Cabomba Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Cabomba Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Cabomba is a popular aquatic plant genus from the water-shield family Cabombaceae. It is a relatively hardy and adaptable plant capable of surviving in tropical and extreme temperature conditions.

It features delicate needle-like leaves that grow on thin brittle stems; the vibrant foliage is either pale/lime-green or reddish-purple in color, flowers that are star-shaped or round in structure, it all boils down to the variety.

The green-leaved variants of Cabomba plant are more popular and readily available in the aquarium hobby than the red-leaved variant which is a rarity.

Keep reading for everything there is to know about this fascinating aquatic plant, and how to grow it in your home aquarium.

Important: The species enjoys longstanding popularity in the aquarium hobby but behaves invasively in several European, Asian, as well as in parts of the USA and Canada.

For example, Cabomba caroliniana is banned in certain U.S. states (for example, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington). In Europe, it is also included on the list of species of EU Regulation 1143/2014 on the prevention of the introduction and spread of Invasive Alien Species.

So, make sure it is not banned in your state and you do not buy or sell it illegally.

Quick Notes about Cabomba

Common Name Cabomba
Other Names Fanwort, Carolina water-shield, Fish grass, Green Cabomba, Washington grass, Washington-plant
Scientific Name
Cabomba sp.
Difficulty Moderate 
Optimal Lighting High
Optimal pH 6.0 – 7.5
Optimal GH 3 – 8
Optimal Temperature 20 – 28 °C (68 – 82 °F)
Substrate Any / floater
Growth Rate Fast
Placement in Tank
Size 20 to 50+ cm (8 – 20 inches or more)
CO2 Yes
Propagation By cutting

The genus name Cabomba is thought to be an Aboriginal name for “aquatic plant”, probably originating in Guyana.

Background Information

Cabomba is native to South America, it is a genus of aquatic plants in the family ‘Cabombaceae’. This family comprises of two genera of aquatic, herbaceous flowering plants, Brasenia and Cabomba.

Cabomba Caroliniana care guide in the wildCabomba is also known as fanwort, and this name hints at its submersed foliage which grows in the shape of a fan. Fanwort can be scientifically classified as follows:

Kingdom: Plantae

Habitat of Cabomba

Cabomba is majorly distributed in the American continents, ranging from countries in South America to the Southern United States. It dwells in fresh still waters or in waters with slight currents; lakes, streams, and rivers.

The plant has also extended to Canada (in Lake Kasshabog) and other temperate and tropical regions of the Old and New World.

Description of Cabomba

At first glance, you might think this plant is actually the Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) because of its striking resemblance, but that’s not right.

Cabomba species are exclusively submersed plants in their natural habitats when the natural waters dry out, the plant will form only two to three emersed leaves. In the emersed stage, Cabomba can exist only for a limited time before it dies off.

Cabomba care guide - emersed leavesThe stem branches strongly underwater and (depending on the species) may reach a length of 2 meters (6 ft.) or more if it is not pruned. Submersed leaves are filiform (thread-shaped) and grouped into fine segments of varying size (25 to 50 mm or 1 – 2 inches long). Once the plant reaches the surface, it starts growing big leaves resembling floating pads.

During the flowering stage, some species develop floating leaves that are oval or linear and about 30 to 40 mm long (about 1.5 inches). The flowers are either yellowish, white, or purple-red in color.

About eleven species of Cabomba are known while few are popular in the aquarium trade, they are all decorative and delicate. They thrive in a well-illuminated tank with ordinary aquarium temperatures of about 68° F (20° C) or more. It does not grow well at lower temperatures, although it will survive.

Most Popular Varieties of Cabomba

Few species of Cabomba are used in the aquarium hobby, and these include the most popular species Cabomba Caroliniana, Cabomba Aquatic, and lastly, the red-colored variant, Cabomba Furcata.

Cabomba Caroliniana:

Cabomba Caroliniana care guideThis species is from the Southern part of the United States and it also extends to South America. It is characterized by leaves that are divided into narrow segments, the floating leaves are sagittate, and flowers are white and yellow in the center.

Leaf blades are 30 to 40 mm (~1.5 inches) long and up to 60 mm (about 2 inches) wide. Also prominent are star-shaped flowers, with petals that are narrow and not overlapping each other.

Green Cabomba is very easy to grow and maintain unlike the Red Cabomba, this is the major reason why it is favorite among aquarists.

