Some plants, like some people, like it quiet. They prefer to hang out in the quiet and undisturbed areas where there isn't much going on. European frogbit is one of those plants. This free-floating plant lives in swamps, marshes and the quiet backwaters of larger lakes. It prefers to live where there are few waves.
If you could define European frogbit in one word, that word would be "tangle." This plant floats in a tangled mass on top of the water, growing several inches thick. From above, frogbit looks like miniature lily pads less than an inch across. From below, it looks like a mass of ropy mermaid hair that keeps going and going and going.
That tangled mass could cause a lot of problems. Boats could get caught up in it. Fishing lines could latch onto it. Swimming through it would be ... unpleasant. It is not in Chautauqua Lake or its watershed that we know of, but it is moving that way.
Jeff Tome holds up a tangled mass of frogbit.
Photo by Jennifer Schlick
Dense mats of frogbit can stop waterfowl, large fish and boats from being able to move easily through the quiet waters of the lake. It can crowd out native plants and native animals. In the fall, as the dense mats rot, they can suck the oxygen out of the water and kill other plants and wildlife.
According to Sea Grant New York, "The most recent inland sighting in New York was in late-2006 in a pond at the Audubon Center and Sanctuary in Southern Chautauqua County." It was also found that year in Akeley Swamp, just south of the New York border. Since then, the plant has spread. Valiant efforts were made to prevent the plant from spreading, but there is more today than in 2006.
The plant can spread when parts of it tangle around the leg of a bird and get flown somewhere new. The plant can also be accidentally spread by boaters. Tiny bits of the plant can be found in bilge water, on anchor chains, or on any part of the boat that drags in the water. The same is true of canoes and kayaks. Water that accidentally spills into the boat can help spread the frogbit from one body of water to another.
The official recommendation is for boaters to hose off their boats well after use and let it dry for five days. If you are going back out sooner, hose it off with water that is at least 104 degrees.
European frogbit has not yet been found in the lake, but it may not be far away. This free-floating weed could easily become another lake headache. Watch for the tiny, heart-shaped lily pad and delicate white three-petaled flowers as you boat.
Jeff Tome is a Senior Naturalist for Programs and Exhibits at the Jamestown Audubon Society and a longtime CWC volunteer and former board director. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local nonprofit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetland and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.