Anubias Care

Caring For Anubias: Planting, Lighting, Types & Propagation

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Anubias, or Anubias barteri, is a species of semi-aquatic plants that can withstand a variety of conditions, plant-eating fish, African cichlids, and newcomers alike.

The A. barerti species has over 13 variants – though most are likely unrecognized species. But, regardless of the variant, all have the same primary care requirements and grow exceptionally slowly. They range in size from the var. gigantea, which reaches 11 – 18″ (30 – 40 cm,) down to anubias nana “petite” which maxes out at 2″ (5 cm.)

All these variants are called anubias barteri var. – where “var.” is the name of the variant. For example, anubias bateri – which is, confusingly, considered its own variant – goes by the name anubias barteri var. barteri, while anubias nana goes (scientifically) by the name anubias barteri var. nana, and anubias nana petite would be anubias barteri var. nana “petite.” It can get confusing, especially since there are over six sub-variants for anubias nana alone.

Anubias come from Cameroon, Nigeria, and the Congo in Africa. They’re nearly indestructible, easy to care for, attach to almost anything, and adaptable to a wide variety of temperatures. Although this article focuses heavily on anubias nana (since there are so many sub-variants), the same care requirements apply to all the anubias variants.

Anubias snapshot

FAQ

Yes, all anubias variants flower. However, it’s worth noting that you should probably cut the flower off when you see it. The plant will focus all its energy on growing the flower instead of, well, itself. 

If you like the look of the flower, you can leave it. Just snip it off when it dies, which will be about a week or so.

Yes and no. You can’t “plant” any rhizome plant, all you can do is bury the roots to hold it down. I cover this in more detail in the care section.

Anubias nana “petite” gets about 2″ (5 cm) tall and can grow as long as your tank will allow it to – though this will take quite some time. 

Anubias is a semi-aquatic plant that grows well basically anywhere. Most aquarium-trade anubias plants are grown immersed (out of water), and they have little difficulty transitioning back into water – or conversely – from water to out of water. With that said, they’re semi-aquatic and do best with a little bit of both.

The size of anubias is variant-dependent and ranges anywhere from 2 – 18″ (5 – 40 cm) tall. 

Gigantea: 12 – 18″ (30 – 40 cm)

Barteri: 7 – 12″ (20 – 30 cm)

Gracilis: 7 – 12″ (20 – 30 cm)

Longifolia: 7 – 12″ (20 – 30 cm)

Coffeefolia: 6 – 8″ (15 – 20 cm)

Congensis: 4 – 6″ (10 – 15 cm)

Nana & nana sub-variants: 2 – 4″ (5 – 10 cm)

Anubias Nana Overview

Difficulty: Easy
Size: 2″ – 18″ (5 – 40 cm)
Propagation: Rhizome
Fertilizer: Liquid
Speed of growth: Slowly
Temperature: 72 – 82F (22 – 28C)

pH: 6.0 – 8.0 – though likely higher
Hardness: 2 – 25 dKH
Placement: Floating, planted, or weighed down with plant weights
Origin: African – Cameroon, Nigeria, and the Congo
Aquascaping: Species dependent
Availability: Very common

Difficulty: Easy
Size: 2″ – 18″ (5 – 40 cm)
Propagation: Rhizome
Fertilizer: Liquid
Speed of growth: Slowly
Temperature: 72 – 82F (22 – 28C)
pH: 6.0 – 8.0 – though likely higher
Hardness: 2 – 25 dKH
Placement: Floating, planted, or weighed down with plant weights
Origin: African – Cameroon, Nigeria, and the Congo
Aquascaping: Species dependent
Availability: Very common

Anubias Nana Care

Care amounts to benign neglect – leave it be, and it’ll be fine. You can try adding liquid fertilizers in small doses, but in most cases, it won’t be needed. By adding fertilizers, you may be tempting an algae-coated fate. The addition of Co2 would likely not benefit you any if you have just anubias or other slow-growing plants in your tank.

High-tech lighting offers a similar host of problems for anubias, as they’re slow-growing plants, this gives algae plenty of opportunities to take root (no pun intended.) Algae growth will drastically reduce the growth of your plants.

Once the root system of the plant is well-established, it usually explodes in growth, but trying to coax growth out of it beforehand is a fool’s errand. There is no way to try to get the roots to establish or settle faster aside from anchoring it securely where it has space to spread out. While anubias can be left to float, the root system will do much better when the plant is anchored.

There are a few ways to accomplish this, listed below from least to most frustrating:

aquarium safe superglue

Anchoring With Superglue

This is by far my favorite method as I’ve found it to be the least frustrating one. If you want to go this route, find the gel version of superglue. I have used the exact one pictured so I know it’s safe, I cannot make recommendations on other ones since I’ve never used them, but I’ve certainly heard a horror story or two about superglue mishaps from other brands and formulas.

It’s as easy as take your plant, take your object, figure out how you want it to sit on said object, place superglue on the rhizome of the plant and placing it on the object where you want it. You’ll need to hold it for a few seconds until it starts to grip, and once it’s white, it’s good to go back in the tank. I’ve heard people can superglue plants underwater, but I’ve never attempted to put uncured superglue in a tank, so I can’t advise.

