Rotala Wallichii: A Complete Care Guide

Jennifer Doll

Jennifer Doll


Rotala Wallichii

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Looking for a vibrant red color to bring to your freshwater planted aquarium? 

Rotala wallichii, also known as whorly Rotala, can be a bright and fluffy addition to the aquatic landscape. This versatile plant can create a gorgeous background for your tank, growing high enough to reach the surface of nearly any sized display. 

However, these plants will only show their true colors when all their needs are met, making them a moderately difficult species to keep.

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about Rotala wallichii and how to keep it blooming red in your aquarium! 

Rotala Wallichii Info
NamesRotala wallichii or whorly Rotala 
Care LevelModerate - Advanced 
ColorGreen, Red, Purple
Temperature72-82 °F / 22.2 -27.8 °C
Size10 - 15 inches 
pH5.5 - 7.5
SubstrateGravel or Soil


Rotala wallichii is the scientific and common name for this species of plant. This plant may sometimes be referred to as whorly Rotala, though this is not commonly seen.

The Rotala wallichii classification is in reference to the circular whorl leaf pattern that develops. In botany, whorls mean that the leaves or petals of a plant form in a circular fashion around a single stem.

Natural Habitat 

Rotala wallichii is native to Southeast Asia and is typically found growing in the tropical waters of China, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, and Thailand.  

In Southeast Asia, Rotala wallichii is found growing along shorelines with slightly acidic and soft water. These ecosystems are usually shallow where there is plenty of light and good water movement.

Interestingly, this plant can be found growing as fully submersed and partially emersed. Rotala wallichiiwill grow emersed as long as their roots are submersed and all other preferred conditions are met. 

In the aquarium trade, Rotala wallichiiis grown as fully submersed.


Rotala wallichii is a part of the Lythraceae family and can often be found among other plants from the Rotala genus.

Despite sharing a family name, Rotala wallichii doesn’t share many visual characteristics with the other species in this group.

While most aquatic plants in the Rotala genus feature thick branching leaves, Rotala wallichii is usually a single-stemmed plant that grows its leaves from the nodes of its stem. 

One of the most notable and attractive features of this fragile plant is its bright red leaves. However, these plants only display red leaves when lighting and nutrient conditions are met.

Otherwise, Rotala wallichii will have long feathery green leaves and a bushy appearance. New leaves at the top of the plant are much lighter and nearly transparent while leaves near the bottom are solid green.

Depending on whether this plant lives above or below the waterline changes the way its leaves grow. In general, these plants can grow to be 10-15 inches (25.4-38.1 cm) tall. 

When fully submerged, the leaves are thinner and take on an oval shape, which is how the plant will be presented in an aquarium setting. When living above the surface, its leaves are usually thicker and rounder. 

If you want to get the full experience out of your Rotala wallichii, it is possible to see both leaf patterns on one single plant!

The way to do this is by having an extra tall tank where there is still some leftover room between the top of the tank and the waterline. Simply allow your Rotala wallichii to grow right out of the water and watch how the leaves change as they get closer to the light!

Tank Requirements

Rotala Wallichii

It’s hard to resist the bright red and fluffy appearance of Rotala wallichii, but it’s not a plant for everyone.

Rotala wallichii is moderately difficult to keep and requires extra care. This plant can grow to impressive heights and can be quite demanding when it comes to lighting and nutrients.

At the same time, they don’t ask for too much. They grow in most substrates and make a great background plant. As we’ll discuss though, they need high lighting and available nutrients.

It should also be noted that this plant grows relatively quickly in optimal conditions. Though they look great in a larger tank, they can fit into nano aquariums as long as regular pruning and trimming are maintained.


For Rotala wallichii to develop its iconic reddish color on its leaves, the lighting should be above 2 watts per gallon.

This should keep the stems green while turning the leaves either red or pink over time. Note that these results won’t be immediate, especially if moving the plant from lower lighting conditions to higher ones. 


Even though Rotala wallichii grows roots, it takes up most of the nutrients it needs from the surrounding water column.

These plants can also be more sensitive to changes in water parameters than other submersed plants, so stable water quality is a must.

To keep your Rotala wallichii thriving, maintain a water temperature between 72-82° F (22.2 -27.8° C). These plants prefer slightly acidic water conditions, with a pH between 5.5-7.5.

Since these plants grow very quickly and express red, they need a good amount of available nutrients. Because of this, there should always be readable levels of nitrate (<40 ppm) and phosphate.

These nutrients can be maintained through added livestock or fertilizers. For Rotala wallichii, liquid or dry fertilizers are recommended instead of root tabs as they absorb nutrients directly from the water. 

Again, Rotala wallichii is a sensitive plant and won’t tolerate common beginner mistakes regarding water quality. It might even be necessary to test and dose trace elements, like iron, to bring out the best in your plant. 

Carbon Dioxide

Does Rotala wallichii need carbon dioxide? The answer to this question isn’t entirely straightforward. 

