Living aquarium plants give an aesthetic appeal to your setup, as well as providing hiding and spawning places for fish and helping to improve water quality by removing waste products and oxygenating the tank.
In this guide, we take a look at some of the tropical aquarium plant species in the popular Hygrophila family. These plants are easy to grow and care for and are readily available at good fish stores, making them the perfect choice for a novice hobbyist.
What is Hygrophila?
Hygrophila is a plant species that is also called common swamp weed. These flowering plants belong to the acanthus family. There are between 80 and 100 species of Hygrophila, some of which are aquatic. The acanthus family has two genera that contain aquatic plant species, the other being Justicia.
Some Hygrophila species are regarded as invasive in their wild environment, but several types do make extremely popular aquarium plants.
Hygrophila polysperma, also known as Dwarf Hygrophila, Dwarf Hygro, Indian Waterweed, and Justicia polysperma, comes originally from South East Asia and is one of the hardiest aquatic plants available. The adaptable plant can now be found in the inland waterways of India, China, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. More recently, it’s become commonplace in Florida, Texas, and Virginia.
Note that the plant is listed as a noxious weed in some US states, including Florida. That means that it is illegal to import or sell the plant in these areas, so always check with your local government agency before you bring Hygrophila into the state.
These plants are especially good for beginners as they will grow in virtually any conditions. As Hygrophila tends to grow and spread very readily, reaching a height of around 24 inches, the minimum recommended tank size is 10 gallons.
H polysperma prefers soft to moderately hard water that has a pH level of between 5.0 and 8.0. These tropical plants will grow in a wide temperature range of between 640 and 860 Fahrenheit.
Polysperma grows in any of the more common substrates, as the species takes its nutrients from the water column. That said, aquarium soil, sand, or gravel are good choices for these plants. It generally takes a week or so for these plants to take root, so you’ll need to use aquarium weights initially to keep the stems firmly anchored.
Care and maintenance
Dwarf Hygrophila is extremely easy to grow and doesn’t require any special care. That said, the addition of trace minerals after each water change will promote healthy growth.
To prevent the plant from taking over the whole tank, you will need to prune it regularly. Pruning also encourages the plant to rejuvenate itself and triggers new growth, making for a healthier, more attractive specimen.
When it comes to lighting, Hygrophila polysperma will happily grow in even the poorest of light conditions. However, for optimum color and growth, you should provide a CFL or fluorescent plant bulb or a high-quality LED light.
Hygrophila polysperma is simple to propagate in the home aquarium. Simply pinch off a segment and plant it in the substrate. You can even use one, fully-formed leaf, or a piece of stem to create a new polysperma.
So, if you want to plant a new setup, you can break up one mature Hygrophila polysperma into multiple plants that you can then plant individually. Remember to allow plenty of space for the plants, as they will rapidly crowd out their neighbors due to their rapid growth rate.
Hygrophila polysperma can be grown in a tank with most snails, crustaceans, and small fish. Most omnivorous and herbivorous fish ignore the plants, although digging cichlids and goldfish should be avoided. In particular, goldfish will eat these aquatic plants down to the last leaf, and you could be left with a bare stem in only a few hours, and they love to uproot the plants too.
Hygrophila corymbosa, or Temple plant, is an easy-to-care-for starter plant that comes from Asia. Above water in its wild state, the plant produces purple flowers, although, unfortunately, aquarium plants do not generally do so.
In your aquarium, the plant will spread quickly, creating light to bright green, wide and long leaves, and growing up to 15.75 inches tall. Some specimens can exhibit pretty pink and magenta shading, too, making these a particularly attractive addition to the aquarium.
Also, the plants’ new growth spreads from the stems, creating a compact, bushy appearance that lends itself extremely well to aquascaping.
Because the plant grows to be quite sizable, it’s most suitable for use in medium to large aquariums rather than small setups.
Like most Hyrgophila, corymbosa is tolerant of a wide range of water conditions.
The plant prefers a pH range of between 6.3 and 7.5 and water hardness (dGH) of 71.43 to 321.43 ppm. Water temperature should be kept between 680 and 82.40 Fahrenheit.
