Pretty flowers and lush green leaves sound like something you might want in your backyard, but water hyacinths can take over an entire body of water in a very short time.
The aquatic weed kills other plants and depletes the water of oxygen.
A blanket of water hyacinth sits like a green carpet over a southwest Cape Coral canal.
“You could see the birds walking across it just using it using it like it was a floor,” said Cape Coral residents Elsa Rodriguez-Foy and Isabelle Foy.
The mother and daughter have watched the plants get removed over the last two weeks. “Well, they are pretty. I think all plants are pretty. It’s just that they become a problem.”
“We’ve had a couple of people come over here say it’s such a pretty plant and want to take it with them,” said Jason Cull, the operations manager at Lee County Hyacinth Control District.
It almost looks like a lily pad, but Cull says you shouldn’t mess with these. “It’s actually a federal crime to remove this plant. You need a permit to remove this plant. So let us take it out. Let us get rid of it. That way, it doesn’t spread into all their systems.”
One of the most invasive plants in the country, it’s loathed for its ability to reproduce so quickly.
“Once it starts growing, [you] can’t stop it. It doubles every couple of weeks. So once it gets into an established system, it chokes everything else out. You have no more recreation on them or navigation, and actually, no more native plants grown in here,” Cull said.
The plants eat up all the oxygen in the water choking out the fish
“I used to see them jump. And I will hear the fish jumping. And after that whole area was covered. There wasn’t any more jumping going on,” said the Foys.
The pretty plants give life to one of the peskiest of bugs. “It does breed mosquitoes, so water lettuce and water hyacinth are one of the top readers for mansonia mosquitoes. And those are those mosquitoes that come out right in the evening time and bite you. So by getting rid of this water plant, we’re also getting rid of mosquitoes,” said Cull.
Getting rid of the plant requires a monumental effort. “With the help of the city of cape coral, their crane out there, it’s been able to scoop quite a bit of it out, too,” Cull said.
Quite a bit is an understatement when 20 to 30 tons worth of hyacinth has been removed.
Lee County Hyacinth Control District has been removing the plants since the 1960s. Once removed, they are taken to a horticulture waste facility.