The plant exists in several forms (cultivars), the best form is Cabomba Caroliniana var. multipartita. It is a horticultural form, obtained by the selection, it has abundant leaves (75 mm wide) with many segments.

Cabomba Caroliniana var. pauciparitta, on the other hand, is very delicate in appearance. The leaves have only a few thin segments and it is of little value for aquariums.

Lastly, Cabomba Caroliniana var. pulcherrima differs from the other clones / forms; it has a more abundant foliage, purple-red stem and leaves, and it is quite capable of tolerating shady environments.

Cabomba Aquatica:

Cabomba Aquatica care guideThis species is commonly seen in South American countries: Brazil, Guyana, and Argentina. It occurs between the southern subtropical and the temperate zones.

Cabomba Aquatica can grow up to about 60 cm (~25 inches) in length. The leaves are rather small, up to 20 – 30 mm (1 inch) wide and 50 mm (2 inches) long. Flowers are white-yellowish with an orange spot at the base.

It differs from other species in the shape of the flowers (round), the leaflets are slightly oval and so broad that they don’t overlap each other.

Cabomba Furcata:

Also known as Cabomba piauhyensis or Red Cabomba, this species is distributed over a large area extending from Central America to South America.

Cabomba Furcate prefers a little bit warmer temperature in the range of 23 – 26 C (73 – 79F).

It is a tropical species that roots and grows slowly, it is also fragile and sensitive to algae. Cabomba Furcata requires intense light, otherwise, it will wither. This plant is also predisposed to lose its lower leaves.

Newly imported plants coming from natural environments have bright red to purple/violet stems and leaves (narrow-elliptic). The plant will maintain its bright coloration in very well-illuminated tanks with nitrates limitation. The flowers are star-shaped, purple-red to violet, with a yellow spot in the center.

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Tank size:

Cabomba is ideally suited for both small (like 10-gallon or 40-liter) and large aquariums.

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Water Temperature: A temperature range of 68 – 82 °F (20 – 28 °C) is considered optimal for this aquatic plant.
pH: Cabomba will appreciate water with a slightly acidic to neutral pH, in the range of 6.0 to 7.5. It was proven in the experiments that the best growth was at pH 6.5.
Hardness: Ideal water hardness for growing Cabomba is between 3 – 8 GH. Only soft to a moderately high GH. In hard water, it melts.


The plant will grow best in medium to high lighting. Cabomba is known to exhibit decent coloration and vigorous growth of shoots under high lighting conditions. Cabomba cannot adapt to low light conditions. Do not even try it. Even at medium light, it will not grow well without CO2 injections. Otherwise, it grows tall and leggy. In addition, these plants also like long photoperiods (at least 10 – 12 hours per day).

Tip: If the light is not strong enough and does not meet its needs, Cabomba would do better as a floater than planted into the substrate. That way it will get more light.

Note: If you want to up your light intensity, but do not want to go hi-tech with CO2 injections, be ready to an algae bloom. Hi-tech tanks must be balanced in terms of light, CO2, and nutrients. There is no other way around it.

You can also read my articles:
Top 10 Low Light Aquarium Plants. Pros and Cons.

Advanced Guide to Planted Tank Lighting


In nature, Cabomba grows primarily in loose substrates and does not root very deeply. It is not usual to find it on cobble, sand, or even rock ledges.
Basically, the substrate does not matter, it can grow in any substrate because Cabomba absorbs nutrients from the water column.

CO2 and fertilization:

CO2 dosing will greatly help keep the plants healthy, it also triggers faster growth of shoots, although the plants can do without it under high light.

Application of fertilizers is also recommended. It should be done regularly if you desire attractive and healthy plants. Cabomba is really hard to grow without fertilizers.

Note: Although the plant is often rooted, it is not a root-feeder plant. Cabomba is a water column feeder, therefore, it will benefit from products such as Seachem Excel (link to Amazon).

Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank with the Cabomba, 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 Cabomba

Surprisingly, Cabomba is often labeled as “easy to care” by the aquarium trade. Well, if you create ideal conditions like CO2, lots of nutrients, and light, of course, it will grow really fast. The problem though is that it requires some knowledge to create balanced hi-tech planted tanks.

