Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Myriophyllum spicatum
(spiked watermilfoil)



Myriophyllum spicatum (spiked watermilfoil)


  • Last modified
  • 06 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Myriophyllum spicatum
  • Preferred Common Name
  • spiked watermilfoil
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • M. spicatum (spiked watermilfoil) is an invasive submerged aquatic weed characteristic of temperate regions, as far north as the UK and Canada, and as far south as South Africa. It is recorded from at least 57 co...

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Myriophyllum spicatum L.

Preferred Common Name

  • spiked watermilfoil

International Common Names

  • English: Eurasian watermilfoil
  • French: myriophylle a epis

Local Common Names

  • Germany: Aehriges Tausendblatt
  • Japan: hozakinofusamo
  • Netherlands: aarvederkruid

EPPO code

  • MYPSP (Myriophyllum spicatum)

Summary of Invasiveness

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M. spicatum (spiked watermilfoil) is an invasive submerged aquatic weed characteristic of temperate regions, as far north as the UK and Canada, and as far south as South Africa. It is recorded from at least 57 countries, probably native to all those Palearctic countries in which it occurs, less certainly an exotic in southern Afrotropical countries; and undoubtedly an alien invasive in the Nearctic (USA and Canada). It is a particular problem of streams, rivers and small water bodies where it primarily impedes flow and causes a range of associated environmental problems, such as water deoxygenation. Long-distance spread via the aquarium/ garden trade has been a notable anthropogenic vector. Once introduced to a new region it spreads rapidly, primarily by vegetative stem fragmentation, and transport attached to boats, though seed production also occurs. It is listed as a notifiable/ prohibited weed in many states and provinces of the USA and Canada, and in South Africa.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Haloragidales
  •                         Family: Haloragidaceae
  •                             Genus: Myriophyllum
  •                                 Species: Myriophyllum spicatum

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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There are some 54 species of Myriophyllum, submerged, emergent or seasonally terrestrial (Cook, 1990; Chambers et al., 2008), but only two are major aquatic weed species: Myriophyllum spicatum and Myriophyllum aquaticum. M. spicatum is a species of Palaeoarctic (probably European) origin (Faegri, 1982), introduced to North America where it tends to outcompete native Myriophyllum spp. such as Myriophyllum sibiricum (= M. spicatum var. exalbescens), although it can hybridise with certain native North American species (Moody and Les, 2003). Some authorities recognize Myriophyllum exalbescens as a separate taxon. M. spicatum is generally recognized as both difficult to distinguish from its non-nuisance subspecies (Cook, 1993) and also a likely cause of much more severe aquatic weed problems in North America than native Myriophyllum taxa (Couch and Nelson, 1985; Anderson, 1993; Steward, 1993). In Europe and elsewhere in its native range, M. spicatum can and does cause weed problems but not usually on a major scale (Murphy et al., 1993; Ali and Soltan, 2006). Some related taxa (e.g. Myriophyllum verticillatum, Myriophyllum heterophyllum) occasionally cause weed problems in temperate freshwater systems, but on a world-scale are generally of much less importance than either M. spicatum or (in warmer water systems) M. aquaticum.


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M. spicatum is a perennial aquatic herb, rhizomatous, with leafy shoots 50-250 cm, naked below through decay of older leaves. Fine, soft, herring-bone-like leaves usually 1.5-3 cm, usually 4 per whorl, about equalling the internodes, each with 13-35 segments. Spikes 5-15 cm. Wind-pollinated flowers usually in whorls of 4 in the axils of the bracts, all but the lowest of which are entire and shorter than the flowers; emerging above water surface. About 4 basal whorls of female flowers, then 1 of hermaphrodite, the rest of male flowers with dull red petals, ca 3 mm, soon falling. Fruits at first subglobose. Flowers 6-7. Turions 0.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


