Monday, April 18, 2011

Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes)

The water hyacinth is a loathed invasive plant all over the world. It is a floater, with stems that have a bulb containing a cavity with spongy material inside. The plant material is hollow, making for a therapeutic squeeze-ball. It multiplies rapidly by sending runners out, developing whole new plants in a bit more than a week or so. For a lazy gardener with some kind of water receptacle, it is great. When your pond is completely covered, mosquito populations can be controlled. Note the word "completely".

The plant sends up beautiful, fleeting flowers that are a pale violet in color. I was quite shocked to see them. I have just read now that they are fragrant-- and I went outside to check-- but the flowers close up at night.

The water hyacinth builds mass quickly with its roots (which often grow into a mat, like a bad wig). I got a plant from outside someone's house in Ayala Alabang, and grew it in an old refrigerator bin, and then in an antique iron pond-bowl. Their root system has some benefits-- I popped some gabi corms in one day, seeing that the roots created some kind of "soil-in-water" condition. After a week, small leaves came up, and now they live in harmony.

(Eventually, I will probably transition into mostly gabi.)

The water hyacinth is much-loathed, because it multiplies really quickly by both runners and dropping seed, and is known to clog waterways (see photo below, which I selected based on instilled awe, from this blog). Mindanao has seen massive flooding because of the plant. The problem is so great, that people have started to make things like bags out of the "bodies" of the plant. (You know that a resource is a pest when people start to make "unconventional" bags out of them-- e.g. juice wrapper and plastic bag bags). See the end of this post for a note on this whole bag-making thing.*

Water hyacinths have been known to thrive in areas where there are excess nutrients, or even chemical run-off from wetlands into lakes. The plant absorbs toxins and heavy metals while gathering solid waste and silt at its root systems. This characteristic has led to its use in wastewater treatment all over the world. It cleans bum waterways and reduces algae populations, like it did in Laguna.

If your water hyacinth babies are getting too crazy, do not hesitate to yank a few out and lay at the feet of your favorite trees. The plant is an excellent mulch. It contains a lot of moisture, and will keep your ground cool during the summer. If you don't have waterspace, you can actually grow them on land-- in Sri Lanka, they hold a nickname that translates to "Japan trouble", as the British are said to have planted them to give Japanese planes the impression of a body of water, leading to failed water landings.

And lastly, if you're not convinced enough, water hyacinth is actually edible (not only to animals, but to people)! I didn't know this before I sat down to write this tonight. It is added to soups in Thailand, and this guy claims that the stalks and leaves are edible. I will definitely try this soon. If you will too, make sure you know the water source isn't polluted-- grow your own, perhaps. But be careful and don't let it out into the wild.

*I would like to say that I am of the opinion that we should do massive composting or mulching instead with "harvested" water hyacinths. The material is flimsy and needs to be varnished in order to preserve it, so I think other resources are better suited for objects like bags and shoes.


SteveK said...

Water hyacinth does work well for composting and mulching. It is also renewable biofuel. It can be digested into methane gas. If the local economy runs on charcoal, it can be compressed into biomass briquettes that are burned as fuel in the new low-pollution stoves that make charcoal as a byproduct, and the charcoal used as biochar or for more fuel.

Bea said...

Hey SteveK, do you have any more information on the stoves? I'd love to pass the info on to friends in water hyacinth-infested areas. Thanks!