August 27th, 2013 by Irene Miles
July 12th, 2013 by Irene Miles
Visitors to Jens Jensen Park in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park will notice a change to the landscape this year. The Fountain of the Blue Heron, nestled between the park’s grassy land and thick forestry, has been transformed into a water garden. But this is no ordinary water garden. Like much of the park surrounding it, this garden was built with plants that are native to northeastern Illinois.
The fountain was redesigned by the Park District of Highland Park and the Chicago Botanic Garden, with funding assistance from Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, to give park visitors a closer look at how native aquatic plants like lizard’s tail, water willow, and sweet flag can be used to create beautiful, healthy water gardens.
“Native plantings have gotten a bit of a bad rap,” said Bob Kirschner, director of restoration ecology at the Chicago Botanic Garden. “They are often seen as weedy and unorganized. We wanted to demonstrate how you can use native aquatic plants to achieve the ornamental look many people desire.”
Using native aquatic plants like those in Jens Jensen Park is about more than just creating striking water gardens, though. Growing native species also helps curb the spread of invasive aquatic plants that outcompete native species and upset food webs. Invasive species common in water gardens are already threatening the health of Illinois waterways. For example, the fast-growing Brazilian Elodea—typically sold in aquarium stores and water nurseries under the name “Anacharis”—has been found in several lakes and ponds in Illinois, including in a community not far from Highland Park. Like many invasive plants, this waterweed grows in dense mats that block out sunlight needed by other species and hinders water recreation. And it is nearly impossible to remove once it has been introduced.
“Once an invasive species has become established, the negative impacts on the environment cannot be fully reversed,” said Greg Hitzroth, an IISG aquatic invasive species outreach specialist. “By growing non-invasive species, gardeners can help prevent a new population of harmful species from taking root in local environments.”
The over one dozen species of aquatic plants at home in Jens Jensen Park will also provide food for birds, insects, and other wildlife. Native plants are especially important for pollinators like bees and butterflies that keep northeastern Illinois’ natural areas flowering.
Visit IISG’s Aquatic Plants in Trade website to learn more about aquatic invasive plants and read this water gardening brochure to learn how you can help curb the spread.
December 19th, 2012 by Irene Miles
Greg Hitzroth, IISG’s organisms in trade outreach specialist, recently attended both the Northern Midwest Zen Nippon Airinkai Koi Club Show and the Indiana Koi and Water Garden Club Show to speak directly with water gardeners about making the right choices to prevent selecting and spreading invasive species.
The overall message he shared with the attendees was that even common plants associated with water gardens can quickly become “aquatic invaders” under the right conditions. Aquatic invaders are plants and animals that cause ecologic and economic harm once established in public waterways, and removing them can be very expensive and often impossible. One way that aquatic invaders are introduced or spread into public waters is through the intentional or unintentional release of species from water gardens and koi ponds.
Prevention is the best and most cost-effective way to keep aquatic invaders from spreading, and the gardeners and landscapers heard about a number of methods at the shows.
The first way to keep these species from spreading is to avoid buying and using them at all. Instead, Greg recommended purchasing native species and avoiding known invasives like those on identified by Reuben Keller of Loyola University Chicago and Christa Gants and David Lodge of University or Notre Dame in their article (PDF). The Chicago Botanic Garden’s website has a list of invasive species and alternatives that are not invasive or environmentally threatening to help guide gardeners’ purchase.
Additionally, simple steps like finding appropriate alternatives to releasing these species (including trading, returning them to retailers, or properly disposing of them) can have a profound effect in keeping aquatic invaders from establishing in other areas.
Greg will be presenting this information at other upcoming shows and events, including this weekend’s Midwest Koi and Pond Show, and looks forward to providing information about preventing aquatic invaders to gardeners and hobbyists throughout the season. Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is creating a number of educational materials about preventing these species from spreading, and more information about those will be posted soon.
August 14th, 2012 by Irene Miles
Activities associated with the purchase, sale, and use of commercially available organisms or “organisms-in-trade” can potentially result in the introduction of aquatic invasive species (AIS) to waterways such as the Great Lakes. Preventing these introductions is a much more cost-effective way to protect waterways, as opposed to the cost and effort involved in controlling or managing them once they become established.
Building on a University of Notre Dame-led project to examine the environmental risks posed by certain “organisms in trade” (OIT), Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant has been awarded grant funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) for a project titled “GLSGN OIT Initiative – Expanding Risk Assessment Outreach.”
By creating an opportunity to remove these potentially invasive species from circulation, risk assessment is one way to prevent non-native species from becoming invasive. Risk assessment information is also important to AIS education, because studies have shown that education and outreach encourage and shape the behavioral changes necessary for preventing species introduction. For example, horticulturists decided against purchasing a given species once they learned it had the potential to become an invasive species.
This new GLRI grant provides for the creation of new risk assessment and OIT outreach tools including webinars, a training video, non-technical summaries of state laws and regulations, and publications for people involved with fish, reptile, and amphibian commerce. Development of these tools will be guided by a survey that assesses the needs and preferences of OIT user groups. The goal of all these efforts is to reduce the introduction of potentially invasive species, thereby helping to protect and preserve waterways from invasive threats.
This initiative, a collaboration among the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network, North Carolina State University (NCSU), the National Sea Grant Law Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law (NSGLC), and IISG, will also help educate and inform the public about alternatives to high-risk aquarium, water garden, bait, live food, and classroom species.
For more information, visit our webpage about aquatic invasive species.
Many educators incorporate plants and animals into their classrooms for educational purposes, but those plants and animals have the potential to become or transport invasive species to new areas.
“The study, led by Oregon Sea Grant Extension’s invasive species expert Sam Chan, was presented at this week’s national meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Portland.
‘Live organisms are a critical element for learning and we don’t want to imply that they should not be used in the classroom,’ said Chan. ‘But some of our schools – and the biological supply houses that provide their organisms – are creating a potential new pathway for non-native species to become invasive.’”
There is more information available at the link above, and at our page about safely disposing of classroom specimens.