BangladeshPresentMoody, 1989
BhutanPresentGrierson & Long, 1991
CambodiaPresentMoody, 1989
ChinaPresentWang et al., 1990
-AnhuiPresentSong et al., 2007Lake Taihu
-HubeiPresentChen et al., 2000Lake Lianzi
-Nei MengguPresentLui, 1994
-ShaanxiPresentZhao and Wang, 2002Han River Basin
-ShanxiPresentJia and Zhang, 2006Sanggan River
-TibetPresentLi et al., 2008
IndiaPresentMoody, 1989
-Jammu and KashmirPresentTicku and Zutshi, 1991
IndonesiaPresentMoody, 1989
IranPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991; Filizadeh, 2002
IsraelPresentHolm et al., 1991
JapanPresentHolm et al., 1991
JordanPresentHolm et al., 1991
Korea, DPRPresentHolm et al., 1991
Korea, Republic ofPresentHolm et al., 1991; Yeon et al., 2003
PakistanPresentHabib-ur-Rahman et al., 1969; Habib-ur-Rahman, et al., 1969
PakistanPresentHabib-ur-Rahman et al., 1969; Habib-ur-Rahman, et al., 1969
PhilippinesPresentHolm et al., 1991
TaiwanPresentLi and Hsieh, 1996Naturalized
ThailandPresentNapompeth and Bay-Petersen, 1994
TurkeyPresentBates et al., 1984
VietnamPresentMoody, 1989


AlgeriaPresentNativeHolm et al., 1991
BotswanaPresentIntroducedCook, 1990
EgyptPresentNativeSpringuel and Murphy, 1991; Ali and Soltan, 2006Nile system
KenyaPresentGichuki et al., 2001Wetlands around Lake Victoria
NamibiaPresentIntroducedCook, 1990
South AfricaWidespreadIntroducedCook, 1990; Henderson and Cilliers, 2002
TogoPresentAkpavi et al., 2005
ZambiaPresentIntroducedHolm et al., 1991
ZimbabwePresentIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; Chikwenhere, 1998

North America

CanadaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-British ColumbiaPresentIntroducedAnderson, 1993
-OntarioPresentIntroducedPainter, 1988
-QuebecPresentIntroducedAnderson, 1993; Lavoie et al., 2003
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AlabamaLocalisedIntroducedZolczynski and Jernigan, 2002; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-AlaskaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2007
-ArizonaLocalisedIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2007
-CaliforniaPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987; Eiswerth et al., 2000; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-ColoradoPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2007B list (noxious weed)
-ConnecticutPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987; Capers et al., 2005; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-DelawareWidespreadIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2007
-FloridaPresentIntroducedSteward, 1993; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-GeorgiaWidespreadIntroducedSteward, 1993; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-IdahoPresentIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2007Noxious weed
-IllinoisPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-IndianaPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-IowaWidespreadIntroducedPhillips, 2001Lakes
-KentuckyPresentIntroducedSteward, 1993; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-LouisianaPresentIntroducedSteward, 1993; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-MainePresentIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2007Invasive aquatic plant
-MarylandPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-MassachusettsPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-MichiganPresentIntroducedGerber and Les, 1994; Herrick and Wolf, 2005; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-MinnesotaPresentIntroducedFurnier and Mustaphi, 1992; Madsen and Welling, 2002; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-MississippiPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-MontanaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2007Category 3 noxious weed
-NevadaPresentIntroducedEiswerth et al., 2000; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-New JerseyPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987; Findlay et al., 2006; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-New MexicoLocalisedIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2007Class A noxious weed
-New YorkPresentIntroducedHartleb et al., 1993; Eichler et al., 2001; Findlay et al., 2006; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-North CarolinaPresentIntroducedSteward, 1993; Madsen, 2005; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-OhioPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987; Whyte and Francko, 2001; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-OklahomaLocalisedUSDA-NRCS, 2007
-OregonWidespreadUSDA-NRCS, 2007"B" designated weed, quarantine
-PennsylvaniaPresentLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-Rhode IslandPresentLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-South CarolinaPresentPinder et al., 2005; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-South CarolinaPresentPinder et al., 2005; USDA-NRCS, 2007Invasive aquatic plant
-South DakotaLocalisedUSDA-NRCS, 2007Regulated non-native plant species
-TennesseePresentIntroducedSteward, 1993; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-TexasPresentIntroducedSantha et al., 1994; Owens et al., 2001; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-VermontPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2007Class B noxious weed
-VirginiaPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-WashingtonWidespreadIntroducedAnderson, 1993; USDA-NRCS, 2007
-West VirginiaPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-WisconsinWidespreadIntroducedGerber and Les, 1994; Herrick and Wolf, 2005; USDA-NRCS, 2007


