Alternanthera bettzickiana is a ground-covering plant with colorful foliage that can have shades of green, yellowish, and red. An interesting feature of this plant is that its leaves can be bicolor or combine multiple colors on the same plant.
The stunning array of colors has captivated aquarium enthusiasts, driving them to replicate this beauty in their tanks. However, achieving this becomes quite challenging due to the fact that Alternanthera Bettzickiana is not an aquatic plant.
In the underwater state, this plant grows very slowly and loses its color variation. Moreover, it becomes highly demanding in terms of CO2, fertilization, and light.
Let’s take a closer look at what Alternanthera Bettzickiana is, how it grows, its preferred conditions, and more.
Quick Notes about Alternanthera Bettzickiana
|Common Name||Alternanthera bettzickiana|
|Other Names||Baptist plant, Border plant, Calico plant, Red calico plant, Joyweed, Jacob’s coat, Joseph’s coat, and Parrot leaf|
|Lighting||Moderate to High|
|Optimal pH||6.0 – 7.5|
|Optimal GH||1 – 12|
|Optimal Temperature||75 – 86°F (24 – 30°C)|
|Can Be Grown Emersed
|Placement in Tank
||Foreground and midground|
|Aquarium size||4 – 6 inches (10 – 15 cm)|
|Propagation||By stem cuttings|
||Green, red, orange.|
- In traditional medicines, Alternanthera bettzickiana is used for promoting lactation, nourishment, as a prophylaxis of dementia and to cure gastrointestinal diseases. It is also used as effective antipyretic agent. In addition, its leaves and shoots are often consumed as vegetables in South East Asia.
- In Central America is used as an ant repellent.
Etymology of Alternanthera Bettzickiana
The genus name “Alternanthera” is derived from the Latin words “alternus,” meaning “alternate,” and the Greek “Aνθος (anthos)”, meaning a pollen-bearing part of a flower. This name likely refers to the alternate arrangement of anthers in the flowers of some species within this genus.
The species name “Bettzickiana” is an epithet given in honor of the German gardener Friedrich Wilhelm August Bettzich (1814 – 1865).
Distribution of Alternanthera Bettzickiana
Presumably, the native home of this plant was Brazil, from where it successfully escaped and naturalized in the British Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru, Dominican Republic, Peru, St. Lucia but also in Asia (for example, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, etc.), and many other countries in the world.
In some countries (such as Papua New Guinea or China), it has grown so extensively that it is considered almost like a weed.
Habitat of Alternanthera Bettzickiana
Alternanthera bettzickiana thrives in tropical and subtropical regions, commonly found in moist places near ditches, mesh areas, or open wastelands.
For example, in India, it is found throughout the plains, degraded deciduous forests, and wastelands.
It can occur from sea level to 2000 m elevation.
Description of Alternanthera Bettzickiana
Alternanthera bettzickiana is a bushy colorful ground covering prostrate perennial herb. Depending on the climate, this plant can be classified as both annual (in a temperate climate) and perennial (in a subtropical climate).
This decorative leafy plant is used for carpet-like ornamental flowerbeds and creating figures, borders, and edging for pathways, as well as for planting along water bodies. The diverse colors of its leaves allow for the creation of intricate floral patterns.
Distinguishing characteristics of Alternanthera bettzickiana:
Size. When grown emersed, it can grow up to 20+ inches (50+ cm) in height. If this plant is fully submerged in water, it will barely grow up to 6 inches (15 cm) in height.
Stem and branches. They are hairy when young, but become smooth as the plant matures.
Leaves. The leaves are arranged opposite each other and may have varying shapes, ranging from narrow to broadly elliptic. Additionally, both upper and lower leaf surfaces are covered with small hairs.
Color. Leaves are reddish, orange, purple, or green and occasionally multicolored. The stem is green-tinged with purple at the node.
Flowers. This is a flowering plant. The flowers are usually found in clusters and have perianth segments (outer floral parts) covered in pale hairs. Stamens are fused at the base, and there are staminodes (sterile stamens) alternating with the stamens. The flowers are creamy white. Plants can flower throughout the year.
Seeds. The seeds are disk-shaped.
Tank Requirements and Water Parameters
The difficulty of maintaining this plant directly depends on whether it is kept in its submerged or emersed form.
In aquariums (submerged form), Alternanthera bettzickiana is not recommended for beginners because it has high requirements for light, CO2, nutrients, and stable water parameters. Even more, in my opinion, it is time to stop all these attempts to fully submerge this plant because it is not its natural habitat, and all our efforts to “fix” this issue are, in fact, quite ineffective.
In paludariums (emersed form), this plant becomes pretty hardy and does not require too much more attention and care.
As I have already mentioned, if you keep Alternanthera bettzickiana solely as an aquatic plant, it can even be put in nano aquariums. This way it will not grow large.
However, if the plant is grown in an emersed state, it will require a larger tank, at least 20 gallons (80 liters) in size.
Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:
Temperature: The temperature should be maintained between 75 – 86°F (24 – 30°C). Alternanthera bettzickiana is sensitive to sudden temperature fluctuations, which may result in leaf melting.
pH: This plant prefers a slightly acidic to neutral pH level (6.0-7.5).
Hardness: Ideally, the water hardness should be between 1 – 12 GH.
