You are here

Creekside Story

The shoreline of Lady Bird Lake is home to an amazing array of plants and birds, as well as plenty of turtles, and even a few nutrias. Unfortunately, one non-native nuisance plant has set up shop around the lake and seems to be crowding everything else out.

Taro Dense

What it is

Elephant ear (also known as wild taro) is a native of the Asian tropics and has been in Central Texas since at least 1929. On Lady Bird Lake it likes to keep its feet wet right at the water’s edge. It can grow so densely that it prevents other plants from getting established. This reduces the diversity and resilience of the shoreline habitat, as well as the foraging areas available to large water birds such as herons and egrets. The shallow roots of small elephant ear plants are easily uprooted in floods, which allows the plants to move downstream and start new colonies. Approximately 1/4 of the shoreline below the South 1st St bridge is impacted by elephant ear. It is especially common on the north shore, where it gets plenty of sun throughout the year.

A view of Austin from under the 1st Street bridge.

What we're doing about it

The City doesn’t plan on removing or killing every single elephant ear on the lake in order to improve the shoreline habitat.  We want to reduce the populations enough so that they no longer dominate the lake.  Eradication campaigns for invasive plants are often expensive, not always effective, and can have unintended consequences.  Another aspect of our approach is that we don’t just take away, we also want to add back. 

Our strategy is to manually remove the large, easily accessible patches of elephant ear and directly replace them with native plants.  Narrow bands of plants and isolated patches that are in difficult to reach locations will be treated with an EPA-approved herbicide by a licensed applicator under the supervision of Watershed Protection Department staff.  Removal and treatment areas will be monitored annually to evaluate whether further control is needed.

The following pictures show a Texas Conservation Corps crew at work on an elephant ear patch.  This particular project was co-sponsored by The Trail Foundation.

Texas Conservation Corps crew members removing a 1,200 square foot patch of six-foot tall elephant ear.
Texas Conservation Corps crew members removing a 1,200 square foot patch of six-foot tall elephant ear.

Texas Conservation Corps crew members removing a 1,200 square foot patch of six-foot tall elephant ear.
The crew dug up more than 2,000 pounds of elephant ear in a single day. The plant material was hauled off on a barge by our Field Operations lake management staff.

Native plants (switchgrass, eastern gamagrass, tall aster, goldenrod, Maximillian sunflower, horsetail, spikerush, Emory sedge and whitetop sedge) installed on the bank previously invaded by elephant ear.

Native plants (switchgrass, eastern gamagrass, tall aster, goldenrod, Maximillian sunflower, horsetail, spikerush, Emory sedge and whitetop sedge) installed on the bank previously invaded by elephant ear.

Giant cutgrass.

Recently, we have been noticing the native giant cutgrass popping up in many of our waterbodies.  It appears to be a great competitor in shoreline areas and is a good tool in our efforts to increase the diversity and density of native plants in Lady Bird Lake.

How can you help control the spread of elephant ear?

  • Use alternative plants-search the grow green plant guide
  • Pickerel weed (Pontederia), arrowhead (Sagittaria) and powdery thalia (Thalia) are natives for water gardens

Other ways to help

  • Do you see elephant ear in your local creek?  Volunteer through Keep Austin Beautiful’s Adopt-a-Creek program or the AustinParks Foundation.  City staff consults with creek and park adopters on best management practices for restoring creeks and managing invasive plants. 
  • The Trail Foundation hosts volunteer events throughout the year, including invasive plant management, wildflower seeding and tree seedling planting. 
  • Sign up to be notified about volunteer events co-organized by the Watershed Protection Department.

An Egret.

Here is a flyer describing the first phase of our elephant ear management project, which you can see being enjoyed by the great blue heron in the photo above.  If you would like more information about how the City manages invasive plants visit

Tagged: elephant ears, riparian, lady bird lake, wild taro, invasive plants, invasives

More Blog Posts

The Mearns Meadow Grow Zone is a beautiful site and would love to be adopted by you!

