Myriophyllum spicatum
Myriophyllum spicatum
(Eurasian watermilfoil)
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Myriophyllum spicatum L.

Common name: Eurasian watermilfoil

Synonyms and Other Names: Eurasian water-milfoil

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Myriophyllum spicatum has thin stems, which can be appear green, brown, or pinkish white. The stems grow to 1-3 meters in length and get progressively thinner the further they grow from the main stem (Aiken et al. 1979). There are typically four feather-like, deeply-dissected leaves whorled around the stems with 14 or more uniform (in diameter) leaflets on each leaf (Patten 1954).

The small, yellow four-parted flowers rise 5-10 cm above the surface of the water from the terminal spike (Aiken et al. 1979; Patten 1954). Male and female flowers can be found on the same inflorescence. The stem thickness below the inflorescence is almost double that of the lower stem, as well as curved to allow the lower stem to run parallel to the water surface (Aiken 1981).

Myriophyllum spicatum can easily be confused with native milfoil species that also may have four deeply-dissected leaves per whorl (e.g., M. heterophyllumM. sibiricum, M. verticillatum). As a general rule, Eurasian watermilfoil typically has more than 14(12-20) leaflet pairs per leaf and reduced bracts on inflorescences, in contrast to native milfoils which have fewer than 14(5-10) leaflet pairs, as in M. sibiricum, and bracts at least twice as long as the flowers, as in M. heterophyllum and M. verticillatum (Aiken 1981; Gerber and Les 1994; Patten 1956). Bud (turion) production distinguishes between the exotic M. spicatum and the native M. sibiricum and M. verticillatum, as the native species produce winter buds, while the exotic does not (Patten 1954).

Size: 1-3 meters in length (Aiken et al. 1979)

Native Range: Europe, Asia, and northern Africa (Patten 1954).

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Nonindigenous Occurrences: Although M. spicatum was likely discovered outside its native range as early as 1860, both M. spicatum and M. sibiricum were considered M. exalbescens until 1919 (Fernald 1919; Reed 1977). The first definitive M. spicatum specimens in the U.S. were documented in 1881 from the Potomac River in Virginia, and in 1882 in Paddy's Lake near Oswego, New York (Mills et al. 1993; Reed 1977).

