Water lettuce (pistia stratiotes) is an attractive and easy to care for aquarium plant that is popular amongst home aquarists. It floats on the surface of the water, resembles (as the name implies) a small lettuce, which can range from dwarf to giant in size.
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More About The Water Lettuce
First discovered near Lake Victoria in the Nile, Africa, water lettuce is present both naturally and through human introduction in most subtropical and tropical fresh waterways. It is recognizable by its thick soft leaves that form a floating rosette, and roots which are submerged in the water.
Light green in color with wavy margins and parallel veins, the water lettuce is covered in short hairs that form a basket. Flowers are hidden, and often not seen, in the middle of the plant itself amongst the leaves. The structure of this plant helps with its buoyancy as it traps air bubbles within. Size varies from dwarf, around a centimeter, to giant, twenty-five centimeters plus.
Water lettuce is considered invasive as a species as well as an ideal mosquito breeding habitat. It thrives in waters with high nutrient content and can display weedy overgrowth behavior. Aquarists, however, love this plant and it can be sourced through most garden and aquatic centers.
|Scientific Name||Pistia stratiotes|
|Light Levels||Natural light-Medium|
|Water Conditions||70-80° F, pH 6.5-7.5|
How To Grow And Care For Water Lettuce
Though water lettuce prefers waters with temperatures around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and a pH of 6.5 to 7.2, it will do well in most home aquariums. It is easy to care for, just requiring removal of excess plants and yellowing leaves during weekly tank maintenance, and good access to nutrients.
Care should be taken when it comes to lighting as most water lettuce is grown, prior to purchase, in the shade. It will not cope well with bright lights which will scorch its leaves, so it should be introduced slowly to aquarium lights.
Initial growth of the water lettuce will more than likely be slow, but it will accelerate as the plant matures. Be careful, as previously mentioned, to remove excess plants as they will easily take over and make your aquarium a weedy mess.
Care In Aquariums With Moving Currents
With plants rooted in the substrate, a moving current is rarely a worry. However, this is not the case for the free-floating water lettuce. Water currents can push them around, especially when young and small, or even push them under the surface near outflows of filters.
In order to deal with this problem you can, however, create a ‘roped-off area’ that will prevent your water lettuce from being buffeted around. This allows the plant to grow and form a mat which once dense should not be so easily moved around.
Propagation Of Water Lettuce
Water lettuce can propagate both sexually and asexually in the home aquarium, though sexually is extremely rare. However, water lettuce does pardon the pun, breed like rabbits, and you can soon be overrun.
Sexual Propagation – The flower of the water lettuce is situated in the center of the plant with each individual only having male or female flowers. When successful fertilization takes place, a small many-seeded green berry will appear from which new plants will grow.
Asexual Propagation – In this far more common form of propagation, the mother plant will develop smaller daughter plants that are attached to them by short stolons. Mother plants will develop plenty of daughters with little to no help from you.
Be wary, however, of this kind of propagation as these mother and daughter plants can soon form a thick matting over the aquarium’s entire surface. This can result in little or no light reaching any other plants you have in your aquarium, or even cause the suffocation of your fish.
Is Water Lettuce Compatible With All Fish?
In the main, water lettuce is suitable for aquariums with all species of fish. However, you may want to take care with larger specimens such as cichlids, Koi, and Goldfish which may damage it. Herbivores can also prove to be a water lettuce nuisance as they sometimes nibble on the submerged roots or even the plant itself.
Do I Need Water Lettuce In My Aquarium?
No, you don’t need water lettuce, or in fact any live plant, in your aquarium. However, it needs to be said, that having them, can be extremely beneficial to both your fish and the aquarium itself.
Live plants, you see, create a natural eco-system (in miniature) which boosts your fish’s health. Plants produce oxygen that your fish need to breathe; they also absorb harmful carbon dioxide and ammonia that your fish generate.
This is not to mention the beauty of live plants such as water lettuce in any aquarium environment They will also provide security and shelter for fish that need it such as young fry or more timid species.
- Is Water Lettuce illegal in some states? Water lettuce has a very fast and aggressive growth rate; water lettuce is illegal to possess in Florida without a special permit.
- Can Water Lettuce help with algae? Yes, Water lettuce takes all the nutrients they need from the water which helps control algae within your aquarium.
- Do fish eat water lettuce? Many larger species like cichlids, Goldfish and Koi will eat water lettuce.
- Is water lettuce only for ponds? No, Water lettuce is suitable for both ponds and aquariums.
- How long are the roots of water lettuce? Their roots can reach lengths of up to 20-22 inches.
- Is water lettuce hardy? Yes, water lettuce is not only hardy and
fast – growingbut it’s also easy to care for.
Conclusion: Water Lettuce Care Guide
Water lettuce, as you have seen, is a fine example of the mantra that live planting in an aquarium does not have to be difficult. It is easy to care for, easy to propagate and will prove to be popular with many species of fish. It is also a little different from most water plant varieties in that it floats on the surface and does not need its roots to be anchored. This makes it popular with both aquarists who like something a little different and fish that need its shelter.
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I have been working in the tropical fish industry for over 30 years now and I’m still learning. Everyday is a school day in this hobby. In my spare time I play golf very badly!