AustriaPresentNativeFitter, 1978; Janauer, 1999
BelgiumPresentNativeFitter, 1978
CroatiaWidespreadNativeHulina, 1990; Debeljak et al., 2002
Czech RepublicPresentNativeFitter, 1978; Adamec and Husák, 2002
DenmarkPresentNativeFitter, 1978
EstoniaPresentNativeFeldmann and Nõges, 2007Lake Vortsjarv
FinlandPresentNativeFitter, 1978
FrancePresentNativeDutartre, 1986
GermanyPresentNativeFitter, 1978; Selig et al., 2007
IcelandPresentNativeFitter, 1978
IrelandPresentNativeCaffrey, 1982
ItalyPresentNativePicoli & Gerdol, 1983; Ruggiero et al., 2004; Prigioni et al., 2005
LiechtensteinPresentNativeFitter, 1978
LithuaniaPresentNativeTrainauskaite and Yankyavichyus, 1994; Sinkeviciene, 1998
LuxembourgPresentNativeFitter, 1978
NetherlandsPresentNativeFitter, 1978
NorwayPresentNativeFitter, 1978
PolandPresentNativeFitter, 1978; Hutorowicz et al., 2006
PortugalPresentNativeCatarino et al., 2001
Russian FederationPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-SiberiaPresentNativeVolobaev, 1992; Kozhova and Izhboldina, 1993
SerbiaPresentNativeStankovic et al., 2000Lakes Provala, Vojvodina
SlovakiaPresentNativeFitter, 1978
SloveniaPresentNativeUrbanc-Bercic & Blejec, 1993
SpainPresentNativeMartinez-Taberner and Moya, 1993
SwedenPresentNativeFitter, 1978; Eriksson et al., 2004
SwitzerlandPresentNativeFitter, 1978
UKPresentNativeMurphy et al., 1993; Wade, 1999
-Channel IslandsPresentNativeFitter, 1978
-England and WalesPresentHinojosa-Garro et al., 2008


AustraliaPresentHolm et al., 1991

Risk of Introduction

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Myriophyllum species, like most other invasive aquatic plants, are largely spread between geographically separate regions by human dispersal (mainly by the aquatic plants trade for aquaria). Once established in a new locality their spread is via a range of mechanisms. M. spicatum plants are easily spread downstream in the form of vegetative fragments or seed (though the latter seems much less important than the former). For example in the Okanagan/Columbia river system of Canada and the northwestern USA, M. spicatum advanced some 500 km downstream during the period 1977-84, passing through four major dams and their impoundments along the way.

Plant fragments are also easily transported attached to ships or boats. In the Nile in Egypt, carriage of M. spicatum fragments on ships and other river traffic is the most likely mechanism for the upstream spread of the species in recent years, as far as Aswan in Upper Egypt (Springuel and Murphy, 1991; Ali and Soltan, 1996). Inter-catchment transport via boats and ships using navigable canals is a likely vector where such canal networks exist (e.g. northern USA: Mills et al., 2000). In Canada and elsewhere, quarantine measures have been introduced involving public information campaigns and boat inspections (for example at ferry landing points on Vancouver Island, British Columbia) to try to minimize transfer of plant material to uninfested river and lake systems.

