Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Florida History: South Florida's war against America's most deadly flower

Courtesy of Wikipedia

By Jane Feehan

Once called “America’s most deadly flower,” the water lily or water hyacinth was introduced to Florida before 1900.  

According to some, the Japanese government imported the plants from Venezuela to give away as favors at the International Cotton Exposition in New Orleans in 1884.  Also known as Eichhorinia crassipies, it bears an attractive lavender flower. One plant was taken by a “Mrs. Fuller” to her home on the St. John’s River in North Florida. She placed it in her pond where it took over (one plant can generate 3,000 in 50 days). In clearing the growth, Fuller threw  plants into the St. John’s River. A couple of years later, a farmer brought them from the St. John’s to his farm near the Kissimmee River to feed his cattle; mostly water, the plants were abandoned as a source of nutrition. Within a few years, this free-floating plant that can grow up to three feet in height was choking waterways of South Florida.
Miami News, Aug. 11, 1954. p. 8

In some places hyacinth covered water so thickly people could walk across canals on them.  The attractive plant accelerates evaporation and depletes water of nutrients for wildlifeOver the years, millions of dollars and a number of solutions have been employed to get rid of the nuisance: underwater mowing, feeding them to manatees, fire, explosives, arsenic and finally, chemicals. Water hyacinth have not disappeared but are now under control in South Florida. The plant has also caused problems in  Louisiana, Egypt, the Congo, the Lake Victoria region of Kenya, Australia and Asia.
1. McIver, Stuart. Glimpses of South Florida History. Miami: Florida Flair Books, 1988.

Tags: South Florida waterways, invasive species of South Florida, Fort Lauderdale, manatees

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