Be Wary! One Stalk of Water Hyacinth Could Destroy an Ecosystem

Water Hyacinth — purplish pink flowers at Kebun Bangsar
Photo by the author — Water Hyacinth

It can be love at first sight with these gorgeous lavender-pink flowers. Their soft velvety mass of flowers can rise a meter above waters against the backdrop of a water carpet of buoyant green pads. The sunray bounces of these delicate petals creating a striking yet blissful water reservoir for both human and insect pollinators.

Beneath the surface water, these quiet, demure water hyacinth produces thousands of seeds each year. A single Hyacinth stalk can produce 5000 seeds. They are silent experts at cloning themselves, ensuing plenty of daughter plants using runners — stolons.

In the proper hot climates or sub-tropical weather, these hyacinths runners can propagate up to 2–5 meters (7–16 feet) in a day — almost the length of two ISO shipping containers.

“10 plants can multiply to 600,000 plants in 8 months,” — as quoted in the Journal of Environmental Health by Gian C. Gupta.

Main Industrial & Potential Use of Water Hyacinths

In countries where water hyacinths are allowed, you will find these populous aquatic plants at a wastewater treatment source. They can remove algae, fecal coliform bacteria, suspended particles, and dissolved impurities from wastewaters. The roots of these vicious hyacinths absorb metal pollutants such as mercury and lead or organic compounds that are carcinogenic.

They are often cultivated to support the water purification process for industrial wastewater or sewer water.

There have been studies showing the potential of water hyacinth’s biomass becoming a potential renewable energy source. Dried biomass can be fabricated as briquettes, suitable as a co-firing agent in a coal power plant.

Elsewhere, water hyacinth has been converted into a co-compost material to improve the condition of soil chemicals. In southeast Asia, water hyacinth’s stems are harvested as braiding material; the dried fibers are woven as cords for making hats, bags, baskets, footwear, and decorative items, wreaths, vases. Water hyacinth fibers can also be used as raw materials for paper.

Water Hyacinth Are Illegal in Some Countries

While there has been great potential to utilize these mass-produced water hyacinths, these floating plants have been nature’s double-edged sword — a nuisance.

These green floating pads multiply ferociously without warning, blanketing waterways, canals, lakes, and ponds. In some places, they can be so dense that you can walk on them.

In Myanmar — Inle Lake, water hyacinth has been growing for more than 30 years. Today it is known as a floating island. Farmers have been growing tomatoes on the ‘green island.’

Water hyacinths are frequently called aquatic weeds or pests for waterways. If uncontrolled, these hyacinths can block river transport, fishing, damaged bridges, and dams.

Water Hyacinth Pond at kebun bangsar
Photo by Author — Pond at Kebun Bangsar

They compete for nutrients and sunlight with other aquatic creatures and plants, gradually depleting oxygen in the water, thereby upsetting the ecosystem around the water.

They are classified as invasive plants and banned in some states of the USA — Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas, and the EU Countries.

What Could Help to Combat The Spread?

There have been experiments using nature’s way by releasing natural predators such as weevils and moths. However, these insects do not live long enough to suppress the voracious appetite of hyacinth.

One of the most influential and famous trials was using hippopotamuses; these wild species in Africa are seen to devour aquatic plants at a rate of 90–140 kg (200–300 pounds) a day. The solution was discovered by Robert Broussard, a professor with the UC Davis Center, and has inspired the Disney character “Hyacinth Hippo,” the prima ballerina in Fantasia.

Hippos in water hyacinth water
Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash

To Conclude

As in the storyline of Lady Macbeth in Macbeth — “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it.”

This line could best describe water hyacinth’s ambitious nature. But be warned if you find water hyacinth near your freshwater ponds and lakes, prepare for a kamikaze-like spread even Disney could not resist a water hyacinth hippo.

If diligently manage, you could have a charming water sanctuary for all to enjoy.

Thank you for reading.

If you are a lover of the environment, nature, and wildlife, you may enjoy the following articles of mine published in The Environment.

  1. An Urban Oasis Sustained By Nature for Nature
  2. The Quiet Visitors of an Urban Farm
  3. An Immersion of Beauty and Function When Water Meets Earth

You can also share your love and concerns for this lovely planet. Just click the below image and write for The Environment

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Ching Ching

Ching Ching

I am a Malaysian discovering ways to write about my life and my encounters with people. Nature is my inspiration.