Myriophyllum aquaticum (Vell.) Verdc.

Common Name: Parrot feather

Synonyms and Other Names:

Brazilian watermilfoil, parrot’s feather, parrot-feather, parrotfeather, parrot feather watermilfoil, Enydria aquatica (Vell.), Myriophyllum brasiliense (Camb.), Myriophyllum proserpinacoides (Gillies ex Hook. and Arn.)

Ryan Wersal, Mississippi State UniversityCopyright Info

C. Haden, 2018Copyright Info

C. Haden, 2018Copyright Info

Identification: Parrot feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum) is heterophyllous, meaning it has both an emergent and submersed leaf form. Emergent leaves are whorled, stiff, and usually have 20 or more linear divisions (10 leaflet pairs) on each leaf (Godfrey and Wooten 1981). The leaves appear feather-like and grayish green and can extend to 30 cm above the water surface.

The submersed shoots, similar to those of Eurasian watermilfoil (M. spicatum), are comprised of whorls of four to six filamentous, pectinate leaves, 1.5 to 3.5 cm long, arising from each node (Mason 1957, Washington State Department of Ecology 2011). Submersed leaves are reddish orange. When the submersed shoots reach the water surface, plant growth changes and begins to creep along the water surface with extensive branching from nodes followed by vertical growth of emergent stems (Moreira et al. 1999).

Small, white flowers occur in the leaf axils on the emergent shoots and are approximately 1/16 inch long (Washington State Department of Ecology 2011). Parrot feather lacks structures for storage, dispersal, and perennation (e.g., tubers, turions, and winter buds), and therefore stolons serve all these functions (Sytsma and Anderson 1993).

Size: leaves 1.5 to 5 cm, stems up to 5 feet.

Native Range: Myriophyllum aquaticum is a native of the Amazon River basin in South America, including Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, as well as Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay (Washington State Department of Ecology 2011). It prefers to inhabit subtropical regions (Fernandez et al. 1993).

Table 1. Great Lakes region nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state/province, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Myriophyllum aquaticum are found here.

Full list of USGS occurrences

State/ProvinceFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
IN200620061St. Joseph
MI196220186Detroit; Huron; Kalamazoo; Muskegon; St. Joseph; Upper Grand

Table last updated 10/16/2021

† Populations may not be currently present.

Ecology: Parrot feather grows well in shallow wetlands, slow moving streams, irrigation reservoirs or canals, edges of lakes, ponds, sloughs, or backwaters (Sutton 1985). Although it can grow in moist soil and tolerates a wide-range of water levels, parrot feather grows most rapidly in higher water levels (but has been documented in depths up to 16 ft; Banfield 2008) and high-nutrient environments (Hussner et al. 2009; Sutton 1985; Sytsma and Anderson 1993). Parrot feather requires rooting in bottom sediments, in habitats where light can penetrate to the bottom favor growth and colonization. Parrot feather thrives under slightly alkaline conditions (pH range 6.8-8.0), prefers temperatures between 16-23°C, and can withstand a water hardness level between 50-200 ppm (Federation of New Zealand Aquatic Societies, in Mabulu 2005). This species displays photosynthetic activity at pH levels of 6 to 8.5, depths of 0 to 10 meters, and temperatures from 10°C to 30°C, though it can survive even broader ranges (Robinson 2003; WIDNR 2011). It can also survive frequent inundation of salt water as long as concentrations remain below 4 ppt (Sutton 1985). Parrot feather is not seriously affected by frost (Moreira et al. 1999); however, a hard or extended period of frost may kill emergent shoots in northern latitudes (WIDNR 2011). Parrot feather can survive winters in its submersed form and begin growth when water temperatures reach 7°C (Moreira et al. 1999). Nevertheless, invasion tends to fail in areas with severe winters, because parrot feather does not store phosphorus or carbon in its rhizomes (Mabulu 2005).

Parrot feather is a dioecious species, however only pistillate (female) plants are found outside of South America. Staminate (male) plants are rare even in native populations of South America (Orchard 1981). For this reason, seed production is not known to occur (Aiken 1981) and reproduction is exclusively vegetative in North America (Orchard 1981). Reproduction occurs by fragmentation of emergent and/or submersed shoots, roots, rhizomes, or attached plant fragments (Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, UF/IFAS 2010; Les and Mehrhoff 1999; Mabulu 2005).

