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Water Hyacinth Pollution Control Properties 0708

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 4 months ago
Water Hyacinth: Exceptionally Beneficial Pesty Plant
By: Dae Yong (Parky) Park


Description and Rationale





The floating, dark-green aquatic plant that can cover the entire surface of rivers is known world-wide as water hyacinth. Astonishingly, it prefers to live in a polluted environment, thus many scientists have researched the possibility of using it for phytoremediation, or the action of cleaning the environment with a plant (Nelson). Although it is an exotic plant, native to tropical South America, it has amazing invasiveness and has been introduced to numerous countries, including the Philippines (Wikipedia). All along the Pasig River in the Philippines, water hyacinths can be found almost year-round; they sometimes cover a complete section of the river so that no water is visible. Obviously, it has acclimated very favorably, but no one cares about controlling it and using its merits for the environment.


What characteristic of water hyacinth makes it prefer to live on polluted water? Does it have special functions that can purify the quality of water? What animals consume the water hyacinth and are there any animals or insects that live in the water hyacinth? What beneficial and detrimental traits does it have? Could it provide relatively abudant supply of oxygen? If so, how much oxygen can it create? Are there any Philippine scientists or environmentalists that use the water hyacinth for phytoremediation? Why does Pasig River have to left polluted and contaminated? Is there a reason that no one develops the Pasig River? Perhaps water hyacinth could even help the poor Philippine families economically!


Could the water hyacinth be used to purify the Pasig River and ultimately create a clean environment for various fishes and bird to live? Is there any possibility that Pasig River can be returned back to its state before the development of industry – roads, cars, buildings, etc.? Some scientists believe and have researched to prove that water hyacinth can purify water very effectively and create much oxygen (Harim Engineering). Perhaps beneficial uses, such as food, fertilizer, livestock feed, phytoremediation, producing oxygen, and any other livelihood-enhancing aspects of the water hyacinth can be found and be shared to the people who live right next them. Posters and brochures could announce the practical and beneficial traits, thus improving both the economy and the environment. It might simply be that people do not cultivate and use the water hyacinth because they do not have any knowledge of it.


The initial purpose of this project is to research the biology and ecology of the water hyacinth, primarily growing in the Pasig River by interviewing the people living along the riverbank and asking the crewman of the ferry who work at the Pasig River. These findings will provide some basic resource and guidance on finding some practical development that can be done to the water hyacinth for possibly improving both the economy and environment. By sharing the results and findings to everyone, through posting my project in the internet, this work could encourage and influence some people to actually put the possibilities into action. It is hoped that the livelihood of people living along the Pasig River be improved by the usage and development of the water hyacinth through a more informed understanding of a common biological resource.



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Common Names and Synonyms


Water hyacinths is one of the most famous plants worldwide that many people, including little children and natives, have seen. However, few people know the plant’s scientific name. They only know that it is an aquatic plant that floats on rivers and lakes, but not many are interested in learnig the original name. On the other hand, scientists are very interested in them since they are extremely invasive and easily adapt to new surroundings. Globally, scientists gave the scientific name, Eichhornia crassipes, for the common water hyacinth. Other common names include common water-hyacinth, floating water hyacinth, water lily (Philippines) jacinthe d’eau (France), wasserhyazinthe (Germany), jacinto-aquatico (Portugal), jacinto de agua (Puerto Rico), and lechuguilla (Mexico).




Kingdom:     Plantae (plants)

Phylum:       Magnoliophyta (flowering plants)

Class:          Liliopsida (monocotyledons)

Order:         Liliales (lily)

Family:        Pontederiaceae (pickerelweed family)

Genus:         Eichhornia Kunth (water hyacinth)

Species:      E. crassipes (common water hyacinth)



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Morphology and Physical Description




Seven species of water hyacinths that have similar physical appearances comprise the genus Eichhornia, in which common water hyacinth species takes up the majority. The water hyacinth varies in size from a few centimeters to over a meter in height. “The glossy green, leathery leaf blades are up to 20 cm long and 5-15 cm wide and are attached to petioles that are often spongy-inflated” (Non-Native Freshwater Plants Water Hyacinth). Numerous fibrous and dark roots dangle in the water underneath the floating plant. The inflorescence, or the flower cluster, is a loose terminal spike with showy light-blue to lavender flowers, but occasionally the color is white. One stalk normally has 8-15 evident and attractive flowers. Each flower has six petals that are connected together at the center, and one of the petals bears a small yellow spot. It also produces fruit that looks like a three-celled capsule containing many minute, ribbed seeds (Ibid).


The water hyacinth floats using small, circular, and pouch-like bladder of their body. Its interior looks like a hollow kaoliang stalk and is waterproof. This organ acts very much like the air bladders of a fish. Water has a density of 1g/cc, but because this bladder has less density than water, it is able to float.


