On the lakes near Dalrymple Drive, it’s easy to spot the mysterious aquatic plant that seems to have taken over Lake Crest since the spring. These water hyacinths, while visibly attractive, are an invasive species that has University officials and Baton Rouge residents worried.
Water hyacinths were first introduced from South America at the New Orleans Cotton Exposition in 1903. Although it’s considered one of the best-selling plants for aquatic gardens, the hyacinth can have detrimental effects on aquatic life. The plant clusters block out sunlight, which has negative impacts on phytoplankton
in the water that release oxygen for larger fish.
Allen Rutherford, director of the School of Renewable Resources, said the water hyacinths can double in size every six days, making
them almost impossible to eradicate.
“It’s a complex biological and ecological problem,” Rutherford said. “They can grow so fast that if you leave just a smidgen, you’re right back where you started in just a couple weeks.”
Normally the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries sprays the lakes to prevent invasive species growth. However, they were unable to spray this year, and with the previous winter’s mild weather, Lake Crest has become a breeding ground for the water hyacinths.
One community organization, The University Lakes Improvement and Preservation Association, has been holding impromptu work days where volunteers manually remove the hyacinths close to the shore with rakes and shovels.
TULIPA president Parry “Matt” Thomas said while it might not be much, Baton Rouge residents are anxious to get rid of the hyacinths by any means necessary.
“When we saw how large the blooms were getting, we got volunteers together to remove the hyacinths along the shoreline on Dalrymple,” Thomas said. “But it was being replaced with new growth faster than we could rake it out.”
TULIPA has been working with LSU’s Office of Facility Services and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to come up with a solution for the hyacinths. One of the only ways to totally eliminate the plants is to scoop them out of the water with special equipment.
Because the hyacinths float on the water, their roots do not reach the bottom of the lake and can easily be scooped out.
On Monday, officials from the Bayou Lafourche Fresh Water District, which has the necessary equipment to remove the plants, voted to come and remove the hyacinths in Lake Crest. These types of manual removals usually cost up to $20,000, but Thomas said TULIPA and the Lakeshore Civic Association have already raised around $5,000. Lafourche
Parish will cover the rest of the costs.
Removal of the hyacinths is scheduled to begin next week and continue for about two weeks. After being removed, there is still a good chance the plants will return, but in smaller numbers that will be easier to kill by spraying with pesticides.
The blooms from the hyacinths contain seeds that can linger in the water for up to 20 years, which is why Thomas said it’s vital to make sure the plants are completely gone.
“Clearly, we’ve seen how fast these plants can reproduce,” he said. “We need to remove these hyacinths as fast as we can and get serious about the health of our lakes.”