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Water Hyacinth - A Crisis or an Opportunity 0708

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 2 months ago
Water Hyacinth: A Crisis or an Opportunity in the Philippines?



By Luke Ebersole


Description and Rationale


Water Hyacinths are not a native water plant to the Philippines.  The species is native to the Amazon Basin of Brazil but has been introduced to tropical and subtropical regions around the world.  Holm et al. (1977) noted that at the time of publication 56 countries including the United States had reported it as a noxious weed.  The water hyacinth, or Eichhornia crassipes, is very proficient at adapting to new environments and reproduces very rapidly.  It has been seen to impact human health, food security, water and power supplies, navigation, biodiversity and natural ecosystem functions in many tropical and subtropical regions because of its ability to quickly invade and choke freshwater bodies. It can grow almost anywhere in the tropics, affecting stationary or slow-moving water bodies anywhere such as small roadside drains and ponds to large lakes.

What is the water hyacinth’s impact on the local ecology of the Philippines?  Is it a harming factor in the growth and reproduction of other water plants or even species of fish of the area?  Is the expanding and spreading of water hyacinths a serious problem in clogging up and blocking the water flow of canals, rivers, and open bodies of water?  Does the presence of these water hyacinths affect the local’s fishing resources and water resources? Are there good reasons why the locals of the area make no effort towards the eradication of this weed? Are there any positive benefits to it for the native people of the Philippines?

Many countries around the world are putting effort into finding resourceful ways to put this weed to good use, have any of these ideas made it to the people of the Philippines yet?  Fishermen and other local people often tend to throw the water hyacinths up onto the shore where they dry out and rot, but is anything done with them after that?  Are there any ways that the expanses of water hyacinths could be inexpensively used commercially (while at the same time cleaning out the bodies of water in which they are rapidly invading and spreading throughout)?

The initial stage of this project will be to research information on the biology and ecology of the water hyacinth, or Eichhornia crassipes, in the Marikina River, along with hopefully other bodies of water in the area.  More information and research will be obtained through literature, Internet  resources, firsthand observations, and interviews with local people living along the riverbank.  These findings will help guide the experimental phase, where variables in the water hyacinths’ usefulness and survivability, along with problems caused by it, will further be explored.

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Common Names and Synonyms


Eichhornia crassipes is also known as the water hyacinth.  Other common names include Common Water Hyacinth, Floating Waterhyacinth, Water-Orchid, and Jacinthe D'eau. Other synonyms also include Eichhornia cordifolia, Eichhornia crassicaulis, Eichhornia speciosa, Heteranthera Formosa, and Piaropus crassipes.





· Kingdom: Plantae (plants)

·      Phylum: Embryophyta (higher plants)

·            Class: Liliopsida (monocotyledons)

·                 Order: Commelinales (flowering plants)

·                      Family: Pontederiaceae (pickerelweed)

·                             Genus: Eichhornia (water hyacinth)

·                                   Species: Eichhornia crassipes (water hyacinth)

·                                         Common Names: Water Hyacinth (see above for more common names, Tagalog name was not found)




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Morphology and Physical Description



Water hyacinth is an aquatic plant that can live and reproduce floating freely on the surface of fresh waters or can be anchored in mud. Plant size ranges from a few inches to a meter in height. Its rate of proliferation under certain circumstances is extremely rapid and it can spread to cause infestations over large areas of water causing a variety of problems. It grows in mats up to 2 meters thick that can reduce light and oxygen, change water chemistry, affect flora and fauna and cause significant increase in water loss due to transpiration

The plant is a perennial aquatic herb (Eichhornia crassipes) that belongs to the family Pontedericeae, closely related to the Liliaceae (lily family). The mature plant consists of long, pendant roots, rhizomes, stolons, leaves, inflorescences and fruit clusters. The plants are up to 1 metre high although 40cm is the more usual height. The inflorescence bears 6 - 10 lily-like flowers, each 4 - 7cm in diameter. The stems and leaves contain air-filled tissue, which give the plant its considerable buoyancy. The vegetation reproduction is asexual and takes place at a rapid rate under preferential conditions. (Herfjord, Osthagen and Saelthun 1994).

Root Epidermis: Root epidermis consists of single layered compactly arranged rectangular cells. There is no cuticle on the outside of root epidermis. Hypodermis is composed of 1~2 layers of thick-walled cells. Beneath the hypodermis cortex is differentiated into outer and inner cortex.

Petiole Epidermis: Epidermis of petiole is also single layered and composed of parenchyma cells. Cuticle is absent. Vascular bundles are embedded in outer parenchyma cells. Each vascular bundle has a bundle cap of sclerenechyma cells making up the petiole. The hexagonal air spaces are surrounded by bands of single layered parenchyma cells

Leaf Anatomy: Transverse section of lamina has a very thin cuticle on the epidermal cells, which are rectangular in outline and form a single layer. The mesophyll is differentiated into a palisade and spongy mesophyll.  Palisade layer is present on both upper and lower side beneath the epidermis. The upper epidermis has 5~7 layers of cells and the lower epidermis has 2~3 layers. Inside the palisade layer are densely staining material that may be supportive in nature. The spongy mesophyll consists of a large number of air spaces surrounded by thin walls full of chloroplast. 