Finally, the spread of the plants via natural vectors (especially waterfowl, either via the digestive tract or attached to plumage) is always a possible means of transfer.


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M. spicatum is a cosmopolitan submerged plant of cool–warm temperate freshwaters; either native (Old World) or introduced (New World), and highly invasive in its introduced range. It is recorded from at least 57 countries, mainly in the Palearctic region, but is considered to be a major invasive alien weed problem only in the Nearctic (USA and Canada), and southern Africa. This weed occurs in a wide range of waterbodies from rivers, including large rivers such as the Nile in Egypt and the Columbia River in northwestern USA (Springuel and Murphy, 1991; Anderson, 1993), through lakes and reservoirs, to man-made drainage and irrigation channel systems (e.g. Aiken et al., 1979; Bossard et al., 2000; Clarke and Newman, 2002; Boylen et al., 2006). It prefers clear water, high light intensity, low salinity, high calcium and high nutrient conditions, but is able to tolerate wide variations in these habitat variables. It is rarely found in water more than 3 m deep.

Moody (1989) lists M. spicatum as a weed of transplanted and deep-water rice in Bangladesh, India and Vietnam, and Napompeth and Bay-Petersen (1994) similarly include it as a rice weed in Thailand.

Habitat List

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Irrigation channels Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Lakes Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Reservoirs Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rivers / streams Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Ponds Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Lagoons Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)

Biology and Ecology

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M. spicatum forms dense near-surface canopies, often forming over 60% of biomass in the upper third of the water column. In its introduced range this canopy overlays and shades other submerged species, often producing a devastating effect on native submerged plant species (Madsen et al., 1991), at least in the short- to medium-term. Depending on seasonal factors and nutrient availability, this surface canopy may develop rapidly in spring and persist throughout the growing season (Spencer and Bowes, 1993). It is a non-obligate bicarbonate user, which enhances its productivity in base-rich waters (Van et al., 1976). It obtains most of its nutrient requirement (e.g. 60-90% of phosphorus) from the hydrosoil through its roots (Wetzel, 1975; Nichols and Keeney, 1976), though factors such as periphyton development on foliage may influence the relative importance of nutrient uptake routes (Strand and Weisner, 2001). There is evidence that either sediment N or P may limit growth, depending on ambient conditions (Knud-Hansen, 2006; Spencer et al., 2006). It prefers freshwater, but can extend into mildly brackish conditions (e.g. Eriksson et al., 2004; Selig et al., 2007). Like many members of its family it appears to depend more strongly on vegetative regeneration from stem fragments than on sexual reproduction for dispersal. However, the plant puts a fairly strong effort into flower production (flowers being wind-pollinated) and it remains to be established just how important this mechanism of dispersal is in adventive weed populations of the plant. Temperatures over 15°C are necessary for successful seed germination in laboratory studies, and significantly reduced levels of germination occurred in seeds buried under 2-cm-deep sediment, whilst drying period also influences germination success (Hartleb et al., 1993; Standifer and Madsen, 1997).

There is evidence that M. spicatum populations can tolerate quite high heavy metal loadings: a study of polluted waters (receiving sewages and solid wastes from a copper smelter and a copper ore processing plant) in Poland for example revealed plants survived tissue concentrations (mg/kg) up to 1040 Cu, 6660 Mn, and 57 Co (Samecka-Cymerman and Kempers, 2004).

M. spicatum is a species well adapted both to life in productive freshwater environments and also to the disturbance produced by (for example) regular mechanical clearance. There is experimental evidence (Abernethy et al., 1996) to support the designation of its established-phase survival strategy (sensu Grime, 1979) as essentially CR (competitive-disturbance tolerator). There is some evidence for an allelopathic effect of M. spicatum on bacteria and algae (e.g. Gross et al., 1996).


