It was a cloudy, humid day on Sunday but that didn’t stop Arnold Reif and Peter Fortini from Wellesley help us Natick pond-dwellers take action against the invasive "water chestnut" now living in our beloved Jennings Pond. This is a green, rosette-like weed which is slowly establishing itself in strategic areas of our pond, waiting to conquer. Who knew? They did.
Apparently, they have a team of "weed watchers" in Wellesley who monitor and harvest these water chestnuts. The team can we seen in Wellesley ponds and are now paddling onward up the watershed. They are as determined as the weed.
A few weeks ago three of the Wellesley weed watchers, their stellar member being 83, were spotted at the Oak Street end pulling the weeds and lying them on the bow of their Kayaks. And just like the weed itself, strangers on Jennings Pond can not hide. The Natick neighbors, wondering what these strangers were picking out of the pond, (I was hoping it was something edible) soon learned these Wellesleyites were doing a good deed.
Jennings Pond was dredged (half dredged, actually) in 1999. Before then the weeds rendered a row boat or fishing line useless but since have been kept somewhat at bay. Just when you’re not paying attention …a new invader arrives! Before the dredging, The Jennings Pond Restoration Association had to lobby Town Meeting for funding. The neighborhood association worked hard pulling out tires, car parts, bottles, water heaters…a whole motorcycle from this abused natural resource. We collected and burned brush on the ice in the winter. It made a huge difference. Then, the pond was drained down to a stream and sat empty for a year. The last phase was the dredging. There after the pond was no longer turning into a polluted meadow. It looked great.
But now, years later, we seemed to have forgotten about "pond maintenance".
Then, these quiet, industrious Wellesley folk showed up and the guilt factor kicked in. How can we let these people, from Wellesley, some being senior citizens, clean up our pond? Better late than never over 20 neighbors rallied once again, for the cause. The best part was, none of them could say… "I’m getting too old to do this". We couldn’t find anyone older than Arnold Reif, but we did recruit Jennings Pond Road resident, George Vouros with his wife, Louise, to board a paddleboat. George is only 82.
We gathered for a meeting before the attack. Arnold educated us about the enemy. Left untreated, either by hand pulling, a weed harvesting machine, or chemicals, this plant will take over. It will drain the oxygen out of the water, kill fish and the aquatic life. It’s not even good food for water fowl. It must be pulled mid to late August, before the nut falls to the mucky bottom and slowly germinates. The nuts are hard and spiked and hurt if stepped on without foot protection.
This is the same invasive weed that was very determined to take over the inlet next to Roche Brothers in Natick, and won.
The plan for the day was to first pull all the other weeds, such as lilies, then, the flotilla of over a dozen watercraft, would paddle over to the large patch of water chestnuts in the cove on the east end of the pond. We were instructed to pull as much of the plant as possible, always starting at the edge of the infestation area and work inward. The shallow roots come up easy. Instant results!
We all like to complain about how busy we are, and how we should and could be doing a million other things instead of community service, but as we should also all know by now…it’s actually fun. And a diverse bunch of nuts we are here on the Jennings Pond. But, we all seem to pull it together when it comes to this recovering body of water which is alive both day and night with an impressive variety of wildlife.
Disposal of the water chestnut can be either by composting on land or simply trashing them. John and Karoline Barbieri who live on "Little Jennings" (across Oak Street on Connecticut Ave.) brought 3 Kayaks and offered their compost pile. I did hear someone mutter… "Lets take the weeds to Walden Pond".
That comment was fairly appropriate because the water chestnut was first recorded in North America near Concord, Mass. in the early 1900’s. One article said it was grown in a botanical garden at Harvard University in 1877, escaped, and was growing in the Charles River by1879. This specie is native to Europe, Asia (they are not the ones you can buy in the can) and Africa. In those countries they are kept in check by native insects and parasites. We don’t have those insects. So water chestnuts are now choking waterbodies throughout the northeast and as far south as Virginia.
So how did they get to Jennings Pond? Good question. Someone’s bait bucket? Or boat? Ah ha…I think bird! I read that the spiny nuts have been observed tangled in the feathers of Canada Geese. Pesky birds of a feather…flock together.
In any case, this annual "pulling of the water chestnut" will now become a Jennings Pond tradition. It will take three to five years, maybe more, to get all plants that will spring up from nuts that could have dropped to the mucky bottom 12 years before. By pulling them, they will return as less each year. Cornell University is close to finding an insect from China, to release in the United States to keep our water chestnuts under control. I say…no more bugs!
After our new Wellesley friends left we had our own meeting. Jennings Pond residents learn fast. We learned to identify the weed and how we can deal with this problem. We decided that next July, as soon as these water chestnuts show their leaves again, we will call people from Wayland and Weston to come pull ’em up!
Barbara McGrath is a freelance writer and resident of Natick.