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COLA: Three Hubbard County lakes involved in cattail study

A recent research project involving several Hubbard County lakes is studying the increase in an invasive type of cattail.

Cattails growing along a dock on a Hubbard County lake.
Contributed/ Craig Bihrle
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Cattails often provide ideal hiding places for duck hunters, but for some shoreline property owners, they can also make lake access difficult and mar scenic views from docks and decks.

The problem is, removing cattails – whether they’ve been there forever or recently expanded into a new area – is difficult and not always effective.

A recent research project involving several Hubbard County lakes may help change that.

“Over the last few decades, lakes in Minnesota and in the Midwest overall have seen increases in invasive cattails in the nearshore zone,” said Amy Schrank, a fisheries and aquaculture extension educator and adjunct assistant professor with the University of Minnesota Sea Grant, who is managing the study. “They decrease water quality. They decrease fish abundance and change the community … so, how can we manage them effectively?”

The research, started in summer 2021 and wrapping up in spring 2023, has three objectives:


  1. Understanding the little-known effects of hybrid/narrowleaf cattail on the ecological dynamics of nearshore lake communities across Minnesota;
  2. Determining if small-scale cattail removal can increase plant diversity and positively affect fish abundance and diversity;
  3. Comparing the regional effects of cattail removal on nearshore lake ecosystems.

Statewide, nine lakes are involved in the study, including First Crow Wing, Second Crow Wing and Belle Taine in Hubbard County.

More than one type of ‘cattail’

What most of us call “cattails” is actually three types.

Broadleaf cattail is a native, while the narrow-leaf species is not native. A third type is a hybrid between the broadleaf and narrow-leaf.

“What happens when both of these species overlap in range, as they do in Minnesota, is that they always hybridize,” Schrank said. “The hybrid is the plant that usually causes the most problems.”

The issue, Schrank explained, is that “instead of a diverse habitat with lots of different plant species, you see a monoculture of hybrid cattail … It changes from a landscape that’s patchy and diverse to something that's solid cattail.”

Removal vs. control sites

During the first field season, researchers designated two sites in each lake, one where cattails would be removed, and one “control” site where cattails would be retained to allow for comparisons between these areas.

Cattails were removed at Lake Belle Taine site.
Contributed/Brendan Nee

In the summer 2021, before the cattails were removed, researchers measured variables at both sites, such as water quality, plants and fish populations.

During fall 2021, cattails were removed at designated sites.


Over the course of the 2022 field season, those same areas were sampled again to monitor changes, and also to analyze how well the initial removal worked.

“We think it's really important to monitor cattail regrowth,” Schrank noted, “… to know what maintenance is required to sustain these openings.”

One encouraging observation was the return of native aquatic plant species in the space that previously supported thick cattails.

“The key is to remove those cattails and allow the native plants to grow back,” Schrank said. “We really had a lot of native species growing back, even in one season.”

While the researchers are still analyzing data, Schrank said they also saw different fish species in the cut areas, and more minnows.

All of their findings will be shared when the research report is completed sometime next year.

Members of the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations write a monthly column in the Enterprise regarding water-related opportunities in the region.

More from the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations:

Craig Bihrle, a retired writer and photographer, is a member of the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA) communications team. He represents the Potato Lake Association.
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