The plant that is the most dominant invasive species on the planet and that could cause problems due to climate change | The USA Print

The plant that is the most dominant invasive species on the planet and that could cause problems due to climate change | The USA Print
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The fires in Hawaii left behind hundreds of deaths and desolate images in one of the most idyllic landscapes on the planet.

But they also highlighted a factor that would be behind the forest fires that, like the one in Hawaii, are replicated around the world: the presence of invasive exotic plants.

According to a recent United Nations (UN) report, these plants are part of the group of species that are related to 60% of plant and animal extinctions globally.

Specific, invasive plants amplify the effects What does climate change have? in the planet.

“The action of invasive plants often results in more intense and frequent fires, such as some of the devastating wildfires recently experienced around the world, releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” the report notes.

And among these plants there is one that predominates over the other species: the pontederia crassipesbetter known as the freshwater hyacinth.

Originally from South America -especially the Amazon region-, it is the most widespread exotic invasive terrestrial species.

“With the increase in land use for agroindustrial production, the use of exotic plants that end up becoming invasive, as we are seeing around the planet, also increases,” Professor Helen Roy, a specialist in invasive plants and member of the British Center for Ecology and Hydrology.

Roy, who led the report to the UN, points out that this particular plant has had profound effects in different regions such as Lake Victoria in Africa.

Man checks a freshwater hyacinth plantation.
Freshwater hyacinth is perfect for incubating insects that transmit serious diseases. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

“The lake, one of the main sources of food for millions of people, is running out of fish, more specifically tilapia, because the hyacinth absorbs nutrients that are essential for the animals that live there,” he explains.

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And this plant, which is also recognized for the beauty of its flower, has reached many corners where it has caused serious and diverse damage.

The Amazon jungle

The freshwater hyacinth is a plant native to the Amazon and Orinoco region, where it finds its perfect habitat in the enormous bodies of water in this area.

It is a floating plant, which has an incredible ability to reproduce and grow quickly.

Another of its characteristics is that its roots and leaves have the ability to absorb toxic substances from the water and filter its contents.

According to experts, what happened is that the explorers who traveled through the Orinoco at the end of the 19th century thought that the hyacinth could be a perfect ornamental plant for artificial fountains in their countries of origin.

This is because they are floating plants and have a striking purple flower. In this way, the species reached countries such as the United States and Japan, among others.

Machine eradicates freshwater hyacinth
In Iraq, the freshwater hyacinth was introduced as a decorative plant and great efforts are now being made to eradicate it because it has invaded important water sources for the country. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

“Something that works in favor of hyacinth for invasion work is that freshwater bodies are all very similar around the world, especially those located in the tropical zone,” Professor Anibal Pouchard, professor of forestry issues, explained to BBC Mundo. from the University of Concepción in Chile.

In addition, another factor is added: specialists learned of the ability of these plants to filter toxic elements into water and even as fertilizer, which increased their demand around the world.

What they did not take into account was the enormous invasive capacity that this plant has.

The case of Lake Victoria – located on the border of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya – is just a reflection of what has happened in dozens of countries where this invasive plant is present.

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Its effects take different forms.

“Due to its luxuriance and ability to take over the bodies of water where it lives, it does not allow the existence of other native plants, which ends up affecting the balance of the habitat it invades,” says Pouchard.

Also due to this it affects the navigability of these bodies of water.

Additionally, its ability to absorb and process toxic materials and heavy metals means it emits large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane gas once it decomposes, contributing to climate change.

But the problem does not end there, both Roy and Pouchard point out that to eliminate the hyacinth millions of resources are needed, which are often insufficient.

freshwater hyacinth plant
Freshwater hyacinth is a plant that floats in water, so it has the ability to absorb all the nutrients it contains. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

“Another problem that the hyacinth has is that its seed can last for years without germinating. So even if you manage to remove all the hyacinths, say from a lake, there is still the possibility that they will grow again, quickly and luxuriantly, some time later,” noted Roy.


The expansion of invasive plants is considered critical by scientists and environmentalists.

“It is a situation that impacts the entire society at different levels and regardless of their origin or status: they attack the center of the habitats and the supply chains that start from the countryside,” explains Roy.

The main solution is prevention in the handling of plants that are intended to be exported or imported.

“It must be taken into account that many of these plants that are now invasive were brought in to provide some benefit to people. The problem is that care was not taken about the effects they could have,” says Roy.

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For this reason, both Roy and Puchard note that prevention and control of flora and fauna at the borders is one of the most effective measures that can be implemented to prevent the arrival of invasive species.

“Not all plants that are taken from one habitat to another by humans are invasive, but we do have to know which ones can have a harmful effect on the nature of that new place,” the academic said.

According to the United Nations report, the programs that are being carried out to eradicate invasive species have worked effectively, especially when they can be isolated, if their harmful nature is detected in time.

In the specific case of the freshwater hyacinth, a series of interventions are being implemented that have managed to control its expansion.

“In the case of the hyacinth there is a biological element that is an insect (Neochetina bruchi), which looks like a beetle, which does the work of controlling the growth of these species,” Roy concluded.

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