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Scientific Name:

Common Name:

Salvinia molesta Mitchell
Giant salvinia
Family: Salviniaceae

USDA Plant Code: SAMO5

Habitat: Aquatic

Growth Habit: Annual, Perennial Forb/herb

Native Environment: South America

AKA: Kariba-weed


An Individual Giant Salvinia Plant Displaying Fronds,
Horizontal Stem, and Submersed Stalks
Problems Caused
Giant salvinia (Salvinia molesta Mitchell) is an aquatic fern native to southern Brazil. Giant salvinia is free floating and can form thick mats of up to 3 feet thick when plant densities are high. The dense mats fill in water-bodies resulting in decreases in density and diversity of native aquatic plants and animals. Similarly, giant salvinia mats can affect crop production, access to waterways for humans and livestock. The ecological consequences of giant salvinia introduction have prompted the United States Department of Agriculture and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce to list this species on both the federal and state Noxious Species List. Likewise, giant salvinia has been named the world’s second worst weed.

Giant salvinia is listed as a federal noxious weed, and listed as a state noxious weed in Mississippi, North Carolina, and Florida. It is widely regarded as a serious invasive weed problem.


A Magnified View of the Cage-Like or Egg Beater Shaped Hairs on the Surfaces of Giant Salvinia Fronds (Photo by Julie Graham)
Vegetative Growth
Giant salvinia is a rootless, free floating fern that can be identified by its broadly rounded green fronds. Pairs of these emergent fronds are produced at each node of a horizontal stem that floats just beneath the water surface. The upper surfaces of the emergent fronds display a prominent midrib that is covered with stiff white leaf hairs that aid in leaf buoyancy. The leaf hairs of giant salvinia differentiate this species of Salvinia from others such as common salvinia (Salvinia minima) and eared watermoss (Salvinia auriculata) by forming cage-like or egg beater shaped hairs. Giant salvinia also produces a hairless, brown submersed leaf that is often mistaken for roots. Similarly, long stalks extend beneath the water surface where sessile sporocarps are produced. Giant salvinia sporocarps are uniquely egg-shaped and occur in straight chains among the submersed leaves. Although mature plants can produce a great number of sporocarps the sporangial sacs are most often void of spores. Giant salvinia can produce reproductive structures; however the primary means of growth is vegetative.

Giant salvinia as a fern and, as such, neither flowers or fruits. Giant salvinia forms sporocarps that are sterile, not producing any viable spores.

Dispersal is entire by the movement or drift of floating fronds. New fronds are formed in a chain along a floating horizontal stem or rhizome. These may break off to form new colonies.

Spread By
Giant salvinia has been widely used as an ornamental plant in water gardens; its spread in the U.S. has been largely through the nursery trade.


Giant salvinia can inhabit calm waters of lakes, ponds, wetlands, and rivers. Plants have been located in ditches, rice fields, and slow moving rivers and streams. The most common habitats include disturbed habitats such as flood canals, rice paddies, artificial lakes, and hydroelectric facilities. Giant salvinia is best adapted to thrive in warm-temperate to tropical areas. Giant salvinia cannot tolerate saline environments and thus will not colonize brackish or marine environments. Likewise, this species cannot tolerate dry environments and individual plants may be killed by desiccation.


United States
Giant salvinia was likely introduced in the United States via the nursery trade as an ornamental species in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. Records from Florida indicate that giant salvinia was in cultivation in nurseries as early as 1983. The first recorded natural population of giant salvinia was discovered in 1995 in South Carolina. Since then this species has spread through the southern United States infesting waters in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, California, Hawaii, Arizona, North Carolina, and Virginia

Giant salvinia has been reported in AL, LA, and MS.

IPAMS Surveys:

Control Methods

The salvinia weevil (Cyrtobagus salviniae) is the most notable and only organism that has shown repeated success in giant salvinia biological control. Both feeding and larval damage can reduce giant salvinia infestations when conditions are optimal for weevil growth. Optimal conditions include water temperatures between 61 and 86°F. Water temperatures outside this range results in decreased weevil performance. Similarly, feeding and larval damage depend on levels of nitrogen in plant tissues in that low levels of plant nitrogen result in low densities of the salvinia weevil.

Chemical Methods for Controlling Giant Salvinia
Chemical Trade Name Formulation Application Rate Active Ingredient Rate Nonionic Surfactant Added
Diquat Reward 0.5 – 0.75 gal/acre 1 - 1.5 lbs ai/acre 0.25 – 1.0% v/v
Glyphosate Rodeo 1 – 2 gal/acre 4 - 8 lbs ae/acre 0.25 – 1.0% v/v
Penoxsulam Galleon SC 0.21 – 0.42 quart/acre 0.11 – 0.22 lbs ai/acre 0.25 – 1.0% v/v
Herbicides are the most widely used and effective method for controlling infestations of giant salvinia. Diquat, glyphosate, and tank mixes of diquat and glyphosate have been the most widely used herbicides for controlling giant salvinia. Repeated treatments will be required. Other herbicides that have shown promise include glyphosate, imazapyr + glyphosate, and combinations of rates and formulations of each. Use a nonionic surfactant with these aquatic herbicides, and always read the label before using. Use only approved herbicides labeled for aquatic use.

Manual (hand pulling) and mechanical (wire nets and floating booms) control of giant salvinia is only practical during the early stages of growth. After giant salvinia is established in a given area, increased biomass and rapid growth makes harvesting and hand pulling unfeasible. Manual and mechanical control measures are very expensive and need frequent deployment for acceptable results.

Summer drawdown is the only physical control technique that has been effective in controlling giant salvinia.


Jacono, C. C. 2003. Salvinia molesta D.S. Mitchell. United States Geological Survey. Giant salvinia web page

Jacono, C. C. and M. M. Richerson. 2004. The distribution and spread of Salvinia molesta (giant salvinia). United States Geological Survey giant salvinia web page (

Oliver, J. D. 1993. A review of the biology of giant slavinia (Salvinia molesta Mitchell). Journal of Aquatic Plant Management 31:227-231.

Thomas, P. A. and P. M. Room. 1986. Taxonomy and control of Salvinia molesta. Nature 320:581-584.

More Information

Invasive Species Web Links

Geosystems Research Institute, Mississippi State University

United States Department of Agriculture

United States Geological Survey

Western Aquatic Plant Management Society

Contributing Authors

Ryan M. Wersal, Geosystems Research Institute, Mississippi State University

Contact Info

Dr. John D. Madsen
Mississippi State University
Geosystems Research Institute
Box 9652
Mississippi State, MS 39762-9652
Ph. (662)325-2428

Geosystems Research Institute
Contact: John D. Madsen, Ph.D.  •  WebMaster