiple and widespread applications with little success in eradicating the population. In its native habitat, parrot feather has insects that feed on its leaves; studies are being done on how to incorporate these predatory insects into parrot feather control, but this method is still in the exploratory stage.
The best form of control for parrot feather and all invasive species is education and prevention. Once an invasive species has established itself in a suitable environment with no natural predators, it is nearly impossible to eradicate the species from the area. Recreational lake users are often the primary cause for the spread of aquatic invasive species. It is important to always visually check your boat and boating equipment for any “hitchhikers” you may have picked up while out on the lake. Wash and dry all boats and boating equipment before transferring to another lake. NEVER release non-native plants or bait into a body of water.
Try to respectfully educate other boaters you see on the dock about the importance of controlling the spread of invasive species. Through the help of anglers and the greater conservation community, we can control the establishment of parrot feather in the Great Lakes.
For a free aquatic invasive species field guide, visit http://mnfi.anr.msu.edu/invasive-species/AquaticsFieldGuide.pdf
Report sightings of parrot feather to Kile Kucher – DNR Wildlife Division, KucherK@michigan.gov or 517-641-4903, ext. 243.
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