Anubias & Emerse Culture

Whether you’re aquascaping or vivarium planting, I can’t recommend Anubias enough. Although I have little experience with other species, I currently grow three varieties of Anubias barteri, namely the miniature ‘nana petite’, slightly larger ‘nana’, and much larger ‘caladifolia’. At first I familiarised myself with the former varieties, acknowledging their notoriously slow growth in my 2ft aquarium; before planting out my new vivarium, however, I decided to do a bit of experimenting.

After an almost continuous flow of failure in keeping aquatic stem plants healthy, I looked into a cultivation method known as emerse culture. This is where a plants roots are submersed while the leaves and new shoots have access above the waterline. This way the specimen not only benefits from a continuous supply of liquid nutrients, but also a direct exposure to light and air.

I took out all my melting stem plants and placed some of them in pots with soil, I then put these in saucers half-full of water on my windowsill. I found that over time the leaves that previously grew underwater can’t cope with the sudden change in environment, so these fall off, but not before sending out new shoots. The new leaves tend to be a lot more compact, quicker to produce, and generally more robust. It was nice to finally have some success.

This then begs the question, if these plants really are aquatic then why do they thrive much better out of water?  A recent issue of Practical Fishkeeping Magazine actually answers this in an article entitled ‘The Shady Side of Houseplants’. The simple truth is, none but a few of them sold in the shops actually are fully aquatic! Even in nurseries, all, apart from the true floating plants are cultivated by means of emerse culture. The reason people manage to grow them well, submerged in aquascapes, is all down to a high-tech setup large on lighting and CO2 injection.

I don’t have this.

And neither do I particularly want it, but how am I going to have success with plants in my aquarium if most of them won’t grow without it?


Focus on plants suitable for low-tech setups, such as the trusty Anubias, Cryptocoryne, or Microsorum. There are loads of plants that will readily thrive in setups of low-mid level lighting and without the need for expensive pressurised canisters of CO2, just look online.

Failing that, change a factor in the setup itself. Some of the most difficult of plants grown submersed in high-tech setups will flourish above the waterline in a low-tech enclosure – literally think outside of the box and design a riparium, paludarium, or vivarium.

Anubias barteri emerse

In my case, I went for both. I currently have an aquarium full of Cryptocoryne and Microsorum, topped with floating (and nitrate consuming) Salvinia natans, and of course, my recently constructed vivarium – which leads me back to my original point about Anubias.

Instead of only cultivating Anubias submersed as I did before, these too now grow above the waterline, not only around the margins, but halfway up the background as well! The plant in the image above (top left) sits in line with a drip wall, its epiphytic roots are constantly wet and slowly creep outwards along the cork bark. This particular ‘nana’ seems to enjoy the spot so much that it has grown twice the size of the others lower down in the tank. I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw flowers anytime soon, as the production rate of new leaves is incredible compared to that experienced underwater. This isn’t to say that I have abandoned submerse culture altogether, though, as I have a handful of plants towards the foreground wherein slow growth is actually appreciated.

Providing a humid environment is maintained, Anubias itself is a very hardy plant; portions of one rhizome can even be seperated into many pieces and grown on to develop as individual plants. Their ease of keeping is exemplified by minimal lighting demands and no need for a substrate, while their visual appeal speaks for itself.


~ by Adam Bone on November 4, 2011.

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