The Mearns Meadow Grow Zone at Quail Creek Park.

The Mearns Meadow Grow Zone is...

Tagged: mearns meadow, restore rundberg, grow zone

A small-scale lake ecosystem, “microcosm” was designed to learn more about the growth of native cabomba and invasive hydrilla in Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake.

Have you wondered...

Tagged: cabomba, native plant cabomba. hydrilla, invasive aquatic plant, ecosystem, lady bird lake, Lake Austin, plant cages, reservoir

A recreated stream from Eliza Spring will be home to Barton Springs Salamanders

Long before Zilker Park was home to Barton Springs Pool,...

Tagged: eliza springs, salamanders, salamander restoration, Zilker Park, barton springs, barton springs salamander

Austin’s Grow Zones are beginning to transform into urban forests and aid in carbon sequestration.

Our Grow Zone program began in 2012 in about a dozen parks. The creeks were mowed...

Tagged: forest, riparian restoration, creekside, climate change, aquatic life, Grow Zones, seedlings

Summary – Invasive zebra mussels are in Texas and we need your help to prevent them from entering Austin lakes. Clean, Drain, and Dry your boat. This is true not only for motor boats, but also...

Tagged: Texas Invasives, Invasive Species, Highland Lakes, zebra mussels, boating, austin lakes

About this blog

One of the ways the Watershed Protection Department meets its goals to reduce the impact of flood, erosion and water pollution is through riparian restoration. The community can get involved by adopting a creek, participating in restoration projects, and educating others about the benefits of these areas.

Healthy riparian zones (the land around creeks):

  • control erosion
  • purify water
  • stabilize creek banks
  • regulate water temperature
  • delay floodwaters
  • sequester carbon
  • recharge groundwater
  • provide plant and animal habitat

Creekside Story features creeks that the public can take an active role in supporting restoration efforts.  There are so many creeks to enjoy in Austin.  Check out the Find Your Watershed Viewer to learn which watershed you live in and the Environmental Integrity Index to learn more about their water quality. 


Texas Invasives

creek protection


giant ragweed

seed bank


grow zone

creek score

plant cages


riparian restoration

Adopt –A-Creek

find your watershed

Lake Austin

Lightning bugs

native plants

Libellula croceipennis

Dittmar park

lady bird lake

Habitat Stewards

invasive plants

neon skimmer

ready-set- plant!

Grow Zones



aquatic macroinvertebrates



South Boggy Creek

invasive aquatic plant

Clean Creek Campus

true bugs



native plant cabomba. hydrilla

Grow Green


standing water

clean up





barton springs salamander

water quality

Austin Water Striders


tree seedlings

barton springs

adopt a creek


Zilker Park

Yaupon Holly

restoration blunn

salamander restoration

Riparian zone

Possumhaw Holly

austin streams

creek restoration

Austin Youth River Watch


dead wood

texas hollies

Shoal Creek

JJ PIckle Elementary

eliza springs




Austin Parks Foundation


Triploid Grass Carp


wetland plants

buttermilk creek

environmental integrity index

Ctenopharyngodon idella

shoreline erosion





wild taro

grass carp





austin lakes


Pease Park

Lethocerus uhleri


monarch butterfly

Barton Creek

volunteer opportunity

elephant ears



Small Elementary


maidenhair ferns



ladybird lake

jollyville plateau salamander

Riparian Snag


walnut creek

aquatic life

streambank restoration



climate change

seed island

creekside spotlight


stream banks


restore rundberg

Archilestes grandis

rain gardens


Keep Austin Beautiful

mearns meadow


Water quality indicators

storm water





Clean Sweep

critical environmental features




Aquatic bug of the month

Leaf pack


Morris Williams Golf

zebra mussels

Tzu Chi Foundation

austin water



Bartholomew Park

Highland Lakes


Stream habitat


tannehill branch

Invasive Species

watershed protection ordinance

red dragonfly

austin creeks