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Havoc-Wreaking Plant That Nearly Brought Hippos To The U.S.
The pretty little weed is native to South America, but across the world and throughout the decades, it has invaded innocent rivers and streams. It’s choked other water life and diminished fishermen’s yields. The plant has singlehandedly stalled local economies in countries from Nigeria to South Africa and prevented children from going to school for days, even weeks on end

For the beginnings of that bizarre, whimsical tale, we look to New Orleans, in 1884, and its World’s Fair. A beautiful opening day brought huge crowds and exotic exhibitions. But somewhere in all this celebration of connectedness and incipient globalization lurked the water hyacinth, which had made its way into the fairgrounds, free of charge. It would never leave.

Louisiana Rep. Robert Broussard told the House Committee on Agriculture in 1910. “[T]he plant is there just as luxuriant as it was before,” he lamented. But Broussard had a cure-all. He would fight one nonnative species by importing another: It stood on four legs, was omnivorous and voracious and was known as a hippopotamus.

The idea was bizarre and would be expensive, but it had certain elegance: The hippos would eat the very bad hyacinth and Americans would eat the surprisingly tasty hippos, answering a meat shortage at the time.


 
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