The Water Hyacinth: Using Abundant Invasive Plants for Food, Fertilizer, & Biofuel
Before I started working on this post, I didn't know much about the Water Hyacinth. When I began researching, I found out that it's called Eichhornia crassipes, a plant native to the Amazon Water Basin, and highly invasive outside of its native territory - particularly here in Florida waterways. After reading that, I was unsure whether or not I should do a post glorifying the beauty of this plant. However, something in my mind kept pushing me to read a bit further. Well, there was a reason for that intuition, because after a bit more research I learned some really cool things about the Water Hyacinth that could change the way it's viewed and treated.
First, let me outline the negative invasive aspects of the Water Hyacinth… You see, it grows on the surface of the water, and just one plant can propagate enough to cover a whole square mile within just one month! On top of that, its roots form an intwined web beneath the water surface which effectively smothers the waters surface and inhibits oxygenation, which eventually drives out or kills off the animal life below. Apart from affecting the marine life below it, this plant propagates so fast that it can easily cover the surface of a waterway from bank to bank, making it difficult for boats to pass through without getting stuck. Apparently, Florida has struggled with this invasive plant in its waterways for decades, spending millions each year to combat its rapid growth throughout our waterways. Just imagine how many of these plants they have scooped up and trashed!? Well, as I was reading all of this negative information I was thinking about how horrible it is that such a beautiful and robust plant could be such a detriment to our ecology. So that's when I kept searching and reading, and what I found shortly thereafter was very interesting….
Apparently, I wasn't the only person who thought that the Water Hyacinth had to have some type of positive purpose/use. First, I stumbled upon a blog where the author talks about farming Water Hyacinths in her backyard canal and using them as food, in her compost, as organic chicken feed, and as fertilizer, bingo! So I kept searching to find out more and see if it was all true, and it sure is. Animal feed, soil conditioner/fertilizer, and even wastewater treatment. But, by far, the best thing I learned was that there are numerous new studies and extensive research being done on Water Hyacinths as an extremely effective Biofuel source! In case you're not clear on what Biofuel is, here is an elaboration from Wikipedia:
"A biofuel is a fuel that contains energy from geologically recent carbon fixation. These fuels are produced from living organisms. Examples of this carbon fixation occur in plants and microalgae. These fuels are made by a biomass conversion (biomass refers to recently living organisms, most often referring to plants or plant-derived materials). This biomass can be converted to convenient energy containing substances in three different ways: thermal conversion, chemical conversion, and biochemical conversion. This biomass conversion can result in fuel in solid, liquid, or gas form. This new biomass can be used for biofuels. Biofuels have increased in popularity because of rising oil prices and the need for energy security."
In other words, it's fuel made from plants! It makes perfect sense that researchers would turn their attention to a plant that propagates so rapidly for fuel sources. It's a crime to clear the waterways of this plant and just throw it away. I am so glad there has been a breakthrough in research that might prevent such frivolous waste of nature.
So, apart from having the potential to serve as an abundant sustainable fuel source, the Water Hyacinth is in fact excellent for organic feed, compost additive, fertilizer for plants - especially Bamboo, and it can even be chopped up and cooked/fried - some compare it to Collard Greens. In case you're interested, eHow tells you all about the Water Hyacinth and how to use it as fertilizer. Why oh why have we been throwing so many tons of this plant away over the years? Sigh… Please tell me what you think in the comments.
Anyway, I found some journal articles and research papers that discuss this topic in case you're interested in reading more, here are the links:
Production of Feed and Fertilizer From Water Hyacinth Plants in the Tropics - Environmental Engineering Program, Asian Institute of Technology
Now that I've ranted about and defended the Water Hyacinth, let's get a better look at the plant itself shall we? First, in case you're skeptical about such a lovely little plant being so viciously invasive.... This is the day we first made our water garden with cuttings that a friend gave us:
And this, no joke, mere weeks later:
Nuts! But isn't it fantastic? We prune it back when things rage out of control, and now I know what I can use the waste for!
Also, as you can see, it produces blooms quickly and often:
When combined with other water plants (pictured below, and whose names I do not know), the Water Hyacinth has made our water garden a breathtaking sight. Yes, invasive flora and all!
That funky ceramic object sitting in the water is a beautiful piece that my sister made in school a few years back... Clearly it found its forever home in this water garden, it completes this sweet little ecosystem:
Its shiny rubbery leaves and spectacular blooms make it an incredibly sculptural plant.
Also hanging out in the water garden (sitting in a separate area of the basin) is a vibrant yellow Stella Dwarf Daylily...
The incredible shading and texture exposed by the sunlight sent me into stalker mode, and like with nearly everything - I took too many photos! Alas, some might say life is too short to take so many photos, but I say life is too short not to do what you love. Since nature and gardening are two of my many great loves, it brings me joy to document it - both for when I'm old and can't remember anything, and for your viewing pleasure!
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