Salinity. The experiments indicated that Alternanthera bettzickiana is not halophyte. It can tolerate reasonably saline conditions but it will significantly reduce the growth and survival rate. This plant is not good for brackish tanks.
Alternanthera bettzickiana thrives in full sun to partial shade environments. Therefore, it is advised to use an effective lighting system to produce at least medium-high lighting levels (30–50 PAR).
Additionally, maintain a standard photoperiod of 10-12 hours daily. This plant often barely grows if it does not get enough light.
Alternanthera bettzickiana prefers organically-rich substrates. The substrate depth should be at least 2 inches (5 cm).
CO2 and Fertilization:
CO2: CO2 supplementation is highly recommended. In aquariums, it is very difficult to grow this plant without CO2.
Important: Additionally, it is important to remember that high-light demanding plants must be balanced in terms of CO2, and nutrients. It is never recommended to use strong lighting without CO2 injections, in simple words, you will have algae problems. A lot!
Fertilization: Alternanthera bettzickiana requires liquid fertilizers at least a few times a month. Otherwise, it will not grow.
Important: If you plan to add this plant in a shrimp tank or high-tech planted tank with CO2 and regular fertilization, I would highly recommend reading my articles:
- CO2 in a Planted Tank Guide
- CO2 in a Shrimp Tank
- How Copper Affects Dwarf Shrimp
- Shrimp Safe Plant Fertilizers
The point is that a high level of CO2 and Copper (most fertilizers contain copper) is extremely dangerous to the shrimp.
Care and Maintenance of Alternanthera Bettzickiana
I need to repeat once again that the level of care will directly depend on whether you are growing it in a submerged or emergent form.
|I will now make a small digression.
When I was preparing material for this article, I periodically came across articles where Alternanthera bettzickiana was recommended even as very easy for beginners. In addition, on the Internet, I encountered hobbyists who actively claimed that this plant can be grown quite well in aquarium conditions.
After reading all of this, one question constantly spun in my head – who are all these people, and why is this plant barely growing in submerged conditions for me and all my friends?
Unfortunately, nowadays, it is necessary to verify absolutely everything written on the Internet.
In the submerged form
Alternanthera bettzickiana grows extremely slowly even under optimal conditions.
If you have a shallow tank, it may reach the water surface. Of course, it will immediately boost its growth rate but it will also lead to the appearance of aerial leaves that can overshadow the underwater ones, affecting the plant’s overall aesthetic.
Monitor water parameters and avoid fluctuations, including temperature changes.
In the emersed form
On the other hand, growing it in a paludarium system will be significantly different.
Most important, the plant will need consistently moist but well-drained soil. This way it will be relatively resilient to various changes. Additionally, its growth rate will be moderate to high.
However, during winter, it can only survive indoors. Even when placed on a south-facing window, it may lose its vibrant colors and turn green.
Propagation of Alternanthera Bettzickiana
Alternanthera bettzickiana is propagated by stem cuttings. To carry out propagation in aquarium conditions, you need to:
- Select a stem cutting with 4-5 leaves from a healthy stem.
- Cut it off at nodes.
- Let it float freely in the water.
- Once it develops roots, plant it into the substrate with a distance of 2 – 3 inches (5 – 8 cm) between each other.
Problems Associated With Growing Alternanthera Bettzickiana
Temperature: Alternanthera bettzickiana is a very temperature-sensitive plant. If the temperature drops to 68°F (20°С) it can quickly perish.
Solution: Monitor your temperature. Use heaters if needed.
Fragile: Its leaves are quite fragile, and some fish species (such as Ancistrus) may break them off.
Solution: Be careful during maintenance and choose the right tank mates.
Algae: Alternanthera bettzickiana is susceptible to algae whose growth can be triggered by intense lighting or prolonged photoperiods which is required for this species. As a result, the leaves can become overgrown with algae, spoiling their appearance and eventually decaying.
Solution: You need to have a balanced system (CO2, lighting, and fertilizers). Additionally, you can use algae eaters.
Poor Growth: This problem is often caused by a lack of CO2, low light, low nutrient levels, or a combination of all three factors.
Solution: When you witness such occurrences in your tank, you have to make necessary changes so as to help the plants return to normalcy.
Relocation. Once established, this plant has an extensive root system. So, it can be hard to pull out without disturbing other plants.
- How to Spot Nutrient Deficiencies in Aquatic Plants
- Everything about Nitrates in Planted Tanks
- Phosphates in Freshwater Tanks
Alternanthera bettzickiana is quite challenging to care for since it’s not suited for underwater conditions. However, it flourishes and undergoes a stunning transformation in its ideal environment, which is a paludarium.
With its diverse array of colorful foliage, this plant has gained popularity as an excellent choice for ground cover and border planting among gardening enthusiasts.
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- Ramzan, Musarrat, Aasia Perveen, Anis Ali Shah, and Iqtidar Hussain. “Study of morphological and physiological aspects of Alternanthera bettzickiana under salt (NaCl) stress.”
- Acevedo-Rodríguez P, Strong MT, 2012. Catalogue of the Seed Plants of the West Indies. Smithsonian Contributions to Botany, 98:1192 pp. Washington DC, USA: Smithsonian Institution.