This method is super quick, easy, and gives the aesthetic result you want without a ton of hassle. The downside is that you’ll see the white from the superglue until the plant covers it or it gets covered in mulm (which seems to like to collect on it.)

This is the best option when you have fish that are, for lack of better term, plant aggressive or you’re trying to anchor the plant to a rock.

tie plant thread

Anchoring With Thread

I’ve never had much luck with this method, and it only works well(ish) on thin pieces of driftwood. You take your thread, wrap it around the rhizome tight enough to hold the plant in place, but not so tight as to cut into the rhizome, and hope and pray it holds it.

The idea is, once the plant is fully anchored, the thread will deteriorate in the water and you’ll eventually be left with just a well-anchored plant. I’ve always found that when trying to attach plants to rocks, thread will not work. It’ll be too loose in most spots and the plant will eventually wiggle free of the string – this is especially true if your fish like to peck at/push/pull at the plant. Which most do.

I usually found the plant floating within a few weeks and had to fish the string out and superglue the plant down. Even when this method did work, I found that the roots took longer to establish and the plant never did as well as the ones that were superglued.

tie plant fishing line

Anchoring With Fishing Line

The method for fishingline is basically the same as with thread; take your line, wrap it around the rhizome tight enough to hold the plant in place, but not so tight as to cut into the rhizome, and – again – pray it holds.

The only difference between the fishing line method and the thread method is that fishing line won’t deteriorate in the water. This is especially helpful if your root growth is super slow because you can wait until you’re sure the plant is anchored rather than wait until the thread decides to disintegrate.

Once you’re sure the plant is anchored, you go in and cut the line off the plant. I have had the same issues with fishing line that I’ve had with thread – the plant wiggles free, it’s never tight enough, it only works well on thin pieces of driftwood, etc.

planting rhizome plant

“Planting” Rhizome Plants

Rhizome plants can be “planted” so long as care is taken not to bury the rhizome (so don’t actually plant it.) In tanks with fish that dig, sift sand, or otherwise like to disrupt the substrate, this won’t be a viable option unless you put the plant in a pot.

Planting rhizome plants in a pot is more difficult than one might expect, and you certainly won’t see the best growth out of them. Care needs to be taken to add just enough substrate in the pot to hold the plant’s roots down and act as a weight without burying the rhizome. And, again, if you have plant-aggressive fish, this option won’t be viable.

Common Problems

 
Although anubias is a hardy and durable plant, it’s not without its problems. Unlike many other plants, anubias isn’t prone to melting as much as other immersed-grown plants are. 
algae on plants

Algae

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.

Too much light is an obvious remedy to fix, If you have an adjustable light, you can reduce the intensity. Or you can opt for shorter light cycles and, if you have soft water fish, you can consider adding tannins to the water to dub down the lighting intensity. If those options don’t work for you, you could add floating plants to block some light so long as you don’t have high-light plants that would be affected.
Too many nutrients can come from overfeeding, overstocking, or adding too much fertilizer to the water.

You can fix this by feeding less, upgrading your tank size, reducing the number of fish in your tank, or adding fast growing plants into the equation.

slow plant growth

Slow 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.

Anubias Maintenance

Maintaining your anubias nana is as straightforward or as complicated as you want it to be. You can, of course, up the lighting and add Co2 and fertilizers – however, none of this is needed.

You can let your anubias float free if you’re feeling lazy, but it’ll have a much better shot if you plant it. I have left mine bobbing around my tank for almost two years with no ill effect, although it has grown in an odd golf ball-like shape over the years.

Trimming anubias is, similarly, unnecessary. If it grows too tall, you can trim off one or two of the tallest leaves at a time. Trimming off more than one or two leaves at any one time will likely cause your plant to stop growing or die completely. Once some new leaves start developing, you can cut off an additional one or two leaves, but be sure not to over trim to avoid killing your plant. You’ll want to cut each leaf as close to the rhizome as you can to prevent the stem rotting and poisoning the rhizome.

Aside from those optional tasks, anubias requires no maintenance on your part.

Anubias Nana Propagation

Propagation of anubias is similar to other rhizomes species of plants, such as Java fern, where the rhizome is always growing from one end. Along the rhizome (the twiggy part of the plant under the stems but above the roots) will shoot new leaves up and roots down to hold the new part of the plant steady.

You can, if you want, snip a small section of the rhizome that has leaves growing on it with either a sharp knife or some scissors. But be sure to cut off at least 2″. Anything under 2″ and the new cutting will likely have issues establishing. Similarly, you’ll want to leave at least 3″ on the mother plant to ensure that it keeps producing runners out the side.

The cut section from the mother plant should continue growing horizontally, and the new growth should start growing off the uncut part once settled. You can create more than one cut if you plan on selling clippings, but I would keep the sections longer, so it (hopefully) reestablishes better.

