How to Grow Emersed Utricularia Graminifolia (UG)
Written By: Chris (@shrimpery)
Utricularia graminifolia (UG) is one of my favorite aquarium plants, but it’s also one of the most misunderstood. For a while, it seemed to have a reputation as being difficult to grow, but it is increasingly shedding that mantle as more aquascaping hobbyists give it a shot. With its pristine and unique appearance and varied growing habits, it is a welcome addition to most planted tanks. I’ve previously discussed how it can be grown below the surface, but I wanted to share how I have successfully grown it emersed here.
About Utricularia Graminifolia
UG is a flowering, carnivorous plant and a true outlier as far as commonly used aquarium plants go. Most people are used to seeing it used as a carpet, much like how people use Micranthemum ‘Monte Carlo’ or dwarf hairgrass, but it’s a rare aquatic plant that doesn’t really care where you plant it, or if you even plant it at all. It can grow in an aquarium attached to wood, almost like moss, or it can grow floating near the surface. Finally, it can also be grown emersed, above the surface of the water.
- Fun Fact: Although most commonly referred to as a "carpeting plant," UG is not a carpeting plant by nature. Instead, it's considered a floating plant that attaches itself to surfaces.
Strangely, I haven’t seen many hobbyists growing it emersed, despite the popularity of pond tanks and emersed-grown plants these days. If you have ever tried growing dwarf hairgrass emersed above the water’s surface, you know that it is oddly difficult to obtain that pristine carpeting look you can get by using CO2 beneath the surface. Not so for UG; it really can form a dense, “perfect-lawn” style mat above the surface.
Grown emersed, it doesn’t look exactly like it does underwater; the individual “leaves” (UG lacks true leaves) appear fleshier, shorter, and darker green than they do underwater. The leaves are very tender to the touch, and are relatively fragile; still, in the right growing conditions, they are tougher than they look, and can monopolize the entire surface area of an ideal spot.
Tips for Growing Emersed UG
I’ve had the most success growing UG emersed when I used recycled aquasoil or an aquasoil that is less likely to leach lots of nutrients into the water; this goes along with my anecdotal observation that UG seems to prefer very soft water that is relatively low on nutrients.
I’ve also had better success when the substrate is very damp or even wet, and when there are few other plants overshadowing the planting area or planted amongst it. Utricularia Graminifolia will continue to thrive when initially grown in an extremely humid environment, so one can perform a short "dry start" without the final flood of the tank.
Unlike the submerged version of UG, emersed UG grows more slowly and can quickly be overtaken or shaded out by faster-growing competitors. Regardless, it can do well in a mixed plant grouping if it gets adequate light.
I’ve never had to trim my emersed UG. It doesn’t grow very tall in its emersed form, and it isn’t an aggressive spreader. Still, as I alluded to earlier, it will monopolize every square millimeter of whatever emergent area it has managed to establish itself in. Once it becomes established, it will even grow over emergent rocks or wood if the contact points are consistently moist.
I have tried several planting methods, including planting individual plantlets into the substrate with tweezers, but I have had some of the best success by simply scattering individual leaflets/plantlets over the surface of relatively wet aquasoil. If the environment is relatively humid, the humidity seems to facilitate growth, but mold is also a concern in humid areas with diminished airflow. In fact, one of my best emersed UG carpets was in a pond tank on my desk that receives no misting and has no lid or covering.
UG is worth trying if you haven’t already. Even if you are familiar with using it under the surface, you may be surprised by how exotic it looks grown emersed in your pond tank or a similar setup. As with so many things in aquascaping, patience is key! Although it may take weeks or months to become established, you will be rewarded with a neat, plush, green carpet that bears little resemblance to anything else in the hobby.
Overview: Tips for Growing Emersed UG
- Use recycled soil or soil that will not leach a lot of nutrients
- Use soft water with a lower pH and minimal nutrients
- Make sure the substrate is very damp or even wet
- Simply scatter individual leaflets/plantlets over the surface of the relatively wet substrate
- Minimize other plants overshadowing the planting area or planted amongst it