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Harmful Aquatic Hitchhikers: Plants: Water Hyacinth

What does Water Hyacinth look like?
University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
Click image to enlarge
  • Water Hyacinth is a floating plant with thick, glossy, round leaves, inflated leaf stems, and very showy lavender flowers. It is sometimes found stuck in mud, appearing rooted, and it is rarely found as a single plant. Water hyacinth is often confused with a native floating plant, Frog’s Bit.
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Why is Water Hyacinth considered to be a nuisance?
University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
Click image to enlarge
  • Physical Problems - Water hyacinth mats clog waterways, making boating, fishing and almost all other water activities impossible. Water flow through water hyacinth mats is greatly diminished, an acre of water hyacinth can weigh more than 200 tons; infestations can be many acres in size.
  • Ecological Impacts - Water hyacinth mats degrade water quality by blocking photosynthesis, which greatly reduces oxygen levels in the water. This creates a cascading effect by reducing other underwater life such as fish and other plants. Water hyacinth also reduces biological diversity, impacts native submersed plants, alters immersed 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.
    University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
    University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
    Click image to enlarge
  • Economic Impacts - In Florida, millions of dollars a year used to spent on water hyacinth control; finally getting the plant under "maintenance control" has greatly reduced that expenditure.
University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
Click image to enlarge
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How does Water Hyacinth affect recreational users?
  • Due to the physical and ecological problems created by Water Hyacinth, anglers, boaters, SCUBA divers and swimmers are just a few of the groups that are significantly affected. Water Hyacinth degrades water quality, which reduces fishing opportunities. When Water Hyacinth takes over a water way, it limits the use and essentially makes it very difficult for boaters and swimmers. Also, when mats of Water Hyacinth are formed, underwater visibility and biodiversity is significantly compromised and SCUBA divers are unable to enjoy various underwater features.
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Where is Water Hyacinth currently found?
USGS/Florida Caribbean Science Center
  • 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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What is Water Hyacinth’s 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. Its leaves regrow after moderate freezes and the plant can grow very fast. Populations can double in as little as six days. Within 70 years of reaching Florida, where the plant is predominantly located, water hyacinth has come to cover 126,000 acres of waterways.
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Short term benefits of water hyacinth don’t override long term impacts
  • Some anglers originally thought that plants such as hydrilla and water hyacinth provided positive habitat. However, anglers now realize that these plants can take over a good fishing spot and consume the oxygen making it very difficult to fish or for fish do survive.
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How can I prevent the spread of Water Hyacinth?
  • Follow procedures for cleaning your equipment.
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What else can I do?
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References
  • Plant species information provided by a collaborative effort involving the University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants and the Sea Grant College Programs of the University of Connecticut, University of Florida, University of Minnesota, University of Illinois, North Carolina State University and Purdue University. (http://aquat1.ifas.ufl.edu/)
  • Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, University of Florida. The information contained herein is based on the literature found in the APIRS database, the world's largest collection of scientific literature about aquatic, wetland and invasive plants.
  • USGS Florida Caribbean Science Center http://nas.er.usgs.gov/plants/docs/ei_crass.html
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