Parrotfeather identification and control
Parrotfeather, a Class B noxious weed, is a submerged aquatic plant that grows aggressively in lakes, ponds, ditches, and other freshwater habitats. Spikes of feathery leaves, with whorls of 4-6 leaves, grow up to a foot above the water and resemble miniature pine trees. You can identify this plant underwater by its stiff, bright-green upper stems. It grows from late May to October and reproduces via stem and rhizome fragments.
Parrotfeather has been popular as an ornamental in ponds and aquariums, but because it rapidly takes over lakes, ponds and ditches, this species is on the Washington quarantine list (known as the prohibited plants list) (external link) and it is prohibited to transport, buy, sell, offer for sale, or to distribute plants or plant parts of this species, into or within the state of Washington. It is further prohibited to intentionally transplant wild plants and/or plant parts of this species within the state of Washington.
For more information on noxious weed regulations and definitions, see Noxious weed laws and lists.
Identification (see below for more photos)
Spikes of feathery leaves emerge up to a foot above the water, looking like miniature pine trees growing on the water's surface. Below the water, the leaves are less stiff and closely resemble other types of milfoil, but the plant is easily distinguished by its stiff, bright green upper stems. The feathery leaves grow in whorls of four to six (meaning that there are four to six "feathers" attached at the same point on the stem that radiate out in a circle around the stem).
Stems are robust, even under water, and roots form along the stem. Flowers are white, tiny and inconspicuous and are found where the above-water leaves attach to the stems. Because all plants in the United States are female, parrotfeather doesn't form seeds but it does spread readily by fragmentation of stems and rhizomes. In King County, parrotfeather emerges in late May and persists into October.
Where it grows
Parrotfeather forms dense mats of vegetation and can be found growing along lake and pond edges and slow-moving waterways. Even when attached to the bank, stems can extend several yards out over the water's surface and it has also been found growing as a floating mat in some lakes. It has even been found growing up onto the soil along the edges of ponds. In King County, parrotfeather is mostly found in private ponds. However, in other parts of the state, it is found in drainage canals, lakes, and rivers. For instance, parrotfeather is found throughout the drainage system of the Longview/Kelso area.
Although parrotfeather is a native of the Amazon River in South America, it has naturalized throughout the world. In Washington State it has become entrenched in several drainage systems and even small infestations are highly challenging to control. Although it doesn't grow in deep water, parrotfeather can completely cover and fill in shallow water. The dense growth causes problems for boating, swimming, fishing or other water recreation. It encourages mosquito growth and can increase flooding. In rivers, it can impact salmon habitat, especially in side channels where juvenile salmon rear.
Parrotfeather is costly and difficult to remove once it is established in a waterway. We encourage King County property owners to contact our program for assistance controlling this plant.
Small populations can be pulled or raked up, being very careful to remove all fragments from the water. Manual control requires persistence over many years.
Aquatic herbicides can be effective if applied correctly, but can only be applied by a licensed pesticide applicator with an aquatic endorsement and will likely require a permit to use in water.
Additional information on parrotfeather
- Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board (external link)
What to do if you find this plant in King County, Washington
Please notify us if you see parrotfeather growing in King County. Our program staff can provide the property owner or appropriate public agency with site-specific advice on how best to remove it. Also, because parrotfeather is not established in King County, we have an opportunity to stop it from spreading if we act quickly. We map all known locations of regulated noxious weeds such as parrotfeather in order to help us and others locate new infestations in time to control them.
Report parrotfeather in King County, Washington
- Please notify us through our online infestation form
Locate parrotfeather in King County, Washington
- Use our interactive noxious weed map and search for parrotfeather
Program offices are located at 201 S. Jackson St., Suite 600, Seattle, WA 98104. To contact staff, see the Noxious Weed Control Program Directory, send an email, or call 206-477-WEED (206-477-9333).