Bucephalandra Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation

Bucephalandra plant

One of the most sought-after decorative plants for usage in the aquarium is the simple yet beautiful Buce plant (Bucephalandra). It is a reophytic plant with its earliest origin traced to Borneo (the third-largest island in the world) where it thrives on the banks of fast-flowing streams and rivers. This aquatic plant has an outstanding appearance, Bucephalandra is easy to obtain, care, plant/propagate and forms an integral part of a good aquascape system.

Keep reading to know more about this interesting slow-growers. In this post, I will review its care and how to grow Bucephalandra in your aquarium.

Bucephalandra – check out the price on Amazon

Quick Notes about Bucephalandra

Common Name Bucephalandra
Family Name Araceae
Difficulty Easy
Lighting Low to high
pH 5 – 8
Water hardness   soft – medium – hard
Temperature 22 – 28 C (72 – 84 F)
Substrate Not needed
Growth Rate Slow
Growth Conditions
Submerse and Immersed
(Immersed preferable)
Placement in Tank Foreground / midground
Height 5 – 10 cm (2 – 4 inches)
CO2 Not needed – Low
Propagation By rhizomes

Origin of Bucephalandra

Bucephalandra Kapit
Bucephalandra Kapit

The Bucephalandra plant can be classified under taxonomy as thus:

Kingdom: Plantae
Phylum: Tracheophyta
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Alismatales
Family: Araceae
Genus: Bucephalandra

This aquatic plant species have been acknowledged by the scientific world since 1858 although they are still an almost new genus of plants to hobbyists.

Bucephalandra are endemic which means that they are commonly known to grow only in isolated regions. This plant species can be located on the largest island in Asia: Borneo Island, Indonesia. More varieties of the Bucephalandra plant are still being discovered today as collectors explore hidden parts of the islands.

Interesting fact: The genus name ‘Bucephalandra’ relates to the name of Alexander the Great’s beautiful black horse: Bucephalus. He claimed that his horses were “known to excel all others”. This is a really good name for an amazing plant, isn’t it? 

Description of Bucephalandra

Bucefalandra speciesBucephalandra are recognized as a genus of flowering rheophytes that grows on creeping rhizomes; the rhizomes serve as the Bucephalandra’s propagative means while the roots are specially adapted for attachment/anchorage to rocks, hardscapes, and substrates for its growth. However, it should be noted that the Buce plant shows slow growth so don’t expect then to sprout plenty leaves and shoots within a short period.

The appearance of Bucephalandra is unique and attractive as a result of their delicate leaf shapes. The shape of their leaves is very different from other water plants, which makes them appealing to numerous hobbyists.

Bucephalandrasp sp Sekadau
Bucephalandrasp sp Sekadau

Their leaves have varying shapes and sizes depending on the exact Bucephalandra species; it can be oval, long and straight, long and wavy, round and wavy, or droplet forms. The leaf colors vary as well, from green, blue to dark violet. The leaves on the same plant can be multi-colored depending on the species.

One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Bucephalandra is the bright white/yellow spots on the leaves, which is the immediate result of photosynthesis. The color depth of the spots is dependent on the species. You can also see these colorful spots on Anubias species (read my guide) but they aren’t as pronounced as the Bucephalandra. The bright spots offer great hues mainly when spotted underwater.

The description of the Bucephalandra plant can be summarised thus:

  • Size: Little evergreen herbs with creeping stems, 2cm to 60cm tall.
  • Leaves: 3-5cm long or more, dark shades of green (dominant color), blue, purple/dark violet with white or yellow spots and smooth to undulate edges.
  • Blade: Elliptic, oblong, coriaceous, lateral veins pinnate, lamina coriaceous.
  • Flowers: Unisexual, flat and sterile, pink/white
  • Inflorescence: Solitary
  • Petioles: 15-18cm high
  • Pollen: projected in a droplet, inaperturate, ellipsoid, medium-sized.
  • Seed: narrow-ellipsoid, endosperm copious.

Habitat/Ecology of Bucephalandra

Bucephalandra Riam Seterap
Bucephalandra Riam Seterap

Bucephalandra are specially adapted to life in rivers with fast-moving currents just like the rest of other aquatic plants from the Araceae family.

