Cyperus helferi: An Elegant, Pretty Addition to Your Tank

Alison Page

Alison Page


Cyperus helferi

Sharing is caring!

If you’re looking for a tall, elegant background plant that you can grow in your tropical fish tank, Cyperus helferi could be a species that’s worth considering.

This large-sized aquarium plant species can be tricky to settle in a new environment, so we don’t recommend it as a beginner plant. That said, if you’re new to the hobby and want to try growing this attractive species of plant, this guide contains all the information you need for success!

Read this guide to learn everything you need to know about Cyperus helferi, including how to grow and propagate this lovely plant.

Cyperus Helferi – Overview

Cyperus Helferi Info
Scientific NameCyperus helferi
Common NameDwarf Hairgrass
Ease of GrowingModerately challenging until established
AquascapeTall, background plant
HeightUp to around 16 inches tall
pH6.0 to 7.5
Ideal Water Temperature68 to 80°F
Growth RateSlow plant growth pace
PropagationTake cuttings and plant them in the substrate
Light RequirementMedium to high light levels for optimum growth
CO2CO2 is optional but not essential for good plant growth

What Is Cyperus Helferi?

Dwarf hairgrass is a species of sedge that comes from Southeast Asia, specifically the Chantaburi province of Thailand, where it grows wild in a natural habitat of freshwater marshes, streams, and other slow-moving waters.

The plant belongs to the Cyperaceae family and is one of the few plants in that group that can grow fully submersed.

We generally recommend Cyperus helferi as a plant that’s suited to more experienced aquarists because it can be tricky to grow in a new aquarium setting and tends to “melt” or die off. However, that problem usually sorts itself out once the transition period to the new environment has ended and the plant has settled.

The plant grows in a rosette shape, with many leaves resembling blades of grass, spreading from a central stalk. Unfortunately, Cyperus helferi’s root system is very small and shallow, which causes problems in tanks with fish that like to dig and tug on plant leaves.

Many times I discovered my Dwarf Hairgrass plants floating around the water surface where my pesky fancy goldfish had tugged the leaves out of the substrate, so be warned!

Takashi Amano

The late Takashi Amano is famous for creating distinctive minimalist aquascapes that were heavily influenced by Japanese gardening techniques and used algae-eating Amano shrimp to control algae in aquariums.

One of Amano’s favorite aquarium plants was Dwarf Hairgrass, as he loved the unfussy, attractive leaves’ straight or spiral shape and elegance.

Can You Grow Dwarf Hairgrass Emersed?

As mentioned above, most plant breeders prefer to grow Cyperus helferi emersed as that makes it cheaper to raise the plants in large numbers. Unfortunately, that method can cause issues with dieback when you move the plant to a fully submersed fish tank environment.

However, the plant’s ability to grow both emersed and submersed makes it an ideal candidate for outdoor pond landscaping, as well as for use in fish tanks. You can use Cyperus helferi in paludariums and terrariums, too, making this species extremely versatile, which is one reason for its popularity.

Cyperus Helferi Care Guide

Cyperus Helferi
Image via YouTube

We recommend Cyperus helferi as a plant best suited to more experienced aquarists. That’s because the plant can be tricky to acclimate fully submersed in a new environment due to breeders largely growing the plant emersed for cost-saving reasons.

However, once this elegant plant has settled in and become established, keeping it healthy is relatively straightforward and hassle-free.

How To Plant Cyperus Helferi

You have two choices when it comes to planting Cyperus helferi; a wet or dry start.

Wet Start

The wet start is the most common choice for aquarists using this plant in a new fish tank or mature aquarium.

With this method, you place the plants fully submersed in your tank. I find the plant settles more quickly and grows better if I provide it with liquid fertilizer or root tabs, especially in a new tank with only a few fish in it.

That ensures the plants receive all the essential nutrients they need for healthy growth.

Dry Start

A dry start enables the plant to develop a stronger root system before you transfer it to a submersed setting.

So, basically, you add the substrate and hardscape items and then add the plants. The aquarium substrate or soil must be kept moist but not soaked, and you can do that by creating a little “well” in the substrate where water can collect that you can remove with a suction tube.

Maintain that setting, misting the plants several times daily and keeping the tank covered with clingfilm or similar to keep humidity levels high. Uncover the tank for about 30 minutes every day so that it can breathe and prevent mold from forming.

A dry start process needs around 10 hours of daily bright light, and the whole thing can take from 4 to 6 weeks, depending on the plant species you’re raising. When you’re ready, fill your tank with dechlorinated water and add liquid fertilizer to give the plants a boost.


Cyperus helferi is a root feeder, so you need to use an appropriate substrate for planted tanks. The plant doesn’t have a huge root system, especially at the beginning of its life, so you’ll need a substrate that’s fine enough for the roots to penetrate and form a secure anchor base for the plant.

Don’t use aragonite or crushed coral substrate, as that eventually makes the water too alkaline for Cyperus helferi to tolerate.

Lighting Requirements

This tall plant grows best under at least 10 hours of daily moderate to bright lighting; ideally, 180 LPG (Light Per Gallon) provides the best growth rate for Cyperus helferi, although you can get away with 120 watts of light. However, less than that can lead to slower growth rates and other plant health issues.

