Thursday, October 30, 2008


I previously had a post all about Aglaonemas, my favorite emersed species of plant.  To me, Anubias is the aquatic equivalent of Aglaonema – my favorite submerged species of plant.  The similarities begin with the fact that they are both Aroids (a subfamily of the family Araceae).  Each genera is one of the most common “foliage” plant in the houseplant or aquarium hobbies, respectively.  They are both being hybridized constantly and the number of common names is seeming to surpass the number of true unique species.  Most of the plants are known by common names that may or may not identify them as distinct cultivars.  Anubias is not nearly as large of a genus as Aglaonema, but that’s fitting because the number of aquatic species is significantly less than terrestrial species.

Since Anubias are very popular among aquarists (aquarium hobbyists), there is a wealth of information about growing them and a ton of different sources from which you can purchase them on the internet.  However, there is little care for classification.  It kind of surprises me that more aquarists don’t seek to clarify the names of Anubias that are being sold.  So many are just sold under common names or (worse yet) incorrect scientific names.  I have a fascination with the classification and I sure as heck don’t want to buy a plant thinking that it is a species I am not familiar with, only to realize I already have the plant and it was mislabeled!  This is a call to action for all aquarists out there who want to see the hundreds (or at least in the 30s) of apparent varieties of Anubias properly classified.  :)

Here is my photo album of my collection of Anubias, with some comments on the plants and fish pictured.  Make sure to read the comments.

An excerpt from Wikipedia: “Anubias… [are] native to tropical central and western Africa.  They primarily grow in rivers and streams, but can also be found in marshes. … The genus was revised in 1979 and since then its taxonomy has been stable.  Species can be determined by using mostly characteristics of the inflorescence.”

Conditions and propagation
Anubias are a low light plant – again, like Aglaonemas.  Many aquatic plants require specific lighting (which can be rather expensive) and even CO2 infusion with expensive equipment.  Alternatively, a number of aquarists make their own CO2 infusers, but I haven’t tried that yet.  Anubias thrive in a wider range of temperatures compared with other aquatic plants.  They do very well in unheated indoor aquariums for tropical fish, cold water fish, and even African cichlids.  Anubias can be propagated from cuttings.  Sometimes the rhizome will develop branches that are easily removed.  Otherwise, the rhizome can just be cut in half, producing two plants.  These plants are very slow growing.  Most people say that they grow at the rate of one new leaf every 2-3 months.  I have not put my new leaf formation on the clock yet.  You have to have a quick finger on the stopwatch for these plants!  I should note that they are supposed to grow quicker when their leaves are emersed and only their roots submerged.  I have not had a need or a place to grow them this way, so I don’t really know the comparative rates.

Color variations
Unlike Aglaonemas, Anubias are usually solid green in color.  There are a couple of variegations, which is uncommon in aquatic plant genera.  I have one Anubias barteria var. nana ‘marbled’ plant I bought that is variegated, with most of the leaf white and some speckling of green (pictured in my photo album).  This is a very unique species.  I haven’t really ever seen any others like it.  I also have a couple of Anubias barteri v. coffeefolia, which is a deeper green, with dark ribbing on the leaves.  Also, as new leaves form on this plant the stems appear red and sometimes the new leaves are more yellowish in color, darkening as they mature.  Anubias barteri var. nana ‘gold’ is a color variation of the common nana.  This one is a yellow green color, which could be misconstrued as simply sick.  But it’s not – it’s a true color variation.  You generally won’t see leaves change colors (unless they subsequently rot and die) with Anubias.  Having tolerance for very low light, Anubias don’t usually experience yellowing leaves under different light conditions.  However, an increase of light may benefit the growth of algae on the leaves.  In several cases I have had to cut back the number of hours my aquarium is lit each day to get rid of unsightly algae.