Lastly, but most importantly, water hyacinth has special anatomical parts that enables them to survive more efficiently. “They have rhizomes, roots, leaves, and petioles that adapted to the worse environments. These parts have gas filled chambers and passages that provide an internal atmosphere of the plant. They have resistant internal structures that have complicated systems to allow them survive harsh conditions” (Mahmood, Qaisar, Ping Zheng, Rehan Siddiqi, Ejaz U. Islam, Rashid Azim, and Yousaf Hayat).


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Getting Food


Since the water hyacinth belongs to the family plantae, it gets its food through photosynthesis. With the energy from sunlight and water, it runs the process of photosynthesis to make glucose. Using six molecules of H20 and 6CO2, it creates C6H1206, known as glucose, plus another six molecules of oxygen.


In the beginning, sunlight is absorbed by a green pigment called chlorophyll, where the light’s electrons are used to progress the operation. To form special kinds of acid, glycolysis happens, which creates relatively small amount of ATP. The special acids go through the Calvin Cycle where complicated procedures take place to create a greaterf ATP. This program continues, allowing the plant to obtain enough energy to survive.


Meanwhile, water hyacinth also acquires glucose from the water (Herbert). While the roots suck the water up, the nutrients are carried by the water. The nutrients pass through the leaves as they combine with carbon dioxide and are converted into glucose. Having two different systems of food-obtaining capability, the water hyacinth has a greater chance of survivability, making it one of the most resistant plants on earth.


Amazingly, water hyacinths can survive in freshwater with a pH range between 4.0 and 8.0. As shown on the table below, pH 4.0 is relatively high in acidity, being a little more acidic than beer.


Since the water hyacinth lives in tropical areas, it prefers to live in water temperatures between 25~38o C. Water current doesn’t affect the water hyacinth much, but it needs maximum light to grow more healthier and greener. During the secondary experiment, it was found out that without intense light, the water hyacinth looses its leaves and dries up. Therefore, the water hyacinth should be located in a place with full light when it is grown.

Like most of all the plants, water hyacinth needs several nutrients to survive. “It needs nitrogen(NO3-, NH4+), phosphorus(H2PO4-), potassium(K+), calcium(Ca2+), magnesium(Mg2+), sulfur(SO42-), iron (Fe2+), manganese (Mn2+), chlorine (Cl-), zinc(Zn2+), copper(Cu2+), and molybdenum(MoO42-) to grow. Phosphorus is needed to be provided as the parts of proteins, nucleic acids, chlorophyll, and ATP; potassium opens the stomata and is an enzyme cofactor; calcium builds cell walls and cell membranes; magnesium is a part of chlorophyll; sulfur provides the parts of proteins; iron takes part in electron transport; manganese, zinc, and copper are required by many enzymes; chlorine splits water in photosynthesis; and molybdenum is required from nitrogen metabolism” (Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston, 604).




The water hyacinth is one of the special plants that can reproduce in multiple methods. In unfavorable conditions, it reproduces sexually by seeds, but it also vegetatively reproduces by budding. Under unfavorable conditions, the seeds can remain inactive for 15-20 years. Usually, they sink and remain dormant during periods of stress, or droughts. After flooding, the seeds eventually germinate and renew the growth cycle (Non-Native Freshwater Plants Water Hyacinth).


On the other hand when the conditions are pleasant, the plant may reproduce through budding. An offspring, or daughter plant, grows on the part of the parent water hyacinth which eventually outgrows and develops into a new individual. Through this process, the water hyacinth can double in a minimal period of six days. With amazing speed, they can colonize an entire section of a river, forming a dense mat on the surface. Therefore, people are trying to dump and throw away the invasive plant instead of using its productive traits for something.



Environmental Factors


The water hyacinth grows in almost every wetland environment, including lakes, streams, ponds, rivers, ditches, waterways, and many other locations. It floats on the surface of the water feeding itself, since it is an autotroph, through photosynthesis and with the nutrients of the water.


Fortunately, water hyacinth does not cause major nor fatal disease directly. However, there are several pests that use the water hyacinth as its host. It creates a prime habitat for mosquitoes that can spread malaria and provides a home for parasitic flatworm which causes schistosomiasis – snail fever (Wikipedia). The roots of the water hyacinth tangle together, creating a hive-like shape. Since this is humid and secure, it provides a nice shelter for the pests. Apparently, these pests suck the nutrients on the tangled roots. Therefore, caution should be exercised when nearing a colony of water hyacinth.