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Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Preferred Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)
Df - Continental climate, wet all year Tolerated Continental climate, wet all year (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, wet all year)
Ds - Continental climate with dry summer Tolerated Continental climate with dry summer (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry summers)
Dw - Continental climate with dry winter Tolerated Continental climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry winters)
ET - Tundra climate Tolerated Tundra climate (Average temp. of warmest month < 10°C and > 0°C)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
65 30

Water Tolerances

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ParameterMinimum ValueMaximum ValueTypical ValueStatusLife StageNotes
Dissolved oxygen (mg/l) 5-10 Optimum 2-12 tolerated
Salinity (part per thousand) Optimum <0.3 preferred; <0.5 tolerated
Water pH (pH) 7-8.5 Optimum 6.5-9 tolerated
Water temperature (ºC temperature) 5-25 Optimum 0-30 tolerated

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Acentria ephemerella Herbivore Stems
Acentria nivea Herbivore
Acremonium curvulum Pathogen
Bagous geniculatus Herbivore Stems
Bagous vicinus Herbivore Stems
Cricotopus myriophylli Herbivore Stems
Euhrychiopsis lecontei Herbivore Stems
Fusarium Pathogen
Glomerella cingulata Pathogen Larvae
Mycoleptodiscus terrestris Pathogen Stems
Rhopalosiphum nymphaeae Herbivore

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Several herbivorous insects are known as obligate or near-obligate feeders on M. spicatum. These include the curculionid Euhrychiopsis lecontei, the pyralid Acentria ephemerella and the chironomid Cricotopus myriophylli, reported on populations of the plant at various sites in North America (Newman and Maher, 1995). In experiments conducted in outdoor ponds in Vermont, significant effects of larvae of the moth Acentria nivea and the weevil Euhrychiopsis lecontei on actively-growing M. spicatum were reported by Creed and Sheldon (1994). More recent work in the New York lakes has also indicated promising results with Acentria and Euhrychiopsis (Johnson et al., 2000). Species of Bagous have been investigated from Pakistan (Habib et al., 1969) but proved disappointing. Grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) have had mixed results against M. spicatum. The plant tends to be low among the feeding preferences of triploid grass carp (Pine and Anderson, 1991), although normal grass carp appear to be less fussy. Julien (1992) records that attempts were made to transfer the stem-boring weevil Phytobius [Litodactylus] leucogaster from California to Florida for control of M. spicatum, but establishment was not confirmed. The plant is reported as a favoured food of introduced coypu, Myocastor coypus, in Italy (Prigioni et al., 2005).

Environmental Impact

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Anderson (1993) outlines the various ways in which submerged weeds such as M. spicatum can have detrimental impacts. These include interference with flow of irrigation water, transport, hydro-electric power production, fisheries, recreation, and increased risk of flood and associated hazards to human life (e.g. O’Hare et al., 2007). Deleterious effects on native macrophyte communities are also reported (Boylen et al., 1999). Several relevant state and province agencies in the USA and Canada have produced detailed management plans to deal with the impact of M. spicatum (e.g. Parsons et al., 2003; Voile, 2006).

Costs of control of M. spicatum in Canada using non-chemical means are quoted by Anderson (1993) as ranging from US $125/ha for shallow-water tillage to US $1200/ha for harvesting, and up to US $26 000/ha for some types of benthic barriers (matting laid on the sediment to prevent growth). Steward (1993) gives a figure of US $252-417/ha for chemical control of water milfoil in South Carolina, USA, and US $254/ha for control using grass carp (at 1990 prices). Eiswerth et al. (2000) place a lower boundary figure for the impact of M. spicatum invasion into the high recreational-value Lake Tahoe watershed (California/ Nevada) at US $0.5M per annum.

