You could say that the history of the Water Hyacinth began on December 16, 1884. The “World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition”, or the World’s Fair, opened on that day in New Orleans, LA. Among the many amazing wonders on display a never before seen herb was on display in Horticultural Hall. The herb, Eichornia crassipes, was an aquatic floating plant with dark green thick leaves and a beautiful delicate purple and blue flower with a yellow spot accenting several petals. This horticultural curiosity of the time quickly escaped the confines of Horticultural Hall and invaded the American waterways of the south.
The history of water hyacinth may have started on December 16, 1884 here in the United States, but its history really began in the Amazon basin where its native habitat is. By the late 1800’s water hyacinth had made its way not only to the US, but also to Europe and Africa where, as with the US, it was quickly becoming a problem in the water ways. Economies were affected and habitats lost in all of these areas, quickly after introduction of the species.
These days water hyacinth is well known in the water gardening world as a popular, beginner level, easy to care for, inexpensive, floating plant. Often touted as being a water purifier and a solution to green water issues that many pond owners experience. The water hyacinth is a nice looking plant above water with its large bulbous thick green leaves and beautiful flower; below water the plant sports some huge roots. The roots are a blackish coloration and can grow in excess of 12” long; these roots are often utilized by fish fry and various aquatic bugs as habitat. The roots absorb impurities, and can lock up floating particles from the water, thereby “purifying” the water. The roots are also picked at by fish, and shed by the plant in quantity.
As an aquatic plant enthusiast this plant is so easy to love. However as a responsible water gardener these plants may raise some concerns. Water hyacinth is not a very welcome plant in many places outside of your water garden. With the “dirty” nature of these plants, you may not welcome them into your water garden! Those amazing roots that “clean” your water and get rid of algae, also make your pond pretty dirty by clogging filter pads, littering the bottom, blocking skimmers, burning out pumps, causing leaks, and increasing maintenance to almost nightmare levels. Not to mention their abillty to quickly cover the entire surface of your pond, again and again. Water hyacinth is the worlds fastest growing plant!
Not to be harsh on this plant; but here are “some did you knows” about Eichornia crassipes:
- It chokes waterways costing hundreds of millions in removal efforts around the world, greatly affecting local economies and trade routes.
- It chokes out native habitats, ecologies, and species.
- It spreads by wind, floods, birds, boats, and humans.
- It impedes passage of large and small vessels in waterways, by creating impenetrable floating mats.
- It is toxic if ingested by cats, dogs, horses
Given these “did you knows”, and understanding how it can really impact your koi pond or water garden, we can agree it may not be the ideal water garden plant regardless of its current popularity. At least not for the water gardening “hobbyist”. Probably the best use for the water hyacinth is in small controlled container type water gardens, patio ponds, and other very controlled displays.
However, let’s not leave this plant completely demonized! There is a bright side to this plant as well, if it is cultivated and managed correctly. There are some very interesting uses and possibilities for the worlds fastest growing noxious invasive plant!
Did you know?:
- The flowers are used to create a tonic for horses that is rubbed into the horses skin.
- Given a good steaming or boiling the plant’s flower stalks, buds, and young leaves can be eaten. Water hyacinth is an ingredient in Taiwanese and Javanese cooking. (if ingested uncooked it will cause sever skin irritation)
- The plant is rich in carotene.
- Water hyacinth seeds stay viable up to 30 years.
- Water hyacinth is used in perfume and cologne products.
- It can be used as organic fertilizer and animal feed.
- It can be processed to make paper, rope, handbags, even furniture.
- It absorbs lead, mercury, and carcinogens when used for remediation purposes.
- Because of its amazing biomass it can be used to create fuels!
Water hyacinth is a great plant with an interesting history starting well before the Exhibition of 1884. Water hyacinth likely generates equal amounts of excitement and dread depending on who is dealing with it. The use of water hyacinth in water gardening will certainly not disappear overnight, but will likely become more of a regulated plant with limited distrubution; and understandably so. Those who choose to enjoy water hyacinth in their water garden ponds should be very careful on how they use them and dispose of them. Water gardeners should be especially careful not to release water hyacinth into local waterways knowing that a few plants could quickly reproduce to the point of covering and choking YOUR local waterways.
Check out this water garden video from The Pond Hunter video series on YouTube:
All copy rights to this material is soley owned by Mike Gannon.