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Origin and Distribution


Water hyacinth originated in the tropics of South America, namely, the Amazon basin. With extreme invasiveness and survivability, it has naturalized numerous warm areas of the world, including as Central America, North America, Africa, India, Oceania, and most of Asia. If the water hyacinth is not controlled and maintained, it can threaten the native plants and even smother fish by blocking the surface from oxygen entering the water. With enough water, it can also survive living in ground! Its survivability is so remarkable that on one occasion, it even survived the cold winter in Washington, America. One article states:

“In 2000 a site was discovered in southeastern Washington where hyacinth had  over-wintered. However, the site consisted of small ponds that were receiving waters  from an industrial process. Company officials indicated that the water temperatures  remained warm throughout the winter” (Non-Native Freshwater Plants Water Hyacinth).


Importance to People


The water hyacinth has already spread to almost every country. Because of their extreme invasiveness and survivability, they easily take over and overwhelm the native species living in the area when they compete with them. When they form huge mats on the surface of the water, they can also disrupt the water flow and block sunlight and oxygen from entering and cycling through the water. One journal on the water hyacinth colony in the Nile states:

“Infection had also spread to many of the khors and lagoons bordering the main  rivers. Outside the Bahr el Ghazal Eichhornia occurred also as free-floating mats  throughout the infected areas. Ins some reaches north of Jabelein where the current is  slow these mats covered over 25 percent of the river surface, individual mats reaching 60  by 220 metres” (Gay, P A., and L Berry).


Consequently, fish under the hyacinth colony become asphyxiated and die due to the lack of oxygen. A U.S. journalist clearly described:


“This illegal (in the US) South American aquatic grows into a floating mattress   almost a foot thick, killing all plant and animal life beneath it. Boaters innocently give  these hitchhikers a free ride, spreading them to the next lake or bayou. With no natural  predators, it freely spreads like wildfire wherever it finds water in a favorable-to-it  climate. Surely, none of us in any country wants to be so careless that we introduce the  next aquatic plant scourge to our own part of the world (Sacher, Rich)!”


During rainy season, they can cause flooding by forming a “dam” and blocking the water flow. For these reasons, some countries have banned this plant from entering their country, and many are trying to get rid and eliminate the species once and for all.




Thankfully, scientists have researched and done experiments on the “useless” water hyacinth and found out some of their more “useful” qualities. “Since the plant has abundant nitrogen content, it can be used as a substrate for biogas production and the sludge obtained from the biogas process can then be used as compost or fertilizer” (Wikipedia). For another usage, it can be used to feed livestock, such as cattle, sheep, or chicken, after some complicated process. But most importantly, it can clean polluted water naturally and without using arduous labor and complicated methods. Astonishingly, it even detoxifies and counteracts poison and carbon monoxide in the water. Therefore, scientists and environmentalists have been using them to purify contaminated water and were successful in doing so. “E. crassipes is extremely tolerant towards, and of high capacity of uptaking heavy metals, such as Cadmium, Chromium, Nickel, Plumbum and Hydragyrum etc, which could be utilized for the biocleaning of industrial wastewater” (Ibid).


Survivability and Endangered Status


Obviously, the resilience of the water hyacinth is incredible. Accordingly, it is definitely not endangered, but it s the causes of endangerment. In a period of just two to three months, one water hyacinth can reproduce and increase to a population of 750 under favorable conditions, nonexistence of water hyacinth consumers, and no controlling system. With drastic speed, its population can explode in no time.


As mentioned earlier, some countries outlawed the raising and presence of water hyacinth in their country. They consider the water hyacinth as an invasive, alien, and worthless pest. If the law is violated, strict punishments are given. In the Philippines, not much controlling and maintaining of the water hyacinths are done. Therefore, they have covered many major parts of rivers, including the Marikina River and Pasig River that Faith students see frequently.


Perhaps because of the poor education of Filipinos, they might not be aware of the benefits are destructive qualities of water hyacinth. Some sickness might be spreading due to the water hyacinth colony, or it could provide them free supplies. Perchance they might use the merits of water hyacinth and use it as a practical resource that is abundant near their home.



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Potential Solutions


Is the effect of water hyacinth on the Pasig and Marikina River good or bad? Some countries have even banned the bringing of water hyacinth to their country. On the other hand, many other developed countries use them for phytoremediation and naturally cleaning industrially polluted water. Can this method also be used in the Philippines? Most of the bodies of water in the Philippines are severely contaminated, thus providing shelters for very few animals and insects. Because of its supreme invasiveness and survivability and the lack of competition, water hyacinths have easily conquered the waters of the Philippines. Therefore, innumerable water hyacinth can be found along the rivers of the Philippines, mainly the Pasig River and Marikina. There seem to be several promising livelihood possibilities that may be able to benefit the squatter villages living along the river banks. Perhaps, the usage of water hyacinth could provide useful and practical resources for everyone who has access to the river. Also, people could grow more water hyacinth for their needs and simultaneously clean the polluted water. Below are three possibilities with an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages for each. Along with each possibility is a current status report of progress made to date on each of the possibilities.