The best type of substrate for these aquarium plants is fine gravel, and there should be sufficient nutrients here to fuel the plants’ growth and keep them looking good. However, this plant does benefit from the use of a CO2 system.
Bright light is preferred for optimal growth, as the species doesn’t thrive under low light.
When planting your aquarium, use Hygrophila corymbosa toward the back of the tank due to its height.
Propagation is simple. Take cuttings from the plant’s main stem and plant them in the substrate of your aquarium. Roots will quickly form, and the baby plants will begin growing.
Care and maintenance
As previously mentioned, caring for Hygrophilia corymbosa is simple.
These aquatic plants are very quick growers and require regular pruning to prevent overgrowth. To keep the plants looking tidy, you’ll need to remove any dead leaves from the lower few inches of the main stems.
If the plant’s leaves begin to turn yellow, that could indicate an iron deficiency. Also, if the water is low in minerals, the plants will not thrive. An additional supplement will correct both these problems.
Hygrophila costata comes from South Americ and is also endemic in the Carribean, Florida, Central America, and Mexico.
Until recently, the plant was mistakenly marketed as Hygrophila corymbosa Angustifolia. However, costata is now correctly recognized as a separate species that is also known by the common names:
- Gulf swamp weed
- Glush weed
- Yerba de hicotea
Costata has stems of up to 24 inches long and narrow leaves that are closely grouped together. Plants that are cultivated for trade have rounder, more widely-spaced leaves.
The growth rate of these plants is impressive, and one specimen can spread to fill a small tank at an alarming rate. For that reason, it’s recommended that these plants are only used in medium to large aquariums.
In its native environment, costata grows in warm water, so it is suitable for life in a tropical tank set up. However, as long as the tank temperature is between 680 and 82.40 Fahrenheit, the plant will grow. Preferred pH levels are between 6.0 and 7.5.
You can use gravel, sand, or aquarium soil as a suitable substrate for the plants, together with a CO2 system for optimal growth. The species prefers brightly lit conditions.
These plants grow readily from cuttings taken from the main stem. Plant the cuttings in the substrate, and roots will form naturally.
Care and maintenance
Other than regular pruning to keep the plants’ growth rate under control, all you need to do to keep them tidy is snip off any dead leaves from the lower couple of inches of the stems.
This section of our guide gives you the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Dwarf Hygrophila.
Q: How do you care for Hygrophila?
A: The many species of Hygro that are suitable for use in the aquarium are extremely easy to grow and care for. These aquatic plants will be at home in a tropical aquarium setup where the temperature is between 680 and 860 Fahrenheit, and the pH range is between 5.0 and 8.0. Although you could provide CO2 and mineral supplements, that’s not strictly necessary for the plants to show an impressive growth rate.
Q: How do you grow Corymbosa Hygrophila?
A: Corymbosa Hygrophila is easy to propagate from small cuttings taken from the parent plant’s main stem. Set the cuttings in the substrate, and within a week or so, new plants will begin to grow.
Q: Can Hygrophila grow out of water?
A: Yes, most species of Hygrophila are emergent plants. That means that provided the plant roots are left submerged, the leaves can grow above the waterline. However, in an aquarium setting, you may find that your plants become dehydrated if the leaves are allowed to grow too close to the cover slide and lighting.
Q: How do you plant Hygrophila Siamensis?
A: Originating in Asia, Hygrophila Siamensis is also known as Corymbosa Hygrofila. Plant a few stems in a small group toward the back of the aquarium. When the top shoots reach the waterline, cut them off and replant them. The plants will quickly form new roots and start to grow.
Q: Where can you buy Hygrophila?
A: You can buy plants of the Hygrophila family from fish stores, or you may order them from a good aquatic plant dealer.
There are many advantages to growing one or two species of Hygrophila in your aquarium. Fish and invertebrates use the plants as resting and hiding places, the plants help to oxygenate the water and remove CO2, and their vivid green colors give your tank set up a lovely, natural look.
All the species of these plants are easy to grow and care for, making them the ideal choice for a novice hobbyist. Also, you can grow your own Hygrophila from cuttings, simply by planting a leaf or two in the substrate and letting nature do the rest.