Despite its beauty when in bloom, the water hyacinth is considered a weed pest in Florida and along the Gulf Coast because it is so hard to control and even worse to eradicate.In some areas, in fact, it even makes water-ways unnavigable.
The water hyacinth has floating leaves with an inflated stalk and spongy air chambers. Flowers arise in a terminal cluster on a fleshy stalk well above the water.
Despite its bad habits, the water hyacinth makes a beautiful aquatic plant when grown in shallow pools or even in tubs of water.
The United States officially declared war on the plant in 1899 and has since fought it with dynamite, chemicals, flame throwers, and numerous cutting devices. Despite the attack, the plant won the battle, as it has persisted and spread all over the North American Continent.
Today it thrives in major rivers despite the efforts of the Army Corps of Engineers to launch bigger and better attacks.
What are its good points? Natural food scientists see it as containing many sources of nutrients. When dried and free of moisture, it holds I percent nitrogen and 4 percent potash. Leaves and stems can be eaten, cooked, or steamed as a palatable green vegetable.
A Filipino scientist and inventor, G. G. Monsod, has experimented with the plant as a source for animal food, human supplements, clothing, paper, panel boards, and other products.
The stems of the water hyacinth are particularly good for paper pulp, since they are not readily damaged by the chemicals. The stems are air-dried for no more than 72 hours until they begin to decompose. Then they can be more easily separated from the plant fluids and pulpy materials. The stems are shredded, mixed with water, and a pulping chemical in a solution of sodium hydroxide.
The fully digested material, or pulped product, is drained of the chemicals and washed with water. Then the cleaned pulp can be converted directly to paper or paperboard, or it can even be bleached for a higher-quality paper.
The waste resulting from the defibering of the stems can be used in making multilayer particle board.
Thus the plant, which is obnoxious in rivers and waterways, has untold possibilities as a commercial product. Nowadays, when materials in the fiber field are so costly, this simple plant may be the answer to many an enterprising individual.
Who knows what the real value will be in marketing the products of this misunderstood plant?