From tank to pond bully — it’s parrot feather!

By LACEE SHEPARD

Capital News Service

LANSING – State officials fear a return of the aquatic invasive plant, parrot feather.

The parrot feather plant. (Photo: michigan.gov)

The parrot feather plant. (Photo: michigan.gov)

The plant called parrot feather has had two appearances in Michigan, in Oakland County and in Brownstown Township in Wayne County. It flourishes in lakes, ponds, and other shallow waters, said Matt Ankney, the early detection rapid response coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife division, but it does have the potential of spreading to Lake Erie if it is not contained.

The plant has a distinctive bright green color and can grow up to five feet long. Unlike native plants it can grow above water, Ankney said. The invasive species resembles most Michigan conifers.

After obtaining a permit from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the DNR wildlife division team handled the Brownstown Township infestation quickly by treating the area with herbicides last fall.

To get herbicide permits approved, applications have to be reviewed and the DEQ must guarantee that there will be no damage to the grounds, said Doyle Brunsen, environmental engineer with the DEQ water research division. Based on the area and the specific invasive species, the DNR had no trouble getting herbicide permits.

The plant is native to South America. The infestation may have started by an aquarium owner throwing out their parrot feather, Ankney said.

“It’s possible that someone may have dumped it. An aquarium seems to be a likely source,” Ankney said. “We don’t have any clear evidence for that but given that it’s an isolated area, it couldn’t have come in elsewhere.

“It was found in a detention pond with no recreational use, no boats. So it most likely means are through human introduction.”

The fast growing parrot feather will push native plants out by taking all of the oxygen, space and sunlight in the body of water.

“It can reproduce by fragmentation. If pieces break off of the plant they can recolonize and it grows very quickly,” Ankney said. “That’s why it is an invasive plant – it outcompetes native vegetation.

“It displaces native plants and can also crowd out the sunlight to native plants and that reduces biodiversity which is pertinent to invertebrates and other plants and animals in the aquatic eco system,” he said.

Fast action is required for this plant or it will quickly take over. The detention pond that held the invasive species was void of any native species, Ankney said. Parrot feather had infested nearly the whole pond in Brownstown Township.

“We’ve had limited experience with it in Michigan,” Ankney said. “There’s enough damage in similar states and evidence it would cause severe damage.”

The herbicide treatment should have killed off the current infestation but the DNR wildlife team will survey the area in the spring to make sure it hasn’t spread and that there aren’t new infestations, Ankney said.

It is popular for those with personal aquariums and waters gardens, said Richard Preuss, one of the owners of Preuss Pets in Lansing.

Several years ago it was popular for those with home water gardens because it is easy to manage.

“It’s different than what you have in a natural scenario where there is nobody going out and trimming it back,” Preuss said. “It’s a different scenario. It’s not difficult to keep it under control. It’s aggressive and assertive but easy to manage.

“In nature, I can easily see it was taking over other indigenous plants and being a particularly big issue,” he said.

It is important people know this is a threat to Michigan waters, Ankney said. People need to know how to dispose of the matter properly.

Preuss said the best way to get rid of this plant is to wrap it in a plastic bag before disposing it to prevent it taking root.

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