Attempts have been made, with some success in the USA, to predict and model the risk of invasion of freshwater bodies by M. spicatum, in order to minimise impact and management costs (Madsen, 1998; Buchan and Padilla, 2000; Boylen et al., 2006; Macpherson et al., 2006).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Pseudemys alabamensis (Alabama red-bellied turtle)EN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered); USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesAlabamaEcosystem change / habitat alterationUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 1989

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Tolerant of shade
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Infrastructure damage
  • Modification of hydrology
  • Modification of natural benthic communities
  • Modification of nutrient regime
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Negatively impacts aquaculture/fisheries
  • Negatively impacts tourism
  • Reduced amenity values
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
  • Transportation disruption
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - shading
  • Competition - smothering
  • Hybridization
  • Interaction with other invasive species
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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As one of a large number of morphologically-similar submerged aquatic plants with whorl-leaves, M. spicatum has fine, soft, herring-bone-like leaves, in whorls of 4, with 13-35 segments per leaf. Both leaves and stems may take on a reddish-tinge. It is distinguished on leaf characteristics in its native range from superficially similar M. verticillatum (leaves in whorls of 5), and from M. alterniflorum (leaf with 6-18 segments; upper flowers often alternate, not whorled). In its introduced range in North America there are 14 species of Myriophyllum (Couch and Nelson, 1990) of which M. sibiricum is the commonest native species, and the one most commonly confused with M. spicatum.

M. aquaticum differs from M. spicatum in having shoots emerged from the water. It also has pinnatisect bracts, while those of M. spicatum are entire or only serrate (Cook, 1968).

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.


There is increasing evidence to suggest that taking action against invasive growth of M. spicatum may actually prolong the period and scale of nuisance caused by the plant, especially if disturbance-based methods of control (which the plant is superbly adapted to resist) are used. The arguments behind this are summarized by Murphy (1988) and more recent studies tend to support the "do-nothing" approach (where it can be tolerated) as effective. M. spicatum invasions seem to follow a standard pattern of rapid increase followed by stabilization, then decline to minor-nuisance status, or even disappearance, in many waterbodies which the plant has invaded across its introduced range (Nicholas and Lathrop, 1994; Smith and Barko, 1996). This appears, in part, at least, to be a result of the gradually increasing impact over time of action of natural enemies (Painter and McCabe, 1988). If nuisance growths of the plant cannot be tolerated then it is probably best to use augmented or introduced biological, or appropriate chemical control methods to suppress the perceived problem.

M. spicatum
is an aquatic weed noted for its ability (under favourable growth conditions) to cause nuisance problems within its native range, either alone, with other native weeds, or (less commonly) alongside alien invasive species. France offers numerous recent examples of this phenomenon (e.g Peltre et al., 2002), as does the UK (Newman, 1999).

Chemical control

Highly susceptible to a range of standard submerged-use herbicides, including triazines, e.g. terbutryne, simazine (Murphy, 1982); diquat and dichlobenil (MAFF, 1986); and 2,4-D (MEBC, 1980). Using controlled-release formulations, Hall et al. (1984) found the minimum sustained concentration of fluridone was required to give >50% control of M. spicatum. Fluridone has been occasionally used (despite high costs) against weed populations of M. spicatum, either as whole-lake, or selective low-dose treatments, for example in Michigan and Minnesota lakes (e.g. Heilman et al., 2003; Pedlow et al., 2006; Valley et al., 2006). Getsinger et al. (1994) found that bensulfuron-methyl could give excellent control of M. spicatum, but a 12-week exposure period was required to produce >95% weed suppression. Using triclopyr, good control (>85% biomass reduction) was achieved at varying concentrations over exposure periods of 18-72 hours (Netherland and Getsinger, 1992; Madsen and Getsinger, 2005). For endothall, similar exposure periods were 12-48 hours for over 85% reduction in weed biomass (Netherland et al., 1991), whilst low application rates of endothall combined with 2,4-D have also been shown effective (Skogerboe and Getsinger, 2005). In the past 2,4-D was a widely preferred herbicide in many parts of its introduced range (e.g. Canada) but such programmes have largely been abandoned on grounds of perceived environmental hazard and cost (Dearden, 1985), leaving physical and biological control as the main control options. Nevertheless, 2,4-D-based control programmes (e.g. using spot applications) are still used in the USA (e.g. Bugbee and White, 2005). Getsinger (2002) provides a recent review of the effectiveness of triclopyr, fluridone and endothall as selective controls against M. spicatum in northern US lakes. Glomski et al. (2006) and Gray et al. (2007) provide evidence that carfentrazone-ethyl, alone or in combination with 2,4-D may be an effective herbicidal treatment against M. spicatum.

