My knowledge of water hyacinths dates back to my childhood years when I was in elementary school. I remember having to bring a water hyacinth plant for science class for reasons I actually don’t recall. What I can recall however is how much I loved touching the leaf because of its oh-so-smooth texture (as a kid, I had a really serious penchant for soft and smooth things).
If you’re wondering how I ended up getting one, I just remember my dad bringing the plant home to me, though I'm pretty sure he might have asked someone else to snatch it for him. My childhood home is located close to a river where groups of these plants conspicuously drift along the water; so I guess, as far as finding the nearest water hyacinth habitat goes, it was pretty easy for me.
A brief background
Let’s jump back to present time. Having done my research about the plant that I normally associate with a random childhood memory, it served as a major wake-up call; I never imagined that this harmless-looking flora is actually one that threatens ecosystems and communities in different parts of the world.
Here's the basic thing you need to know: a water hyacinth is an aquatic plant native to South America and is known for its ability to proliferate rapidly. Because of this, water hyacinths can easily form a massive blanket over lakes and other bodies of water in a short amount of time.
An article called Seven Things You Didn’t Know About Water Hyacinth mentions that water hyacinth infestation causes significant changes in the ecological makeup of lakes. Wait -- what?
To cut the long-winded story short, here’s a chart that shows you pretty much how the chain of events happen.
The same article also mentions that in over 50 countries worldwide, a water hyacinth is considered an invasive weed, a situation which can further worsen through climate change.
Water hyacinths and flooding
My beloved homeland, the Philippines, is also no stranger to water hyacinth infestations. In fact, it’s one of the leading causes of flash floods in different parts of the country due to the plant’s tendency to block the flow of rivers.
Let me give you an example: in 2011, water hyacinths that swarmed rivers in Maguindanao, Philippines led to a disastrous flood that submerged homes and destroyed agricultural lands in the area (from Philstar). The Pasig River in Manila also used to be a breeding ground for these plants, having aggravated the flooding situation further in the city.
Taking up the challenge
So what is being done to fight the water hyacinth crisis in the Philippines? Filipino social enterprise Jacinto & Lirio offers a pretty cool solution. The brand’s goal is to turn something disruptive into something desirable; in this case, they create handmade products like planners, journals, wallets and other cool stuff out of water hyacinths that have been dried and then “leatherized”.
Aside from their mission to combat water hyacinth infestations, they are also actively working with riverside communities often impacted by this growing problem hence giving them a sustainable income and livelihood.
The Lily PH, another brand I’ve partnered with, is also doing its part in keeping these water hyacinths at bay. Their handcrafted bags are primarily made of dried water hyacinths and woven by local craftspeople. I guess the more we utilize water hyacinths to create something new, the more likely its "supermultiplication" can be halted.
To end this super long post (Sorry! But thanks for making it this far), building a business around the water hyacinth problem may be the best solution there is to battling its invasive nature. No matter how threatening this plant can be, one thing’s for sure: you can bank on creativity and resourcefulness to produce results that will benefit both the people plagued by this crisis and the planet they inhabit.