  • Alabama - Alabama, Florida Panhandle Coastal (University of Alabama Biodiversity and Systematics 2007), Black Warrior-Tombigbee (Anderson 2009), Middle Tennessee-Elk (Smith 1971), and Mobile Bay-Tombigbee (Zolczynski and Eubanks 1990) drainages
  • Arizona - Little Colorado, Santa Cruz, Upper Gila (University of Arizona Herbarium 2008), Lower Colorado, Lower Gila-Agua Fria, Rio De La Concepcion, San Pedro-Willcox (Arizona State University 2003), Rio Sonoyta, Salt (Couch and Nelson 1985), and Verde (Anonymous 2015) drainages
  • Arkansas - Boeuf-Tensas, Red-Little (Anonymous 2015), and Upper Ouachita (Wilde et al. 2013) drainages
  • California - Central California Coastal (Consortium of California Herbaria 2014), Klamath (Nyman 1978), Laguna-San Diego Coastal (Rebman et al. 2002), Lower Colorado (Aurand 1983), Lower Sacramento (California Department of Fish and Game 2009), North Lahontan (Thorne and Tilforth 1969), Northern California Coastal, San Joaquin (Couch and Nelson 1985), Northern Mojave (Raven 1961), Salton Sea (Legner and  Fisher 1980), San Francisco Bay, Santa Ana (Anonymous 2015), Truckee (Anonymous 1996), Tulare-Buena Vista Lakes (Dunnicliff 1979), Upper Sacramento (Klunk 2006), and Ventura-San Gabriel Coastal (White 1997) drainages
  • Colorado - Rio Grande Headwaters, Upper Arkansas (Colorado Parks and Wildlife 2014), South Platte, and White-Yampa (Anonymous 2015) drainages
  • Connecticut - Connecticut Coastal, Lower Connecticut (University of Connecticut 2011), and Lower Hudson (Lyman and Betke 1997) drainages
  • Delaware - a pond along the C & D canal, near the town of Kirkwood in Lower Delaware drainage (Cathy Martin, DE DNR, pers. comm.)
  • District of Columbia - Belch Spring pond in Potomac drainage (Cooke et al. 1990)
  • Florida - Apalachicola, Florida Panhandle Coastal (Anderson 2009), Aucilla-Waccasassa, Peace, Southern Florida (Wunderlin and Hansen 2008), Escambia, Ochlockonee, St. Johns, Suwannee (Robert Kipker, FL DEP, pers. comm.), Kissimmee (Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health 2015), and Tampa Bay (Schardt and Schmitz 1991) drainages
  • Georgia - Savannah (Aurand 1982), Altamaha (many 1997), Apalachicola (Gholson 1968), and Ogeechee (Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health 2015) drainages
  • Idaho - Kootenai (Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health 2015), Middle Snake-Boise (Anonymous 2006), Middle Snake-Powder, Upper Snake (Tom Woolf, ID Dept of Ag, pers. comm.), Pend Oreille, Spokane (Dickinson 1991), and Salmon (Anonymous 2015) drainages
  • Illinois - Kaskaskia, Lower Illinois, Rock, Upper Illinois, Upper Mississippi-Skunk-Wapsipinicon, Wabash (Anonymous 2015), Lower Ohio, Southwestern Lake Michigan (Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health 2015), Upper Mississippi-Maquoketa-Plum, Upper Mississippi-Meramec (Loyola University Chicago 2013), and Upper Mississippi-Salt (Hilty 2015) drainages
  • Indiana - Great Miami, Southeastern Lake Michigan, Upper Illinois, Western Lake Erie (Indiana Department of Natural Resources 1997), Lower Ohio, Lower Ohio-Salt, Southwestern Lake Michigan (Anonymous 2015), Patoka-White (Landers and Frey 1980), and Wabash (University of Connecticut 2011) drainages
  • Iowa - Des Moines, Grand, Iowa, Missouri-Little Sioux, Missouri-Nishnabotna, Upper Mississippi-Maquoketa-Plum, and Upper Mississippi-Skunk-Wapsipinicon (Anonymous 2015) drainages
  • Kansas - Big Blue (Jessica Howell, KS DWPT, pers. comm.), Kansas, Upper Cimarron (Jason Goeckler, KS DWPT, pers. comm.), Missouri-Nishnabotna, Smoky Hill (University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute 2008), Neosho, and Osage (Anonymous 2006) drainages
  • Kentucky - Lower Cumberland, Lower Ohio-Salt, Middle Ohio-Little Miami (Beal and Thieret 1986), Big Sandy, Kentucky (Jeff Herod, US FWS, pers. comm.), Licking, Middle Ohio-Raccoon, Upper Cumberland (Anonymous 2015), and Lower Tennessee (Shearer 1994) drainages
  • Louisiana - Lake Pontchartrain (Montz 1980), Atchafalaya-Vermillion, Big Cypress-Sulphur, Calcasieu-Mermentau, Central Louisiana Coastal, Lower Grand, Lower Mississippi-New Orleans, Red-Saline, Sabine (Anonymous 2015), and Lake Maurepas (Louisiana State University Herbarium 2010) drainages
  • Maine - Salmon Lake (consists of Ellis Pond and McGrath Pond) in Kennebec drainage (Elliott 2008), and Lake Arrowhead in Saco drainage (Anonymous 2015)
  • Maryland - Lower Susquehanna (Orth et al. 1993), Potomac, and Upper Chesapeake (Smithsonian Institution 2014) drainages
  • Massachusetts - Connecticut Coastal (University of Alabama Biodiversity and Systematics 2007), Lower Connecticut (Lyman 1995), Massachusetts-Rhode Island Coastal, Merrimack (Crow and Hellquist 1983), and Saco (Hendricks 2010) drainages
  • Michigan - Northeastern Lake Michigan, Northwestern Lake Huron, Northwestern Lake Michigan, Southeastern Lake Superior, St. Clair-Detroit, Wisconsin (Anonymous 2015), Lake Superior, Southcentral Lake Superior (Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission 2008), Saginaw (University of Connecticut 2011), Southeastern Lake Michigan (Nichols 1994), Southwestern Lake Huron (Trudeau 1982), and Western Lake Erie (Reznicek et al. 2011) drainages
  • Minnesota - Lake Superior, Lower Red, Southwestern Lake Superior, Upper Red (Anonymous 2015), Minnesota, Mississippi Headwaters, St. Croix, St. Louis, Upper Mississippi-Black-Root (Minnesota DNR Exotic Species Program 2002), Rainy (University of Alabama Biodiversity and Systematics 2007), and Upper Mississippi-Crow-Rum (Lindstrom and Sandstrom 1939) drainages
  • Mississippi - Davis Lake, Tombigbee National Forest in Black Warrior-Tombigbee drainage (Aurand 1982), and Lower Pascagoula River in Pascagoula drainage (Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health 2015)