Rotala wallichii doesn’t need carbon dioxide to grow, but it won’t take on its signature red colors without it.

If you plan to keep your plant without supplementing carbon dioxide, then it will most likely stay green. There may be some signs of redness in the new leaves, but this may slowly turn to green.

Not only will carbon dioxide give your plant what it needs to display its best colors, but it will also help with overall plant growth. 

Rotala wallichii takes up most of the nutrients it needs from the water column instead of from the substrate. If there are plenty of available nutrients, carbon dioxide, and good lighting, then the plant will show red. 

However, the plant will still grow without added carbon dioxide, just at a much slower, greener rate.

Tank Size

Rotala wallichii is a very versatile plant when it comes to the environments it can live in.

This plant is suitable for both large tanks as well as nano tanks if trimmings are maintained.

If growing Rotala wallichii in a smaller tank, make sure you keep on top of trimming its stem to ensure it doesn’t outgrow its environment. 

Tank Mates 

The delicate nature of Rotala wallichii means some extra consideration is needed when choosing which aquarium fish to pair with it.

Fish with relaxed natures are best suited to live with this plant, like tetras or rasboras. Fish that are known to nibble or dig up plants in a tank, like a goldfish, should be avoided at all costs.

This plant is already sensitive to water conditions, so you don’t want to decrease your odds of it thriving by adding a poor assortment of tank mates. 

Planting And Growing

Rotala wallichii is best grown in groups. The feathery leaves of this plant can make a dense forest, perfect for background placement.

It is recommended to plant about 5 stems at about 1-2 inches (2.5-5.1 cm) apart from each other. This space allows for maximum light to reach the leaves at all levels and to keep water flowing to prevent algae

Algae can severely damage the delicate leaves of Rotala wallichii so keep this in mind. Algae can also be very difficult to pull off from these aquatic plants once it has been established so it’s best to treat it as soon as possible.

Rotala wallichii is a tall plant, making them ideal for the background or even mid-ground planting. They are relatively easy to prune for a shorter and bushier appearance but grow back relatively quickly. 

To keep this plant healthy you should regularly trim the upper stalk about 2 inches from the top. This will allow new stalks to grow and for their leaves to flourish.


Can Rotala wallichii grow in gravel? Yes! Rotala wallichii doesn’t take any of its nutrients from the soil, which gives you the option to grow this plant on any substrate of your choice.  

As long as these plants have plenty of space to grow their roots, they’ll be happy in whatever substrate you choose.

Growth Rate 

Rotala wallichii will grow at a rate of about 1 inch (2.5 cm) a month.

Getting this plant to reach its full height will take about a year, though this can be greatly increased given the right tank conditions.

The growth rate also depends on tank size and how high you want the plant to grow.


Rotala wallichii can be somewhat expensive compared to other aquatic foliage, though it’s generally common to come across in fish stores. 

Luckily, Rotala wallichii is very easy to propagate so you don’t need to spend more money than you have to.

Once you notice that the plant has become too tall for your liking or starts to fall over, it’s time to trim. Simply use aquascaping scissors to slice the top of the plant off. Don’t throw these trimmings away, though!

These trimmings can be used for propagation. Gently place the tops of the parent plant into the substrate, and within weeks a new plant will establish itself.

Allow these plants to keep growing or pass them off to a fellow hobbyist.

Why Should You Include Rotala wallichii In Your Aquarium?

Rotala wallichii provides colors that are rare to find in most aquariums. Their long stems and whorly leaves make them a great place for the fish in your tank to get a bit of privacy as well.

The soft nature of the Rotala wallichii stems allows them to sway with the currents in your tank, creating a mesmerizing effect. Coupling this plant with creative use of driftwood and strong lighting can make your tank feel like an enchanted forest for your fish to explore.

Rotala wallichii And Other Plants 

Keeping Rotala wallichii in a community tank with similar-sized plants is a good idea.

These plants look best when grown in clusters but their larger size can block the light that other plants need, so be sure to take time to plan out your aquascape.

Keeping these plants in the background of your tank and letting your smaller plants fill the fore- and mid-ground works best for all plants involved. 

Buying Rotala wallichii 

As mentioned before, Rotala wallichii is easy to find but somewhat more expensive than other freshwater plants. Luckily, most aquarium stores will sell them in bushels of 5-6 individual stems.

When buying your Rotala wallichii, the plant must look healthy. If shopping at a reputable store, the leaves should be red, algae-free, and standing on their own. 

Your plant may lose its color and some leaves once introduced into your tank. Make sure that parameters are optimal and give your plant some time to adjust to your system.

Final Thoughts 

Rotala wallichii is a popular aquarium plant due to its bright red leaves and full appearance but is more appropriate for experienced hobbyists.

These plants make an excellent addition to the backdrops of large and small aquariums alike but do require higher lighting, nutrients, and carbon dioxide levels compared to other low-tech species.

If you have any questions about Rotala wallichii or if you have had experience with another species of Rotala, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below! 

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