Adding plants to your aquarium is beneficial in multiple ways. First of all, plants add a natural beauty that bits of plastic just can’t. Most fish live in and around plants in the wild. Keeping plants for you fish will help them to feel more at home.
When you wish to keep the world inside your aquarium thriving, you’ll want to pay careful attention to the plants you choose. The right plants will do a lot of the work of cleaning and keeping its inhabitants healthy. An appropriate selection of plants keeps the water in your tank clean and full of healthy oxygen. Your fish and other creatures can shelter in the leaves. The right plants provide nutrients to fish and soils.
Meet the Water Wisteria
A great choice for many environments is Hygrophila difformis, or Water Wisteria.
From the Acanthaceae family of plants found in watery areas of India. Water Wisteria is a hearty choice for most tanks. If you are a beginner with your first aquarium, this is a great starter. Translated from Latin, this plant’s name means “lover of moisture, differently formed.”
Water Wisteria is an enjoyable plant to care for. It doesn’t need much attention, and it’s easy to propagate. Its stems are graceful in the water. Its bright green color is a lovely backdrop for observing bright colored fish. It is a versatile plant that you can grow in a variety of ways. Protect it from fish with a taste for its leaves, and you have a long living keeper of a plant.
Water Wisteria is a Popular Plant
Water Wisteria has delicate, herbal looking leaves that grow on stems as tall as ten inches. This makes it an interesting plant for paludariums, too. In a paludarium, the plant could grow both in and out of the water. Water Wisteria has leaves that are brighter green than the stems. This gives the plant a look of having dark shadows within. Fish will love to hide and peek out of Water Wisteria.
The most fascinating feature of Water Wisteria is that it’s leaves will form in two very different ways. It all depends on how you plant it. In nature, it’s a swamp plant. When you submerge the plant, it’s leaves are thicker, ridged, and teaspoon shaped. When the plant is completely underwater, the leaves narrow and take on a more feathered look.
The Magic Changing Leaves of Water Wisteria
This plant can be confusing. Did you see the feathery leaves in a friend’s aquarium and order Water Wisteria online? It might surprise you to receive the broad leaves of a newer plant. Did you see the broad leafed plant at a store and bring it home? You might feel alarmed to see it die back and grow thinner leaves.
Many people try to return their purchases. They flood online forums with questions like, “What’s up with this plant? I was tricked!” Don’t worry, that’s the nature of Water Wisteria. The change is called heterophylly and it’s a kind of leaf plasticity. That means this plant can change its leaf shape to get the best use out of whatever environment it’s in.
Out of water, a plant need only worry about getting enough sun. A broad, flat leaf catches the most light. Under water, a plant has to adapt to stand against currents and the general movement of water. Think of your fingers opened or closed in the water. There is less resistance, and less wear and tear on “fingered” leaves.
Water Wisteria is a Hard Working Plant
Water Wisteria is a great habitat plant for fish, shrimp, etc., offering lots of places to hide. It helps protect the health of your fish by absorbing nitrates from the water. Nitrates develop from fish waste or bits of food and plants composting in the tank. Composting matter creates ammonia, and nitrates are a by-product of ammonia. Nitrates are food for the Water Wisteria, helping it to grow. This waste is the same nutrients that would support algae. Water Wisteria is more aggressive than algae, giving it little chance to develop in your tank. This makes it a great plant to use if you are running a filter-free tank.
Buying a Water Wisteria Plant
Once you have decided to buy Water Wisteria for your aquarium, you’ll want to prepare before you bring it home. Have your tank ready with the proper planting medium if you plan on growing it upright.
The fun part of growing Water Wisteria is watching it transform. If you buy your plant commercially, there is a good chance it will come in its broad-leaved, submersed form. When you are introducing it to the immersed life, the plants will drop some leaves and die back a little. Then it will begin sprouting its feathery under-water leaves.
Choose a plant with a rich root system. this will encourage it to acclimate better to its new home. Leave plants with yellowed spots at the store. They are deficient in iron and won’t do well.
Three Ways to Display Water Wisteria
There are three basic planting styles for the Water Wisteria. It can be floating, rooted, or carpeted. You can choose one style or, in a big enough tank, use all three. Each is simple to do and show off how versatile Water Wisteria is.
When you want to float the plant, you do exactly that. Lay your plant on the surface of the water in a place that will be okay with shade below. In the right light, your plant will even produce flowers. It’s okay to anchor it to another plant to keep it in one place. What you’ll end up with is a horizontal plant with long, flowing roots hanging gracefully below. The plant will grow both above and below the water surface, floating like a rain cloud. The roots grow from along the stems, like it’s raining down from the plant.
Style-wise, you might like the opposite, a feathery carpet for your tank. Use plant anchors to lay your plant across substrate or fine gravel at the bottom of your tank. The Water Wisteria will root to the soil and create a low forest-like environment. Care for your carpet with frequent pruning. This keeps the leaves smaller and more delicate looking.