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Getting Food


 Since the water hyacinth is in the kingdom Plantae, it gathers food through photosynthesis.  Though it can tolerate almost any climate and weather conditions, the water hyacinth photosynthesizes fastest and most efficiently in a range of very favorable weather conditions.  These conditions include a temperature range of 22.5oC to 35°C and a humidity of about 90%.  The water hyacinth is also favored in high light intensity.

Holm et al. (1977) indicate that water hyacinth is intolerant of brackish conditions. Experimental studies by de Casabianca and Laugier (1995) demonstrated an inverse relationship between salinity and Eichhornia crassipes plant yield; no plant production and cankerous plants resulted at salinities above 6 ppt and irreversible physiological damage occurred above 8 ppt. Water hyacinth is capable of growing in low salinity coastal lagoon habitats, e.g., in West Africa during the rainy season (ISSG).   The water hyacinth also has an estimated pH tolerance in the range of 5.0 to 7.5






Water hyacinth reproduces both vegetatively and sexually (Penfound and Earle 1948, Gopal and Sharma 1981, in Langeland and Burks Undated.). The plant flowers year-round in mild climates, producing abundant amounts of long-lived seeds (Penfound and Earle 1948; Sculthorpe 1971; FAO Undated). However it has been reported that sexual reproduction is limited and although the plant flowers profusely few observers have seen seeds or seedlings in the field (Gopal 1987, in Batcher Undated). Maximum fruiting occurs in 90% humidity and at 22.5°C to 35°C (Gopal 1987, in Batcher Undated). Several species of bee pollinate the flowers and several researchers report a highlvel of self-compatibility (Batcher Undated). High light intensity and altering high and low temperatures (5°C to 40°C) favour germination (Batcher Undated).

Vegetative reproduction is more important. Water hyacinth grows and spreads rapidly under favourable temperature and nutrient conditions (Batcher Undated). Stolon buds develop that bear offshoots from axillary buds and stolons are readily distributed by water currents, winds and boat traffic.


Environmental Factors


 Effects on fish and wildlife can be immeasurable. In severely affected water bodies, fish may die as a result of increasingly anaerobic (lacking oxygen) conditions. Populations of wildlife like water birds, amphibians and reptiles may also be affected; Changes in water chemistry. Thick mats of water hyacinth affect the chemistry of the water by absorbing large amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients and locking these nutrients up.

It may be useful for cleaning polluted water bodies of heavy metals but its presence is not good for normal areas. In addition, the weed physically prevents sunlight (required for photosynthesis) from entering the water and directly affects the growth and survival of microscopic, oxygen-producing phytoplanktons and zooplanktons vital for the food chain and survival of larger organisms like fish.



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Origin and Distribution


The plant originated in the Amazon Basin and was introduced into many parts of the world as an ornamental garden pond plant due to its beauty. It has proliferated in many areas and can now be found on all continents apart from Europe. It is particularly suited to tropical and subtropical climates and has become a problem plant in areas of the southern USA, South America, East, West and Southern Africa, South and South East Asia and Australia. Its spread throughout the world has taken place over the last 100 years or so, although the actual course of its spread is poorly documented. In the last 10 years the rapid spread of the plant in many parts of Africa has led to great concern


Importance to People



The water hyacinth has inevitably become very important to the people of the Philippines, especially those who live near bodies of water.  Since the water hyacinth reproducing so rapidly in environments such as the Philippines, and can spread so fast on moving bodies of water, much of the Philippines has been dealing with the evasive species.  Not only does the water hyacinth block up water ways to boat travel and make fishing for more difficult, but having large carpets of water hyacinth covering the lakes, ponds, and rivers can also effect the populations of fish and other water life, along with effecting the levels of CO2 and H2O in the water.       Hopefully the people of the Philippines will begin using water hyacinths as an important asset, not merely an invasive species and a problem.


Survivability and Endangered Status


Because the water hyacinth is an invasive species of the Philippines, it is in no danger of extinction, or becoming endangered.  Though large numbers of water hyacinth may be pulled out of the water and disposed of, it would take a worldwide severe climate change, something to the extent of an ice age, to really endanger the water hyacinth.  As it is, with today’s warm temperatures and favorable climates, the water hyacinths have perfect conditions in many areas to continue reproducing and spreading.



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Potential Solutions


The following include some possible solutions I found that may potentially help the people of the Philippines by giving them ways to use Water Hyacinth. 


Possibility 1




One possible way I found to put Water Hyacinth to good use in the Philippines is to use it as a fertilizer.