Cabomba needs lots of nutrients and light to grow optimally and maintain its vibrant shoots; red as seen in Cabomba Furcata and lime-green in Cabomba Caroliniana and Cabomba Aquatica. Light is the major growth requirement of this plant especially if you want it to stay healthy and lush at all times.

At least 30 – 40 PAR of lighting should be provided for the green-colored species and between 40 – 50 PAR for the red/purple-colored variant, nitrates limitation is a major boost as well if you want the real colors to appear. As I have said before, the lights should be kept on for at least 10 hours daily.

The plant gets a fair amount of its required nutrients from the water column, hence the need for regular dosing of the tank water with an aquarium plant fertilizer.

Species of Cabomba grows rapidly; it can add up to 1 inch (2.5 cm) per day once favorable growth conditions exist. This fast growth rate may call for regular pruning. Cabomba is capable of growing up to the surface of aquariums if it is not regularly pruned.

The presence of damaged stems or dead/decomposed leaves in the tank can clog the aquarium filter and ruin the water quality, hence, it should be collected alongside the trimmed overgrown shoots for proper disposal.

Note: in one of the studies, I also found an interesting mention that in Japan, fanwort has been shown to grow well in nutrient-rich water, although growth is inhibited by high calcium levels.

Planting and Propagation of Cabomba

Cabomba Caroliniana is suitable for placement in the background of planted tanks. In large tanks, Cabomba Furcata can as well be used to accentuate ornaments in the mid-ground.

Place the new healthy stems into the substrate (at least an inch deep). Make sure to remove the lower two or three pairs of leaves and plant in bunches of five or six stems.

The plantlets may find it difficult staying put in the substrate, you can always poke them back in with tweezers whenever it floats up. A better alternative is to hold it down in the substrate using lead weights.

You may not know this, but Cabomba can be floated as well. However, it feels much better planted.

Floating Cabomba in a tank is not difficult. All you need to do is obtain healthy stems from the local pet store. The plant comes in a bunch, remove the rubber band used to bind the stems, disinfect them thoroughly and insert into the tank. When it’s done, the plants will stay afloat on the water surface, sprouting adventitious roots from the stems after a while.

Growth can be prolific, and reproduction is both asexual via fragmentation and sexual via emergent flowers.

In the aquarium, Cabomba is easily propagated by terminal cuttings from mature stems in the tank and planting them into the substrate. It is really up to you how much you want to cut. Generally, 4 – 5 inches (10 – 12 cm) can be enough.

When making your cuttings, ensure you do it gently to avoid breaking or damaging the thin stems of the Cabomba because it is fragile and snaps easily.

In addition, by cutting the top of the plant, it starts growing bushier. Repeat this process until the plant has become bushy enough for you.

Benefits of Cabomba

Aquascape: If you want to create Jungle aquascaping, Cabomba may be a good choice for you.

Removal of excess nutrients: As a fast-growing plant, Cabomba will absorb and utilize harmful chemicals that are emitted from fish waste, decayed plant matter, and tap water such as nitrates, CO2, ammonia, and phosphates.

Outcompetes algae: Cabomba is effective against algae. It outcompetes algae for the nutrients and suppresses its growth.

Hiding place for fish, fry, and shrimp: Serves as cover and shade for inverts and small fish. It serves as a perfect hiding place for shrimp and fish.

Foraging place: Acts as a buffet of biofilm, which is an ideal first food for newly hatched fry and shrimplets.

Oxygenation: Cabomba oxygenates and aerates the tank water.

Problems Associated with Cabomba

Falling off leaves: In most cases, it can be light or CO2 deficiency.

Bottom leaves turn brown: If the upper leaves are too bushy, they can block light from reaching the bottom leaves, often causing them to turn brown.

Water Flow: Cabomba plant does not like the strong flow it inhibits the growth because all debris and dirt will get trapped in these fan-shaped leaves.

Hard to plant: It can be really hard to plant Cabomba into the substrate since the stems easily get damaged, and the stem does not have well-developed roots to stay in the substrate, therefore, it floats away. Solution: put the stem inside a ceramic ring and put that into the substrate. Another trick will be to leave the plant to float until the roots start to grow. After that, it will be easier to anchor into the substrate.

Fragile: Cabomba species have a fragile structure. Their needles break off very easily leaving a horrible mess in the tank.

Melting: Cabomba does not tolerate well the change of environment. In addition, if you have a really hard alkaline water PH 8.0 and above, these plants will completely melt eventually.

