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Partners team up to ruffle some (parrot) feathers

By: Kyle Borrowman, Ducks Unlimited Canada

Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) is working closely with the Invasive Species Centre (ISC) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to manage two sites where parrot feather was discovered in ponds, successfully limiting the potential for this invasive plant to spread locally.

Some of the most troublesome aquatic weeds were once highly regarded for their unique growth, ease of cultivation and sheer beauty. One plant that truly stands out, figuratively and literally, is parrot feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum). With its vibrant-green feathery leaves emerging high out of the water, parrot feather’s popular use in the water garden and aquarium trade is easily understood.

But don’t let this beauty fool you! Much like its well-known cousin, Eurasian watermilfoil, parrot feather fragments can readily move within lakes and “hitchhike” on watercraft and equipment to reach new waterbodies. Once introduced, it can quickly displace native plants, impede water flow and create ideal mosquito-breeding habitat. Parrot feather has invaded slow-moving waters in the southern US and has been discovered in 34 states and two provinces (British Columbia and Ontario).

The Province of Ontario closed the door on the sale of parrot feather when it was designated a “prohibited species” under the Invasive Species Act, 2015, making it illegal to "import, possess, deposit, release, transport, breed/grow, buy, sell, lease or trade” parrot feather. The prohibition may curtail any future introductions, but some infestations occurred prior to the ban.

DUC and its partners teamed up to manage parrot feather at two Ontario ponds. The first pond was backfilled to eradicate the infestation. But the second population occurred in a pond and attached stream where backfilling was not an option. Instead, DUC deployed a hand-removal technique to control the plants within the pond and downstream in the creek.

This work continued into 2019 thanks to support from the ISC and we’re already seeing positive results. Following the first year, the collective impact of removing plant material and the harsh winter weather knocked back the infestation from several garbage bins to several handfuls collected. Over the past two years, DUC has also scoured the shorelines to ensure no infestations exist downstream.

To date, we’ve been lucky to learn about these populations before they got out of hand. Every aquatic plant and every infestation has its unique set of challenges. As we move forward, we look to build on these successful control efforts and continue to apply the best techniques available to limit these troublesome weeds before they can become established in Ontario.

Click here to learn more about parrot feather and report sightings to EDDMapS Ontario!

Kyle Borrowman is the European Water Chestnut Program Coordinator at Ducks Unlimited Canada. Mr. Borrowman has over 10 years of experience in aquatic plant management within Ontario. This includes the use of mechanical, biological and chemical control techniques to manage various invasive aquatic plants.