Possibility 1: A New Food For Animals


With the tremendous growth rate and abundance of water hyacinth, why not use them as a practical source of food? Many scientists and researchers have investigated them in-depth and found out that they could be used for feed. Some companies are already collecting enormous volume of water hyacinth that are infecting bodies of water and killing native plants. Instead of just throwing away the water hyacinth, they use it as a source of food. Using special machines, they gather mass quantity of water hyacinth and grind it. Afterward, the mixture is treated with specific chemicals and goes through different procedures to become feed. This outcome can be used to feed chickens, pigs, cows, fish, and goats.



1. Many Filipinos rear chickens, goats, and fish. Instead of buying expensive livestock feed, people could use the cheaper and abundant water hyacinth as a substitute feed. Of course, they would need to learn the specific treatment to do this, but it could significantly help them both financially and economically.

2. The people who use this feed would be getting rid of the abundant and resistant invader and also saving the fish and native plants that are oppressed by the water hyacinth.



1. People, who want to use the water hyacinth as feed, would need to learn the complicated process of how to treat the water hyacinth. This method is not publicly known, and it might be very demanding to practice this technique.


2. At the beginning of the project, people would need to buy special machines to gather large quantities of water hyacinth, thus requiring a great amount of capital.


3. Disease or pestilence from the water hyacinth might afflict nearby populace during the transportation or treatment process.


4. Animals or insects living in the same environment as the water hyacinth could be injured and threatened by the machines. They might be pushed to the tip of endangerment or be slaughtered in large quantity.



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Possibility 2: Phytoremediation Using Water Hyacinth


Many bodies of water throughout the world are severely contaminated by harmful chemicals and pollution. Apparently, it is extremely hard and very costly to purify this water. However, I found out that water hyacinth significantly purifies polluted water rapidly during my research and experiment. From the Pasig River, I filled one gallon of foul, murky water and collected about five individual water hyacinths. I left the dirty water and the water hyacinths together in a large washbasin. Meanwhile, I measured the pH and took some pictures.



After only three days, I reexamined the mixture, and the water had become significantly clearer and more transparent. The pH had changed from 4.5 to 5.5. The stinky odor completely changed to a pond-like and natural scent. In a very short period of time, the water hyacinth had affected the concoction vitally. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  *Phytoremediation = Usage of plants to naturally clean the environment






1. Instead of using laborious and expensive method to manually purify contaminated water, people could use the water hyacinth as a replacement method. Several water hyacinths could be placed in the water and just left alone without any other artificial equipment. If water hyacinths are controlled and maintained, it would help in both reducing the labor needed and make the water more environmentally friendly.


2. Raising water hyacinths in the water could provide shelters for some insects and animals to live.


3. Especially for the people living along the Marikina River and Pasig River, the usage of water hyacinth as phytoremediation could purify the dirty water flowing beside their homes. Conceivably, it would repulse the mosquitoes and dirty pests, thus lowering the rate of infection and malaria or dengue disease.



1. If the water hyacinth is not maintained, it will rapidly increase to a colony and create flooding. Too many water hyacinths will not be good for the people living nearby.


2. Water hyacinths living in the contaminated water could produce a counter result/effect. Possibly, they could mutate or cause some dirty pests to carry unknown disease.



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Possibility 3: Furnitures, Handicrafts, and Paper


Already numerous companies have grasped the method of creating furniture out of water hyacinth. Some countries even export water hyacinths! After water h yacinth fibers are collected and dried they render a yarn or rope which can be used to make baskets and furniture, mainly in the Philippines and Bangladesh (Gutman). Also, if they are mixed with jute and pressed into fiber boards, paper can be produced (Ibid).






1. If this method/procedure is announced to the public, they can use a practical resource nearby for their daily needs, occupation, or money. Since it is sustainable, it would significantly help their livelihood successively — it would create revolutionary improvements. One professionally-made chair could cost up to $1,200(C., Sarah)!


2. By reducing the quantity of the invasive water hyacinth, other native plants and animals would be less threatened by the competition.


3. Pests that live amongst the water hyacinth will probably decrease.




1. Disease or pestilences could spread during the collection of water hyacinth. It wouldn’t be safe for little children or non-professionals to freely get water hyacinth. Mosquitoes that live amongst the water hyacinth could transmit the dengue or malaria virus to “unprotected” people. People would need to take precautions and be warned about what could happen.


2. Water hyacinth floats along the nasty Pasig River and Marikina River in the Philippines. It would be risky, dangerous, and injuring to one’s health to swim and collect the water hyacinths. Also, the water is very deep and hundreds of huge janitor fish swim everywhere. It wouldn’t be safe to enter a place like this.


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