The pond plant, Pistia stratiotes, is one of three aquatic plants being considered for inclusion on the EU’s “union list” of banned invasive species, along with giant salvinia (Salvinia molesta) and the Senegal tea plant (Gymnocoronis spilanthoides).
Once a species is added the union list it cannot be imported, traded, possessed, bred, transported, used or released into the environment in any EU member state under the Invasive Alien Species Regulation 2014. In England, Wales and Scotland it is an offence to allow water lettuce to grow in the wild under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
EU Regulation 1143/2014/EU: On the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species
05 Nov 2014
If water lettuce is allowed to take hold, it can block waterways and negatively impact local biodiversity by forming dense floating mats, according to the non-native species secretariat.
But the Ornamental Aquatics Trade Association (OATA) wants to keep the plant on the shelves as an alternative to the now blacklisted water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes). Water lettuce sales have rocketed 500% across Europe since water hyacinth was added to the union list in 2016.
DEFRA’s objections have, for now, put the brakes on the Commission’s attempts to blacklist water lettuce. Giant salvinia and the Senegal tea plant have not escaped exclusion, however.
OATA chief executive Dominic Whitmee said: "We are always supportive of stopping the sale of problematic invasive plants and have done so in the past.
“But where there is little evidence to support a ban in the UK then we will fight to make that case. We are pleased the EU has called a timeout on the listing of water lettuce following our lobbying of DEFRA which then made objections to the EU.”