Eichhornia crassipes
Eichhornia crassipes
(floating waterhyacinth)
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Eichhornia crassipes (Mart.) Solms

Common name: floating waterhyacinth

Synonyms and Other Names: water hyacinth, water-hyacinth, common waterhyacinth, Eichhornia speciosa Kunth, Piarpus crassipes (Mart.) Britton, Heteranthera formosa, Pontederia crassipes (Mart. and Zucc.), Eichornia crassipes (Mart. and Zucc.)

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Free-floating perennial monocot with thick, glossy leaves (12-15 cm wide) that are obovate to lanceolate.  Leaves are held above the water by bulbous, spongy inflated petioles (to 30 cm long) when plants grow in relatively open conditions.  Petioles are thinner and more vertical when growing under crowded conditions (Center and Spencer 1981; Gettys 2014; Penfound and Earle 1948).  Generally, 6-8 leaves per plant.  Rosette leaf arrangement from central growing point (monopodial) with older leaves in an increasing horizontal orientation (Center and Spencer 1981).  Roots are pendant, typically dark in color and feathery.  Showy lavender flower spikes (sometimes pale blue to white) bloom summer to early fall and are insect pollinated; individual flowers are 4-6 cm wide and have six lobes with the upper lobe enlarged and a central yellow spot surrounded by dark blue.  Pollinated flowers produce capsules containing many seeds (Barrett 1980). Multiple ramets, or daughter plants, form on an horizontal stolon from axillary buds.

Size: Up to 1 m in height.

Native Range: South America (Brazil)

US auto-generated map Legend USGS Logo
Alaska auto-generated map
Hawaii auto-generated map
Caribbean auto-generated map
Puerto Rico &
Virgin Islands
Guam auto-generated map
Guam Saipan
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: The first U.S. occurrence was documented from the Southern States Cotton Expo in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1884 (Klorer 1909; Penfound and Earle 1948). Waterhyacinth has since spread throughout the southeastern U.S., much of California, the northeastern coastal region, and up the Mississippi River into the Great Lakes region. It further spread to the islands of Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Guam.

