Easy Rosettes

(Unedited version)
Originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of
Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine

Rosette plants grow their leaves from a central short stem similar in appearance to a rose blossom. There are a number of rosette plants available for the aquarium, and some of them are very easy to grow in a simple set up and can produce dramatic results with a higher tech approach.

Sword Plants

Sword plants are the most commonly seen of the easy rosettes. The genus Echinodorus is found naturally in southern North America, Central and South America. The plants have been in cultivation for the aquarium trade for a long time and there are many species and varieties available.

The Amazon sword plant has been a long time favorite. Usually the plants sold as Amazon swords are actually E. bleheri. There is also an E. amazonicus (and to make things more confusing it’s also been called E. brevipedicellatus) which is much less often available in the hobby. Regardless of which of these plants you actually have they can both grow to be very large. Many of the swords can, in time take over a smaller home aquariums.

In the 1970’s and 80’s Amazon swords, and occasionally pygmy chain swords, were about the only ones you could find for sale in the pet shops. In the 90’s more swords became available, it seemed a lot of varieties of melon swords came out during that time. Now quite a few more species and varieties of swords have become commonly available. You can often find them with the potted aquarium plants in your local aquarium stores.

Some of the most exciting thing about the swords is the incredible colors and leaf shapes that are available. They can have red, spotted or even golden color. Leafs can be long and narrow leaves, round or even grass like. The Ozelot sword is a beautiful cultivar that has large light green leaves with striking red spotting, and pink blush. It will grow well in most aquariums, but it can look incredible with a good substrate and additional CO2.

E. uruguayensis is another sword I’ve really enjoyed over the years. There are several different swords once considered different species that are all now included as E uruguayensis. I have several of these plants and have found all of them to be easy to grow, similar to the Amazon swords but somewhat smaller.

Remember when planting these medium to larger sized swords that they will in fact get large, not only will the leaves block light from any plants under them, the roots will cover large areas under your substrate. Moving or removing these plants after they’ve sent roots across your entire tank can be very difficult without an entire breakdown of the tank, and possibly you too.

Even though most swords are medium sized to large the genus does include the very popular and easy to grow carpeting plant the pygmy chain sword, E. tenellus. This is one of my favorite easy to grow carpeting plants that is one of the few that can almost always be used successfully in a low tech planted tank. It makes a nice low grass like carpet across your tank. There is a narrow, broad leafed and red variety of pygmy chain sword sometimes available.

Varieties and Cultivars

Plants are classified scientifically in various groups of closer similarities or relationships, the smallest of which is the species. Sometimes even when plants are in the same species they can have differences, these plants are distinguished from each other as varieties.

Very basically, to be considered a variety the plant must have different distinguishing features from the described species and those differentiating features must also occur in the offspring of the plant. Varieties can occur naturally, most often when a species is separated geographically, though they can also occur in the same population. Varieties can also be created through selective breeding. Varieties can be further broken down in to subvarieties and forms.

Cultivar is used to describe a plant that has received the distinction under the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants. A cultivar can be a species or hybrid that’s distinct from other cultivars. It also must be propagated reliably. Reliably doesn’t necessarily mean naturally. Some cultivars are hybrids that can only be reproduced through human intervention.

“Plant variety” is another similar term that has a special meaning. A plant variety indicates that the plant was bred specially and that someone has the right to royalties from the sale of the plants. These are similar to the intellectual property laws we’re usually more familiar with like those for written material, images or music.


Unlike the sword plants that are often used as solitary plants in the aquarium; the Cryptocorynes are usually planted in groups. These popular aquarium plants are found naturally through South and Southeast Asia and New Guinea.

Many of the Cryptocorynes offered for the aquarium are very similar in appearance, add that to their very variable leaf forms then compound that with the several varieties within some species and it can become incredible difficult to correctly identify which Cryptocoryne you have. For many you need to get them to bloom and then pull in an expert to find out. Even the experts have difficulty deciding which plants belong to which species of crypts and the names are revised regularly and probably still not done being revised.

Fortunately the difficulty in identifying them doesn’t cross over in to their ease of growth. Most of the Cryptocyrnes you find for sale will have a nice medium height. Crypts make a great in transitional plant, to go between the tall stemmed plants in back of your tank and your low ground covers in front.