Parrot feather has an annual growth pattern, forming shoots in spring from overwintering rhizomes as water temperature increases. Rhizomes provide support for adventitious roots and buoyancy for emergent summer growth. Flowers usually appear in spring, or in fall for some plants. The plant usually dies back to its rhizomes in the autumn (Mabulu 2005).

Means of Introduction: Escaped ornamental pond plant.

Status: Established in North America.

Great Lakes Impacts: Myriophyllum aquaticum has a high probability of introduction to the Great Lakes (Confidence level: High).
Potential pathways of introduction: Natural dispersal through waterbody connections; Hitch-hiking or fouling of recreational gear, boat structures, fauna, or other objects entering the Great Lakes from surrounding region; Unauthorized intentional release from live trade; Accidental introduction to Great Lakes by escapees

With established nonindigenous populations in states adjacent to the Great Lakes, parrot feather has potential to be introduced to the Great Lakes from nearby water bodies. The closest parrot feather population to the Great Lakes has been recorded from Meserve Lake, Indiana, which drains though the Pigeon River into the St. Joseph River, a tributary of Lake Michigan (Wersal 2011). Fragments of this plant are capable of transport by river currents and could also become attached to or entangled with recreational boats (e.g., propellers, trailer tires) or fishing gear. Its rhizomes are very tough and can be transported long distances on boat trailers, surviving for up to a year when kept moist and cool (Washington State Department of Ecology 2003, in Mabulu 2005).
Parrot feather has been an ornamental favorite in hanging baskets, fountains, and aquaria for more than a century due to its blue-green color, feather-like leaves, oxygenating properties, and cascading pattern of growth (Les 2002; Les and Mehrhoff 1999). Often sold under incorrect names, introductions of this species are usually attributed to the water garden and aquarium trades (Davis 1996; Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, UF/IFAS 2010; Les 2002; Les and Mehroff 1999). It has escaped cultivation through mechanical fragmentation and unintentional plantings, readily taking root. In a Great Lakes regional study, this aquatic plant was found in 25% of the stores surveyed in Michigan and Ontario, near Lake Erie, between 2002 and 2003 (Rixon et al. 2005). Moreover, water garden plants are often left outside to overwinter, which can lead to unintentional escape during spring flooding. The locations of Ontario water gardens indentified by 2006 survey respondents suggests that many of these gardens are within the coastal regions of four of the five Great Lakes, though if these were also flood-prone areas was not determined (Marson et al. 2009b).

Parrot feather is of growing interest for environmental remediation of soil and water contaminated with chlorinated solvents, trinitrotoluene (TNT), and other nitrogenated explosive/aromatic compounds, but this is currently a technology in limited, experimental use (Medina et al. 2000; Nwoko 2010).

Among the Great Lakes states and provinces, M. aquaticum is prohibited in Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin and regulated in Minnesota. Furthermore, it is listed as a noxious weed by nine non-Great Lakes states (Alabama, Connecticut, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington) (IISG 2008; GLPNS 2008; WIDNR 2011). Without more stringent laws regulating sale and disposal throughout the entire region, introduction could occur through disposal of aquarium fragments, unintentional escape from culture, or intentional unauthorized planting to support live trade.

Not established in the Great Lakes.

Myriophyllum aquaticum has a moderate probability of establishment if introduced to the Great Lakes (Confidence level: Moderate).

Myriophyllum aquaticum is a hardy species with broad environmental tolerances (see Ecology above). It occurs as a floating plant in the deep water of nutrient-enriched lakes like the Great Lakes (Washington State Department of Ecology 2011). It is known to tolerate freezing temperatures in California’s Bay area winters (Aiken 1999). However, this plant can be killed by extended periods of frost (WNDR 2011) and so may benefit from warmer winters predicted to result from climate change.

Parrot feather grows vigorously and quickly following invasion in new habitats, forming dense canopies that occupy large amounts of space and block sunlight and oxygen exchange. As a result, this species outcompetes and replaces native flora that might be of more value to fish and wildlife (Stiers et al 2010; WNDR 2011).

