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A New Aquatic Menace in Alabama

Joe Jernigan,
Aquatic Plant Management Supervisor
Spanish Fort, Alabama

giant salvinia closeupAlabama is blessed with abundant aquatic resources that provide fishing, boating and other outdoor recreation opportunities. Aquatic plants, plants that grow in or closely associated with the water, are an important part of these resources. These plants provide habitat for insects, fish and other organisms that inhabit our waterways. However, some aquatic plant species living in our waterways are not native to Alabama or even to North America and may interfere with human use of water resources and impact both native plants and animals. These are referred to as noxious exotic aquatic plants.

Notable exotic aquatic plants found in Alabama that often interfere with our water uses include hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata), Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), and water hyacinths (Eichhornia crassipies). Hydrilla and Eurasian watermilfoil, submersed plants that have been present in our waterways since the late 1970s, have impacted the Mobile Delta in South Alabama and the reservoirs of the Tennessee Valley. Water hyacinths are floating plants that have been present in Alabama waters since the late nineteenth century. Large floating mats of hyacinths impact the Mobile Delta and reservoirs of the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers.

Another exotic plant now threatens our waterways. The floating aquatic fern commonly known as giant salvinia (Salvinia molesta), was recently discovered in four ponds in Alabama. This floating fern, a native of Southeastern Brazil, is spreading rapidly and already inhabits waterways in 22 countries in tropical and temperate areas around the world. Other states also reporting giant salvinia include Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, California and Arizona. Because of the potential for rapid reproduction and growth, the plant is considered aggressive and has the potential to colonize large areas of water in our state. Under ideal environmental conditions, the plant population may even double in one week.

How did giant salvinia get to Alabama? Even though the plant is listed on the Federal Noxious Weed List and interstate transportation is prohibited, plants were found at nurseries in Alabama and other states. The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries confiscated giant salvinia at several retail nurseries during a survey last summer.

Information concerning the history of giant salvinia infestations in the United States may be found at the non-indigenous ferns web page. Identification characteristics and biology of this plant may also be found at this Web site. The address for this site is http://salvinia.er.usgs.gov/.

The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries is working in partnership with Alabama Power Company and the U.S. Corps of Engineers Mobile District to keep this plant from becoming established in the public waters of our state by using both herbicide treatment to remove salvinia from the ponds where it is now found, and surveys to determine if it is present anywhere else in our state.

The public can help by contacting the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division if giant salvinia is suspected in any small impoundment or public waters of Alabama. We can be reached by writing the Fisheries Section, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, 64 N. Union St., Montgomery, AL 36130, or via the Internet at www.outdooralabama.com/fishing/freshwater/staff/.

Also see the Outdoor Alabama magazine pdf article, Giant Salvinia, A New Aquatic Menace.

Date Published: May 19, 2000

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