  • Missouri - Gasconade, Osage, Upper Mississippi-Meramec, Upper White (Padgett 2001), Lower Missouri-Blackwater, St. Francis, and Upper Mississippi-Salt (Anonymous 2015) drainages
  • Montana - Fort Peck Lake, Marias, Pend Oreille (Anonymous 2015), Milk, Missouri-Poplar (Parkinson et al. 2011), Missouri Headwaters (Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health 2015), and Upper Missouri (Byron 2010) drainages
  • Nebraska - Elkhorn (Martin 2015), Lower Platte (Anonymous 2015), and Middle Platte (Rolfsmeier et al. 1999) drainages
  • Nevada - Black Rock Desert (Utah State University 2007), Carson (Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health 2015), and Truckee (Gill and Unsicker 1996) drainages
  • New Hampshire - Merrimack (Brooks 2013), Saco (Padgett and Crow 1993), and Upper Connecticut (Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation  Water Management Division 2011) drainages
  • New Jersey - Lower Delaware, Lower Hudson, Mid Atlantic Coastal (Huckins 1955), and Upper Delaware (Schuyler 1989) drainages
  • New Mexico - Rio Grande Closed Basins, Rio Grande-Elephant Butte, Upper Canadian, Upper Gila (Anonymous 2015), Upper Rio Grande (Charles Ashton, USACE, pers. comm.), and Upper San Juan (Colorado Parks and Wildlife 2014) drainages
  • New York - Eastern Lake Erie, Long Island, Northeastern Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence, Upper Delaware (Scott Kishbaugh, NY DEC, pers. comm.), Allegheny (Eaton and Schrot 1987), Connecticut Coastal (University of Connecticut 2011), Lake Champlain-Richelieu River (Madsen et al. 1988), Lower Hudson (Titus 1994), Oswego (Mississippi Herbarium Consortium 2013), Southeastern Lake Ontario, Southwestern Lake Ontario (Mills et al. 1993), Upper Hudson (Trudeau 1982), and Upper Susquehanna (Darring Freshwater Institute 1999) drainages
  • North Carolina - Albemarle-Chowan (Carter and Rybicki 1994), Pamlico (Anonymous 2015), and Roanoke (North Carolina Division of Water Resources 1996) drainages
  • North Dakota - Leeds in Devils Lake-Sheyenne drainage (Anonymous 2015)
  • Ohio - Great Miami, Middle Ohio-Raccoon, Muskingum, Southern Lake Erie, Upper Ohio-Beaver, Upper Ohio-Little Kanawha (Anonymous 2015), Middle Ohio-Little Miami, Scioto, and Western Lake Erie (Couch and Nelson 1985) drainages
  • Oklahoma - Robert S. Kerr Reservoir, Upper Cimarron (Aurand 1983), Lower Canadian, Red-Little, Upper Beaver, Verdigris (Ellmore et al. 2015), Lower Cimarron, Lower North Canadian (Nelson and Couch 1985), Red-Lake Texoma, and Washita (Anonymous 2015) drainages
  • Oregon - Deschutes (Many 2005), John Day, Southern Oregon Coastal (iMapInvasives 2012), Klamath, Middle Columbia, Northern Oregon Coastal, Willamette (Anonymous 2015), Lower Columbia, Lower Snake (Many 2007), and Middle Snake-Boise (WeedMapper Team Department of Rangeland Ecology & Managment 2005) drainages
  • Pennsylvania - Allegheny, Eastern Lake Erie, Lower Delaware, Lower Susquehanna, Monongahela, Upper Ohio-Beaver, West Branch Susquehanna (Pennsylvania Flora Database 2011), Upper Delaware (Schuyler 1988), and Upper Susquehanna (Anderson 2009) drainages
  • Rhode Island - Barney Pond in Massachusetts-Rhode Island Coastal drainage (State of Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Office of Water Resources 2015)
  • South Carolina - Lake Murray in Santee drainage (Steve de Kozlowski, SC DNR, pers. comm.), and Par Pond, Savannah River Site in Savannah drainage (Hill and Horn 1997)
  • South Dakota - Big Sioux, Minnesota (Anonymous 2015), and Fort Randall Reservoir (many 2009) drainages
  • Tennessee - French Broad-Holston (Anderson 2009), Lower Cumberland, Lower Tennessee, Upper Tennessee (Bates and Smith 1994), Middle Tennessee-Elk (David Webb, TVA Muscle Shoals, pers. comm.), Middle Tennessee-Hiwassee (Smith 1971), and Upper Cumberland (Simpson 1990) drainages
  • Texas - Big Cypress-Sulphur, Brazos Headwaters, Lower Colorado, Middle Colorado-Concho (Anonymous 2015), Galveston Bay-Sabine Lake, Neches, San Bernard Coastal, Upper Trinity (Helton and Hartmann 1996), Guadalupe (Lemke 1989), Middle Colorado-Llano (Anderson 2009), Nueces (Missouri Botanical Garden 2007), Red-Little (Johnson et al. 1991), and Sabine (Couch and Nelson 1985) drainages
  • Utah - Escalante Desert-Sevier Lake, Lower Colorado-Lake Mead (Utah State University 2007), Lower Bear, Weber (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources 2009), and Upper Colorado-Dirty Devil (Anonymous 2015) drainages
  • Vermont - Lake Champlain-Richelieu River (Crow and Hellquist 1983), Lower Connecticut (Rosen 2006), St. Francois River, Upper Connecticut, and Upper Hudson (Crosson 1990) drainages
  • Virginia - Albemarle-Chowan (Carter and Rybicki 1994), James, Roanoke (Wieboldt et al. 2015), Lower Chesapeake (Stevenson and Confer 1978), and Potomac (Mills et al. 1993) drainages
  • Washington - Lower Snake (Hong-Wa 2000), Lower Columbia (Weinmann et al. 1984), Middle Columbia, Washington Coastal (Parsons 1996), Pend Oreille (WATER Environmental Services Inc 1987), Puget Sound (Walton 1996), Spokane, Willamette, Yakima (Anonymous 2015), and Upper Columbia (Falter et al. 1974) drainages
  • West Virginia - Buffalo Creek Reservoir in Monongahela drainage (Anonymous 2015), and South Fork South Branch Potomac River in Potomac drainage (Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health 2015)
  • Wisconsin - Oswego, Upper Mississippi-Black-Root (Wisconsin Dept of Natural Resources 2008), Chippewa, Fox, Lake Superior, Northwestern Lake Michigan, Rock, Southcentral Lake Superior, Southwestern Lake Michigan, Southwestern Lake Superior, St. Croix, St. Louis, Upper Illinois (Anonymous 2015), Upper Mississippi-Maquoketa-Plum (Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission 2008), and Wisconsin (Anonymous 2007) drainages