One of these medium sized crypts found frequently is the wendtii. This plant comes in green bronze and red tints. It’s incredibly easy to grow in most conditions. These plants can grow in almost any conditions. In lower light levels the growth will be slow but with the addition of CO2 they will grow quite quickly. Even with their slower growth in simpler tanks these crypts can slowly take over. Huge mats of crypts can grow in your tanks. I’ve taken down aquariums where I’ve tried to pull out the crypts and ended up just pulling the whole substrate from the tanks in one full piece due to the extreme matting of the Cryptocyrne roots.

The smallest Cryptocoryne is C. parva. It’s not too commonly found and usually grows with very tiny, bright green leaves. I have it in several tanks and know others that have it in their tanks and in all but one instance that I’ve seen it has this very small bright green growth. When I first got the plant I got it growing fairly well and after quite a few new plants developed I decided to try it in several other tanks, where it either had the same small growth or did poorly. In all but one aquarium that is. For some reason in one tank it grows much larger. At first I thought I may have inadvertently put the wrong crypt in so I have removed plants in that tank to other tanks and put more of the small growth parva in and the same small leaves develop in those plants I remove and the large leaves develop in those I add. It was suggested this growth was due to low light but the lighting in this tank is actually higher than most of the other tanks I’m growing it in so in this instance that doesn’t seem to be the case.


Anubias are a beautiful genus of plants from Africa, named after the ancient Egyptian Jackal headed god of the dead. You could debate whether or not they are actually rosettes but whatever you call them Anubias are very interesting looking aquatic plants. They just don’t really look like most aquatic plants, and grow naturally with just their roots in the water. Anubias look more like they should be growing up trees in a jungle. This makes them wonderful contrasting plants in the aquarium.

Anubias grow along a rhizome that is best grown on a piece of aquarium wood or rock. Do not plant the rhizome in the substrate. You can let the roots get into the substrate but planting the rhizome will make it rot and die, your leaves will float up to the top of the tank and that will be the end of the plant. To grow the Anubias on wood (or rock) it’s usually best to tie the plant on to the wood and let future growth anchor it naturally. You don’t have to grow your Anubias on wood or rock; it can also be grow with the root tips in the substrate and the rhizome an inch or so above.

Anubias can be easily propagated by cuttings, just clip a section of the rhizome off that includes at least a few leaves. You can use a sharp knife, scissors or sometimes your fingernails to cut the rhizome. Be careful to not squish the rhizome while you’re cutting it, as this will cause damage and kill that part of the plant.

A large Anubias, like the commonly found A. barteri, looks wonderful as a long runner on a piece of wood; they can also be dramatic planted in large groups. There are several varieties of A. barteri. The smaller A. barteri nana can be particularly beautiful planted when planted in large groups. To achieve this look the rhizomes of the plants are often lightly scored with a sharp knife to promote more leaf growth.

The rosette plants available for the aquarium come in a huge variety of sizes, leaf shapes and colors. Many are very easy to grow so can be used in set ups that wouldn’t support other plants. Rosettes can also be used in high tech tanks to produce dramatic results that wouldn’t be possible in a simpler set up, making them useful plants for any aquatic gardner.

Questions or Comments?

If you have questions or Comments about this column, join the Natural Aquariums Forum and post them here.

Welcome to the Jungle | Into The Forest | The Creepy Crawlies | A Clearing in the Thicket | Algae Eaters for the Planted Aquarium
North American Natives | Why things go wrong Pt 1 | Why things go wrong Pt 2 (Algae) | Algae Eating Shrimp | Lo-Tech Tanks
Welcome to the Fish Room | The Stemmed Plants | Mosses | A Livebearer Biotope | Planted Tank Social | The Genus Hygrophila | Cyanobacteria
Easy Plants | What I Did Last Summer | Decorations in the Planted Tank | Botany-An Introduction to Plant Biology | Botany-Anatomy of a plant
Botany-How Plants Work | Easy Rosettes | Going High-Tech | Floating Plants | Dealing with Success | Bringing the Outside In | Vallisneria
Hair Algae | Flowering Aquarium Plants Part 1 | Flowering Aquarium Plants Part 2 | Liverworts in the Aquarium | Elements of Design
Planted Aquarium Maintenance | More Mosses | Invaders | Ferns in the Aquarium | Setting up a Planted Aquarium
Seaweeds of the Pacific Northwest | Proserpinaca | Hardware for the Planted Aquarium | Rotala | Neocaridina Shrimp | Lo-tech Tank Tips

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