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Aquatic weeds are great ornamentals
Published on: Sunday, March 08, 2020
By: Eskay Ong
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WEEDS may be weeds, and they are defined as such for growing in places where not wanted. It is a definition crafted by humans to suit their needs. Similarly, many consumer items end up in places where they too, like weeds, are not wanted as many of the items are simply bought without any thought or singular focus on its use or suitability.  They soon begin to clutter corridors, store rooms, office space, etc. in the same way that weed growth and proliferation can clutter gardens and walkways.  

Interestingly, it is not just with plants, weeds and things, but oftentimes, one hears even of human trash, meaning to say that there are some categories of people who, just like weeds, should not be there but are worming around in deep wormholes in an atmosphere of little or zero welcome.

And so it is with any typical cultivation environment where trash would be rejected and weeds wiped out.  Such a scenario easily forgets the fact that a plant may be a weed in a certain location but a jewel in another in the same way humans may be of low value in one place but highly treasured in another, depending on his or her integrity, capability and output.  If weeds are assigned an economic or practical value that is worthy of the stuff, they would not be weeds anymore, but it works only in locations that have the know-how to value-add and benefit from such plants.

In Sabah, wayside plants and weeds may be plentiful and free, including those that thrive in the aquatic environment. The latter group is by no means small, for in fact, the number of aquatic plant varieties is huge but to the laymen, the plants that dwell in the water world is considered to be small, all because so little of it is being seen.    Most of the time, the plants are either hidden completely submerged under water, or they may be the partially submerged types which put on an occasional display of foliage and flower only during certain times of the year.

However, there is another group of aquatic plants that is completely free floating and without having to be hidden.  Such plants can survive beautifully and multiply quickly despite being totally detached from any form of substrate or support, and they can carry out their life processes afloat on the surface of the water.  At most, only the bases of the leaf stalks and stems, as well as the large tufts of roots are under water.  The other parts of the plant usually stay on the surface without much problem.

Floating aquatic plants are wonderful creations of nature. No doubt they are often viewed negatively as they can create a lot of drainage problem for the authorities through their propensity to procreate in great numbers within short periods of time, but the blame should not be put squarely on the plants.

It has been found that the multiplication rate is much faster in waters that are rich in nutritional elements caused by runoffs as a result of fertiliser or organic manure applications in surrounding lands.  This proves that aquatic plants are truly innocent and lovely plants whose beautiful and alluring flowers are perpetually in wait mode for the handsome prince to come and sweep them off their feet before riding off into the sunset.

Aquatic plants look good

Aquatic plants, particularly the floating types, create a great picture of serenity and exquisite beauty in any garden pool, provided the number is kept down to an easily-managed level. In many clogged-up lakes, lagoons, ponds, or slow moving or near-stagnant streams, huge stretches of such floating greenery may be seen as far as one’s eyes can focus, and when it is blooming season, the colour can be so striking and stunning that every young and old would surely need to take a selfie or two with such a gorgeous picture as background.

There are many varieties available for the garden pool or ponds, or even for use in large aquariums, but certainly a species that is often considered to be wonderful, weedy, wild and wayside, is the common Water Hyacinth.  

Known botanically as Eichhornia crassipes, the water hyacinth is a floating hydrophyte that thrives well both in deep and shallow pools in the tropics. The plant is free-floating in the sense that it does not need to be secured to any solid or semi-solid substrate or soil for support as it can sustain itself just by living off the water environment.

Nevertheless, water hyacinths also do partake of some good moments as it enjoys the occasional availability of mud or even firm, clayey medium, especially in areas where the water is extremely low to the extent that mud is exposed.  This happens often in areas where there are shallow pools of water or where there are submerged or partially submerged mud-flats.

As a flowering hydrophyte of South America, the water hyacinth must not be confused with the equally beautiful and attractive Hyacinthus of Europe and the cold countries. There is a certain degree of similarity between the two plants, which is more pronounced if tall flower stalks of the former are obtained from larger plants.  

