Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Water hyacinth

Click on image to enlarge.

This image of water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) in Olavipe Lake is from a photo by our local photographer Chackochen. It looks so beautiful. The flowers of water hyacinth are very delicate and, therefore, cannot be used for decorative purposes unless the whole plant is placed in a bowl of water. Once cut, the bloom withers fast. The oval shaped leaves are thick and sturdy.

Water hyacinth is basically a freshwater plant. In the Olavipe Lake they slowly die out when saline intrusion from the Arabian Sea begins by the end of November. The seeds fall to the bottom of the lake to sprout again when the monsoons that start in July neutralize the salinity.

Initially I wanted to title this post ‘A bouquet for the gods’ but changed my mind after looking up the plant on the Internet. In many places where it grows, water hyacinth is considered to be nuisance plant. If uncontrolled, it chokes up waterways, provide a growing field for mosquitoes and screens off sunlight that is required by underwater plants. Fishes are affected as well.

But water hyacinth could still be nature's gift to man. It has good water filtering capability, which could be advantageously used in sewage treatment. Good quality cattle feed can be produced from water hyacinth. Dried plant is used for packaging. It is good compost material and could also be a source for renewable energy. New research is bringing out many more benefits of water hyacinth.

In my area, and in some other places in Kerala, there is an exciting new development regarding water hyacinth – handicraft that can provide meaningful employment, particularly for women. Dried water hyacinth plant is woven into mats, bags and boxes that are visually attractive and durable. These are ideal for packaging high value products like jewelry, perfumes and gift articles.

Water hyacinth is certainly a plant with great potential.

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