70 years of helping people to care for our ocean

Water hyacinth on Durban beaches

By : Ann Kunz

Yesterday, when visitors to Durban were frolicking in the breakers, they were surrounded by a green plant known as water hyacinth. This mass of aquatic floating plants has now washed ashore along much of the Durban beachfront. Many people were curious about the plants surrounding them as they enjoyed the waves.

What is it and where does it come from?

These plants are known as water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) which is a highly invasive, free-floating plant that thrives in quiet sections of freshwater rivers, floodplains and dams throughout KwaZulu-Natal. 

They are referred to as free-floating as their stems are filled with air and their roots are not attached. The species naturally occurs in South America, but has now spread to every continent, except Antarctica. It is thought that the recent heavy rains and the overflowing of a few KZN dams has allowed the water hyacinth to float down the Umgeni River and be washed out to sea.

Unfortunately, although not a threat to beach-goers, these plants are highly invasive and a threat to our local indigenous plant species as they grow very fast and form dense mats at the water surface.