In researching, I found that water hyacinth can be used on the land either as a green manure or as compost. As a green manure it can be either ploughed into the ground or used as mulch. The water hyacinth plant is ideal for composting. After removing the plant from the water it can be left to dry for a few days before being mixed with ash, soil and some animal manure. Microbial decomposition breaks down the fats, lipids, proteins, sugars and starches. The mixture can be left in piles to compost, the warmer climate of tropical countries accelerating the process and producing rich, pathogen free compost, which can be applied directly to the soil. The compost has been found to increases soil fertility and crop yield and generally improves the quality of the soil.

Compost can be made on a large or small scale and is well suited to labor intensive, low capital production. In developing countries where mineral fertilizer is expensive, it is an elegant solution to the problem of water hyacinth proliferation and also poor soil quality. In Sri Lanka water hyacinth is mixed with organic municipal waste, ash and soil composted and sold to local farmers and market gardeners.


Problems and Disadvantages:  Using the water hyacinth as fertilizer seems to be a good, convenient and less time consuming way of putting the massive amounts of water hyacinths to use.  The only problem I could see in using the plants as a fertilizer is that it may be limited to close to where water hyacinths are found, near waterways, lakes, etc.  Since water is scarce almost nowhere in the Philippines, even this shouldn’t be a difficulty.



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Possibility 2




Another possibility for using the water hyacinth in the Philippines is to try using it as an edible food, to experiment with eating it. 

Young leaves and petioles are edible if cooked, though they have been found to be virtually tasteless. Water hyacinths are said to be used as a carotene-rich table vegetable in Formosa, and Javanese sometimes cook and eat the green parts and inflorescence.


Problems and Disadvantages:  In continued researching, I found that eating the plant, which is reported to contain HCN, alkaloid, and triterpenoid, might induce itching. Fresh water hyacinth plants also contain prickly crystals; they probably would make eating painful and by no means worthwhile.  Some plants may be sprayed with 2,4-D may accumulate lethal doses of nitrates.

After researching a few of these problems in using the water hyacinth as food, I chose not to continue with this idea.


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Possibility 3




A third option I found of using water hyacinths in the Philippines was making papers out of them.

The Mennonite Central Committee of Bangladesh has been experimenting with paper production from water hyacinth for some years. They have established two projects that make paper from water hyacinth stems. The water hyacinth fiber alone does not make a particularly good paper but when the fiber is blended with waste paper or jute the result is good. The pulp is dosed with bleaching powder, calcium carbonate and sodium carbonate before being heated.

The first project is quite large with 120 producers involved in paper manufacture. The equipment for pulping is relatively sophisticated and the end product is of reasonable quality. The second project involves 25 - 30 people and uses a modified rice mill to produce pulp. The quality of the paper is low and is used for making folders, boxes, etc. Similar small-scale cottage industry papermaking projects have been successful in a number of countries, including the Philippines, Indonesia, and India.

Problems and Disadvantages:  Though this system is already in use, even in the Philippines, it is limited to people and organizations with large amounts of resources.  Because of the bleaching powder, calcium carbonate and sodium carbonate necessary in the making of the paper products, along with the needed heating process, this would not be a possible opportunity for the average Philippino. 

Due to the lack of resources I had, and the lack of resources the average Philippino has for making paper, I chose not to continue this idea.



I chose to follow through more with the plan of using water hyacinth as a fertilizer.  On May 4, 2008, I biked to a golf course in Valley Golf, outside of Manila, where I had noticed major growth of water hyacinth.  With the interpretation help of John Kim, a fluent Tagalog speaker, I interviewed the golf course guard, asking about the water hyacinth situation and wondering if anything was being done about it.

In interviewing him, I found out more about the troubles water hyacinth was causing in areas of the Philippines by damaging rice crops, etc.  I also told the guard about the information I had found concerning the fertilization benefits of water hyacinth, asking if anything could be done about using it in fertilizing the golf course.  To my surprise, he informed me that these water hyacinths that had seemingly overwhelmed the pond actually are already being used for fertilizer purposes!  Every few months, water, full of nutrients from decomposing water hyacinth, is drained out of the pond and used to fertilize parts of the golf course. 

Possible Future Directions:  I also talked with the guard about other possible ways of making fertilizer from the water hyacinths.  Hopefully systems like these will become more prominent in the future here in the Philippines, both clearing the waterways and making a better growing environment for the agriculture of the Philippines.

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 Ballentyne, Crystal.  Personal Interview.  28 March 2008

 “Eichhornia Crassipes” itdg.org. 26 March 2008


 “Eichhornia Crassipes” spc.int.  27 March 2008


“Eichhornia Crassipes” sms.si.edu. 30 March 2008


Valley Golf Course Guard.  Personal Interview.  4 May 2008

“Water Hyacinth”  zipcodezoo.com  26 March 2008


“Water Hyacinth” anamed.net.  27 March  2008


“Water Hyacinth” library.thingquest.org.  26 March 2008


“Water Hyacinth” pubmedcentral.com 26 March 2008






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