More green plants don’t equal more fish in our waterways – here’s why

Aquatic plants supply food, shelter and oxygen for the fish and other aquatic life that share their environment. Pretty important stuff. So, logically, the more plants in the pond the better, right? Well, sort of.

While native aquatic plants are certainly a good thing, there’s a growing contingent of non-native interlopers in these parts. At least 10 species in The Woodlands water bodies appear on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s prohibited species list. These invasive species are illegal to sell, distribute, import, possess, or introduce into Texas waters.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has identified several plants as illegal to sell, distribute, import, possess or introduce into Texas waters. Some plants on the above list are not yet prohibited but are known invasive plants in The Woodlands.

The problem starts with the unfair advantage that non-native invasive plants enjoy: fewer natural controls than their native counterparts. This allows them to spread easily and choke out the natives. And as native plants disappear, so do many of our native fish species and other life who simply can’t adapt.

These invasives don’t need any help. Yet, we give them plenty by turbocharging their growth with lawn chemicals. Rain and irrigation readily carry chemicals from lawn to storm drain to local waterway. There they fertilize aquatic plants just as they do your grass. All the excessive growth that results eventually dies and decomposes, consuming oxygen in the process – A LOT of it. So much in fact that oxygen-depleted dead zones result – not good if you’re an aquatic organism. If you’ve ever seen fish floating at the top of a pond, particularly in the summer, this is a likely reason.

In short, invasive aquatic plants bring a slew of bad news.

BUT there’s good news, too! With a couple of simple steps, you can help turn the tide. In fact, more and more residents across The Woodlands are doing exactly that.

Step 1 – Remove all non-native plants from your landscape. Even if they aren’t an aquatic species, they still risk escaping into natural areas. Remember, plants don’t have to grow their way to new areas; seeds are great at dispersing by wind or bird.

Step 2 – Reduce, or even better, eliminate chemical use in your yard. Substitute organic products in their place. Did you know organic compost is probably the single best amendment for your yard?

Support your local fish populations, and all the other critters that depend on clean, healthy water. Remember to: Remove, Plant, Repeat! Remove invasive species, plant natives and repeat the process.

Learn more during Watershed Project: Aquatic Invasive Species, an online workshop scheduled for June 5, 2021, from 9 to 11 a.m. The workshop is FREE, but registration is required. Click the button below to register.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Why care about invasive plants?

If it’s green it’s good, right? Well, not quite. Invasive plants do add green to our surroundings, some quite strikingly. In the process, though, they cause serious environmental damage. Let’s take a deeper look at the problem with invasive plants and how they disrupt an ecosystem. 

Invasives tend to grow quickly, out competing native vegetation for available nutrients. Invasive vines, especially, can overgrow native trees and plants, smothering out the sunlight. Native wildlife loses habitat when these changes occur. 

Soil chemistry suffers at the hands of invasives, as well. When native vegetation is thriving in healthy soil, their root systems create stability, supply water and essential nutrients, and return more nutrients when they decompose. They help maintain the soil chemistry, its physical structure, and sustain essential soil microbes whose job it is to help store and supply water to plants. Non-native, invasive plant roots interrupt these unseen but essential processes which are the foundation of a healthy forest.

Volunteers remove invasive plants along a pathway in The Woodlands. Photo courtesy of Kathie Herrick

Nearly 100 residents have joined The Woodlands Township Invasive Task Force to combat these problems. This group of trained volunteers removes invasive plants from pathways and greenbelts, helping sustain our native species. You can help, too.  As summer turns to fall, many invasives are at their most prolific and your help is needed. Keep your eyes open and report invasive species on the pathways when you see them. Not sure which are the bad guys? How about watching for just these three: Japanese climbing fern, nandina (sometimes called heavenly bamboo), and elephant ears. Learn and identify more with this guide to invasive species of the Galveston Bay Area. Then use The Woodlands Township 311 app on your phone to report your sighting of these plants.  

If you would like to join the removal work, join us on August 15, 2020. The Environmental Services Department will host a training class on invasive species. You’ll leave informed, inspired and ready to join the Task Force. Register for the class using the link below.


Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

It’s National Invasive Species Awareness Week

What’s growing in your backyard?

Just what are invasive species? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an “invasive species” is non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration; and, whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm, or harm to human health. A number of federal and state agencies are concerned with invasive species including The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which battles non-native plants and animal species every day to maintain the health of our natural areas and waterways. 

Closer to home, The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department is addressing the many invasive plant species that have infiltrated our pathways and open spaces, impacting native plants and trees. Since May 2019, nearly one hundred Township residents have attended classes on invasive plants, learning to identify them, monitor their spread and report data. This “Invasives Task Force” has also gone to work on our on pathways, removing hundreds of pounds of air potato vine, Japanese climbing fern, nandina, elephant ear, Chinese privet and other non-natives.

Invasive Tasks Force participants proudly sharing the bags of invasives removed during a morning of volunteering

What can you do?

Learn more

May 16-23, 2020 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week. What better time to join your neighbors in learning about invasives and how to stop them?

Texasinvasives.org offers a wealth of helpful information on invasive species in our state and region. Learn how to identify key invasives in our area and how to take action. Whether you are a boater, aquarium owner, gardener, hiker, pet owner or all the above, you’ll find specific tips to help stem the tide of invasive species.

Stop the spread

Once you’re familiar with our most common invaders, check your yard to see if you have any. If so, take a simple but important action for the health of our local environment by replacing them with natives. Then, consider increasing your impact even more by joining the Township’s Invasive Task Force!   

