Understanding Aquatic Plants: Are they Friends or Foes?
Chances are, when you look at a body of water, you don’t give much thought to the aquatic plant life beyond “that’s pretty” or “those are just a bunch of weeds.” But the fact is, these plants (and the ones you can’t see under the surface) are an important part of the aquatic ecosystem. Some plants are native to the region and extremely beneficial. Others are invasive species that don’t belong there. Telling the difference isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary to maintain water health, aesthetic beauty, property values, and happy community members.
The Good Guys: Native Species
What are native plant species? Bodies of water naturally evolve over time and eventually create a balance of plant and animal life. The plants output oxygen in the water while providing nutrients and refuge for fish and microorganisms to flourish, attracting other wildlife to the area. This creates many important opportunities for people to connect with nature through fishing, kayaking, wildlife watching, and more. Preserving the balance of these ecosystems is essential to the longevity of the waterbody and surrounding ecosystems.
The Bad Guys: Invasive Plant Species
What are invasive plant species? Invasive species come from out of town, so to speak. And they can certainly wreak havoc if they become displaced from their natural habitats. The plant species native to your area can pose just as many threats if brought to new areas that aren’t accustomed to them.
Invasive species don’t work their way into a regional ecosystem gradually over decades; they barge in unannounced. And you can’t stop them from coming. They arrive by air (bird droppings), land (hitchhiking on wildlife), and water (bait buckets, boats propellers, and the aquarium trade). All it takes is a few seeds or fragments to launch an incursion. Even plants from a lake in the same county can be threatening.
What to Do If You Discover an Invasive Plant:
Whether you live on a lake, pond, or waterway, the worst path of action is to grab a commercial herbicide off the shelf and declare war on any plant in sight. A scorched earth policy can deprive the waterbody of the beneficial plants that filter pollutants from stormwater runoff, provide cover for fish and wildlife, and add an element of natural beauty that frames the shoreline.
On the other hand, professionals are licensed and experienced in the application of EPA-registered aquatic herbicides and have access to a wealth of resources and solutions that have been developed to specifically target the unique growth mechanisms in non-native plant species.
What Can You Do to Prevent the Spread of Invasive Aquatic Weeds?
Once invasive plant populations have become established, it can become extremely difficult, and costly, to eliminate them. Prevention is your best weapon. Wash down boats and gear when going from one body of water to another. It’s kind of like using hand sanitizer to minimize infection. But, as we pointed out before, invasives can still find you.
Regular monitoring and preventative maintenance are required to ensure invasive species don’t establish themselves and get your waterbody into serious trouble. Unfortunately, most plants look very much like another to the untrained eye. In addition, you can’t readily see what is happening beneath the service of the water, where many issues begin.
Prevent Invasive Plant Outbreaks with Proactive Management
Partnering with an aquatic expert can help you stay on top of what’s going on in your waterbody. A professional has the knowledge and expertise to properly identify undesirable plant species and quickly intervene. In the event of an invasive plant outbreak, a professional can help you understand your management options, so you can make decisions that align with the needs of your community and budget, while still maintaining a healthy, balanced ecosystem.
SOLitude Lake Management is a nationwide environmental firm committed to providing sustainable solutions that improve water quality, enhance beauty and preserve natural resources.
SOLitude’s team of aquatic scientists specializes in the development and execution of customized lake, stormwater pond, wetland and fisheries management programs. Services include water quality testing and restoration, algae and aquatic weed control, installation and maintenance of fountains and aeration systems, shoreline erosion control, muck and sediment removal and invasive species management. SOLitude partners with homeowners associations, golf courses, private landowners, businesses and municipalities. SOLitude Lake Management is part of Rentokil, a leading business services company, operating across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.