Reproduction and dispersal of M. aquaticum in North America occurs by vegetative fragmentation, which is an effective method for short-range, but not long-range, dispersal (Les and Mehrhoff 1999). Although parrot feather’s natural dispersal potential is limited, this species is widespread outside its native range (Moody and Les 2010). Myriophyllum aquaticum has expanded its range mainly in the southern United States and may be relatively innocuous in the northeast due to a smaller number of occurrences (Hoyer et al. 1996). Nonetheless, this species has survived in southern New England and caused serious local infestations (WIDNR 2011). The rapid spread of M. aquaticum is correlated with its widespread cultivation and the transport of fragments by waterfowl or vehicles. When transport agents are not present, the threat of its escape and establishment depends more on the number of localities where it is grown. Unfortunately, M. aquaticum remains widely available from sources of cultivated water plants and dealers occasionally plant it intentionally to propagate a local supply (Aiken 1981; Les and Mehrhoff 1999).

Nonindigenous M. aquaticum specimens collected from geographically diverse locations in North America have been found to have identical ITS genotypes and are all female. Seed production has not been recorded (Moody and Les 2010).

Myriophyllum aquaticum has the potential for high environmental impact if introduced to the Great Lakes.
The U.S. EPA (2008) predicted that M. aquaticum could have a high impact and spread rate in the Great Lakes, as it is adaptive to a variety of environments. According to Les and Mehrhoff (1999), rapid spread has been relatively common in this macrophyte’s North American invasion history (Les and 1999). Outside the U.S, a risk assessment prepared for Australia in 1995 by Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk recommended rejection of the plant for import on mainland due to its likelihood of becoming a pest (Pheloung 1995, in Mabulu 2005). By 2002, parrot feather was assessed as one of the top 200 invasive naturalized plants in Southeast Queensland, Australia (ranked #69 of 200) (Queensland Herbarium 2002).

Dense infestations of parrot feather can rapidly overtake small ponds and sloughs, changing their physical and chemical properties, including impeding water flow, which can result in increased flood duration and intensity. The spread of aquatic nonindigenous plants into a waterbody can also lead to increased rates of evapotranspiration and water loss. One mesocosm experiment found that colonization by M. aquaticum was correlated to an increase in water loss of about 1.5 to 2 times that experienced by an open water surface (Rosa et al. 2009).

Myriophyllum aquaticum can dramatically alter ecosystems by shading out algae, pondweeds, and coontail on which waterfowl feed (Ferreira and Moreira 1994; Washington State Department of Ecology 2011). Floating mats of M. aquaticum have been measured at up to 26 kg of fresh weight in Europe and are capable of reducing the oxygen content of the water below to <1 mg O2L-1, which can be detrimental to fish (Fonseca 1984 cited in Moreira et al. 1999; Hussner 2008 in Hussner 2009). In Germany, the infestation of these mats created anoxic, shaded conditions in shallow waters, and appeared to be correlated with a decline in native macrophyte diversity (Hussner 2008 in Hussner 2009).
In Chinese laboratory experiments, parrot feather outcompeted native species with respect to relative growth rate, with the most significant results on high-nutrient sediment (Xie et al. 2010). A separate mesocosm study by Wersal and Madsen (2011) found that the yield (biomass) of M. aquaticum was positively related to tissue nitrogen content, suggesting that high levels of nitrogen contribute to nuisance levels of growth. However, an inverse relationship existed between M. aquaticum yield and tissue phosphorus content. Wersal and Madsen (2011) proposed that high levels of phosphorus favored the growth of algae (superior competitors in phosphorus uptake) causing shading in the water column and suppressing the growth of M. aquaticum (Wersal and Madsen 2011).

Stiers et al. (2011) compared Belgian lake sites that were heavily invaded (90-100% cover), semi-invaded (~25% cover), and uninvaded by M. aquaticum and found that native species richness was 57% lower in heavily invaded sites relative to uninvaded sites. Parrot feather cover was also negatively correlated with invertebrate species richness and abundance. The authors observed lowered levels of dissolved oxygen at some sites, as well as a dense mat of decomposed plant litter and sediments at the bottom of heavily-invaded sites; they hypothesized that this condition created unsuitable habitat for invertebrate colonization (Stiers et al. 2011). Plant species that are rare (Utricularia vulgaris) and vulnerable (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) IUCN Red List species in Belgium were absent in heavily invaded sites but present in semi-invaded sites (Steirs et al. 2011). Furthermore, mayflies (Caenis spp.) were present in uninvaded sites, but were not reported in invaded sites (Steirs et al. 2011).

