If kudzu is the weed from hell, hydrilla is hard on its heels for runner-up.
Hydrilla is a watery superpest, and like kudzu, probably unstoppable in its march across the Sunny South. Hydrilla is moving down the Eno toward Falls Lake, and woe unto the outboard engines that encounter it.
Hydrilla lives up to its name: The plant is a misbegotten union of Hydra and Godzilla, a green, matted mess that takes no prisoners. It came to the United States decades ago from Asia, which raises the possibility that North Korea had something to do with it.
But let us not speculate on hydrilla’s past, but on its future. It is said to be moving down the Eno at a mile a year. You can see it at the upper end of Eno River State Park, and marvel on its mighty works.
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Hydrilla may be 10 or 12 years from Falls Lake, according to the intergovernmental Eno River Management Task Force, but that’s cold comfort considering its conquests in Gaston and Kerr lakes as well as in numerous other bodies of water in Eastern North Carolina. The time to strike is now.
Easier said than done, but hydrilla is not invincible. Leave that distinction to kudzu. Hydrilla can be suppressed by chemical and natural means.
Putting a lid on this scourge, however, can be a long-term endeavor, maybe a decade or more.
Hydrilla has a brilliant survival strategy. The plant can be sliced, diced and thrown into a volcano – and still come back.
Aquacides are effective, but costly. Hydrilla control in Lake Gaston already costs $1 million a year. Kerr Lake is under assault, and still to come is Jordan Lake.
Which brings us to Falconbridge Lake in southwestern Durham County. I have a vested interest in the future of this lake because I live near it. Hydrilla hasn’t found a happy home here – yet.
But if and when the weed does, waiting for it will be a population of sterile grass carp. They love the stuff. Think of hydrilla as the Ben and Jerry’s for this crowd.
Whether sterile carp can thrive in the shallow Eno is a question for experts to answer. If they can, we have a chow hound with fins reporting for duty.
In the larger context, hydrilla is but one of many invasive plant and animal species causing headaches throughout North America.
Virginia buttonweed, Japanese stilt grass, Chinese privet, fire ants, killer bees, starlings, Burmese pythons – you could fill an encyclopedia with their names. Even the tumbling tumbleweed of Western lore and song is an invasive, the Russian thistle.
Nothing, however, strikes fear into a waterman like an invasive plant that threatens his boat. Hydrilla does that and more, because it makes the waterman an accomplice to its reproductive strategy.
Unless hydrilla clinging to a prop is removed with extreme prejudice, the waterman can unwittingly introduce the little green monster to a virgin body of water. A year later, and hydrilla claims another victim.
The plant gets around. It isn’t just in the Southeast; hydrilla has been found in Washington state waters and those of other northerly states.
Like so many other nagging nabobs of nature, hydrilla is here to stay, no matter how uninvited it might be. The best we can do is manage it.
Bring out the aquacides if need be, but I say health to the lowly sterile carp – and the Eno.
Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.