  • Alabama – All drainages except Middle Tennessee-Hiwassee (Alabama Plant Atlas Editorial Committee 2015; Bartodziej and Ludlow 1997; Bayne 1979; Center for Environmental Studies 2015; Crouch and Golden 1997; GBIF 2013; iDigBio 2015; Kight 1988; Madsen 2010; Zolczynski and Shearer 1997).
  • Arizona – Lower Colorado (Calflora 2015; Thomas and Guertin 2007), Lower Gila-Agua Fria, Middle Gila, Salt, Santa Cruz, and Verde (Center for Environmental Studies 2015; iDigBio 2015; Thomas and Guertin 2007) drainages.
  • Arkansas – Lower Arkansas-Maumelle (Marks 2006), Robert S. Kerr Reservoir (Sabrina Hardcastle, Ebbing Air National Guard Base, pers. comm.), and Upper Ouachita (Madsen 2010) drainages, and Chicot, Clark, Jefferson, Pope (Marks 2006), and Washington (Smith 1988) Counties.
  • California – All drainages except Carson, Klamath, Mono-Owens Lakes, North Lahontan, Truckee, Upper Sacramento, and Walker (Barrett 1980; Calflora 2015; California Department of Fish and Game 2009; Center for Environmental Studies 2015; Cohen and Carlton 1995; GBIF 2013; iDigBio 2015; Johnson 1920; Regents of the University of California 2015; Toft et al. 2002)
  • Colorado – San Luis (Colorado Weed Management Association 2008), and Upper Arkansas (iDigBio 2015) drainages, and El Paso (Hartman and Nelson 2001) County
  • Connecticut – All drainages (Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station 2008; EDDMapS 2015; GBIF 2013; Gibbons 2011; iDigBio 2015)
  • Delaware – All drainages (Aquatic Resources Education Center 1995; Martin 1999)
  • Florida – All drainages (Barrett 1980; Beaton and Murphy-Hoffman 2015; Bogart 1949; Center for Environmental Studies 2015; EDDMapS 2015; Fox and Wigginton 1996; iDigBio 2015; Lynch et al. 1950; Madsen 2010; Moody 1973; Muenscher 1944; Myers and Ewel 1990; O'Keefe 1976; Perfetti 1983; Perkins 1974; Poppleton et al. 1977; Schardt 1995; Webber 1897; Wunderlin et al. 1995)
  • Georgia – All drainages except Middle Tennessee-Hiwassee (Aurand 1982; Center for Environmental Studies 2015; EDDMapS 2015; Newman and Thomaston 1979; Thomaston 1984; University of Florida Herbarium 2016).
  • Guam – Heavily developed area of the Agaga River (Steve Walsh, USGS, pers. comm.)
  • Hawaii – Hawaii, Kauai, Maui, and Oahu (GBIF 2013; iDigBio 2015; Mehrhoff 1996; Smith 1978) drainages
  • Idaho – Along the Snake River in the Upper Snake-Rock drainage (EDDMapS 2015; Tom Woolf, ID Department of Agriculture, pers. comm.)
  • Illinois – Lower Illinois (EDDMapS 2015), Lower Ohio (EDDMapS 2015; Loyola University Chicago 2013), Upper Illinois (Adam et al. 2001; Adam et al. 2004; Center for Environmental Studies 2015; EDDMapS 2015; Loyola University Chicago 2013), Upper Mississippi-Meramec (EDDMapS 2015), and Wabash (Center for Environmental Studies 2015; GBIF 2013; iDigBio 2015; Loyola University Chicago 2013) drainages
  • Indiana – Along the Ohio River in the Highland-Pigeon (Eric Fischer, IN DNR, pers. comm.; EDDMapS 2015) drainage, and in an undisclosed pond in southern Indiana (Alix and Scribailo 2010; Seng and White 2003)
  • Kansas – Lower Cottonwood (Freeman 2000; GBIF 2013; iDigBio 2015), Lower Kansas, Kansas (Center for Environmental Studies 2015; Freeman 2000; GBIF 2013; iDigBio 2015), and Middle Neosho (Jessica Howell, KS DWPT, pers. comm.) drainages
  • Kentucky – Lower Tennessee (Benji Kenman, KY Fish and Wildlife Service pers. comm.) drainage, and Jefferson (Beal and Thieret 1986; Brown and Athey 1992), Trigg (Chester et al. 1993), and Todd Counties (Chester et al. 1993).
  • Louisiana – All drainages except Lower Mississippi-Baton Rouge, Lower Mississippi-Greenville, and Lower Mississippi-Natchez (Barrett 1980; Batte 2015; Center for Environmental Studies 2015; Conner et al. 1986; GBIF 2013; Gettys 2015; Hess et al. 1989; iDigBio 2015; Klorer 1909; Lynch et al. 1950; Madsen 2010; Maurin 2016; Myers and Ewel 1990; Penfound and Earle 1948; Perfetti 1983; Thomas and Allen 1993; Valentine 1976)
  • Maryland – Fresh Pond (Angel's Bog) near Lake Shore in the Severn drainage (Bill Sipple, US EPA, pers. comm.)
  • Massachusetts – Cape Cod drainage (EDDMapS 2015; Harvard University Herbaria 2007).
  • Michigan – Saginaw, Southeastern Lake Michigan, and St. Clair-Detroit drainages (Michigan State University 2015)
  • Minnesota – Charles Perry Park wetlands in the Twin Cities drainage (EDDMapS 2015)
  • Mississippi – All drainages except Hatchie-Obion, Lower Mississippi-Baton Rouge, Lower Mississippi-Greenville, Lower Mississippi-Natchez, and Middle Tennessee-Elk (Aurand 1982; Bryson and Skojac 2011; Center for Environmental Studies 2015; EDDMapS 2015; GBIF 2013; iDigBio 2015; Jones 1974; Lowe 1921; Madsen 2010; Robles et al. 2015; Skojac et al. 2007)
  • Missouri – Gasconade (GBIF 2013; Padgett 2001), St. Francis (Yatskievych 1999), Upper Mississippi-Meramec (GBIF 2013), and Upper White (GBIF 2013) drainages
  • New Hampshire - [Old] Durham Reservoir in the Piscataqua-Salmon Falls drainage (CNH 2015).