Types of Anubias

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of all the anubias variants, but it should cover some of the most popular and most sought after ones. 

anubias gigantea

Anubias gigantea

This is the largest of the anubias variants. It comes from West Africa and is certainly a plant that will do best in the background of your tank. It’s capable of reaching heights of 11 – 18″ (30 to 40 cm) and needs medium light. Like any anubias, its growth is relatively slow, and it might be one of the harder anubias variants to find.

anubias barteri

Anubias barteri (var. barteri)

One of the more common anubias variants you’ll find, and it’s one of the largest as well. It can grow 7 – 12″ 920 – 30 cm.) It also comes from West Africa and needs medium light. 

anubias gracilis

Anubias gracilis

This variety is different from others with its triangular or spear-shaped leaves. It looks almost reminiscent of a tropical plant. It can grow 7 – 12″ (20 to 30 cm), so it’s considered a medium or background plant depending on the aquarium and needs a medium amount a light.

anubias longfolia

Anubias longifolia

This variant has – as you probably guessed – incredibly long leaves. It comes from West Africa and needs a medium amount of light as well. It can reach 7 – 12″ (20 -30 cm) in height. It’s best as a medium to background plant. The long leaves often shade out plants underneath, so be sure to take the potential size of the plant into consideration when planting.

anubias coffeefolia

Anubias coffeefolia

Also coming from West Africa, it comes in at an average height of  6 – 8″ (15 to 20 cm.) It’s a mid- or background plant that needs little light and collects algae if it gets more than that. Its dark, wavy green leaves distinguish Coffeefolia. It’s more susceptible to algae than some other varieties. 

anubias congensis

Anubias congensis

This plant reaches a height of 4 – 6″ (10 to 15 cm) and requires average amounts of lighting. Even if the growth will be slow, this plant is not as susceptible to algae as some other plants on this list. It makes an excellent plant for mid- to foreground planting, depending on the tank size.

anubias nana round leaf

Anubias nana “round leaf”

This variety has – as you probably you understood by the name – round leaves. The leaves are small and shaped, almost like coins. It reaches a maximum height of 2 – 4″ (5 to 10 cm) and doesn’t require much light – much like the other nanas varieties. It’s generally used in the foreground.

anubias nana marina

Anubias nana “marina”

This variant reaches a maximum height of 2 – 4″ (5 to 10 cm and) is usually used in the foreground. Like other nana varieties, it doesn’t need intense light and should be planted in a shady area if possible to avoid being plagued by algae.

anubias nana variegated

Anubias nana "variegated"

This variation of nana is one of the most attractive looking and sought after anubias varieties. It reaches a height of 2 – 4″ (5 – 10 cm.) It’s distinguished by the beautiful light green and white marbling throughout the leaves. The extent of the marbling (or lack thereof) is mainly dependent on the plant.

anubias nana snow

Anubias nana "snow"

This is another a rare and sought after variety – although rarer than variegated. It is almost entirely white and doesn’t look like many other plants on the market. It’s incredibly challenging to find, but once you do, expects a pay a premium for a tiny plant – $30 or so per. It is, however, worth the centerpiece attraction if you can find it and you’re willing to pay for it. It reaches a height of 3 to 5″ (4 – 10 cm.)

anubias nana golden

Anubias nana "gold"

This variety has round leaves that are a lime-green to yellow color, giving it its “gold coin” name. It reaches about 3 to 5″ tall (3 – 10 cm.) Like all other anubias varieties, it grows incredibly slowly. It said by some that this is the slowest growing variety of all the anubias variants.

anubias nana petite

Anubias nana "petite"

One of the most popular varieties of anubias, this one comes from Cameroon and is incredibly small. It reaches a maximum height of 2 – 4″ (5 to 10 cm) and does not need much light. It should be placed somewhere in the shaded area of your tank if you don’t want algae plaguing your leaves.

anubias nana bonsai

Anubias nana "bonsai"

This is the smallest growing and anubias, reaching only 2″ (5 cm.) It doesn’t need much light and, like every other plant on this list, grows very slowly. Because it’s so small it needs to be a foreground plant; otherwise, you’re unlikely to see it.

Benefits Of Anubias

Anubias is an excellent option for someone who doesn’t want Java fern. It’s just as durable, versatile, and as easy to care for as Java fern. Similarly, it grows as slowly. It provides a better surface for fish to spawn on. Angelfish and other vertical egg layers are often known to either place their eggs and later fry, on these leaves.

It can put up with quite a bit of use even from plant-eating fish like goldfish, and it’s leaves are so tough that most fish don’t wanna eat it. Anubias doesn’t require a ton of maintenance like trimming, fertilizer dosing, iron – which makes them the perfect plant for someone who wants to set it and forget it.

Additionally, if you’re tired of the run-of-the-mill “easy plants,” you’ll be spoiled for choice with all the variants anubias comes in!

Further reading & Sources

Aquascaping Lab – Anubias Technical Description And Management

USDA – Weed Risk Assessment Anubias Barteri

Current Science Journal – In vitro propagation of an ornamental aquatic plant, Anubias barterii Var. Nana petite

 

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