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Echinodorus Sword Plants Make Great Emersed Plants

swordplantWith the popularization of different styles of aquascaping and the popularity of riparian plants more plants are being kept in emersed form.  In nature most aquarium plants will grow above the water line in an emersed state during low water times, like summer.  While they do grow above water part of the year they still need to maintain humidity levels that they are comfortable with.  Emersed plants are already adapted to above water so they are perfect for making wabi sabi.

The echinodorus, commonly referred to as the swird plant or amazon sword, are becoming more popular in above water displays.  As the popularity rises it stands to reason that they would follow in the footsteps of cryptocorynes and be housed in their own emersed setups.  Echinodorus make excellent transition plants from aquarium to terra firma.

While echinodorus will thrive and grow very well above water they tend to have coloring differences between submerged and emersed growth.  It’s not always easy to predict how each plant will produced new growth after acclimating.  Even lighting and fertilization regime can affect coloration and aesthetics to a degree.  It’s well worth trying to see what can happen.

We talked with Amanda Wenger who has a three season greenhouse filled with emersed plants most of the year.  We asked about her experience with emersed versus submerged.

“It’s fairly common for color changes to occur in Echinodorus from submersed to emersed, especially from red to green. Red submersed plants frequently have red-veined green leaves emersed, as an example. Some turn totally green. My emersed ‘Tanzende Feuerfeder’ is solid green, and my ‘Altlandsberg’ displays dark green foliage with red veins.” Amanda explains.

We acquired a number of beautiful echinodorus plants from Amandas greenhouse that were grown emersed.  Her plants are doing fantastic in our collection.  Now that the weather has begin to cool off though we brought our swords inside from our greenhouse.

In the greenhouse sword plants will do well with a potting soil such as Miracle Gro mixed with coarse sand or fine gravel.  We use a clay fired fullers clay also called Turface.  3 parts potting mix, one part coarse sand, and one part turface.  This is mixed to a uniform consistency and then placed into a bin.  Three or four inches of media is good for most swords.

“I have the mother plants in individual pots sitting in an open-top tub in the greenhouse.” Amanda tells us another great way to grow swords.  “If swords are properly maintained, they’ll turn into monster plants given half a chance. So long as they have nutrients, they’ll find a way to grow. “echinodorus

Not only do emersed plants generally grow well when grown emersed, they also tend to propagate faster.  We could all use more plants faster couldn’t we?  Thats another beautiful thing about growing emersed is faster multiplication.

“When they get bored of just growing bigger, they’ll send out a bajillion scapes and make babies. That will slow, but not stop, the mother plant’s growth. They also propagate by crown division, so eventually your mother plant can be pulled up and broken into multiple other plants.” She tells us.

“If you kept repeating that process, you could limit their horizontal spread, but even that won’t prevent their vertical growth. Most varieties get to be around 2 feet tall (or bigger) emersed.  There are a handful of exceptions like E. grisebachii ‘Tropica’ (a.k.a “E. parviflorus”).”

Echinodorus will do fine in lower humidity environments if they are slowly acclimated to it.  Coming out of the aquarium into 40 percent humidity isn’t the proper way to convert plants over.  Taking them from the aquarium and placing them in a high humidity climate is the best way for success.  Even spraying them multiple times a day.

Our greenhouse has a misting system set with a timer.  Twice a day the timer comes on and sprays the entire area for 5 minutes.  This is a precautionary practice mostly as once they are in the greenhouse and have new hard growth they will thrive with 60 percent humidity without misting in our experience.  Often they will do well with much less humidity but the must acclimate.

Not everyone has a greenhouse to keep their emersed plants in.  If you want to keep them indoors simple methods like soda bottles cut off and slipped over their own base work great too.  Deli tubs in 32 ounce sizes work well for smaller plants.  Aquariums with a glass top or plastic film cover work great.  There are only limitations in what you have available and your imagination.

Indoors we keep our swords in clear plastic storage tubs under fluorescent lighting.  They are in individual pots sitting in an inch or two of water that we change once a month or so.  This water is also the delivery system for our fertilizing regimen.  We add fertilizer to water in a weak solution and add this to the base water once a week.

When we want to create a wabi sabi or aquascape we grab the plants from the tubs and rinse the roots free of substrate.  Trimming the roots before replanting often helps promote new growth as well.  We have far more plants with minimal amount of work using the emersed system to keep and propagate plants.

Experiment with keeping emersed grown plants and you can easily maintain your own personal plant library where you will have plant stock waiting for you when you create your next biotope or display.  Its an amazing and simple thing that anyone can do.


-Amanda Wenger maintains an emersed growth greenhouse and is a contributing writer for Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazine.

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