Mechanical control

M. spicatum exhibits a classical example of a disturbance-tolerance strategy, elements of which are found in many submerged weeds (Murphy, 1995). It possesses a combination of physiological, morphological and reproductive attributes which make it highly resistant to control measures based on cutting or other physical disturbance, with regrowth being rapid, reaching pre-treatment abundance within 30 days to 4 months of mechanical clearance in spring or summer (Collett et al., 1981; Mikol, 1985; Filizadeh, 1999). Despite limited long-term success (e.g. Painter, 1988) a wide range of mechanical control measures continues to be employed against the weed, including specialized and expensive (US $100,000 or more) aquatic weed-harvesting systems, rototilling, shallow water cultivation, weed-cutting boats, diver-operated dredging and benthic shade barriers (e.g. McNabb, 1998; Boylen et al., 1996). A recent report of the impact of weed harvesting on M. spicatum (as part of a native-range weed problem, in Lake Geneva, Switzerland) is provided by Demierre and Perfetta (2002). Annual partial drawdown has proved especially effective in reservoirs, exposing the weed in the shallower areas to freezing or drying conditions during the cooler season (Murphy and Pieterse, 1993).

Biological control

Species of Bagous have been investigated from Pakistan (Habib et al., 1969) but proved disappointing. Among pathogens, most success has been achieved with Mycoleptodiscus terrestris (Verma and Charudattan, 1993), especially in integrated treatment with 2,4-D (Nelson and Shearer, 2005), although Colletotrichum gloeosporioides has also achieved promising results. Integration of mycoherbicide and chemical (endothal) control has shown promise in small-scale trials (Sorsa et al., 1988). Grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) have had mixed results against M. spicatum (e.g. Adamec and Husak, 2002). The plant tends to be low among the feeding preferences of triploid grass carp (Pine and Anderson, 1991), although normal grass carp appear to be less fussy. Julien (1992) records that attempts were made to transfer the stem-boring weevil Phytobius [Litodactylus] leucogaster from California to Florida for control of M. spicatum, but establishment was not confirmed. Other insects, such as Acentria ephemerella and Euhrychiopsis lecontei are among those more recently investigated as possible biocontrols for M. spicatum (Johnson and Blossey, 2002). The natural host of the latter is the US-native northern watermilfoil (Myriophyllum sibiricum), but the weevil has expanded its range to include M. spicatum (Roley & Newman, 2006), as well as the hybrid M. spicatum x sibiricum.

Regulatory control

In the northwestern USA and western Canada, which have suffered severely from M. spicatum infestation (Anderson, 1993), attempts have been made to quarantine areas against invasion by the weed, using public education programmes, warning notices at boat-launching sites, and checks on boats and trailers to try to minimize the risk of spreading propagules into uninfested lake and river systems. Success has at best been limited. Quarantine controls are also utilised against M. spicatum in New Zealand, in conjunction with a weed risk assessment protocol (Champion and Clayton, 2001). Attempts have been made to regulate sales of this and other invasive species by plant nurseries, again with limited success (e.g. in Florida – Caton, 2005).


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25/10/2007 Updated by:

Kevin Murphy, University of Glasgow, IBLS - DEEB, Graham Kerr Building, Glasgow, G12 8QQ, UK

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