Earth Matters

Seven Things You Didn’t Know About Water Hyacinth

June 1st, 2016 by Adam Voiland


1) In most of the world, water hyacinth (Eichhonria crassipes) — a fast-growing, aquatic plant — is loathed for its ability to reproduce so quickly that it can blanket large portions of lakes and ponds with a thick mat of vegetation.

2) In a lake with strongly entrenched water hyacinth, plants interlock into such dense masses that they are sturdy enough to hold people walking on them. On Inle Lake in Burma, people turn mats of water hyacinth into floating islands and grow vegetables and flowers on them.

3) Lakes that are overrun by water hyacinths undergo dramatic transformations. Submerged native plants became shaded and often die. The resulting decay processes depletes dissolved oxygen in the water and leads to fish kills. Boat travel can become impossible with severe infestations.

4) Water hyacinth is native to South America, the only continent where natural predators such as weevils and moths keep it at bay.

5) Cutting a water hyacinth plant into pieces will not kill it. The plants can reproduce using a process called fragmentation. Each plant also produces thousands of seeds each year.

6) The invasive plant is currently considered an invasive weed in more than 50 countries (including Central and North America, Asia, Europe, and Africa). Climate change may allow them to spread even farther.

7) Scientists use satellites to monitor lakes infested with water hyacinth. A NASA DEVELOP group recently devised an automated technique for monitoring water hyacinth in Lake Victoria’s Winam Gulf, an area that has struggled with water hyacinth infestation for decades. The researchers used satellite data collected by the OLI, MODIS, and MSI sensors. Winam Gulf communities have struggled with water hyacinth infestation for more than a decade. Learn more about the project in the video below.

Editor’s Note: DEVELOP, part of NASA’s Applied Sciences Program, addresses environmental and public policy issues through interdisciplinary research projects. To highlight the program’s work, the Earth Matters blog occasionally highlights some of the most interesting topics that DEVELOP teams are pursuing.

3 Responses to “Seven Things You Didn’t Know About Water Hyacinth”

  1. B. Adrian White says:

    I saw these on a bayou tour in Louisiana. The guide was saying what a bane they were to the waterways. What can be done now that they are lose in so many of the wrong places?

    • kritika sharma says:

      helo sir, i think to combat with this problem of water hyacinth…we should utilize its two very promising features like: its high biomass production ability and its high phytoremdiation potential.

  2. Sean McCartney says:

    Very nice article. Water hyacinth is a bane to fishermen seeking their livelihoods in riparian areas and delta regions the world over. I’ve seen water hyacinth flushed out to sea by heavy rains which survived in the ocean for many days. It’s a plant that clogs waterways used by local fishermen for transportation. Methods like those created by the DEVELOP team are the first steps in working with stakeholders to identify where water hyacinth is most a problem. Its partnerships like these which can help local and regional stakeholders to tackle this invasive plant. Terrific article!