Keeping the Nuts Out 101


Ten drift boats manned by members of the Oswego County River Guides Association, in league with a small flotilla of local environmentalists ranging from Albion Fish and Game Club members to independent kayakers and canoeists, descended on the Salmon River estuary on the morning of July 10, 2011, to get their hands wet pulling water chestnuts.

John DeHollander, District Manager of the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District, was on hand at the staging area at Pine Grove launch site to help coordinate the event, man the registration table and answer questions.

While removing each plant by hand is primitive, it’s the most environmentally friendly way to rid the estuary of these exotic invaders.

You see, harvesting water chestnuts mechanically takes a terrible toll on indigenous flora, and “you’d do more damage than good,” claims DeHollander. “By hand pulling, you remove enough to limit their spreading and if you keep at it, you can eradicate them completely,” he adds.

Similar “pulls” have been conducted on the Oswego River by other groups. Lake Ontario’s second largest tributary, the stream is much larger than the Salmon River and its infestation is far greater.

Still, “We’re starting to see a dent in the Oswego River’s infestation,” boasts DeHollander. “Things look promising. Provided funding is available, it looks like we’ll be able to control it.”

And that’s a goal everybody from anglers and boaters to waterfront owners are shooting for because the plants grow so thick in shallow spots like bays and coves (a couple are located right off the shoulder of State Route 48 between Fulton and Oswego), some folks claim blue herons walk on top of the mats.

That may be stretching things a bit. An annual aquatic plant, water chestnuts spring from spiny nuts buried in the mud. Their slender, flexible stems can grow 15 feet tall and are crowned by floating green rosettes comprised of saw-toothed, triangular leaves held aloft by bladder-like appendages growing just below the surface.

But you can’t just pull the plants out and cast them adrift. The rosettes bear the next generation of nuts and if they’re allowed to float away, they’ll contaminate some other dude’s waterfront downstream.

And that’s not funny. In fact, such careless action will come back to bite ya. Ducks and geese foraging in the water chestnuts you sent downstream can collect the next generation in their wings or on their feet, fly over to your place and drop em off again.

Best thing to do with the plants you pull is to burn them.

For more information, contact John DeHollander at the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District by calling 315-592-9663, or sending an email to [email protected]. Check out the website:

Water Chesnuts where they belong; in a bag!
Capt. Rick Miick wearing his crown of water chesnuts.
Future Biologist, Brayden Miick, showing rosettes.
Floating rosette