Eurasian watermilfoil typically has 12 to 21 pairs of leaflets. The native northern watermilfoil, with which it is often confused, usually has 5 to 9 pairs. Drawing courtesy Bell Museum of Natural History.
Eurasian watermilfoil was accidentally introduced to North America from Europe. Spread westward into inland lakes primarily by boats and also by waterbirds, it reached Midwestern states between the 1950s and 1980s.
In nutrient-rich lakes it can form thick underwater stands of tangled stems and vast mats of vegetation at the water's surface. In shallow areas the plant can interfere with water recreation such as boating, fishing, and swimming. The plant's floating canopy can also crowd out important native water plants.
A key factor in the plant's success is its ability to reproduce through stem fragmentation and runners. A single segment of stem and leaves can take root and form a new colony. Fragments clinging to boats and trailers can spread the plant from lake to lake. The mechanical clearing of aquatic plants for beaches, docks, and landings creates thousands of new stem fragments. Removing native vegetation creates perfect habitat for invading Eurasian watermilfoil.
Eurasian watermilfoil has difficulty becoming established in lakes with well established populations of native plants. In some lakes the plant appears to coexist with native flora and has little impact on fish and other aquatic animals.
Likely means of spread: Milfoil may become entangled in boat propellers, or may attach to keels and rudders of sailboat. Stems can become lodged among any watercraft apparatus or sports equipment that moves through the water, especially boat trailers.