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.
Last year I put the water hyacinth in a floating netted ring which kept it contained in my pond, Some koi wanted it so much they jumped into the net. I add all of the over growth into my compost almost daily. makes a great addition to compost. Its great to cover part of the pond for shade for the koi in the super hot summer .in Maryland .
Thanks for the great tip on composting the overgrowth on these fast reproducing aquatic plants. The floating ring is very helpful when trying to control these plants in the water garden.
Have large hyacinths and can they stay in pond for winter in Illinois?
Hi Pam, thanks for checking out the blog and commenting. The hyacinth will likely die after first frost. I recommend removing them when temps are in the 50’s. If they freeze they will sink and rot in your water until spring which will make opening your pond more of a chore than it needs to be. -Mike
Can I bring them in and leave in a water tub? I hate to throw them out as they are hugh and beautiful and healthy.
Yes Pam, you can bring in the hyacinth for the winter, but I would say you need to keep them warm. Since they grow SOO fast and are pretty inexpensive I would probably not go through the effort of wintering them and just buy a few new ones next spring, they will also be huge before you know it! -Mike
I have just added some young water hyacinths to my pool but they float on their side and not upright never had this problem before. Any suggestions – jim
Hi Jim, you just have to give them a little bit of time in your pond and they will correct themselves as they continue growing. -Mike
Is it true that this water hyacinth plant uses up large amounts of oxygen from the water depleting the fish oxygen supply? I have a small 120 gallon pond and plan on thinning back the plant frequently but after I put it in I found an article claiming that the plant actually starves fish of oxygen( can even kill then) even though it is a great bio filter. Thoughts or input much appreciated.
Hi Jess, yes that can be true but I think there are other factors that play into these type of conditions. I would not let the whole surface of your pond become covered with hyacinth since it is a smaller pond. -Mike
Do you have any suggestions on what native plants to use instead of water hyacinth? In Wisconsin it is illegal to possess this plant so I would like to learn some alternatives.
Check out the aquatic plant guide on LOVEYOURPOND.COM it will have some great ideas for you! -Mike
Some of the bulbs look like a bite has been taken out of them… Would a deer eat these? Or is it a disease in the water. Does the water have to be of a certain temperature. I live in a zone 4 and have 7 of them in my above ground pond. The bottom leaves are dark brown.
They don’t look as healthy as when I bought them.
Hello Sylvia. Do you have any turtles in your pond or using your pond, they will eat some plant material and could be taking bites out of your hyacinth. The brown leaves on bottom seems pretty common with hyacinth, I’d consider that pretty normal. -Mike
Do you know where I can offer them for free. My pond is overflowing. I live in zone 7 and we line in newport news, va?
Hello Shirley. I’d try calling a local garden club, water garden club or retailer, or offer them up on Craigslist! There is a section for FREE stuff and people love FREE stuff! -Mike
I just want to thank you for this informative article. I especially enjoyed the history of this invasive yet convenient for my koi pnd plant. I live near Buffalo NY and buy about 6 each year for my approximately 15′ × 15′ plus pond. Typically by August I am removing between 50 and 100 of them a day into my computer bins. This year has been very odd, maybe due to the excessive heat, I only have made 30 of them in my whole pond. Good for me not having the task of thinning the out, bad for my compost. Thanks again.
Thanks for the feedback Alan, maybe next year they will be back!! -Mike
Hi Mike, after the first frost, what is the proper way to dispose the hycinths?
I have a small pond all cover with them and after reading the article, I am worry to throw them in the green bin.
Hello Adri. The hyacinth can be composted if you have a compost pile, or bagged and placed into the garbage for collection. That is a safe way to dispose of them. -Mike
It says that these absorb a lot of nasty stuff from the pond, including carcinogens – so wouldn’t that present a problem with composting them (i.e. wouldn’t all that nasty stuff then end up in our flower beds and vegetable gardens…and then in us?)
If you are utilizing them for carcinogen remediation at contaminated sites then I would not suggest using them for compost. If you are simply water gardening with them in your own backyard I don’t think there would be much of an issue. -Mike
I found the best way to keep the roots from breaking off and fouling the water is to tie a fine mesh bag to the bottom of the plant, over the roots. This also seems to slow down the spreading to almost zero. The bag catches the broken off roots, and just needs emptied about every 1-2 weeks. I have no problems with the dead roots fowling the filters, and it seems to have no effect on the plants. You do need to trim any roots that grow outside the bag when emptying the bags. The fish can not nibble on them, but not for lack of trying. If I could find some fine black mesh, this method would be perfect. The white mesh bags are obvious in the water.