Cabomba care guide aerial rootsReplacement: Once planted Cabomba does not like to be moved. They have very thin roots that can be damaged by pulling the plant out. After replanting the roots may start rotting which can kill the plant.

Ugly aerial roots: Cabomba tends to grow lots of long aerial roots. Personally, I find them really ugly.

You can also read “How to Spot Nutrient Deficiencies in Aquatic Plants”.

Cabomba and Tankmates

The dense bush formed by mature Cabomba shoots in the background serves as a perfect shelter and hiding spots for fry and small fish species.

Compatible tankmates include:


According to the study, Cabomba caroliniana induces a chemical defense mechanism to deter both herbivores and microbes that typically attack plants via openings left by herbivores.

For example, Procambrus clarkii or the snail Pomacea canaliculata (Apple snails) preferred to eat other plants when given a choice. Even more, when the snails were ‘forced’ to eat only Cabomba caroliniana, they did not grow well compared to other diets.

Nonetheless, I would still not recommend keeping these plants and voracious plant-eaters like Silver dollars, Oscars, Buenos Aires, etc. Even if they do not devour the delicate leaves, they can easily break the brittle leaves.

Basically, the same can be said about other freshwater crabs and crayfish species. It is a well-known fact that these invertebrates are plant destructive (read my introduction to crayfish care). So, they will still cut or uproot the plant in the tank unless you do not plant Cabomba and let it float in the tank.

Buying Cabomba

Species of Cabomba can be obtained at local aquarium/pet stores at relatively low prices, in case you don’t find it there, you can order it online from reputable vendors. This beautiful aquatic plant goes for as low as $5 – $10 for a bunch of 5 or more stems, these stems are held together with a rubber band.

Endeavor to obtain specimens with tall healthy stems, the leaves should be vibrant; having pale or lime green or reddish-purple color (depending on the species). Other likely signs of good health include the presence of little roots, flowers, and outgrowth of new shoots.

Make sure it is not banned in your state and you do not buy or sell it illegally!

Cabomba – check out the price on Amazon

Quarantine Cabomba

Unless you are completely sure that Cabomba is safe, for example, it was grown in sterile/laboratory conditions (in vitro) and in vitro pot is not damaged or opened, do not forget to quarantine and disinfect it first to avoid the risk of contamination and poisoning.

DO NOT introduce a new plant to your tank right after you bought it.

  • The plant can have parasites, pests like snails, or even predators (dragonfly, damsefly nymphs, etc.).
  • It may already contain residues of chemicals (pesticide) to remove parasites, snails, etc. These chemicals are extremely poisonous to fish, shrimp, and other invertebrates.

Note: If you decide to disinfect Vallisneria, be careful with the bleach. It is a little bit more sensitive to it. So, use weaker concentrations or other ways to do it.

To find out more, read my articles:  

How to Remove Snails from a Shrimp Tank.
How to Quarantine and Disinfect Aquarium Plants.
Pesticides in Shrimp Tanks. Plants Quarantine.

In Conclusion

Cabomba is an excellent bunch plant ideal for planting in the background of aquariums. It forms beautiful thick foliage which some fish species utilize as shade, hiding spots, and a place for spawning activities.

The problem is that it is one of those plants that either die rather quickly or become a weed in the tank. Nothing in between.

Nonetheless, if you still want to test your skills, I would recommend starting with the green Cabomba. The plant is the least demanding and easier to grow, compared to the Red Cabomba that need extra care and attention.

Tip: You can always replace Cabomba with Hornwort. It is way easier to care for but it looks pretty similar.

Related article:

Hornwort Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation
Top 7 Floating Plants for Beginners

Cabomba Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation pinterest

4 thoughts on “Cabomba Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

  1. Nice paper about Cabomba! Congratulations. Best regards from Brazil.

  2. Hi Michael, I currently grow red cabomba with reasonable success, I have a Fluval 3.0 light that is on for 8 hours at 100 % with 30 minute ramp up and down. I dose NPK as well as Trace per dosing instructions and am injecting CO2 at 10 BPS. All plants seem to grow reasonably well however I dont seem to have the deep red colouring in your pic above. Whats the best way to go about achieving this. Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi DAVID,
      I would start with a photoperiod of 10 hours on a daily basis to see the reaction. After that, if it does not help, I would start increasing the light intensity slowly.
      Best regards,

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