I received an interesting historical document from old friend and fisherman Harvey Willis of Deleon Springs. Harvey and I are both concerned about the invasive species that threaten Florida waters.
The paper was actually a pamphlet titled "The River Flows North," a history of Putnam County published in 1976. It details the story of Mr. and Mrs. W. F. Fuller, New Yorkers who owned and operated a big citrus plantation in the Palatka area in the late 1800s. Mrs. Fuller attended the World Industrial and Cotton Exposition in New Orleans where she saw the Brazilian aquatic plant we now know as hyacinth. At the exhibition, a few samples were presented to influential patrons and a cutting was given to Mrs. Fuller.
All of the other cuttings went back north to adorn ponds in the gardens of northern estates, but she brought hers to Palatka. There she innocently placed the hyacinth in her pond where it proliferated nicely. She was so pleased with the plants and their lovely blossoms she wanted everyone to have the experience. When the hyacinth filled her pond she began taking cuttings and whole plants and placing them in the St. Johns River where they could drift along and delight all who saw them. Within 10 years Mrs. Fuller's plant had covered 50 million acres of the river and its tributaries.
Farmers began trying to feed them to the livestock in order to control their growth, but the water hyacinth contains little or no nutrition. Eventually big machines were brought in to try and grind the plants to allow them to rot on the bottom. That did not work. Barges with men with pitchforks were sent down the river, but they were overmatched. Till this day Mrs. Fuller's hyacinth is doing quite well.
About five years ago Al Houser and I began fishing for largemouth bass in a creek on the northwest side of Lake Woodruff. Whenever we go, we have a lot of good fun casting up bass on plastic worms. One day we went to Tedder's Fish Camp in DeLeon Springs to take the spring run out to the lake but found the run almost plugged with hyacinth. Finally making it to Woodruff, we found only a narrow passage across the lake. When we reached the entrance to our stream we could only sit and look at it across about 10 acres of hyacinth. Absolutely no way of getting in to it.
Not to worry I told Al, for I know these waters pretty well and know that we can go north to Lake Dexter and sneak in from the back way. We were lucky to even get to Lake Dexter -- Hyacinth every where. My old fishing buddy, the late Andy Anderson and I loved to troll for specks. More than once we were thwarted by hydrilla, another invasive plant that seems to flourish overnight. These days here on the coast we are under attack from the Brazilian Pepper plant. That salt tolerant bush is pushing out our much needed mangroves.
Ladies and gentlemen please be careful what you plant or throw out. These things all have to begin somewhere. I am certain Mrs. Fuller had no idea what trouble she unleashed on our world, but inadvertently she created a giant mess. Hyacinth and hydrilla control costs the taxpayers of Florida many millions of dollars a year. Before you plant that cute shrub or herb, look it up. You don't want to be the next Mrs. Fuller.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.