Water hyacinth

Eichhornia crassipes -- Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants

Eichhornia crassipes

Non-Native to Florida
Origin: Amazon basin1
Introduction to Florida: 1884 (ornamental, agriculture)2

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This species appears on the following legally prohibited plant lists

FWC WEED ALERT (PDF)

CATEGORY I on the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council's (FLEPPC) 2013 List of Invasive Plant Species

More Info: Plant Management in Florida Waters

The UF/IFAS Assessment lists plants according to their invasive status in Florida.




Extension Publication: Waterhyacinth: Florida’s Worst Floating Weed by Lyn A. Gettys, UF/IFAS Extension (2014)

Download a page (PDF) from Identification and Biology of Nonnative Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas – Second Edition1

Download a recognition card (PDF) from Invasive and Non-native Plants You Should Know3

For brief control information, see Efficacy of Herbicide Active Ingredients Against Aquatic Weeds by K. Langeland, M. Netherland, and W. Haller.

See Table 1 in Florida's Established Arthropod Weed Biological Control Agents and Their Targets (2013) for a list of arthropod biological control agents that occur on this species.

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EICHHORNIA CRASSIPES (Mart.) Solms
water hyacinth, jacinthe d'eau
Pontederiaceae/Pickerelweed Family

pronounced: iek-horn-ee-a kras-i-pays
from: Eichhorn: Johann Albrecht Friedrich Eichhorn (1779-1856), Prussian minister of education and public welfare, court advisor and politician
crass (L.): thick
plant with thick leaf stalks

Synonymy:

  • Eichhornia speciosa Kunth
  • Piaropus crassipes (Mart.) Britton
  • Piaropus mesomelas
  • Pontederia crassipes
  • Heteranthera formosa

The water hyacinth is a floating plant. This invasive nuisance is planta non grata in much of the world where it often jams rivers and lakes with uncounted thousands of tons of floating plant matter. A healthy acre of water hyacinths can weigh up to 200 tons! In the U.S., water hyacinth is present throughout the southeast, as well as in California and Washington state. In Florida, where for 100 years this weed had the upper-hand in water management, the water hyacinth in most places is under "maintenance control": field crews constantly working to keep the plant numbers at their lowest possible levels, in exchange for the rivers and lakes remaining usable.

Eichhornia crassipes grows in all types of freshwaters. They vary in size from a few inches to over three feet tall. They have showy lavender flowers. Their leaves are rounded and leathery, attached to spongy and sometimes inflated stalks. The plant has dark feathery roots. Water hyacinth may be confused with frog's-bit, Limnobium spongia.

 

Habit:

  • water hyacinth is a floating, flowering perennial
  • floating, "obligate" (requiring a wet habitat)
  • linked plants form dense rafts in the water and mud
  • will halt boat traffic on rivers; will cover a lake surface from shore to shore

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Habitat:

  • an aquatic weed worldwide; in lakes, rivers, ponds, ditches of temperate climates
  • temperature tolerance: water hyacinth is not winter-hardy; its minimum growth temperature is 12o C (54o F); its optimum growth temperature is 25-30o C (77-86o F); its maximum growth temperature is 33-35o C (92-95o F) (Kasselmann 1995)

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Eichhornia crassipes(Mart.) Solms
Identification:

  • monocot, perennial
  • free-floating, except when stranded in the mud; mother plants and daughter plants attached by floating stolons
  • leaves formed in rosettes rise to three feet above the water; leaves entire, ovate, rounded, circular, or broadly elliptic, to 6 in. wide; thick, glossy, waxy green, waterproof; sides gently incurved and often undulate; leaf base hearshaped, squared or rounded; veins dense, numerous, fine, longitudinal
  • petioles (leaf stems) floating, creeping; inflated, bulbous, spongy, to 12 in. long
  • multiple (8 to 15) flowers in a single very showy, spike (spathe) to 12 in. long; spike at top of erect thick stalk to 20 in. long, rising above the leaves; each flower in the flower-spike with six lavender-blue petals (perianths), petal tips slightly 2-lipped; uppermost petal somewhat larger, lavender, having a bright yellow, blue-bordered central oval splotch; stamens 6, stigmas 3
  • roots hanging submersed beneath floating leaves, dark purplish to black, feathery, tips with long root caps
  • fruit a capsule, 3-celled, with many seeds; seeds ribbed, formed in submerged, withered flower; fruit and seeds are rarely observed; seeds may produce many seedlings in moderate climates