Hey MJ, thanks for the great idea! This is worth a try. -Mike
Hi! We are wondering if there is a leak in our round 13’x3′ deep water garden. No pump or plumbing issues, no waterfalls, but was curious if too many plants can use up water and make it seem to be a leak. It got quite full of large water hyacinths, but we removed them to start searching for possible hole in liner. There were other plants as well.
Hello Sherrye, thanks for reaching out. An abundance of plants will contribute to water loss through transpiration, the amount of water loss might possibly make it seem like a leak in your pond, but my instinct tells me that the amount of water loss would be too little; so I’d keep looking for a leak if your water loss is that significant. Good luck! -Mike
Is there anything which would naturally choke out the water hyacinth?
Water hyacinth is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet, so it tends to be more of the choker than the chokee! I am not aware of anything that would help in that way. Thanks for reaching out! -Mike
I have just put a lot of Hyacinth’s in my pond, this morning I discovered that the racoons had eaten them. Any tips
Raccoons ate them!? Try a raccoon deterrent or spray around the pond. Good luck. -Mike
Yesterday I added four Hyacinths to my pond. This morning it seemed that the Racoons had eaten all of them. Any tips dealing with racoons please let me know.
I am trying to ID a plant that is very similar to Eichhoria or water hyacinth. The problem is this plant is found in a very wet meadow in Virginia, USA. The flower? I think the precursor or immature flower is a tiny tiny hard dark blue nub, the leaves have no buoyant bulbs. This ‘flower’ looks like hyacinth, columnar and tight. But it is tiny…like 1/2 inch long at the most. The leaves and stems look like a water plant. Could this just be how water hyacinth looks as it tries to invade a wet meadow? Please, I’ve been looking and water hyacinth is the closest I’ve been able to find. The leaves are ovate, alternate some actually look like they have a singular notch or serrate. https://i.stack.imgur.com/PRQcm.jpg
Hi! I have a pond with water hyacinths growing very well. I took a few and placed them in my 55 gallon aquarium with a plant light. They keep the water crystal clear, but the leaves are turning brown. Should I try a different type of light?
Hello Richard. I’m not sure what type of light you have but it should simulate full spectrum sunlight. Good luck! -Mike
Hyacinths in my pond are not doing well! Turning yellow.
They are in full sun. Should be thriving.
What could be the problem?
Hi Evan, thanks for reaching out. I’m missing too much info to tell you for sure why they would be yellowing. Hyacinth does enjoy just a bit of shade, full FULL sun may not be the best for them. Lack of nutrients can also contribute to yellowing. -Mike
My 7×8 ft pond has an abundance of hyacinths and Lilly pads so I pull some out every spring. This year I realized that the roots are filling up my pond even though I keep the top only half covered by the plants. But ever year I keep losing about an inch of water a day, even after I put in a new liner a few years ago. Before tearing it apart again to find the issue I wondered it either of those plants were actually ‘drinking’ up my water since I have so many roots in there? My Lilly’s were in pots in there but have grown out of the pots years ago, too….
Thanks for any advice!
Hello Sandy. I think 1″ per day sounds excessive for water loss due to evaporation/transpiration. I’m sure the plants play a small role but not quite that much. Mike
Will Water Hyacinths grow in dirt , and not in the pond? They are so pretty that I hate to trash them and if they would grow in my landscaping, I’d be happy.
Hi Sharon. Hyacinth is an aquatic plant, but if you give it a very wet area of your landscape it may do pretty well. Good luck experimenting! Mike
Do Hyacinth plants produce oxygen for fish.
Hello David. Yes, they will produce oxygen. Mike
I purchased several Hyacinths this spring. Now I have about 50-100 small fish in my pond. They are not Koi as I do have Koi and am familiar with their offspring. Any ideas as to what kind of fish they may be?
Hi Judy, thanks for reaching out. Without a bit more description I really could not tell you what kind of fish they are. Thanks -Mike
Our local government in the Philippines is spending much money to give ways of the clogged water hyacinth. Your inputs is of great help for all of us and open a potential industry.
Hello Qamar. I am happy to hear this article is helpful. Good luck. -Mike Gannon
I have a fish aquarium and am thinking of adding hyacinth. Does it help oxygenate the tank. I haven’t seen anyone do tht. Is there a reason not many add hyacinth to the fish tank
Hello Vaibhav. I’d only use hyacinth in very large aquarium with LOTS of natural light available so the hyacinth does not die. Hyacinth will make your aquarium alot messier with its constant dropping of its roots. Good luck! -Mike
I am having trouble with string algae that looks like it is killing the roots. Have been manually combing it out, but the roots are black and dead. The algae causes the roots to float and it looks bad. Something is amiss. How can I keep string algae from suffocating the roots? Thanks.