Therefore, Bucephalandra are mostly spotted in streams, rivers, and river banks or shores. Borneo island (743,330 km) is known for its tropical climate, which means that there is the same climate throughout the year with average annual temperatures exceeding 20 degrees Celsius (68 F). Despite the consistent climate in some areas on the island, Borneo still has two seasons that are determined by the amount of rainfall.

Notable when the river level is very high; the Bucephalandra plants growing out of the water are submerged underwater for a couple of months. Nevertheless, this does not stop them from developing further and they can easily morph into their submerged forms. The major dissimilarity between emersed and submersed forms is that when they are grown underwater, they have a more articulated sensitive leaf structure and they tend to show more intense bright color hues.

You can purchase the Buce plant for propagation or planting in your home aquarium, paludarium or terrarium; they are fully adapted for survival under diverse living conditions and environments.

Types of the Bucephalandra plant

Bucephalandra var Variegatus Flamingo
Bucephalandra var Variegatus Flamingo

Numerous Bucephalandra species are still being discovered and you can even find more than 200 variations of trade names. Many of these commercial varieties are yet to be assigned scientific names; hence their names are based on the regions in which they were discovered and collected (e.g. Kedagang, Sabah, Sintang).

Some Bucephalandra species are known because of their leaves shape or prominent color (e.g. Brownie Brown, Super Blue, Wavy Green, Titan, Godzilla, Hades, Theia green, Brownie firebird, Deep blue, Red min, Velvet, Dark wave, Brownie purple and many others).

Water Parameters:

The following tank water parameters should be sustained for the Bucephalandra plant to ensure its proper growth and development:

  • Recommended water temperature between 21.5 °C – 28 °C or 71 °F – 82.5 °F.
  • Well-filtered water with proper flow.
  • Water pH levels ranging from 6 – 8.
  • Some hardness (GH) is essential; 5 GH and above preferably.

Note #1:  Although Bucephalandra is a hardy plant that can tolerate a huge range of water parameters, soft water has a more positive effect on the Buce plant.
Note #2: As Bucephalandra grows in fast-flowing rivers, it is crucial to provide them with sufficient water circulation in a planted tank or aquarium. This can be achieved using a powerful external filter and then placing the plants along the water flow.

Planting Bucephalandra:

Bucephalandra plantingPlanting Bucephalandra is quite easy. Attach the split rhizomes to an object or plant it in the substrate but make sure the rhizome area is not buried to prevent rot. Things that can be used to attach the Buce on include stones, rocks, and driftwood. Lava rocks can equally be a good choice as they are very porous, which makes it easier for the roots of this plant to attach itself.

When planting the Buce plant, make sure that the roots are secured properly. A rubber band or super glue, fishing wire can be used to fasten the plant. In a few weeks, the roots would naturally grow and grip onto the objects which they are being attached to.

The growth rate of this plant species is highly dependent on the type collected and good nutrient supply. Some types will shoot 2 to 3 new leaves in a week if provided with proper growth conditions, while other types would barely shoot 1 leaf in 2 weeks.

The reophyte (Bucephalandra) can also be planted in a paludarium. Paludarium is a kind of aquarium semi-aquatic habitat where land and water synergize to create a unique natural environment in which you can inhabit many creatures than you would in your average aquarium. However, the conditions might not be too favourable hence coloration of the leaves tends to be frail. In addition, aquarists noticed that submersed Bucephalandra grows even slower than usual.

The Bucephalandra species are easy to keep in a tank once certain conditions are met:

Bucephalandra, Nutrients and CO2:

Aquarium Bucephalandra shrimpNutrient supply is not essential for the growth and development of this species. However, it will be stupid to deny that fertilization significantly enhances the coloration of the leaves and keeps the plant healthy. Of course, all plants will surely benefit from nutrients and the Bucephalandra is no exception!

Basically, the same principle is with CO2 dosing. Bucephalandra does not require CO2 dosing. However, the provision of CO2 and the right level of nutrients will support its growth and promote leaf coloration.

Note: If you have shrimp in your tank, I would highly recommend reading my articles:
CO2 in a Shrimp Tank
How Copper Affects Dwarf Shrimp
Shrimp Safe Plant Fertilizers

The point is that high level of CO2 and Copper (most fertilizers contain copper) is extremely dangerous to the shrimp. In my article about copper, I also refer to the most popular shrimp-safe plant fertilizers.