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Origin:

  • Eichhornia crassipes is native to Brazil
  • there are about seven species of Eichhornia native to South America; among them are E. azurea, E. diversifolius and E. paniculata

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Distribution in the U.S.:

  • Water hyacinth is present in the states of the southeast U.S., and California, Hawaii, and the Virgin Islands. The occurrences in Arizona, Arkansas and Washington, shown in the map above left, are now believed to be "eradicated".
  • According to the U.S.G.S., water hyacinth has been reported in New York, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri "where plants escape summertime cultivation but do not persist through the winter...it is annually stocked in farm fish ponds in southern Arizona and southern Delaware," but has not become established in the natural systems of these states.

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How it got here:

  • Eichhornia crassipes, water hyacinth, is believed to have been introduced into the U.S. in 1884 at an exposition in New Orleans; within 70 years of reaching Florida, the plant covered 126,000 acres of waterways (Schmitz et al. 1993)
  • Eichhornia crassipes continues to be sold through aquarium supply dealers and over the Internet.
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Potential to spread elsewhere in U.S.:

  • water hyacinth is found globally in the tropics and subtropics, but its spread is limited by severe cold (Holm et al. 1977); its leaves regrow after moderate freezes
  • water hyacinth grows faster than any other tested plant (Wolverton & McDonald 1979); populations can double in as little as 6 days (Mitchell 1976)
  • water hyacinth reproduces vegetatively and sexually; new rosettes (daughter plants) are formed on floating stolons which grow from the mother plants; seedlings are produced in mild climates (Penfound & Earle 1948)

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Problems/Effects:

  • Eichhornia crassipes mats clog waterways, making boating, fishing and almost all other water activities, impossible
  • water flow through water hyacinth mats is greatly diminshed
  • an acre of water hyacinth can weigh more than 200 tons; infestations can be many, many acres in size; mats may double their size in as little as 6-18 days (Mitchell 1976);
  • water hyacinth mats degrade water quality by blocking the air-water interface and greatly reducing oxygen levels in the water, eliminating underwater animals such as fish (Penfound & Earle 1948)
  • water hyacinth greatly reduces biological diversity: mats eliminate native submersed plants by blocking sunlight, alter emersed plant communities by pushing away and crushing them, and also alter animal communities by blocking access to the water and/or eliminating plants the animals depend on for shelter and nesting (Gowanloch 1944)
  • in Florida, millions of dollars a year used to be spent on water hyacinth control; finally getting the plant under "maintenance control" has greatly reduced that expenditure

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Control - Due to decades of university, state and federal research and experience with Eichhornia crassipes in the U.S., several methods have been developed to help in its management:

  • the action of mechanical harvestors and chopping machines remove water hyacinth from the water and transport it to disposal on shore; chopping machines grind the plant into bits and spray the slurry across the water
  • years of research to find insect biocontrols has resulted in the successful introduction of two water hyacinth weevils, which are believed to be keeping water hyacinth under maintenance control in many places; however biocontrol fish which are able to control submersed plants are ineffective against the floating water hyacinth
  • registered aquatic herbicides do provide temporary control of water hyacinth See: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ag262 Efficacy of Herbicide Active Ingredients Against Aquatic Weeds

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What can you do?

  • First, clean your boat before you leave the ramp! Transporting plant fragments on boats, trailers, and in livewells is the main introduction route to new lakes and rivers.
  • But, there's plenty more you can do to help.

