While the crested floatingheart can help beautify an aquarium or a water garden, it clogs canals and slows drainage, particularly during heavy rains.
"It's really attractive. It looks like a water lily," said Lyn Gettys, an aquatic plant specialist at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. Crested floatingheart is also easy to grow and flourishes with little effort.
Instead of freezing unwanted crested floatinghearts and bringing them to a local landfill, many homeowners toss them into canals, said Gettys, an assistant professor of agronomy with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
For about a year, Gettys has been compiling data to quantify the seriousness that crested floatingheart poses for canals. Crested floatinghearts reproduce mostly by way of ramets, an asexual form of multiplying. Gettys is trying to find out how many "babies" a single plant can make. She's particularly interested in the effects of soil type and fertilizer on the plant's ability to reproduce.
Preliminary data show soil has no impact. But if plants are well-fertilized, one floatingheart can produce more than 100 ramets per month. If only half of the new ramets sprout and make as many of their own babies as the original plant, that's potentially 114,000 plants in six months, Gettys said.
"It's all good and well to say they're clogging up the canals," she said. "These data tell people who live near the canals that this really does need to be managed."
Just last year, the state of Florida listed crested floatingheart as a noxious weed, which means you have to obtain a permit to have and grow them, Gettys said. South Florida water managers use a variety of techniques to help control the plant after people toss it into canals, she said, but none of them does a good job of killing the plants.
By preventing light and air from penetrating into canals, the crested floatingheart disrupts the ecological balance. Fish and plants that live in those waters may find it harder to get enough oxygen and nutrients, Gettys said. Also, desirable native plants that live under water could be crowded out by crested floatingheart, which would create a hostile environment for native aquatic animals. So far, there are no reported fish kills or plant die-offs due to crested floatingheart, so drainage remains the bigger problem.
Gettys expects to complete collecting data on crested floatingheart reproduction by the end of 2015. By then, she'll have an even better idea of the extent of the problem to present to state water managers.
Materials provided by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Original written by Brad Buck. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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