Bucephalandra and Light:

Bucephalandra sp. Cherish
Bucephalandra sp. Cherish

The measure of light you need for this plant depends mostly on what you want to do with it. The light demand is flexible. If it is just for ornamental purposes, low light would be the best decision. It will grow very slowly and you won’t see very intense coloration. Whereas if you desire quicker growth and better coloration you’ll need a medium to high light.

Bucephalandra Brownie metallica Phoenix
Bucephalandra Brownie metallica Phoenix

You should monitor the lighting from time to time, dim the light if you notice signs of stress or bad health conditions. Bucephalandra grows well under lower levels of lighting, and as they grow very slowly, they are very exposed to algae attacks. You can grow Buce in high-lighting (100+umols on the right, just below the waterline), but ensure that the aquarium is very clean and your Bucephalandra needs to be healthy to remain algae free.

Bucephalandra and Propagation:

The propagative means of this plant species is by rhizomes. Just like the Anubias, they can be easily divided and propagated. The rhizome is a significant part of the Bucephalandra because it can develop into a complete plant. The rhizome can be divided into multiple singular plants with the use of scissors and attached to hardscape, or planted into the soil or substrate.

Make sure that individual rhizomes are not too short, portions greater than 4 cm (1.5 inches) are very effective for the propagative process.

Rhizomes will bud new leaves as well if they are healthy and growth conditions are favorable, just attach them to rock/wood surfaces by taping or using adhesive.

They can likewise be grown on the substrate as long as the rhizome is not buried to deter rot. Bucephalandra are slow growers, therefore the aquarist should have some patience for the plant to grow and mature. A healthy Bucephalandra plant will produce baby plants and form dense clumps over time. However, it is vital to separate the clumps to allow the Buce to grow better and keep the aquatic tank algae-free.

Always make sure that the rootstock remains undamaged, doesn’t rot or gets squeezed. Don’t remove healthy leaves and roots from newly planted rhizome plants, give them some time to settle.

Potential problems associated with Bucephalandra:

The most common issue with Buce is that newly submerged plants may forgo some of their older emersed growth and vice versa. You can encounter the melting of leaves in a matter of days to weeks as this conversion process is stressful to the Buce plant. Not to worry, new leaves will emerge within some time. Be patient!

Fluctuation in water parameters or sudden unusual movements (transporting) of this species can lead to an adverse condition called ‘melting’ whereby the plant sheds some of its leaves.

Slow recovery:  Buce plant takes longer to recover than faster-growing plants, so once you damage them, it can take weeks/months for full recovery – so consistency is key to growing them long term.

Low-light conditions can influence the Bucephalandra’s color negatively. One of the major highlights of this plant species is its beauty and bright coloration, it can be quite disappointing to lose features that make this plant much coveted and loved amongst aquarists.

Algae problems: The Bucephalandra is often exposed to algae issues. This is due to slow growth rate, inconsistency in maintaining proper water parameters and the presence of organic waste levels in the tank. Nonetheless, one mans loss is another mans treasure. If you have shrimp or snails in your tank (especially Amano shrimp and Nerite snails), it will be even an advantage for you. Keep in mind that algae will increase your shrimplet survival rate (read more here).

Buying Bucephalandra:

Although this plant species is relatively new to the hobby, obtaining it is not hard. You can get it at a local aquarium store. If you do not find one there then purchasing it from the internet should be your best option. For example, Bucephalandra can be easily found on Amazon, eBay, Buceplant.com.

It is hard to recommend any particular place, because they all stock varieties of the plant and change them all the time.

Uses of Bucephalandra:

When it comes to special aquatic plant species, Bucephalandra stands out and it has become a great choice to many aquarists and others in the fish or shrimp keeping hobby all over the world.

Bucephalandra grows well and can easily be propagated on rocks and hardscapes using adhesives. The flexibility shown by this plant makes it suitable for creating aquascapes in the aquarium. They are equally good at reflecting certain colors because of their iridescent nature thereby beautifying the aquarium.

Bucephalandra – check out the price on Amazon

Related articles:

How to Use Pothos Plants in a Shrimp Tank.
Top 7 Nano Aquarium Plants
Top 5 Plants for Your Shrimp Tank
How to Quarantine and Disinfect Aquarium Plants.

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