Myriophyllum aquaticum can also alter the cycling of heavy metals in aquatic systems. Cardwell et al. (2002) found that M. aquaticum accumulated the highest overall levels of metals (zinc, cadmium, copper, and lead) in its tissues of all 15 aquatic plants that underwent testing. While this suggests that M. aquaticum could be used as an important indicator species (see below), the consumption of M. aquaticum by grazers could increase the bioaccumulation of heavy metals in the food web.

Myriophyllum aquaticum has the potential for moderate socio-economic impact if introduced to the Great Lakes.
Parrot feather infestations have been reported in both natural and man-made water bodies, including lakes, ponds, canals, drainage and irrigation ditches, and lagoons. Plants and floating mats of vegetation are sometimes uprooted, choking waterways, inhibiting navigation, and potentially blocking pumps or drainage (Engineer Research and Development Center 2007; Sheppard et al. 2006). Dense growth can also diminish the recreational value and seriously affect the perceived aesthetic qualities of infested waterways (Banfield 2008; Washington State Department of Ecology 2011).

Myriophylum aquaticum monocultures provide prime mosquito habitat; higher parrot feather density has been correlated with higher mosquito egg and larval abundance (Orr and Resh 1992), which may lead to increased prevalence of mosquito-born diseases.

Myriophyllum spp. have invaded rice paddies could adversely affect wild rice (Zizania palustris) found in the upper Great Lakes (Quayyum et al. 1999). One account by South African farmers also reported that tobacco crops gained a red tint (reducing the sale value of the crop) when irrigated with water from an area colonized by M. aquaticum roots (Cilliers 1999).

Myriophyllum aquaticum has the potential for moderate potential benefits if introduced to the Great Lakes.
Assessment protocols have been developed using M. aquaticum as a primary indicator species of sediment toxicity in potentially polluted areas (Feiler et al. 2004; Knauer et al. 2008). It is an important species in the aquarium trade and can be found in shops in both the American and Canadian Great Lakes regions (Marson et al. 2009a; Rixon et al. 2005). It is reportedly sold as an “oxygenating plant” in Europe (Sheppard et al. 2006).

Parrot feather may provide cover for some aquatic organisms (Washington State Department of Ecology 2011). Parker et al. (2007) found that beavers (Castor canadensis) in Georgia fed on M. aquaticum to the extent that invasive populations were reduced, although no strong preference for this plant species over others was documented. Myriophyllum aquaticum could be used for nitrogen and phosphorus remediation (e.g., in a constructed wetland remediating nutrient runoff), but Polomski et al. (2009) found that other invasive macrophytes (Eichhornia crassipes and Pistia stratiotes) had equal or greater uptake efficiency levels relative to M. aquaticum. Parrot feather can also aid in environmental remediation of soil and water contaminated with chlorinated solvents, trinitrotoluene (TNT), and other nitrogenated explosive/aromatic compounds (Medina et al. 2000; Nwoko 2010).

Management: Regulations
Possession of live parrot feather is prohibited in Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin; regulated in Minnesota (GLPNS 2008; IISG 2011; WIDNR 2011).

Note: Check federal, state/provincial, and local regulations for the most up-to-date information.

Although parrot feather is not considered a widespread nuisance, once it becomes established in an area it is very difficult to control. Several methods, including chemical, mechanical, and biological control, have been evaluated with mixed results. Chemical and mechanical methods can provide short to medium term control of parrot feather. Herbicides have been used most often for control of parrot feather and results have been dependent upon herbicide choice. Mechanical methods are much less documented; however, their use may facilitate regrowth and further spread of parrot feather. Biological control has been evaluated; however, there are no viable options available in the United States. The most effective method to avoid infestations is likely to prevent unintentional release from water gardens.

Parrot feather’s waxy cuticle on stems and leaves can only be penetrated with a wetting agent, making chemical control challenging—the weight of spraying may cause the plants to sink in the water, which can wash the herbicide off before it can take effect. Nevertheless, the most successful herbicides currently used for parrot feather control include those that can be applied to foliage, such as 2,4-D, triclopyr, diquat, carfentrazone, imazapyr, and imazamox. The use of 2,4-D and triclopyr as a foliar applications have resulted in consistent control of parrot feather (Hofstra 2006; Moreira et al. 1999). Glyphosate is generally not recommended as this herbicide only kills emergent shoots and plants often regrow in greater densities (Moreira et al. 1999). Diquat is a contact herbicide that will kill the vegetation it comes in contact with, but significant regrowth is common (Westerdahl and Getsinger 1988). Carfentrazone-ethyl will not control parrot feather as a foliar application (Richardson et al. 2008). The use of imazapyr and imazamox have been evaluated on small infestations with excellent to fair results, respectively (Wersal and Madsen 2007).

