An Invasive Plant Plays a Conservation Role

Garry Hamilton, writing for Conservation Magazine:

The scene at Florida’s Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Kings Bay last October would have been familiar to anyone who has ever engaged in the battle to control the spread of invasive plants. Eager volunteers scurried about the shoreline of this manatee wintering ground, carting large plastic bins stuffed with water hyacinth, a notorious aquatic weed that’s caused headaches on five continents. Closer inspection, however, would have revealed the activity to be anything but business as usual: instead of hauling water hyacinth out of the bay, the conservationists were putting it back in—almost 4,300 gallons’ worth by day’s end...

Ultimately, project supporters hope that yesterday’s enemy could be tomorrow’s friend. They believe the hyacinths can play an important role in a conservation strategy that also includes reducing nutrient runoff and restoring spring flows. “Since these invasive plants are here and we can’t get rid of them,” says the University of Georgia’s Evans, “I think it’s counterproductive to be killing them and not taking advantage of their functions. These are important tools. We should be using them.”