Caring For Amazon Swords: Lighting, Substrate, & Melting

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amazon sword

Amazon swords are beautiful and they’ve been around since the dawn of fish keeping. We’re talking back when people were feeding their fish table scraps because there was no commercially available fish food. (Yeah, seriously.)

There are a few species that get sold under the common name “Amazon Sword,” and Echinodorus grisebachii (syn. Echinodorus bleherae or Echinodorus bleheri) and Echinodorus amazonicus are two examples. There are also plenty of outdated names and synonyms, or undescribed Echinodorus species that get incorrectly sold as “Amazon swords” instead of just “swords”, which adds to the confusion.

Regardless of species, most people will tell you Amazon swords are easy to take care of, they grow crazy fast, and they’re basically bulletproof. And if you’re like me, this “basically bulletproof” tidbit might leave you wondering why they always melt and die on you.

do you tell me lies because they sound better gif

But if you find yourself in that position, rest assured that you’re not alone and I’ll help you get through it. And if you’re debating if you want one, I’ll let you know everything you need to get through the often difficult melting period for these guys.

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Table of contents

caring for amazon swords


Distribution & Natural Habitat

Despite popular belief, these plants don’t typically grow in dark, murky waters. Instead, they’re usually in marshy areas, bogs, or in the shallow areas of ponds with tons of bright light. You usually won’t find the whole plant submerged in water like you would expect to see.

amazon sword habitat

Depending on the species in question, some Amazon swords don’t grow anywhere near the Amazons – or even in South America for that matter. Indian Red “Amazon Swords”, for example, actually come from South Africa – contrary to all indications the name gives you.

However, most Amazon swords can be found in Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, or even in some states such as Florida, South Dakota, and Illinois. But all of those are usually given the wrong common name, “Amazon sword” instead of whatever their accepted common name is.

Aquarium Care

From this point on, we’re going to be focusing on Echinodorus bleheri (or Echinodorus grisebachii/bleherae) and Echinodorus amazonicus to make things easier for everyone involved since they’re usually called Amazon swords and their care is so similar.

Difficulty: Average
Size: 20″ (51 cm)
Propagation: Runners
Fertilizer: Root
Speed Of Growth: Moderate
Temperature: 68 – 80F (20 – 26C)

pH6.0 – 7.5
Hardness: 5 – 12 dKH
Placement: Background
Origin: South America/North America
Aquascaping: Not usually used
Availability: Very common


Amazon swords do better with intense lighting, but they will survive with moderate to low lights. I would suggest not going under moderate and placing them in a tank that doesn’t have floating plants to block out their light.

The brighter their lighting, the greener they will be and the faster they’ll grow. Under moderate to low light conditions, they’ll start to turn a darker green. These are two different species, but to give you an idea of the color range, it’ll look pretty different under different lighting conditions:

High light

amazon sword low light
Low light

Of course, with brighter lights, you are potentially inviting algae to move in. To play it safe, I would suggest an adjustable light so you can keep things balanced, but it’s not really needed if you can’t swing it.

Fertilizers & Substrates For Amazon Swords

Amazon swords don’t need Co2 – though they appreciate it. However, they’ll typically fall apart without a nutrient-rich substrate – or at the very least a ton of root tabs – but they’ll do better with both. A basic rule of thumb is load them up to the point where you feel insane, and then load them up some more.

Planting, however, is where most people go wrong. You’ll want to make sure the crown of the plant isn’t buried, this the whitish part of the plant right above the roots where all the stems of the leaves join together. If you bury this, the whole thing will rot on you.

amazon sword crown

You also need to make sure the plant is firmly secured in your substrate. It’s much easier to plant these guys in gravel or loosely packed substrate (like Fluval Stratum) than it is sand. However, Stratum does typically float – which causes some issues – and you can plant them in something like HTH pool filter sand and stuff them with root tabs instead. If you want suggestions for planted substrates, I have the best ones below.

Additionally, they develop some pretty intense root structures, so your substrate needs to be sufficiently deep to allow them to spread out to their fullest potential.

Common Problems

The biggest issues people tend to have with Amazon swords are that they melt and die. If that’s where you find yourself; check your lights, your fertilizers, and your planting technique. If all of those are good, there’s a chance your water chemistry isn’t stable or it’s very different from the dealer’s tank, so be sure to monitor your chemistry regularly if it’s a relatively new tank. If it’s not, there’s a good chance you bought one that was grown immersed (above water) instead of submerged (below water.)

In either case, there’s no way to avoid melting. The best you can do is load it up on fertilizers and hope it bounces back. It will likely take somewhere from 4 – 6 weeks to come around and start regrowing, just be sure to not throw it out or siphon up the crown in a water change. You can (and should!) take out dead or rotting leaves though.