Of course, brighter aquarium lights can encourage algae growth, so you’ll need to be mindful of that and consider keeping algae-eating species, such as Amano shrimp and Siamese Algae Eaters, and using CO2 injections.

Water Parameters

Cyperus helferi tolerates a wide range of temperatures from 68° to 80°F so you can use it in coldwater tanks as well as tropical aquariums.

The water should be slightly on the acidic side with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. If you’re using aquarium soil, that tends to lower the pH naturally.


Cyperus helferi is a shallow-rooted plant that doesn’t appreciate a strong flow of water, so you’ll need to buffer your filter outflow pipe away from your plants to prevent them from being uprooted.

Ideally, you want a minimum water or medium water current so that the plant can grow without being buffeted around too much.

Growth Rate and Size

Cyperus helferi grows pretty slowly, although you can boost its growth rate with CO2 injections, fertilizers, and brighter lighting.

This plant can grow to reach 16 inches in height, so you need a tank with plenty of vertical space to avoid having to trim the plant leaves. If you need to prune the plant, cut off the leaves around 1 inch above the plant base. What’s left will eventually die off and fall away naturally.

CO2 Injections

Although Dwarf Hairgrass will benefit from CO2 injections and gives you the best growth and color, they aren’t strictly necessary. That said, after dim lighting, insufficient CO2 in the environment is a major cause of failures in this plant.

In the wild environment, this species usually grows emersed, so keeping the plant submersed in the aquarium is not its preferred condition, and using CO2 injections can encourage the plant to thrive.

How To Propagate Cyperus Helferi

Healthy well-stabilized specimens produce plantlets close to their base. To propagate the plants, all you need to do is remove the plantlets from the mother plant using a pair of scissors or a sharp knife and replant them.

As mentioned earlier, this plant doesn’t grow submersed in its wild environment, so you might want to consider growing it using the dry method described earlier or emersed to encourage healthier growth and help your new additional plants to become established more quickly.


If you want to trim your plants, cut the leaf around 1 inch above the plant’s base. The remainder of the leaf will die and come away naturally over time. Don’t trim the leaves near the top, or the leaf will melt, which doesn’t look great in your tank and leads to water pollution issues as the dying leaf decomposes.

Tank Mates

Since Cyperus helferi is a shallow-rooted plant that’s easily uprooted, I recommend avoiding tank mates such as some cichlid species and goldfish that would easily dislodge and damage the plants through their digging activity.

Ideal tank mates for this attractive plant include small community fish species, such as tetras, rasboras, and guppies, as well as shrimp. Snails are also a good choice, as long as you pick varieties that are plant-safe.


Cyperus helferi
Image via YouTube

Most problems with Cyperus helferi happen during the acclimation phase, as we’ve already discussed earlier in our guide. However, “melting” is another common issue with this aquarium plant.


Melting refers to a plant’s loss of leaves and is a common problem with many fish tank plants.

Plants melt for several reasons, the most common being because the plant is still acclimating to the new environment of your fish tank. That can be especially challenging for this species since it’s often grown emersed by commercial producers and has never been fully submersed before.

In the case of Cyperus helferi, poor growing conditions can cause melting. For example, if the lighting levels and CO2 in the tank are too low, that works against healthy growth.

So, you might need to supplement these delicate plants with CO2 injections or thin out overgrowth so that more light and nutrients are available in a heavily planted tank. You might also need to add liquid aquarium plant fertilizer or root tabs to give the plants a helping hand.

Insufficient Lighting

This species of aquatic grass needs bright or moderate lighting to thrive, so if your aquarium lights are too dim or other larger specimens shade the plant, it won’t thrive.


You can buy Cyperus helferi in most good fish and aquarium supplies stores, as well as online. We recommend buying the plants as tissue cultures since these are 100% sterile and won’t import bacteria or pest snails into your aquarium.


Now, here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the Cyperus helferi plant and its care.

Q: Is Cyperus helferi easy to grow?

A: Once it’s established, Cyperus helferi is fairly straightforward to grow. The main issues arise during the plant’s acclimation process, but once it’s become established, little maintenance or supplementation is required for the plant to grow well.

Q: Does Cyperus helferi need CO2?

A: Although Cyperus helferi will grow happily without CO2, injections will boost growth and promote a generally healthier plant.

Q: Does Cyperus helferi need substrate?

A: Yes, Dwarf Hairgrass is a root feeder that grows in the substrate rather than taking nutrition from the water column. Since the plant roots are relatively shallow, we recommend using a fine or small-grained substrate to allow for easier root penetration and a secure anchor point.

Q: How tall does Cyperus helferi grow?

A: This freshwater plant has long, narrow leaves that can reach up to 16 inches in height, making it ideal for use as a background or perimeter plant behind shorter plants.

Final Thoughts

Did you enjoy our guide on how to care for and grow Cyperus helferi? If you found the information helpful, please take a moment to share the article before you go!

Cyperus helferi, or Dwarf Hairgrass, is a tall, slow-growing species that can grow emersed or submersed, making the plant ideal for use as a background plant in freshwater aquariums or paludariums.

Since many aquarium plant farms grow the plant emersed, problems can be encountered with melting and a failure to thrive when you first put Cyperus helferi submersed in your aquarium. However, once the plant is established and settled in its new home, it’s relatively straightforward to care for.

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.