  • New Jersey – Cohansey-Maurice, Lower Delaware (David Snyder, NJ Natural Heritage Program, pers. comm.), and Raritan (EDDMapS 2015) drainages
  • New York – Lake Ontario (iMapInvasives 2015), Lower Hudson (Mike Goehle, USFWS, pers. comm.), Middle Hudson (iMapInvasives 2015), Niagara (iMapInvasives 2015; Scott Kishbaugh, NY DEC, pers. comm.), and Southern Long Island (New York Botanical Garden 2015) drainages
  • North Carolina – Cape Fear (EDDMapS 2015; University of Florida Herbarium 2015), Lower Pee Dee, Neuse, Onslow Bay, and Pamlico drainages (Stratford Kay, North Carolina State University, pers. comm.), and Anson and Bladen Counties (Beal 1977)
  • Oregon – Lower Deschutes (GBIF 2013), Lower Rogue (Linda Hardison, Oregon Flora Project; pers. comm.), Lower Willamette (iMapInvasives 2012), and South Umpqua (Carri Pirosko, ODA, pers. comm.) drainages.
  • Puerto Rico – Cibuco-Guajataca (Missouri Botanical Garden 2015), Culebrinas-Guanajibo (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History 2015), Eastern Puerto Rico (Missouri Botanical Garden 2015; Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History 2015), and Southern Puerto Rico (EDDMapS 2015; GBIF 2013; iDigBio 2015; Missouri Botanical Garden 2015) drainages (Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong 2005; GAEI 2015; Felix Grana, PR DNER, pers. comm. 2007).
  • South Carolina – All drainages (Allen and Thomasan 2012; Aurand 1982; Center for Environmental Studies 2015; GBIF 2013; Radford et al. 1968; Radford et al. 1997; South Carolina Department of Natural Resources 2007)
  • Tennessee – Lower Mississippi-Memphis (Chester et al. 1993), Red (Madsen 2010), and Stones (EDDMapS 2015) drainages
  • Texas –  Big Cypress-Sulphur (Helton and Hartmann 1996; Johnson et al. 1991; Johnson 2008; Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015), Central Texas Coastal (Madsen 2010; Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015), Galveston Bay-Sabine Lake (Center for Environmental Studies 2015; Helton and Hartmann 1996; Sanderson 1996; Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015), Guadalupe (Center for Environmental Studies 2015; Helton and Hartmann 1996; Johnson et al. 1991; Lemke 1989; Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015), Lavaca (Helton and Hartmann 1997; Johnson et al. 1991; Madsen 2010; Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015), Little (Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015), Lower Brazos (Hannick et al. 2013; Helton and Hartmann 1996; Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015), Lower Colorado (Helton and Hartmann 1996; Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015), Lower Rio Grande (Helton and Hartmann 1996; iDigBio 2015), Lower Trinity (Barrett 1980; Brown et al. 2009; Helton and Hartmann 1996; Johnson et al. 1991; Madsen 2010; Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015), Middle Colorado-Llano (Center for Environmental Studies 2015; GBIF 2013; Helton and Hartmann 1996; iDigBio 2015; Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015), Neches (Beck and Ott 2006; Helton and Hartmann 1996; Johnson et al. 1991; Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015), Nueces (Johnson et al. 1991; Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015), Sabine (Helton and Hartmann 1996; Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015), San Antonio (Center for Environmental Studies 2015; Helton and Hartmann 1996), San Bernard Coastal (Rhandy Helton, TPWD, pers. comm.), San Jacinto (Barrett 1980; Helton and Hartmann 1996; Johnson et al. 1991; Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015), Southwestern Texas Coastal (Center for Environmental Studies 2015; GBIF 2013; Helton and Hartmann 1996; iDigBio 2015; Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015), and Upper Trinity (Center for Environmental Studies 2015; Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council 2015) drainages
  • Utah – Private garden pond in Cache County, of the Little Bear-Logan drainage (Center for Environmental Studies 2015; iDigBio 2015)
  • Virgin Islands – Catherine’s Rest (Hope) in St. Croix drainage (Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong 2005; Missouri Botanical Garden 2015)
  • Virginia – Albemarle (EDDMapS 2015), Eastern Lower Delmarva (Harvill et al. 1977), Hampton Roads (Lynn Swanson, City of Chesapeake Ag. Dept., pers. comm.), and Lynnhaven-Poquoson (Radford et al. 1968) drainages, and Spotsylvania (Fassett 1957) County
  • Washington – Lake Washington (EDDMapS 2015), Lower Columbia-Clatskanie (GBIF 2013), and Snohomish (Parsons 2005) drainages
  • West Virginia – McDonough Park in Parkersburg of the Upper Ohio-Shade drainage (Center for Environmental Studies 2015)
  • Wisconsin – Buffalo-Whitewater (EDDMapS 2015), La Crosse-Pine (Roe 2015), and Upper Rock (Susan Graham, WI DNR, pers. comm.) drainages