If after a month or so it’s not coming around, make sure you bought Echinodorus bleheri (or Echinodorus grisebachii/bleherae) or Echinodorus amazonicus. Aside from all that, there are a few other issues you might have with Amazon swords, all are listed below.


plant melting

Melting is incredibly common in aquatic plants as most of them are grown above water. If you pluck off the dying parts of the plant before they start rotting, the new aquatic growth should appear soon enough, and it’ll do just fine.


algae on plants

Algae growth is a common problem, it will eventually choke out plants or outcompete them. Algae is a sign of an unbalanced ecosystem, either there is too much light or there are too many nutrients in the water, without one of these opportunities it wouldn’t be able to take hold.

Slow Growth

slow plant growth

Slow growth isn’t a problem, per se, it’s a slow-growing plant. It’s more impatience that is the issue here. If your plant is floating, it’s worth anchoring it to get better growth. Aside from that, if your lights and your nutrients seem sufficient, it’s a waiting game.

Some plants, for whatever the reason, never seem to take off while others right next to them explode with growth. It could be that their root system grew in better or maybe their anchoring was better – whatever the reason – there’s no need to worry about it. If you’ve had the plant for, say, a year with minimal growth replanting or reanchoring it could be the solution.

Maintaining Amazon Swords

You don’t need to do a ton of maintenance on Amazon swords. If they start to get algae or diatoms, brush their leaves gently with a used soft toothbrush, dose substrate fertilizers as needed, and make sure they don’t get uprooted.

If you’re attempting to plant them in a smaller tank, you’ll likely need to do a decent amount of trimming. Simply trim down the longest leaves to the crown. You can try to cut leaves in half if you want to take some height off, but they usually die after that and they’ll look weird, so it’s easier to cut off the whole “stem” instead.

Alternatively, you could plant them in a smaller pot and restrict their growth. That way you don’t have to contend with trimming them all the time and they’ll usually start throwing off runners much sooner in a smaller space than they would if you gave them your whole tank.

Propagating Amazon Swords

New leaves with grow from within the plant (it’s a rosette plant.) So the plant will grow from the inside out, kinda like a rose. When the plant reaches its full potential size (usually around 18″ or so), it’ll start creating new Amazon sword plants by sending off runners. Eventually, the runners will develop root systems of their own and, once they do, they can be cut from the mother plant and planted.

amazon sword

If you’re working in a smaller space, planting your sword in a pot instead would speed this process up since it would reach it’s “full potential” much earlier.

What About Fish?

Amazon sword plants get huge, which is certainly an impressive sight when they max out in size! But for some fish that’s less than ideal.

The best tank mates for an Amazon sword are fish that aren’t going to try to eat it, obviously. And fish that won’t dig it up because it won’t be able to cope with that stress very well. Additionally, you’ll want to consider just how much swimming space you have available after it reaches its full potential. Which can be pretty big if you don’t restrict it.

So it doesn’t go great with super active fish like danios or roseline sharks, either unless you have the swimming space to compensate for this massive plant. The best tankmates would be fish that don’t mind some intense lighting, enjoy lots of plants to swim in, won’t uproot it, and do fine in a 20+ gallon tank, emphasis on the plus.

Chocolate Gourami (Sphaerichthys osphromenoides)

chocolate gourami

Chocolate gouramis are slightly tricky to keep and need to be kept in groups of six or more. They’re peaceful, shy fish that need soft, acidic water to survive and generally don’t accept prepared foods well.

pH: 4.0 – 6.5
dKH: 0 – 3
Temp: 74 – 86 F (24 – 30 C)

Size: 2″ (5 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful and shy
Swimming: Mid to bottom

Hillstream Loach (Sewellia sp.)

hillstream loach

Not the easiest fish to find, and you’ll likely need to special order them or order them online, but they are just a joy to have! There are almost 100 species of hillstream loaches, but most of them stay pretty small and need medium- to fast-flowing water. Typically, they do better in groups, but individual species research is definitely suggested.

pH: 5.5 – 7.0 – species dependent
dKH: 8 – 15
Temp: 72 – 78 F (22 – 26 C)

Size: 3″ (8 cm) usually
Temperament: Peaceful and active
Swimming: On structures

Rosy Loach (Petruichthys sp. ‘rosy’)

Rosy loaches are best kept in groups of at least 6 and they do best in planted setups. They’re often wild-caught, so most of them are in poor condition when you buy them. They also need to be added to a mature aquarium since they don’t do well with environmental swings.

pH: 6.5 – 8.5
dKH: 5 – 15
Temp: 68 – 79 F (20 – 26 C)

Size: 1.2″ (3 cm) max
Temperament: Peaceful and active
Swimming: Mid to bottom

Rainbow Shark (Epalzeorhynchos frenatum)

rainbow sharks

Rainbow sharks are the fish equivalent of clickbait. When you see them in stores they’re colorful, small, cute, and active…. But rainbow sharks get big. And when they get big, they get mean. But that means they can hang with the big boys if you set your tank up right.

pH: 6.0 – 7.5
dKH: 2 – 15
Temp: 68 – 80 F (20 – 26 C)

Size: 6″ (15 cm)
Temperament: Territorial/Aggressive
Swimming: Everywhere

Corydora (Corydora sp.)