Subsurface herbicide applications do not result in increased control relative to foliar applications (Wersal and Madsen 2010). Carfentrazone-ethyl will not control parrot feather and is not recommended as a stand-alone treatment (Glomski et al. 2006; Gray et al. 2007). However, when carfentrazone-ethyl was combined with 2,4-D it resulted in excellent control of small parrot feather populations (Gray et al. 2007).

Multiple applications are often necessary to completely control parrot feather. The effectiveness of herbicide applications will be site specific and depend upon the environmental conditions at the time of application.


Cutting plants will only increase spread, as parrot feather reproduces vegetatively. Hand pulling and harvesting may offer temporary control, however this approach is very labor intensive as dense mats are heavy and difficult to haul out of the water (Guillarmod 1977). Raking and chaining (long chains of sharp blades pulled by tractors) may not be feasible due to the rapid biomass production of parrot feather; moreover, dense mats may damage equipment. Sebbatini et al. (1998) reported that parrot feather was tolerant to mechanical disturbance (raking and chaining) and the repeated application of mechanical techniques favored parrot feather dominance in canals. Care must be taken to remove all plant parts (emergent shoots, submersed shoots, and roots), as well as fragments created by the removal, or re-growth will occur.

Water drawdown may be a viable option for parrot feather control, but the effectiveness of this approach has yet to be determined. To be successful, a drawdown would have to be sustained long enough to completely dry the soil, as parrot feather can and will survive in moist soil. Dredging is generally very expensive and not feasible for most management situations.

Currently, the grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) and a leaf feeding beetle (Lysathia spp.) have been evaluated for control of parrot feather infestations. Grass carp are not recommended for parrot feather control as fish generally avoid eating this plant due to its high tannin content (Catarino et al. 1997; WSDE 2003 in Mabulu 2005; Pine and Anderson 1991). The leaf-feeding beetle showed some promise in South Africa by significantly reducing emergent shoot biomass (Cilliers 1999; Mabulu pers. comm. 2004 in Mabulu 2005); however, this agent is not approved for use in the United States. Existing evidence supports that beaver (Castor canadensis) provides some control of M. aquaticum in the Gumby Swampland (Georgia); when beavers were excluded at certain sites, M. aquaticum abundance increased nearly 8-fold and accounted for up to 95% of the increased vegetative growth in the exclusions (Parker et al. 2007).

Cultural Control & Prevention of Spread
Parrot feather is a common component of aquatic landscaping because of its aesthetic appearance and ease of cultivation (Sutton 1985). Aiken (1981) reported observations of aquarium plant providers in the San Francisco Bay area placing of parrot feather plants into local waterways to have a convenient source of saleable material. The ease of cultivation and attractiveness as a pond plant has aided in its escape and subsequent colonization of natural areas.

Cultural prevention approaches are the best way to avoid parrot feather infestations, as this plant is almost exclusively spread by human means (e.g., propeller or fishing gear entanglement, ornamental release) (Guillarmod 1977). This species is also likely to be resilient to water level fluctuations resulting from climate change (Huessner et al. 2009).

Ultimately, to prevent the future introduction and spread of parrot feather into new areas it must be prohibited from sale by the water garden and aquaculture industries.

Note: Check state/provincial and local regulations for the most up-to-date information regarding permits for control methods. Follow all label instructions.


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Author: Wersal, R.M., E. Baker, J. Larson, K. Dettloff, A.J. Fusaro, D.D. Thayer, and I.A. Pfingsten

Contributing Agencies:

Revision Date: 5/4/2018

Citation for this information:
Wersal, R.M., E. Baker, J. Larson, K. Dettloff, A.J. Fusaro, D.D. Thayer, and I.A. Pfingsten, 2021, Myriophyllum aquaticum (Vell.) Verdc.: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, and NOAA Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, Ann Arbor, MI,, Revision Date: 5/4/2018, Access Date: 10/16/2021

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.