Ecology: Eichhornia crassipes is a fast growing, troublesome aquatic plant with global distributions in tropical and subtropical areas of the world (Center and Spencer 1981; Penfound and Earle 1948). The showy, attractive lavender flowers precipitated this worldwide distribution. 

Once introduced to a new region, the plant quickly establishes and spreads.  In the absence of sustained freeze, the plant grows as a perennial.  In its northern range, the plant grows as an annual, where it is either re-introduced or germinates from seed.  Long-term exposures (2-4 weeks) to temperatures at or near freezing are required to significantly reduce E. crassipes populations (Owens and Madsen 1995; Russell 1942). The plant has a low tolerance for saline waters.  Plants grown in water containing 3% seawater exhibited significant leaf necrosis after 28 days (Penfound and Earle 1948). 

Dense, floating mats of E. crassipes and the subsequent build-up of organic detritus in the mat create an environment that supports the growth of emergent aquatic and terrestrial species, including woody species such as Salix spp. and Cephalanthus occidentalis.  These floating islands (also referred to as tussocks, sudds, and flotants), accelerate succession and create concern for navigation and infrastructure (Penfound and Earle 1948; Russell 1942). 

Eichhornia crassipes reproduces vegetatively through the production of ramets and an abundance of seeds.  Flowers are known to be pollinated by a number of insects, most notably the introduced honey bee (Aphis mellifera L.) (Penfound and Earle 1948; S.C.H. Barrett).   Seeds remain dormant in the hydrosoil until exposed to a drying event (Penfound and Earle 1948; Gettys 2014). Eichhornia crassipes can double its population in as little as two 2 weeks, creating an enormous amount of floating biomass (Penfound and Earle 1948).  One hectare of healthy E. crassipes can weigh as much as 415 metric tons (Schardt 1997).

Means of Introduction: Sold as an ornamental for fish ponds; sometimes escapes or is intentionally introduced into larger water bodies such as lakes and reservoirs. 

Status: Populations in the southeastern (North Carolina to Texas) and southwestern (California and Arizona) US remain established (including Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands), while those in northern states (Washington to Colorado to New York) likely do not overwinter.

Impact of Introduction: Since its introduction, E. crassipes has notoriously interfered with navigation, triggering the 55th Congress, through the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, to authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address the problem (Schardt 1997) after commercial commerce was impeded by E. crassipes on the St. Johns River (Webber 1897).  In one instance, 65 feet of a railroad trussel across Rice Creek near Palatka, FL was destroyed in 1894 by build-up of waterhyacinth.

Eichhornia crassipes can develop into dense floating mats of substantial biomass, intertwined with stoloniferous offshoots, and often associated with the growth of opportunistic emergent macrophytes, resulting in this introduced plant being labeled one of the “world’s worst weeds” (Holm et al. 1997; Lowe et al. 2000).  The free-floating nature of the plant only exacerbates its problematic standing because the populations can move with water flow and wind. Recreational use of waters infested with this plant are greatly reduced. Eichhornia crassipes can also impede drainage, creating backwater flooding conditions.

Water quality and wildlife habitat can be greatly affected, reducing dissolved oxygen levels under mats by an order of magnitude and covering the water surface with an impenetrable barrier (Penfound and Earle 1948).  These dense surface mats shade out desirable submersed aquatic plants and create a safe breeding environment for mosquitoes (Savage et al. 1990).

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Author: Pfingsten, I.A., D.D. Thayer, C.C. Jacono, M.M. Richerson, and V. Howard

Revision Date: 2/29/2016

Peer Review Date: 2/25/2016

Citation Information:
Pfingsten, I.A., D.D. Thayer, C.C. Jacono, M.M. Richerson, and V. Howard, 2018, Eichhornia crassipes (Mart.) Solms: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=1130, Revision Date: 2/29/2016, Peer Review Date: 2/25/2016, Access Date: 3/21/2018

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2018]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [3/21/2018].

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