You might also be interested in exploring the “Citizen Science” section of texasinvasives.org for advanced learning opportunities such as area workshops and online trainings. Citizen Scientists are volunteers who receive expert training to identify and track key invasives in our area. The information they gather is delivered into a statewide database and to those who can do something about it. The premise is simple. The more trained eyes watching for invasive species, the better our chances of lessening or avoiding damage to our native landscape. 

Let us know if you’re interested, or have questions, by sending an email to enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov. Learn more and help Stop the Spread! 

Why volunteering works – COMMUNITY!

We have all been staying home and away from our favorite activities, but we remain connected by community – one with deep roots and a rich history of volunteering.

Our forested community was once a dynamic gathering place filled with unique biodiversity. We live in the western-most part of the “Big Thicket,” an area unrivaled in the U.S. for flora and fauna richness. Over the centuries, as the population of the area grew, our community was developed and with that development came change. The number and diversity of species was reduced and non-native, invasive vegetation and animals were introduced, leading to issues like loss of native habitat.

In May 2019, The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department held a training class for volunteers to help alleviate the damage caused by removing invasive species from our pathways. The response by volunteers was overwhelming!

By December 2019, volunteers had spent more than 500 hours removing a huge amount of invasive vines and other non-native vegetation from green spaces so native plants and trees could thrive again. A record number of volunteers were hard at work in 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic brought a stop to these activities. . When the time is right, these volunteers will be ready to get back to their work and you’re invited to join them!

Volunteers remove invasive, air potato vines from along pathways in The Woodlands

The Invasives Removal Task Force has quickly become an established community group and riding on their success, another volunteer opportunity presented itself for 2020. Growing concerns about our waterways have led to the creation of The Watershed Project. Our community is built around a complicated web of streams, waterways, bayous, ponds and lakes, creating many opportunities for them to be negatively impacted by litter, chemical runoff and invasive species. Being surrounded by so much water also means that there are any opportunities for volunteers to help manage the health of our waterways.

When the new Watershed Project was launched, earlier this year, more than 50 residents signed on to learn how to save water, reduce chemicals in our landscapes and waterways, and offer educational training to neighbors in their community. In the first two months of the year, more than 140 hours of time was recorded in water related training and volunteering. Yes, for now, projects, trainings and community educational outreachhave been postponed but we know it will return stronger than before. And when it’s safe for our community to come together again, we hope you will join us in working to make our outdoor spaces a healthy and vibrant place to call home.

Volunteers for the Watershed Project learn how to determine the turbidity of the water in the stream as part of a water quality monitoring training

To those who have volunteered in the past, THANK YOU! But, if you haven’t found your niche to serve and would like to know about upcoming opportunities, contact Environmental Services at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov. You can be a part of the work to keep our community connected and healthy by serving as a volunteer. It works because of YOU.

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Volunteers help keep the vision green

George Mitchell established The Woodlands as a community in which we live, work, play and learn in harmony with nature. More than 40 years later his vision remains alive and well. Numerous efforts are made each year to continue this balance of community and nature, with much of the work accomplished by volunteers. In 2018, volunteers logged nearly 5,000 hours on environmental initiatives through The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department. This year volunteers are contributing to the community through two newly established initiatives, Milkweed for Monarchs and the Invasives Task Force.

Milkweed for Monarchs kicked off this summer when Environmental Services partnered with Nature’s Way Resources to grow native milkweed which will enhance pollinator habitats throughout The Woodlands. Native milkweed is critical to the survival of monarch butterflies; it’s the only plant monarchs will lay their eggs on and the sole source of food for monarch caterpillars. Unfortunately, it is in short supply due to habitat loss and growing more from seed is no easy task. But, the Township, Nature’s Way Resources and volunteers from the Heartwood Chapter Texas Master Naturalists have accepted the challenge and have spent more than 300 hours propagating over 13,000 seedlings. These seedlings will be planted this fall in rights-of-way, community gardens, parks and other projects. Additionally, a portion of the volunteer-grown milkweed is available to residents creating their own pollinator gardens. 

If you’re interested in receiving milkweed for your home, church, school, or business garden, pick up a voucher at The Woodlands Landscaping Solutions event on Saturday, September 28 from 9 a.m. to noon. You can also get them at the Environmental Services Department offices at 8203 Millennium Forest Drive, The Woodlands, TX 77381 during business hours as of Monday, September 30, 2019. Redeem your voucher for 6 pots of native milkweed at either Alspaugh’s Ace Hardware or Nature’s Way Resources by November 16, 2019. 


While the effort is underway to reestablish milkweed around The Woodlands, another group of volunteers is taking action to remove plants along pathways and open spaces. Non-native, invasive plants to be exact. Invasives, like air potato vine, Japanese climbing fern and Chinese Privet, crowd out native vegetation, degrade soil health and push out critical food sources that wildlife depend on.

Volunteers in the fight against invasives are a dedicated group who received training provided by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department. Volunteers work alongside Heartwood Master Naturalists on scheduled days at specific sites throughout town. The most recent training for invasives removal took place in August with forty-two Township residents and master naturalists making the commitment to serve on the ES Invasives Task Force.  Dr. Hans Landel, Invaders Program Director for the UT-Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, provided instruction to the workshop participants. The next training is scheduled for February 2020. 

The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department would like to thank all volunteers for efforts to maintain our environment and for keeping George Mitchell’s vision alive. 

If you are interested in joining the Invasives Task Force, starting a pollinator garden or participating in upcoming volunteer opportunities, email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov