Water Hyacinth Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Water Hyacinth Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Eichhornia crassipes, otherwise known as Water hyacinth is a popular floating plant used for beautifying freshwater ponds and large aquariums.

Water hyacinth is a large, lush green plant noted for its rapid growth, prolificacy, durability, and adaptability to a wide range of conditions. The plant has incredible water clarification qualities and its thick mats and roots offer great comfort to shrimp and fish fry.

Keep reading for more information on this prolific species, including how to plant and care for it.

Important: Water hyacinth is listed among the 100 worst invasive plants in the world, it was ranked as the 11th worst invasive species in Europe.

Due to its rapid spread, ecological adaptability, and negative impacts it causes on the environment, Eichhornia crassipes are illegal in Europe, Australia, and in various U.S. states including Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, etc.

So, make sure it is not banned in your state and you do not buy or sell it illegally.

Quick Notes about Water Hyacinth

Common Name Water hyacinth
Scientific Name Eichhornia crassipes
Tank Size (minimum) at least 90 gallons (~360 liters)
Difficulty Easy 
Lighting Moderate to high 
Optimal pH 6.0 – 8.0
Water hardness Soft to hard water (4 – 20)
Ideal Temperature 25 – 30 °C (77 – 86 °F)
Temperature tolerance 10 – 40 °C (50 – 104 °F)
Substrate Any 
Can float:
Yes
Can Be Grown Emersed:
Yes
Growth Rate Extremely fast
Fertilizer
Recommended
CO2 Not needed 
Propagation Through seed and vegetatively by producing runners or stolons

Origin of Water Hyacinth

Water Hyacinth Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation invasiveWater hyacinth is a free-floating, perennial hydrophyte native to South America. This aquatic plant belongs to the flowering plant family Pontederiaceae and genus Eichhornia — of which all member species are called water hyacinths.

Eichhornia crassipes is known as an invasive species and noxious weed outside its native range, thus capable of covering water bodies and blocking waterways. Additionally, the plant grows and reproduces rapidly, making it easy for its populations to outcompete native species for nutrition, space, sunlight, and other resources.

This species was introduced to North America (United States) in 1884 as an ornamental aquatic plant, and since then the plant has naturalized in many countries of the world like Japan, China, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Vietnam, Australia, Fiji, Argentina, Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Ethiopia, Rwanda, South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Kenya.

Interesting fact: Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) was described scientifically in 1823. The genus name honors the Prussian minister Johann Albert Friedrich Eichhorn (1779-1856).

This plant came to Europe in 1880 where it started its campaign of conquering the worldwide tropics. For example, when a Thai princess saw this plant in 1907, she was fascinated with the beauty of its flowers. So, she decided to propagate one plant for the pond of her palace. Within 4 years, the plant spread out and became a natural plague forcing the Thai government to prohibit the propagation of Eichhornia crassipes.

Habitat of Water Hyacinth

Water hyacinth is native to South America, in the Amazon River basin and it grows luxuriantly in ponds, rivers, paddy fields, and lakes.

This freshwater plant species is widespread in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, including North and South America, Australia, and many countries in Asia and Africa.

Description of Water Hyacinth

Eichhornia crassipes is a free-floating, perennial aquatic plant with bright green coloration.

The plant varies in size with heights ranging from a few inches to over three feet tall (up to 1 meter) with an average height of about 14 – 16 inches (40 – 60 cm).

It possesses thick glossy green, broad, ovate leaves, in addition to long, highly branched, feathery black/brown roots.

Leaves of this aquatic plant measure roughly 4 – 8 inches (10 – 20 cm), attached to petioles, and each petiole has an inflated or bulbous structure that enables it to float on the water surface. The leaves also have a leathery or waterproof texture which helps protect them from the effects of water splashing.

Also present is a cluster of beautiful, six-petaled lavender or violet flowers with a yellow streak that grows well above the foliage. The flowers, numbering 8 – 15, are borne in a single spike inflorescence, and they form in the summer months. Each flower can range from 2 – 3 inches in diameter (about 4 – 7 cm).

Interesting fact: Water hyacinth has high tolerance in extreme environmental conditions. Outside the aquarium hobby, this species is utilized for phytoremediation/ treatment of polluted water, medication, livestock feeding, composting/mulching and in Asia, Water hyacinth is consumed as an edible green vegetable.

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Water hyacinth is known to adapt to a wide variety of environmental conditions and even grows well in sewage water. It can even tolerate salinity levels up to 5ppt.

Tank size:

Because of its size and growth rate, Water hyacinth should be grown either in very large aquariums (at least 90 gallons or 360 liters) or in summer tubbing.

The species is ideal for tropical setups.

If you decide to keep it in aquariums, you need to have plenty of space between the water surface and the lid.

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Temperature: Water hyacinth is a very hardy plant; it can tolerate a wide range of temperatures (from 10 to 40 °C or 50 – 104 °F). However, the ideal temperature for this species is between 25 – 30 °C (77 – 86 °F).

pH: pH level between 6.0 – 8.0 is considered optimal for growing Water hyacinth.

Hardness: Maintain water hardness values of 4 – 20 GH for best growth.

Lighting:

This species needs a great deal of lighting to thrive in your tank.

Naturally, Water hyacinth is a pond plant — it grows under full, direct sunlight in ponds and other water bodies. So you shouldn’t fail to provide intense lighting in your enclosure.

To this end, be sure to supply high lighting for your Water hyacinth using high-quality LED lights or T5/T8 bulbs and keep the lights on for a minimum of 8 hours and a maximum of 12 hours on a daily basis.

Read more about it in my article “Advanced Guide to Planted Tank Lighting”.

Substrate:

Water hyacinth has no special substrate requirements as it is a floating plant.

CO2 and Fertilization:

CO2: CO2 supplementation contributes to the overall growth and health of aquarium plants, but in this case, it is not mandatory as the species can thrive with or without it. As a floater, Water hyacinth will not require additional CO2 dosing as it gets enough from the air.

Fertilizers: On the other hand, fertilizers are strongly required while growing Water hyacinth in an aquarium setting to provide the essential macronutrients and micronutrients needed by the plant for optimal health, growth, and development.

Thus, be sure to regularly dose liquid plant fertilizers in the aquarium water to keep the plant in the best condition.

Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank with Water hyacinth, I would highly recommend reading my articles:

The point is that a high level of CO2 and Copper (most fertilizers contain copper) is extremely dangerous to the shrimp.

Care and Maintenance of Water Hyacinth

Water hyacinth is fairly easy to grow and maintain, and the main care activity involved is pruning in order to effectively control its growth.

The rapid growth habit of this species is a huge problem as the plant can double its population within a week.

Interesting fact: Water hyacinth is known as one of the fastest-growing plants. Conditions permitting, a single plant may cover a water surface of 140 hm2 with a fresh weight of 28 000 t per year!

When there is an abundance of nutrients and lighting, the plant’s growth will explode and it will only be a matter of time until it overruns the tank and blocks light penetration. Hence it’s important to prune the shoots regularly.

This activity can be done weekly or bi-weekly depending on the growth rate over time. While you’re at it, snip the decayed leaves and collect them alongside the clipped shoots in nylon bags for disposal, do not dump inside waterways.

Another necessary care activity is the application of liquid plant fertilizers in the tank water to encourage the growth of new shoots, roots, and formation of runners and daughter plants.

Dosing liquid fertilizers e.g. Seachem Flourish and Flourish Excel in the aquarium increases the amount of nutrients in the water, and this promotes healthy growth and boosts the plant’s coloration.

Finally, make sure to change the tank water regularly. Every week, replace about 25% of the tank water with clean, dechlorinated water, and that will help maintain good water quality in the aquarium.

Planting and Propagation of Water Hyacinth

The appropriate way to grow Water hyacinth in a freshwater aquarium is to float the plant entirely on the water surface.

Of course, this should be done after cutting off the discolored/dead leaves and pruning some parts of the existing root; that facilitates the growth of new shoots and roots when the plants are established.

Next, simply place the specimens on the water surface, making sure that they cover only one-third of the surface to avoid overcrowding, decreased gas exchange and light penetration when the plants start to grow and multiply rapidly.

More importantly, ensure the water is nutrient-rich, then provide intense lighting and little water movements or the plants will not thrive.

The plant propagates vegetatively in the aquarium by producing runners or stolons, which grow horizontally and bear numerous daughter plants. Whereas in its natural habitat, this species propagates through seed production.

If left unchecked, Water hyacinth will overrun the tank in record time by forming plenty of thick mats on the surface of the water, so do well to prune the plants regularly to avert such occurrence.

Problems Associated with Water Hyacinth

Overgrowth: The major problem associated with Eichhornia crassipes is its explosive growth, some may not consider this a problem but it really is.

Water hyacinth is a fast-growing plant and being a floater — it can cover the water surface within a short period. Therefore, it is capable of dwindling light penetration, reducing the exchange of gases, and causing massive oxygen depletion all at the same time.

Solution: The only way to prevent the resulting effects is to check the overgrowth by pruning the shoots when the population is becoming too much. Regular pruning is certain to stop the plant from overcrowding the surface of the water.

Discoloration: Another identified problem is discoloration of the leaves and this is often an indication of iron deficiency.  

Solution: You can prevent this by dosing chelated iron directly into the aquarium water. In the same vein, be sure to dose other essential nutrients to encourage the healthy/lush growth of this species in your aquarium.

Specific requirements: Lastly, the plant will grow and propagate slowly in poor lighting conditions and cold temperatures.

Solution: Thus, make sure to grow Water hyacinth in tropical aquariums with temperatures 25 °C – 30 °C, in addition, provide high lighting and maintain an ideal photoperiod of 10 hours for favorable growth outcomes.

Benefits of Water Hyacinth

Removal of excess nutrients:  Water hyacinth is excellent at soaking up excess nutrients as well as heavy metals from the water and the network of roots acts as a refuge, hiding place, and foraging ground for fish fry and shrimp.

According to the study, this plant can even remove low concentrations of copper.

Algae control: Water hyacinth helps to effectively reduce the growth of algae. It sucks all the nutrients up real fast. Basically, it outcompetes algae, therefore, diminishes the number of algae cells in the water column.

Hiding place: This plant has very long roots that can serve as cover and shade for invertebrates and small fish. Water hyacinth is a perfect hiding place for shrimp and fish.

Foraging place: Acts as a buffet of biofilm, which is an ideal first food for newly hatched fry and shrimplets.

Water Hyacinth and Compatible Tankmates

The great thing about Water hyacinth is that it is compatible with almost every aquarium fish or invert:

Plant eater fish:

Species like Goldfish, Silver dollars, Oscars, Jack Dempsey, Koi fish, Buenos Aires Tetra do like to nibble on this plant or its roots. However, in most cases, it is not a problem. On the contrary, it may be even desirable as Water hyacinth can reproduce and spread very fast!

You can also read my article “Fish Causing Problems in Planted Tanks”.

Buying Water Hyacinth

Water hyacinth can be purchased from local nurseries, gardens, and online stores, and the average cost per bunch is between $5 – $10.

To increase your chances of success with this species, make sure to obtain healthy specimens with lush green leaves and abundant roots. Stay clear of specimens with discolored or ripped leaves, damaged stalks, and roots.

Quarantine Water Hyacinth

Unless you are completely sure that the plant is safe, for example, it was grown in sterile/laboratory conditions (in vitro) and in vitro pot is not damaged or opened, do not forget to quarantine and disinfect Water hyacinth to avoid the risk of contamination.

  • The plant can have parasites, and hitchhikers like pest snails, or even predators (dragonfly, damsefly nymphs, etc.).
  • It could also be treated with chemicals (pesticide) to remove parasites, snails, etc. However, these chemicals are extremely poisonous to fish, shrimp, and other invertebrates.

To find out more, read my articles:  

How to Remove Snails from a Shrimp Tank.
How to Quarantine and Disinfect Aquarium Plants.
Pesticides in Shrimp Tanks. Plants Quarantine.

In Conclusion

Water hyacinth is an amazing plant species that is ideal for adorning freshwater ponds, large aquariums, and paludariums.

This species is fairly larger than a lot of other floating plants, and that makes it a great option for providing shade and cover for reclusive animals in an enclosure. While the roots also serve as a feeding station and shelter for fish fry and shrimp.

Moreover, Water hyacinth has excellent water clarification and denitrification properties, so it will surely aid in keeping your aquarium or pond water clean and clear — by absorbing and using up nitrates, phosphate, and heavy metals through its extensive root system.

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