In September, a class from Wells College was on Cayuga Lake, near Aurora, when someone noticed a non-native weed in the water. It was hydrilla, an invasive plant that can cause big problems.
Hillary Lambert, with the Cayuga Lake Watershed, is trying to figure out how widespread the hydrilla is before the lake gets even colder and freezes. “If we let hydrilla take control over several years time, it could make large areas of the shoreline impassable every summer,” she explained.
Hydrilla grows quickly in the water. Once it reaches the surface, it creates a dense mat and crowds out other plants.
Lambert reached down and grabbed a tangled mass of weeds from the shore. “I’m looking at the one that looks a lot like hydrilla,” she said. “And the thing is, it’s got three leaves around the center stem and that means we can relax.”
Three leaves around the center stem is good news. Hydrilla has five leaves.
The plant was found about halfway up the east side of the lake in September. Lambert is worried it could be everywhere come spring.
If that happens, it can easily move from one body of water to another. “People could pick it up on their boats and their boat trailers and carry it all over the Finger Lakes and up to the Great Lakes and that would really be a mess,” Lambert said.
This isn’t the first time hydrilla popped up in Cayuga Lake. It was found in 2011 at a different location. “That’s the first time it had shown up anywhere in upstate New York and it was growing in big, thick beds, infesting 166 acres before anybody realized it,” Lambert explained.
The plant had been eradicated until now.
The Cayuga Lake Watershed is urging residents to check for hydrilla around the shore. So far, there’s no sign of it spreading. Lambert said they want to use whatever data they can gather now to create a plan for the spring.