Ecology: Myriophyllum spicatum can be found in depths of 1-10 m in lakes, ponds, shallow reservoirs and low energy areas of rivers and streams, and can grow in a variety of conditions; fresh or brackish water, a wide temperature and a soil pH of 5.4-11 (Aiken et al. 1979). This species has an affinity for alkaline waters (Patten 1956) and grows well in areas that have experienced disturbances such as nutrient loading, intense plant management, or abundant motorboat use (Aiken et al. 1979).

M. spicatum is a perennial that flowers twice a year, typically mid-June and late-July, followed by autofragmentation of the plant after each flowering (Nichols 1975; Patten 1956). Myriophyllum spicatum dies back in the fall, but the root system can survive the winter (Perkins and Sytsma 1987; Titus and Adams 1979). These root crowns begin growing the following spring once water temperatures reach about 60°F (Smith and Barko 1990).

Unlike many aquatic plants, this species does not produce turions (dormant vegetative structures that survive the winter) (Patten 1954). Each plant is able to produce approximately 100 seeds per season, but this species is much more successful at vegetative reproduction via fragments and runners (Patten 1956). After flowering, this species can undergo auto-fragmentation; new roots at nodes along the stem, and then the plant will break of at these nodes (Gustafson and Adams 1973; Nichols 1975). Plant fragments can be transported via wind, waves, or by human activity (Kimbel 1982).

Means of Introduction: Myriophyllum spicatum was probably intentionally introduced to the United States (Couch and Nelson 1985). Long distance dispersal has been linked to the aquarium and aquatic nursery trade (Reed 1977). Spread occurred as the species was planted into lakes and streams across the country, distributed as far as Mountian Lake in San Francisco Bay by 1888 (CalFlora 2012).