Panda Cory Catfish

While each species will vary slightly, all require smooth substrates or bare bottom and do best when they’re kept in groups of at least six or more.

Some larger options would be better here, anywhere from 2.5″ (6.5 cm) and up. Good candidates would include bronze, emerald, Sterbai’s, and peppered cories.

pH: 5.5 – 7.0 – species dependent
dKH: 3 – 10
Temp: 72 – 80 F (22 – 26 C) – species dependent

Size: 1 – 3.5″ (2.5 – 9 cm) – species dependent
Temperament: Peaceful, can be boisterous for less active species
Swimming: Bottom (most) in a shoal of 6 or more

African Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi)

African butterfly fish

African butterfly fish make an interesting and unusual addition to any tank with a secure lid. They’re fantastic jumpers, but otherwise, they typically don’t move a ton. They tend to hang out at the surface under vegetation and ambush prey. Additionally, they’re typically crepuscular.

pH: 6.0 – 7.5
dKH: 5 – 15
Temp: 73 – 86 F (23 – 30 C)

Size: 4.8″ (12 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful, but will eat small tankmates
Swimming: Surface

Pea Puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus)

If you’re up for a little bit of a challenge, these guys are super rewarding once you put in some work. They’re tiny, smart, curious, personable, and full of sass – plus no salt.  

pH: 6.8 – 8.0
dKH: 5 – 25
Temp: 72 – 82°F (22 – 28°C)

Size: 1″ (2.5 cm)
Temperament: Varied
Swimming: Everywhere

Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)

Angelfish can be aggressive, but typically only when they’re spawning or – when they’re not spawning – aggressive towards their own kind. They do best in groups of 6 or more to spread out the aggression and don’t do well with boisterous fish or fin nippers because of their long ventral fins.

pH: 5.5 – 7.6
dKH: 2 – 20
Temp: 76 – 86 F (24 – 30 C)

Size: 6″ (15 cm)
Temperament: Can be aggressive
Swimming: Everywhere

Bristlenose Plecos (Ancistrus sp.)

bristlenose pleco

Most plecos aren’t suited for the average aquarium, some growing up to two feet long – not the bristlenose pleco. They’ll happily munch on algae, green beans, zucchinis, cucumbers, sinking algae wafers, and of course leftovers and fish poo – although leftovers and poo make for a literally shitty diet.

pH: 6.0 – 7.5
dKH: 6 – 10
Temp: 60 – 80 F (15 – 27 C)

Size: 4 – 5″ (10 – 12 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful, can be territorial
Swimming: Everywhere that has structure

Sparkling gourami (Trichopsis pumila)

Sparkling gourami

Little known fact about sparkling gouramis; they’re quite social and gregarious creatures! Although they don’t school or shoal, they do enjoy social interactions with their own kind – in fact, most gourami do! – and we suggest a four minimum to make sure they’re comfortable.

pH: 6 – 8
dKH: 5 – 18
Temp: 72 – 81 F (22 – 27 C)

Size: 1.5″ (4 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful, can be aggressive when spawning
Swimming: All water

Panda Garra (Garra flavatra)

panda garra

A fun, feisty, and unique alternative to other algae-eaters like SAEs and bristlenose plecs. However, these guys can get into it with one another, so it’s best to have only one or a large group.

pH: 6.0 – 7.5
dKH: 2 – 12
Temp: 72 – 81 F (22 – 27 C)

Size: 3.5″ (9 cm)
Temperament: Bold and feisty
Swimming: Bottom & surfaces

Species Of Amazon Swords

There are a ton of species that get labeled “Amazon sword” – whether they’re considered to fall under that common name or not. Some, like the red melon sword, I’ve seen sold as red Amazon sword even though most people know it under the red melon common name. And they’re not always sold under their binomial name either, occasionally you’ll see ones for sale just labeled “Echinodorus sp.” Amazon Sword.

There are way too many Echinodorus species for me to cover – but I’ll cover the three species I listed out in this care guide to give you an idea of what some of the species under this common name are.

Echinodorus grisebachii

Also sometimes listed as Echinodorus bleherae or Echinodorus bleheri – all are referring to the same species. They have long, narrow leaves that come to a fine pencil-like point.

Echinodorus amazonicus

Sometimes mistakenly referred to as or said to be a synonym of E. grisebachii (it’s not either of those,) E. amazonicus’ leaves are wide and come to a wide point at the end.

Further Reading & Resources

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