Parrot’s Feather Growing, Facts, Care & Benefits (Myriophyllum aquaticum)
Parrot’s feather, native to South America, belongs to the water milfoil family (Haloragaceae). Its whorled, small, feathery green leaves inspired this plant’s most often used common name, although it’s also known as Brazilian watermilfoil.
Though popular as an aquarium and pond plant in the United States and United Kingdom, parrot’s feather is considered non-native and, in some cases, invasive in these areas so caution must be used when planting. Check to make sure that it’s legal to plant in your area before doing so.
Introduced to the U.S. around 1890 as a decorative aquatic plant, it has since become a nuisance plant in many waterways. It spreads both via broken plant pieces floating to other areas, and by thick rhizomes.
These rhizomes spread so readily that they can constitute up to 95% of the biomass of parrot’s feather, with 2 or 3% of the biomass consisting of standard roots and sometimes as little as 1% being leaves.
Facts, Benefits & Uses of Parrot’s Feather
In its natural habitat, parrot’s feather is excellent at soaking up excess nutrients, filtering out pollutants, fixing nitrogen into forms usable by other plants and organisms, and oxygenating the water. The aforementioned rhizomes, though responsible for making this plant a massive nuisance outside of its native range, are what enable parrot’s feather to so effectively take up nutrients and pollutants.
Studies have found parrot’s feather to be a potentially very useful plant in phytoremediation projects to help restore ecosystems, but given its invasive nature, this would have to be conducted very carefully.
Macroinvertebrates find Brazilian watermilfoil to be ideal habitat to lay eggs and develop as larvae, which can be both a benefit and a boon. Organisms such as caddisflies and dragonflies are very helpful to pond ecosystems, as they consume algae as larvae and other pests as adults and provide a natural food source for fish.
However, mosquito larvae also find parrot’s feather to be habitable, so you’ll need to keep this in mind if mosquitos are a problem in your area. A possible solution would be to add some mosquito eating fish species to your pond.
Parrot’s Feather Growth, Hardiness & Climate
Parrot’s feather grows quite quickly, able to reach full height within only a couple of months. As the summer season progresses, this plant can spread as far as five feet via sprouting new growth from extensive rhizomes.
Flowering typically occurs in mid-summer and lasts about two months, producing very small white or bright yellow flowers directly on the stem next to leaf petioles.
Warm, tropical climates suit parrot’s feather best, though it is tolerant of colder climates. As it’s able to grow as either a submersed or emergent plant, winters can potentially kill off emergent versions but submersed parrot’s feather will simply regenerate once water temperatures reach 45° F (7° C).
Full sun is best for Brazilian watermilfoil, but it will tolerate partial shade so long as at least 6 hours of full sunlight is obtained daily.
How to Plant Parrot’s Feather In Ponds
An incredibly easy plant to propagate, parrot’s feather really only needs wet feet and it’ll largely be happy. You can either plant bare roots and place them an inch or two in the soil along the shallow edge of your pond, anchor them to the bottom of your pond, or simply allow plant cuttings to float in the water (you can also anchor these down).
Alternatively, to control growth, you may want to place parrot’s feather in pots in the water to contain the rhizomes. Being planted either fully submerged or as a marginal plant works just fine for Brazilian watermilfoil.
How to Care For Parrot’s Feather
Plenty of sunlight and ample water will ensure that parrot’s feather grows quickly. However, you’ll likely need to trim this plant back every month or two to prevent it from overtaking the rest of your pond. This can be done by trimming with aquatic shears, using an aquatic rake, or for truly copious and problematic parrot’s feather you can rip up portions of the roots and rhizomes to really slow down growth.
As always, be sure to clean up any trimmed foliage to maintain healthy water quality. Alternatively, planting in shade will slow growth and may make this fruitful plant easier to control.
Planting in pots will lessen the frequency at which you’ll have to trim Brazilian watermilfoil, and will encourage more lateral rather than horizontal growth. Taller parrot’s feather that is able to reach the water’s surface will then be able to produce small, attractive white or yellow flowers that may attract smaller pollinators like bees, moths, and butterflies.
How to Winter Parrot’s Feather
A hardy plant, parrot’s feather should be able to overwinter just fine. Fully submerged plants in particular are of no concern, so long as the water doesn’t freeze. Even if this occurs, the rhizomes should still be viable and will produce new shoots in the spring. Emergent parrot’s feather should also have sturdy enough rhizomes to overwinter, but if desired can be brought indoors.
Is Parrot’s Feather Toxic, Poisonous or Invasive?
Parrot’s feather is considered very invasive outside of South America. It’s classified as invasive throughout much of the U.S., and in the U.K. is completely banned from sale or planting due to its pervasiveness. To determine if a plant is native in your area (if you live in the U.S.), please consult the Native Plant Finder Database.
There is not much documentation regarding the toxicity of this species, so it is deemed safe for fish, ponds, and wildlife.
Is Parrot’s Feather Edible? Will Fish Eat it?
Goldfish and koi may nibble on parrot’s feather, but aren’t likely to decimate it. Even if they do really enjoy eating it, parrot’s feather is such a quick grower that this may actually be beneficial to you and your pond. It doesn’t seem to be a preferred food, and whether or not it’s consumed really depends on the fish. While edible, it’s not overly palatable to people or wildlife and so isn’t typically eaten or harvested.
Where to Buy Parrot’s Feather & Seeds? (UK & US)
Parrot’s feather does not seem to be particularly readily available at aquarium retailers or nurseries, likely due to its invasive nature. It can, however, be easily found and obtained online – you’ll need to make certain that it’s legal to plant and grow in your area, though!