Stem fragments are important for the colonization of new habitats while local colony expansion occurs mainly by stolons (Aiken et al. 1979; Madsen et al. 1988). Water currents disseminate vegetative propagules through drainage areas, while motorboat traffic contributes to natural seasonal fragmentation and the distribution of fragments throughout lakes.

Transport on boating equipment plays the largest role in introducing fragments to new waterbodies. Road checks in Minnesota have found aquatic vegetation on 23% of all trailered watercraft inspected (Bratager 1996).

Status: One of the most widely distributed of all nonindigenous aquatic plants; established in 48 U.S. states (absent in Hawaii and Wyoming), and in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

Impact of Introduction: Now considered a major nuisance species throughout the Northeast, northern Midwest and Pacific Northwest of the United States (Couch and Nelson 1985; Patten 1956; White et al. 1993)

Eurasian water-milfoil competes aggressively to displace and reduce the diversity of native aquatic plants. It elongates from shoots initiated in the fall, beginning spring growth earlier than other aquatic plants. Tolerant of low water temperatures, it quickly grows to the surface, forming dense canopies that overtop and shade the surrounding vegetation (Madsen et al. 1991). Canopy formation and light reduction, are significant factors in the decline of native plant abundance and diversity observed when Eurasian water-milfoil invades healthy plant communities (Smith and Barko 1990; Madsen 1994).

Although in small tank experiments the native northern watermilfoil (Myriophyllum sibiricum Kom.) appears competitively superior, in the field, however, M. spicatum has replaced M. sibiricum over much of the temperate range of this species in North America (Valley and Newman, 1998). Both eelgrass (Vallisneria americana) and southern naiad (Najas guadalupensis) are known to have been displaced by this nonindigenous species in the Mobile Delta of Alabama (Bates and Smith 1994). Its establishment in Lake George, New York, reduced native plants from 5.5 to 2.2 species per square meter, in just two years (Madsen et al 1991). Its presence in the Rio Grande has caused concern for regional irrigation systems (NMAISAC 2008). In the tidal Delaware River, M. spicatum can tolerate conditions where salt intrusion and industrial pollution are eliminating native submersed plants (Schuyler et al. 1993).

Eurasian water-milfoil has less value as a food source for waterfowl than the native plants it replaces (Aiken et al. 1979). And although fish may initially experience a favorable edge effect, the characteristics of Eurasian water-milfoil's overabundant growth negate any short-term benefits it may provide fish in healthy waters. At high densities, its foliage supports a lower abundance and diversity of invertebrates, organisms that serve as fish food (Keast 1984). Dense cover allows high survival rates of young fish, however, larger predator fish lose foraging space and and are less efficient at obtaining their prey (Lillie and Budd 1992; Engel 1995). Madsen et al. (1995) found growth and vigor of a warm-water fishery reduced by dense Eurasian water-milfoil cover.

The growth and senescence of thick vegetation degrades water quality and depletes dissolved oxygen levels (Honnell 1992; Engel 1995). Typical dense beds restrict swimming, fishing and boating, clog water intakes and result in decaying mats that foul lakeside beaches.

Millions of dollars have been spent nationwide for control efforts (U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 1993). In New York state alone, annual costs are estimated at $500,000.

Remarks: High phenotypic plasticity within the genus Myriophyllum, especially among M. sibiricum and M. spicatum, has been documented under various habitat conditions (Gerber and Less 1994), making identification difficult without flowers or turions.

Hybridization was documented between M. spicatum and M. sibiricum [Myriophyllum spicatum X sibiricum] in Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Washington (Moody and Les 2002; Moody and Les 2007). The hybrid must be determined by molecular analysis, as morphology is indistinguishable from both parent species.

The occurrence of sixteen species including Potamogeton illinoensis and Potamogeton pectinatus may be indicaters of conditions suitable for Eurasian water-milfoil invasion. Searching areas colonized by these species may provide early detection, the best method for preventing new invasion (Nichols and Buchan 1997).

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Author: Pfingsten, I.A., L. Berent, C.C. Jacono, and M.M. Richerson.

Revision Date: 1/25/2018

Citation Information:
Pfingsten, I.A., L. Berent, C.C. Jacono, and M.M. Richerson., 2018, Myriophyllum spicatum L.: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL,, Revision Date: 1/25/2018, Access Date: 2/25/2018

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2018]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [2/25/2018].

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