Leaf variations
The species of Anubias that are not barteri are generally distinguished by different leaf shapes.  (All varieties of barteri have an ovular shape.)  Some “varieties” of barteri are currently being sold as either “broad leaf” or “round leaf” or “pointed leaf.”  The combinations are endless, and I have a feeling real botanists or anyone with some experience in true taxonomy would laugh at these being sold as different species.  But then again, I don’t know.  Rather than gain permission from a number of different sources for the reuse of their pictures, here’s a link to the google image search for Anubias.  As you can see, there’s lots of pictures out there.

And here is a link to the Aluka digital library.  They seem to know something about classification of these plants.

I have probably about 20 Anubias (about 6 species) and have had quite a bit of success with them.  My oldest is a simple A. barteri v. barteri that I have had for at least 3 years.  Needless to say, even with it’s slow growth, it is much larger than when I bought it.  It's rhizome is probably about 8 inches long now, and the leaves are reaching the surface of the water, about 14 inches in total height.   I have seen some pictures of some rather large barteri – usually sold as “Monster barteri” or “barteri Mother Plant.”  Generally, the leaf sizes are consistent, but the number of leaves and the size of the plant overall will grow steadily.  Many aquarists would rather have an abundance of plants and will cut apart the creeping rhizome, and spread out the sections of plant in their aquarium.  Still, there are some that allow their plant to grow unrestricted.  I have allowed mine to do this and I’m pretty happy with it.  Even the nanas will grow to be a large clump of leaves over time.  There is really not a limit when the plant is in a favorable environment.  It is becoming increasingly popular to use A. barteri var. nana ‘petite’ as a carpet or foreground.  The leaves are small enough to give the desired look, as long as the aquarium is not too small (scale is important).  The drawbacks are the growth speed and the fact that it does not like to be buried in a substrate.  For this reason, the rhizome needs to be tied down or anchored, without being covered, where it will surely rot in time.  Therefore, in my opinion, nana ‘petite’ is not a very good choice for a carpet plant because of the work required to make it look right and last more than a couple of weeks.  Another small variety is A. barteri var. nana ‘minima.’  This one is still pretty rare and again, I don’t know if it is a true variety/cultivar/forma or maybe just one person’s plant that demonstrates some natural variability.  It is distinguished by small leaves that are longer in shape, more like the afzelli.  I have seen this one in solid green and a splotchy sort of variegation.

Make sure to check out the photo album to see some of my Anubias.

The spunkiest!
To name my favorite species would be kind of difficult, so I will simply talk about some of the distinct traits of my three favorites.  The dark green leaves and even darker veining of A. coffeefolia are striking in an aquarium crowded with bright greens and reds.  Similaryly, the white veins of A. barteri var. nana ‘stardust’ stands out, even with it’s small stature.  I have never had a ‘stardust’ and I have found them to be rather elusive among the couple of websites that sell them from time to time.  A. barteri var. nana ‘marbled’ is quite possibly the only primarily white aquatic plant you will ever see – the only one that I have seen.

List of names I have seen used to identify Anubias
lanceolata (Devil's Tongue)

marble leaf
wrinkled leaf


congo (congensis on steroids)
undulatus latifolia
undulatus angustifolia

narrow leaf
round leaf
yellow heart

Anubias can be purchased from a number of online stores specializing in aquatic plants.  (They can also be found at PetsMart and Wal-Marts from time to time.)  Here’s an incomplete list of some of the best online aquatic stores:

There are usually quite a few Anubias for sale on Aquabid, as well.  Aquabid is a wonderful site; it is the eBay for the aquarium hobby.

On any of these sites, they usually have aquatic plants divided into a couple of categories.  Anubias usually fall into the “rooted” and “easy” or “beginner” categories – and of course, when “anubias” is a category you can find them there

1 comment:

  1. Hi! i have an unknown anubias growing in my tank, the rhizome is about 8 inches long before leaves start and theres a few small side shoots forming. if i cut a portion of rhizome that doesn't have leaves will it die? also wht ae the lowest temps you can keep this plant in. please email me