Hi Steve. First thing that comes to mind is add more filtration or at least alot more aeration and let us know how that goes! Good luck! -Mike
I have a 500/600 gallon pond with about 40 goldfish. A package of three hyacinth just arrived. Do you recommend growing them on the surface or using a container with soil and topped by river rocks and putting each inside a container perhaps limiting its capacity to expand.
Hi Dave. The hyacinth is a floating plant and will probably do best just left to float in your pond, no planting necessary! Good luck and enjoy. -Mike
Hello Mike! i was wondering if betta fish can live with this plants, as i have a few of these plants on a glass container and can’t seem to find anything on the betta can live with them because they’re not the same size as a koi fish so i don’t want to assume anything, sending a big hug! thanks for the awesome info 😀
Hello Ana. Thank you for reaching out, and the hug!! The betta should do just fine with hyacinth. Have fun! -Mike
Our pond water is a little ‘dirtier’ than usual this year and I’m just curious if rinsing the roots of the hyathcinths I am keeping when weeding some out will help or if the culture around the roots is beneficial to the water quality?
Hi Mark. Root production is pretty rapid with hyacinth, trying to manage them will keep you pretty busy. I would probably just thin out the amount of plants and not let them reproduce too prolifically. Good luck!! -Mike
Just as a warning, my small pond became overrun with water hyacinth this year.(lots of rain and high temps seems to make them spread like wildfire) and I lost almost all my fish. The guy at my pond store said it probably was the hyacinth depleting all the oxygen. I was devastated to lose my fish. Three of them were over 5 years old and had gotten really large and pretty. 🙁 I wish I had read this at the beginning of spring, but thank you for the information.
Hello Christine. I’m very sorry to hear about your fish loss and hyacinth certainly could have played a role. Thanks for sharing your information. -Mike
Hi Mike, I have a small pond with 4 nice gold fish. I just bought 4 water hyacinth s and I saw a comment about the roots clogging up filters. I do have a small filtering system. Do you think the plants could cause problems with my filtering system and are the plants worth the hassle? Your thoughts and thanks in advance. Sue
Hello Sue, thanks for reaching out. There is the possibility that the plants could cause issues when they start reproducing. I’d give the plants a chance and see how they affect your system before making any removal. Enjoy! -Mike
Hi, my water hyacinth leave edges are burned, i keep them in european turtle tub and they are having new leaves and roots. I got them this week so i thought they might have been adjusting to the new water chemistery. Also i keep them in full sun for at least 5 hour a day. Temps here is 32c to 35c.any advises?
Hello Sss. I don’t have enough info to really advise on this. It could be not enough nutrients for them, or too much! -Mike
We live in Florida and there are muck issues (sewage) with the Indian River Lagoon. This river is a mixture of fresh and salt water, though the fresh water is more prevalent today due to stormwater runoff. The runoff creates more problems due to too much phosphorus and nitrogen, which creates excessive algae and phytoplankton. Would water hyacinths survive in this mixture of fresh and salt water and would they be an effective cleaner for this river? Naturally, they would have to be contained in a netted area, perhaps moved from section to section as needed. We have dolphin and manatees in addition to fish in this river. Would the hyacinth present a problem for them?
Hello Ann. Its hard to say if water hyacinth would do well without knowing true salinity content. I’m not sure but I think hyacinth may be illegal in Fla. On the other hand, if it was used, it would likely grow completely out of control and although help to improve water somewhat, it would create a whole other problem; which is why it is illegal in many states. Good luck and sorry to hear about the water issues in Florida, things may get alot worse before things get better, but I hope the water issue gets MUCH MUCH more attention than it seems to be getting. -Mike
Hello Mike, We are a school sponsored First Lego League team. For our project this year, we are looking at what humans in the future might grow for food on Mars. The Water Hyacinth caught our attention because it meets a lot of the criteria that would be required on Mars, such as; not needing pollinated, rapid growth, compact, and high harvest yield. We have read that the water hyacinth is edible when cooked, but causes irritation if eaten raw. Do you know what exactly in the hyacinth causes the itch? We were thinking that maybe future agriculture research could create a hyacinth hybrid that is more palatable, nutritious, and frost resistant. Although we had better not let a frost-resistant hyacinth escape the lab. Any wild ideas about what more edible species might readily cross pollinate with the hyacinth? Swiss Chard?
Hello. Thanks for reaching out. From what I understand the silicate spicules in the hyacinth cause the irritation when eaten. Everything you are studying sounds very exciting! I wish I could offer some candidates however I do not know any plants that would cross pollinate; not to say there are none, I just don’t have that knowledge. Best of luck on Mars!!! -Mike