Water Wisteria will become a beautiful backdrop to the tableaux in your tank. It can also grow into a hearty divider, creating different “rooms.” This is as simple as planting the roots right into the substrate in your tank.
Water Wisteria is not Water Sprite
Water Wisteria grows big and it grows wide. If you are thinking of putting it into a small tank, be ready to prune it every day. It can grow up to almost two feet high and almost a foot around. The leaves are light-green and the stems are darker. The roots are milky-white. Each plant grows off of a single, strong stem.
This plant is often mistaken for Water Sprite, which is another great plant for your system. The differences are easy to spot once you know them. Water Sprite, a fern, plant grows from a thick, central clump. Water Sprite will branch out more than Water Wisteria.
Growing Conditions for Water Wisteria
In it’s natural habitat, Water Wisteria grows in warm, swampy water that’s around 75-80 degrees. It grows in full sun, too. Consider both of these factors when choosing the environment for your Water Wisteria. Also, think of the sandy, matter-rich soil it thrives in. How could you mimic that in your tank?
You can recreate Water Wisteria’s habitat with a large tank and a good substrate-fine gravel mix. Keep the water warm and close to a neutral ph. Water with a lower mineral content is better for the plant. Think of that Indian sunshine when lighting the tank. Keep Water Wisteria well-lit to encourage photosynthesis. Remember that these plants feed themselves from their eco systems. If you add fertilizer or CO2 it can grow too fast.
Water Wisteria needs room to move. Remember this is a single-stalk plant, not a clumper. Imagine these tall plants gently swaying back and forth in the water. Plant with enough space between them to encourage this dance. Too much crowding will block the light it needs to thrive.
Water Wisteria Care for a Healthy Plant
Water Wisteria is a very low-maintenance addition to your system. But that hardiness creates the one chore this plant always needs. Hygrophila difformis can grow up to 1 inch per day with good light. Keeping the space wisteria needs to grow is important for its health. This means you will need to devote time to removing extra stems.
There are two ways to do this. The first way is to reach all the way to where the plant enters the substrate, and, with care, uproot a whole plant. This way you can move the developed plant to another tank, or gift a friend.
The second way is to trim the plants. Trimming keeps the bulk down in your tank. It’s also a good way to clean out discolored, damaged, or over nibbled leaves. Try to snip the plant at a notch. That’s where a smaller stem or group of leaves meets the main larger stem.
Snip away near the bottom of a plant to encourage new, feathery growth. If keeping growth to a minimum is important, take all the trimmings out of the tank. Every little piece left to itself will propagate.
Propagating Water Wisteria
In the wild, and in gardens, Hygrophila difformis grows half in and half out of the water. Life happens around the plants. Animals walk past, branches fall, breaking bits of the plant off. This pieces fall into the water and grow their own roots. That is how easy it is to propagate Water Wisteria.
The quick-and-dirty way to do this is to snip bits of your healthy plants and stick them back into the substrate. They will root and grow. This method does get a little messy. These clippings will show stress and drop some leaves. It won’t look its best.
A cleaner method is to first look at you plants, or a clipping you’ve already taken. Look for roots already growing out of the stem and snip so they are near the bottom. Take care to pull way the leaves near the bottom. You want to end up with a small plant with roots, 2 to 3 inches of clean stem, and a healthy set of leaves on top. Plant it as you would any other.
Roommates for your Water Wisteria
Water Wisteria looks lovely when combined with other aquatic plants. When arranging plants, think of having three different shapes. Water Wisteria has a feathery look. Choose a companion with sword-like leaves and something like a moss. The combo delivers different heights, textures and densities. This not only makes you aquarium nice to look at, it also gives fish different places to hang out.
These inhabitants should do their part for the environment you create as well. You want creatures that will enjoy hiding in the leaves of your Water Wisteria. A healthy plant can endure some nibbling but it’s no fun if they get devoured.
Rainbow fish, goldfish and silver dollars will eat more than their fill of Water Wisteria. Snails and larger cichlids will also be a problem. Avoid these at all costs. Shrimp are perfect for Water Wisteria and love to live among the leaves. Fish that are good companions to Water Wisteria are tetras, guppies, mollies, or bettas. Smaller cichlids would do fine. Keep an eye on them and move them if they become too disruptive.
Water Wisteria is a Winner
Should this beautiful, changeable plant have a space in your aquatic system? Yes, if you want a versatile plant that is low maintenance and beneficial to its environment.
Plant Water Wisteria upright, as a carpet, or let it float with its roots draping down. Set it and forget it, except for the occasional thinning. Let it do the job of cleaning nitrates from the watch, keeping fish healthy and algae at bay.
Water Wisteria is easy to find, easy to grow and easy to love.