How to Plant Aquatic Plants: Epiphytes
Written by: Simon
Aquatic epiphytes are aquarium plants that naturally grow on the surface of other plants, rocks, and wood. In the wild these plants obtain their moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and surrounding debris. Epiphytes commonly grow from a rhizome, a modified stem that grows horizontally, producing both leaves and roots. The roots are used to firming attach and anchor the plant to whatever surface they are growing on.
Several popular epiphyte species known in the aquarium hobby include: Anubias, Bucephalandra, and Java Fern species. These epiphytes listed below are popular for planted tank hobbyists, and can be planted both emersed and fully submerged.
Scroll to the bottom of this article for a How-To Guide to Planting Epiphytes
3 Popular Aquatic Epiphytes
Anubias are a species of aquatic plants in the family Araceae, which is native to tropical Central and Western Africa. In the wild, Anubias can be found growing in and around rivers, streams, and marshes. In Africa, the water is naturally hard (high Gh and Kh), due to the high concentration of minerals found in the native rocks. Although naturally found growing in hard water, Anubias are very adaptable and can grow in both soft and hard water aquariums.
A majority of Anubias species will thrive in low to medium intensity light. Injecting CO2 and dosing fertilizers are not typically required when growing Anubias, but they will still greatly benefit. Anubias plants have a slow growth rate, making their leaves susceptible to algae growth if exposed to high light and nutrient imbalances. To propagate Anubias, the rhizome or side shoots can be cut using scissors, blades, or fingers.
Rare variations, such as those with white patterned leaves (Anubias Snow White, Pinto, White Broad Leaf), will require specific care. The white coloration is caused by a mutation that results in little to no chlorophyll (responsible for green color and energy production) in the leaves. These rare Anubias require high intensity light, CO2, and nutrients to grow their best.
2. Bucephalandra (Our Favorite!)
Native to Borneo, Bucephalandra are some of the most desired plants in the aquarium hobby. Countless species, with more being discovered, are found growing on the banks of fast flowing streams and rivers. Frequent tropical rainfall provides constant humidity and soft water for these plants to thrive.
When given time, these plants will adapt to growing in a wide range of aquarium parameters. Regulars rainfall often flood the riverbanks, causing buce to evolve to be able to grow in both submerged and emersed conditions. Due to this adaptation, hobbyists will grow Bucephalandra in terrariums, paludariums, vivariums, and aquariums.
Growing in the undergrowth layer of the forest, these plants thrive under low to medium light conditions. CO2 and fertilizers are not typically required but the plants will greatly appreciate the added help. While keeping these plants, it is important to not have excess light or nutrients in the water column. Having excess of either may cause algae to grow on the leaves of these slow growing plants.
Sudden changes in growing conditions may cause Bucephalandra to melt (ex. when adding a new plant to your scape). Don't get discouraged because if the rhizomes are green and firm, then the plant will produce new leaves that are adapted to growing in the new environment. To propagate buce, split the rhizome or side shoots by using scissors, blades, or fingers.
3. Java Fern (Microsorum Pteropus)
Microsorum Pteropus, commonly known as Java Ferns, are in the family Polypodiaceae, and are native to Southeast Asia (Thailand, Malaysia, China, and the Philippines). In the wild, Java Ferns grow near the riverbanks of tropical forest. The roots help anchor the plants and prevent them from being swept away by the strong currents of the rainy season. Due to the constant changes in water levels, Microsorum species have adapted to growing in both emersed and submerged conditions.
Java Ferns do best grown under low to medium light. CO2 and Fertilizer are not typically required, but they will benefit. Having a medium growth rate, Java Ferns are less prone to getting algae growth on the leaves when compared to Anubias and Bucephalandra species.
The roots of Java Fern species are black, so do not be alarmed when plants are received. To propagate Java Ferns, take a scissor or blade and cut the rhizome. Plants will also produce new plantlets from the sori (groups of sporangia that serve as spore cases) under the leaves. Once plantlets are a 1-2 inches long, they can be pinched off the mother leaf and grown separately attached to a surface.
How to Plant Buce/Anubias/Java Fern
Being epiphytes, all of these plants can be planted in a similar fashion. There is one very important rule that must be kept in mind when planting epiphytes: NEVER bury the rhizome. Burying the rhizome will prevent air or water to adequately flow through the plant, resulting in the rhizome rotting and ultimately, death of the plant.
Tying down an Anubias to a rock
Instead of 'planting' in soil, simply attach them to hardscape or weigh them down. Here are 3 of the best ways to plant epiphytes:
Rhizomes can be tied onto different surfaces using cotton string, fishing line, zip ties, or yarn.
We recommend green or black string because they are less noticeable and blend in well.
Plants can also be glued onto different surfaces!
Place a SMALL dab of superglue (any super glue is OK- gel is the easiest to use) onto the roots (not rhizomes!) of the plant and firmly hold the plant on the desired surface for 30-45 seconds, or until the glue is dry.
If the plant is large, a few daps of glue in several locations may be needed to help keep the plant attached
3. Plant Weights
Plant Weights can be cut down into small thin strips and tied around the roots or rhizome.
The weights will prevent the plant from floating, while keeping the rhizome unburied.
Keep in mind to not wrap the metal weights too tight as that can restrict plant growth or even suffocate sections of the plant
Commonly known as 'Lead Weights', these plant weights are actually not made out of Lead anymore. Nowadays, these weights are made out of a Magnesium-Zinc alloy (NOT Lead) and are 100% fish/shrimp and plant safe.
Our plant weights are 100% safe for your fish and plants
Where to Plant
Plants can be tied or glued onto pieces of wood to help achieve certain aquascapes. Rhizomes can also be wedged into naturally occurring crevices in the wood. The roots will eventually anchor the plant on the wood. Click here to see our driftwood selection.
Plants can be tied or glued onto pieces of stone to help achieve certain aquascapes.
Click here to see our stone selection.
Placed on top of soil
Plant weights can be used to keep epiphyte species from floating around in an aquarium. These weights can be easily cut into different desired sizes and shapes needed to wrap around your plant. Once wrapped with a weight, the plants will sit on the substrate instead of floating and the rhizome will be kept above ground. Click here to view our 100% aquarium safe plant weights.
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