Unfortunately, Hyacinthus cost a big bundle whereas our locally available innocent and sweet water hyacinth is free for the taking. On the other hand, there are cases where clearing work at great expense is given out to contractors to remove vast stretches of the plant from clogging up drains, ponds and irrigation channels. That aquatic plants can choke up drains is not a surprising sight whenever the local authorities begin to take unauthorised snoozes.

Benefits of water hyacinth

Granted that there are negative views about the humble water hyacinth, and there may also be some conflict of interest when it comes to sharing of resources but the plant is not all that bad and evil.

In fact, there are benefits to be gouged from it once the plant is better understood. One of the most interesting aspects is that of its root system. It opens out like an umbrella underwater and this conveniently provides a nesting site for many varieties of fishes. Unfortunately, if uncontrolled growth and expansion is allowed, it could smother the entire water body with a massive plant cover which may thus blot out any light and reduce the oxygen level for the sustenance of aquatic life underwater.

Another fact points to its beneficial use as an extractor of certain elements such as heavy metals from pools of water.  In this respect, there is much potential in its use as a biological filter system to remove polluting or toxic elements from masses of water. These elements can then be separated and removed from the organic matter for use elsewhere. There are industries that cater to such processes whereby jobless youths are given proper employment and good pay in such fields.

Where mountains of non-toxic water hyacinths have been scooped up, they can be dried, layered or packed into rolls and then applied as mulch materials or as matting for the protection of slopes or other unprotected soil surfaces against runoffs and erosion.  Besides, it lowers the temperature of the soil surface while maintaining soil moisture levels that encourage the proliferation of other organisms. When they decompose over time, they actually contribute towards the enrichment of the soil on which they sit. This is a win-win situation for all.

Ingenious and hardworking folks sometimes use water hyacinths to create handicraft items such as bags, stools, car neck rests, cushion pieces and pillows, among others. The plant is first cleaned and thoroughly dried while compacting and flattening it. They may be folded, stringed or formed into ropes for light-use handicraft items.  As a loosened mass, they may be stuffed into cloth bags to form cushions or toys, or else they may be rough-knitted or knotted to form panels to fit designs on walls, etc.  

To add colour or shine, they may be spray-painted or simply varnished over for a plain glossy appearance. These should lead to more gawking and ogling by visitors, together with the loosening of purse strings. Instead of yak-yakking, the authorities, especially those related to tourism and industry, should encourage the creative use of an abundant and easily available resource which is certain to lead to reduced youth unemployment and a parallel increase in family income.  From these ideas, hopefully, the bucks may start to roll all the way into the bank account.

Water hyacinths also produce good cut flowers although they seldom last a week or two.  Normally the taller plants of up to a metre tall should yield flower trusses with long erect stalks, each measuring from 30-40cm in height. Tall stalks usually carry more flowers than the shorter ones and as such, they make more outstanding cut flowers. 

Each cut should be made obliquely and at the base of the leaf stalks together with the stalk that holds the flowers. A long stalk with numerous individual flowers on it is always a sight to behold.

Flowers of the water hyacinth often appear to be very soft and delicate, and they are coloured lavender blue to light purple.  A unique feature of the flowers is that there is a sole golden yellow eye on one petal of each flower, and there can be no second golden eye on any one flower in any localised plant population, unless it is a mutant.  

In water hyacinths, it is characteristic of the plant to produce round leaves with stalks that swell like a bulging bulb at or around the middle of the base of the stalks, which is the equivalent of the human waist.  These swellings are good for the plant, but if humans have too big a bloated waist, then it will not be so good la.  

Bloated waists at leaf stalks contain tissues that are filled with air spaces which is the mechanism that floats the entire swathe of plants. Therefore, no matter how the bulb is cut up, it can still stay afloat.  

Apparently, this biomechanism has been used since thousands of years ago to build ships that can still stay buoyant even with a hole here and there by virtue of its multiple in-build watertight compartments.

The above writer may be reached at: [email protected]


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December 20, 2014