Many plants and animals sold for water gardens and aquascapes are not native. While the majority may never become problems, some are highly invasive. Once introduced, these species disrupt ecosystems, reduce biodiversity and cost communities huge amounts of time, money, resources and lost revenue. They obstruct navigable waterways, restrict drainage, clog water intakes, degrade water quality and interfere with fishing and recreation.
Their introduction can be accidental when rainstorms wash plants, seeds, fish and animals into other waterways or when they are spread by wind or wildlife. But often people help these invaders spread unintentionally when they drain or dump their unwanted plants and animals or share them with others.
Many but not all states ban the sale, transport or possession of invasive species. However, it’s impossible to control Internet sales or ensure that prohibited species are not being sold by retailers unaware of the restrictions. Retailers may also unknowingly sell plants or use packing materials with “hitchhiking” plant fragments or invertebrates (small animals) that may themselves be invasive.
The best way to make sure that water gardens or aquascapes will be attractive and trouble-free is careful selection. It is therefore up to retailers and water enthusiasts to know more about invasive species to prevent their introduction and spread.
Educate yourself about plants and animals before you purchase. Ask retailers if they are aware of what species are regionally and federally restricted and to verify the identifications and their scientific names are correct (genus and species). Common names are sometimes used interchangeably for several different species, so you could accidentally buy invaders labeled with harmless pseudonyms.
The following guidelines will also help:
▀ Check with your state natural resource agency to confirm which plants to avoid for your region.
▀ Locate water gardens away from all waterways and flood-prone areas.
▀ Choose regionally native or noninvasive plants and animals.
▀ Ensure that your purchases are free of any hitchhikers. Rinse plants in a bucket to remove all dirt and attached vegetation, animals or eggs before planting. Strain this debris and dump water on dry land.
▀ Freeze debris and any unwanted plants in a sealed plastic bag and dispose in the trash. Don’t add to compost because seeds and other reproductive plant parts may remain viable.
▀ If you find new homes for unwanted animals, make sure they won’t be released into the environment. If euthanasia is an option, consult a veterinarian.