Fast-Spreading Lotus Takes Over Cranston Lake

Pretty but noxious, the lotus patch has already covered 1.25 acres of 12-acre Meshanticut Lake and is spreading fast. (DEM)

Pretty but noxious, the lotus patch has already covered 1.25 acres of 12-acre Meshanticut Lake and is spreading fast. (DEM)

Volunteers needed to help harvest aggressive plant

By ecoRI News staff

CRANSTON, R.I. — Paddlers in kayaks and canoes, along with non-boating volunteers, are needed to collect seed pods from a noxious plant that threatens to cover a local lake.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is recruiting volunteers to help harvest seed pods from a large, non-native lotus patch in Meshanticut Lake. The plant, sacred lotus, is a highly aggressive, invasive species that threatens a healthy balance of native plants, impedes fishing and boating opportunities, and is costly to manage, according to DEM.

Invasive species have contributed to the decline of 42 percent of U.S. endangered and threatened species, and for 18 percent of such species, invasives are the main cause of their decline, according to U.S. Forest Service.

Volunteer opportunities are available for paddlers using their own canoes or kayaks to cut the lotus seed pods from the stem of the plant and collect them in a bucket or basket. Non-boating volunteers are needed to stay ashore and help unload the containers of lotus seed pods for disposal. DEM will provide a dumpster.

Community harvesting events will be scheduled in late July or early August. To register to volunteer, click here.

Volunteers should bring handheld garden pruning shears to cut the lotus seed pods from the stem and a container to collect them in their canoe or kayak. Seed pods must be removed after the plants have flowered but before they drop the seeds to slow down plant regrowth. Lotus plants will reproduce by seed and root system, but removal of the seed pods will reduce the number of new plants and help eliminate opportunities for seeds to move downstream. Future control efforts may include use of chemical herbicides, but manually harvesting the seed pods this summer will reduce the amounts of herbicides necessary to treat the lotus patch.

“The rapid and aggressive dispersal of this lotus patch is a case study in the impacts of invasive plant species,” said Katie DeGoosh-DiMarzio, environmental analyst with DEM’s Office of Water Resources. “Its establishment and spread are degrading native habitat and decreasing recreational opportunities. We hope that civic-minded volunteers will join us and help check the spread of this destructive invasive plant.”

This is the first finding of sacred lotus in a natural area in Rhode Island. Regionally, it hasn’t been found in any other New England state except for Massachusetts, where it was found in one lake. It’s typically found in small, isolated, backyard water gardens or curated in pots at botanical gardens.

First documented in Meshanticut Lake last year, the lotus patch is believed to have been growing for about five years. DEM believes that an area resident — unaware that planting in a pond isn’t allowed and of the plant’s noxious nature of rapidly spreading — released the lotus in the pond.

Aerial photographs indicate that it’s reproducing at an exponential rate, according to DEM. The patch currently covers 1.25 acres of the 12-acre lake, with its massive leaves covering large areas and outcompeting native aquatic vegetation.

DEM said it’s urgent that the growth of this invasive species is culled, and the population managed, so it doesn’t spread to other areas in the state or New England.