Water Hyacinth sales will return to the UK

The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association has confirmed that Water Hyacinth will be allowed to be sold again after DEFRA banned it for an being invasive species. A floating plant native to tropical South America, Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes, is a popular pond plant because of its bulblike floating leaves and hyacinth-like flower that give it its name. It has become established in other tropical regions around the globe however, wreaking havoc in lakes and waterways, shading out native plant species, and changing the habitat for endemic fish species that are ill-equipped to deal with it. If a country is hot year-round, Water hyacinth and water lettuce can be a real problem, and may never be eradicated now that they are established there. But in that statement also lies the plant’s limitations – temperature.

Eichhornia crassipes is a true hothouse flower, being native to the hot and humid regions of Brazil. It needs warm water to put its roots into, warm air for the leaves and flowers, and constant, unbroken tropical sunshine year round. Meaning it hasn’t got a hope in hell of surviving outside in the UK. The original ban was a hangover from our previous EU membership when one rule applied to all member states. Water hyacinth could in theory survive and be a threat to hot countries like Spain and Italy so was listed as a species of special concern. Now that we’ve left the EU, and thanks to lobbying from OATA, DEFRA has delisted them as a species of special concern for the UK.

A choked-up waterway in the Philippines. Water Hyacinth is a real problem in some parts of the world, but not the UK.

For those of us who have both kept and sold water hyacinth in the UK, we know it won’t survive outside past one or two of the hottest summer months and even then it can get wind burned and prefers the added heat, humidity, and shelter given by a polytunnel. As a year-round UK pond plant it is a waste of time, although we get its short-term ‘cut flower’ ornamental appeal, its monetary value to the water gardening industry, and recommend its use as an indoor aquatic plant for all those open topped biotopes and aquascapes as well as the emerging paludarium and aqua terrarium markets. But don’t pop those champagne corks just yet water gardening retailers as here comes the bad news. 

OATA cannot confirm exactly when Water Hyacinth will once again become legal and only says that it won’t be in time for this pond season (2023,) and that it won’t be for some time. We pressed OATA on if they think that the floater will be back by pond season 2024, but they can’t confirm that either. So the roller coaster ride of pond plants continues. Don’t set aside a place for Water Hyacinth just yet and don’t even tell people that they will be available soon. Because it might be years… 

Sadly, we still can’t expect to see Water Hyacinth on sale in the Uk anytime soon.

Jeremy Gay

Author of three fishkeeping books and lifelong fishkeeper. Experience includes editor of Practical Fishkeeping magazine, editor of Pet Product Marketing magazine, multi award- winning livestock manager and aquatic store manager.