- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

When spring and steadily warmer temperatures arrive, local anglers and boaters on both sides of the tidal Potomac River will have a new worry: water lettuce.

It sounds kind of cute and harmless, but this latest invasive plant to come to the D.C. area can impede boating and reduce fish catches because it robs the water of the dissolved oxygen that fish need to survive.

A concerned Mark Lewandowski of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Resource Assessment Service said, “I work on submersed aquatic vegetation restoration but also deal with aquatic invasive species removal.”

Lewandowski said water lettuce (pistia stratiotes) was discovered during a routine survey of the Potomac last year. It is an exotic invasive plant that floats on the surface of the water, similar to water chestnut.

“It has the potential for a large-scale infestation if left unchecked,” Lewandowski said.

I think I know what he’s talking about. As we fished for bass in the tidal Potomac’s Mattawoman Creek in Charles County last fall, we spotted pretty little patches of the water lettuce. We did not know what it was but were aware it wasn’t hydrilla, milfoil or wild celery water weeds. Mary Groves of the DNR’s Cedarville facility identified it as water lettuce and ventured a guess that someone might have gotten tired of it in a backyard pond and decided to throw it into this Potomac tributary.

Lewandowski said the plant is native to the tropics and that it produces seeds and spreads rapidly. I can echo that. One day we saw five or six tiny clumps of it around Marsh Island in the Mattawoman and several weeks later saw tiny water lettuce bouquets that had spread up the creek by half a mile thanks to moving tides. It floats entirely, has no bottom-hugging root system and easily can be picked up. The DNR and other government agencies recommend that you remove it, put it on your boat and dispose of it in a trash can or bag if possible.

Lewandowski also encourages anyone who finds it to contact him so he can develop a map of current distribution. E-mail him at mlewandowski@dnr.state.md.us or call 410/260-8634.

Odenkirk at bass club meeting — Northern Virginia’s top fisheries biologist, John Odenkirk, will be the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the New Horizon Bass Anglers tomorrow at the Fairfax County Government Center at 7 p.m.

Odenkirk will address recent drought impacts on local fisheries and also will update attendees on the northern snakehead situation in the Potomac River. The public is invited, and there is no charge. For more information go to www.nhbayouthfoundation.org.

TU chapter meets — The Seneca Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited invites the public to its meeting March 26 at 7 p.m. at the Up-County Regional Service Center in Germantown, where spin fisherman Frank Nale comes down from Pennsylvania to present a program on fishing spinner lures for trout in streams like the Little Juniata River, Penns Creek and Spring Creek in Centre County, as well as numerous others, including Maryland’s Gunpowder Falls area. There is no charge to attend. For more information, call 301/949-8281 or 301/916-8141.

c Look for Gene Mueller’s

Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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