Blast from the Past – Traveling 50 Years Back in Aquatic Plant Management

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Mechanical harvesting of Hyacinth 1939
Photo Credit – UF-IFAS-CAIP

Aquatic plant science and management in today’s world is one of the most complex and diverse disciplines in which to work or study.  Focus on identifying, quantifying, actively managing, or even restoring aquatic plants are common goals. The individuals and companies charged with achieving these goals are, as they have been for decades, racing to keep the science ahead of ever increasing invasions and infestations of non-native species, degradation of native habitat, and keeping harmony among stakeholders in multi-use systems.  Working in aquatic plant management today  can be an extremely frustrating, yet rewarding career choice ; a choice that many who read this blog have made or are in the process of making (for those still contemplating, see “Why a career in aquatic plant management“).  We are an ever evolving science where the sky is truly the limit.  In this week’s blog, lets try to gain some prospective of just how far we have come.


St. Johns River 1968 and 2003
Photo Credit – UF-IFAS-CAIP

Perusing through the many recent and interesting articles found in the Journal of Aquatic Plant Management, you can find complex subject matter from herbicide efficacy to hybridization among similar species.  From high-tech mapping and monitoring to evaluating precision applications, we have certainly come a long way in the science.  Many have heard the old adage “You can’t tell where you are going unless you know where you have been”.  This saying holds relevance in many aspects of life, but it can also be applied to the evolution of aquatic plant science.  Let’s take a look at where WE as a science were 50 years ago.


Barges navigating hyacinth – St. Johns River
Photo Credit – UF-IFAS-CAIP

One of the best ways to look at our past is to take gander at some of the publications half a century ago, when the Aquatic Plant Management Society was still in it’s infancy as the “Hyacinth Control Society” (Which alone serves as an indicator of what was important at the time…).  In Volume 3, dated August 1964, we find many articles representative of the Society’s namesake.  Title’s like “Florida and Hyacinth Control“, “Water Hyacinth in Louisiana“, and “Hyacinth Control in Lee County” certainly spell out that Water Hyacinth was on the mind of most of our predecessors.  You can also find a very brief blurb on submersed plants (also in Florida) and their growth.  An article entitled “Hazards encountered in Herbicide Use” can also be found, resembling a precursor of today’s state and federal pesticide use manuals.  Of even more  interest is an article entitled “Conservation of Florida’s Natural Resources” by Captain Noah Tilghman who seems to be intent on STOPPING the management of hyacinth in the St. Johns River.   Looking more like a newsletter than the current day version of our journal, these past writings on aquatic plant management, while different and somewhat relaxed in scientific rigor, share many of the same general topics, issues, and obstacles that we as scientists face today.

5261ae500e0ae.preview-620Fast forward 50 years to some of our more recent journal articles.  Hyacinth is still a concern, but the cast of invasive and nuisance characters has certainly grown, now including the likeness of hydrilla, Eurasian water milfoil, Alligatorweed and many others.  Restoration efforts have also become more important in recent years.   The geography of aquatic plant management has also changed.  Half a century ago, the majority of work was being done in the South, most often in Florida.  Today, research in aquatic plant management occurs both near and far, often with very different and complex issues being discussed.  With establishment of our regional chapters in the west, northeast, midwest and others, the range of problems in aquatic plant management has certainly grown.  A few things can be said to have stayed relatively the same.  We all still hear and come in contact with the voices much like that of Captain Tilghman, who may have trouble understanding aquatic plant management.  These voices have given rise to the important outreach and extension component of our science.

Aquatic plant science and management today has certainly grown from its roots (no pun intended) in southern hyacinth control.  The work we do today, much like that which was done 50 years ago, will shape who we are and will become as a society 5o years from now.  That alone should inspire today’s aquatic plant management professional to do the best work possible and strive for discovery, innovation, and progress in our unique discipline.  It may in fact, be your work that is being discussed and expanded upon by members of the Mid-west-north-central chapter of APMS in 2064!

For a brief history of aquatic plant management, visit the University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants

For more information on the Aquatic Plant Management Society, visit our website.

Stay tuned for more on the APMS Blog!

 The APMS Blog is prepared by Dr. Brett Hartis, NC State University




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