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Laws and lists:

    Eichhornia crassipes
    • is "state-listed" in Arizona, Florida, Puerto Rico and South Carolina
    • is on the Florida Prohibited Plants list, Florida Department of Environmental Protection:
    • is on the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council list: Category I - "plants invading and disrupting native plant communities in Florida"

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Want to know more?

The information contained on this web page was extracted from published scientific literature and agency reports. It is important to know that plant research, like most areas of scientific research, is still relatively young and incomplete--much may have been published about the physiology of one plant but not about its management; much may have been published about how to culture and grow another plant but not about its natural ecology. Thousands of research articles may have been published about one invasive plant, but perhaps only a dozen about another.

If you want to read the research yourself, perhaps to clarify or expand an area of information contained here, or to help determine your own line of research, you are welcome to query the world's largest collection of international scientific literature about aquatic, wetland and invasive plants, the APIRS bibliographic database, which contains more than 69,000 citations and their content keywords. Or you might want to ask us to do it for you and e-mail the search results to you.

This is the literature about Eichhornia crassipes that was used to develop this web page. More research items about this plant may be found at APIRS

  • Gowanloch JN. 1944. The econimc status of water-hyacinth in Louisiana. La. Conserv. 2:3-8
  • Holm LG, Plucknett DL, Pancho JV, Herberger JP. 1977. The world's worst weeds: distribution and biology. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii. 609 pp.
  • Kasselmann C. 1995. Aquarienpflanzen. Egen Ulmer GMBH & Co., Stuttgart. 472 pp. (In German)
  • McCann JA et al. 1996. Nonindigenous aquatic and selected terrestrial species of Florida-Status, pathway, and time of introduction, present distribution, and significant ecological and economic effects. Southeastern Biological Science Center, Gainesville, 256 pp.
  • Mitchell DS. 1976. The growth and management of Eichhornia crassipes and Salvinia spp. in their native environment and in alien sitautions. In: Varshney CK, Rzoska J, editors, Aquatic weeds in Southeast Asia. The Hague: Dr. W. Junk b.v., Publishers. 396 pp.
  • Penfound WT, Earle TT. 1948. The biology of the water hyacinth. Ecol. Monogr. 18:449-72.
  • Schmitz DC, Schardt JD, Leslie AG, Dray FA, Osborne JA, Nelson BV. 1993. The ecological impact and management history of three invasive alien aquatic plants in Florida. In: McKnight BN, editor, Biological pollution - the control and impact of invasive exotic species. Indianapolis: Indiana Acad. Science. 261 pp.
  • Simpson, D., Sanderson, H. 2002. Eichhornia crassipes. Curtis’s Bot. Mag. 19(1):28-34.
  • Van TK, Steward KK. 1982. Evaluation of chemicals for aquatic plant control. Annual Report 1981, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, 66 pp.
  • Vandiver VV. 1999. Florida aquatic weed management guide. Univ. of FL, IFAS, Cooperative Extension Service, Publ. SP-55, 130 pp.
  • Wolverton BC, McDonald RC. 1979. Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) productivity and harvesting studies. Econ. Botany 33:1-10.

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More Resources

water hyacinthView the herbarium specimen image from the University of Florida Herbarium Digital Imaging Projects.

Here is an article on using water hyacinth to make things in Kenya.

Sea Grant This web page was authored in June, 2001, by Victor Ramey (Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, University of Florida), with significant contribution from Barbara Peichel (Sea Grant, University of Minnesota). The information contained herein is based on the literature found in the APIRS database.

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Citations

1. Identification and Biology of Nonnative Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas – Second Edition, by K.A. Langeland, H.M. Cherry, et al. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 257. 2008.

2. Strangers in Paradise, Impact and Management of Nonindigenous Species in Florida, Chapter 2: Florida’s Invasion by Nonindigenous Plants: History, Screening, and Regulation, by D.R. Gordon and K.P. Thomas, pp. 21-37. Island Press, Washington, DC, 1997.

3. Invasive and Non-native Plants You Should Know - Recognition Cards, by A. Richard and V. Ramey. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 431. 2007.

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