Dwarf Sagittaria is a common name for the versatile plant species Sagittaria subulata. This vibrant grasslike plant is among the most popular aquarium flora. It is undemanding, hardy, and easy to grow, even for beginners.
In this care guide, we will explain how you can cultivate, and maintain the amazing Dwarf Sagittaria in your home aquarium.
Quick Notes about Dwarf Sagittaria
|Common Name||Dwarf Sagittaria|
|Other Names||Awl-leaf arrowhead, Narrow-leaved arrowhead, Hudson Sagittaria and Ribbon Wapato|
||Sagittaria subulata (Sagittaria pusilla)|
|Optimal pH||6.0 – 8.0|
|Optimal GH||Soft to hard|
|Optimal Temperature||20 – 28 °C (68 – 82 °F)|
|Placement in Tank
||Foreground or mid-ground|
|Size||10 to 15 cm (4 – 6 inches)|
||Not needed to low|
|CO2||Not needed to low|
Origin of Dwarf Sagittaria
Dwarf Sagittaria is an aquatic plant species from the family Alismataceae. It is also known as the awl-leaf arrowhead or narrow-leaved arrowhead. Dwarf Sagittaria is native to the Atlantic coast of North America, and some parts of South America.
Genus: Sagittaria (This is a genus of aquatic plants whose members go by a variety of common names, including Arrowhead, Duck potato, Katniss, Wapato, etc.)
Species: Sagittaria subulata
Note: Dwarf Sagittaria is also known as Sagittaria pusilla.
Habitat of Dwarf Sagittaria
Dwarf Sagittaria is native to the Atlantic coast of North America; these include Eastern states of the U.S.A that have a shoreline on the Atlantic Ocean e.g. Massachusetts, Connecticut, North, and South Carolina, New Jersey, Georgia, Florida e.t.c.
It is also native to South America (Colombia and Venezuela). Dwarf Sagittaria has also been established as an invasive species in Great Britain, Azores, and Java in Indonesia.
This plant species can be seen growing in marshes, estuaries, and shallow waters (freshwater and brackish) in emersed, and submersed form.
Description of Dwarf Sagittaria
Dwarf Sagittaria is a perennial plant species with height up to 10 – 15 cm (about 4 – 6 inches). They possess bright green foliage that has narrowly linear, arrow-shaped to ovate / oval in form. Leaves are generally stiff, short, and 1mm to 7mm wide.
In its emersed state, the flowers develop on very thin, long, light-green stalks. They are monoecious, it means that on a single plant there are both male flowers, about two to five (containing only anthers) and female flowers, one to two (in which the seeds arise). They are also self-fertile and self-sterile as well. Flowers are white, about 1 cm (0.4 inches) in diameter.
In its natural habitat, when the water dries out, Sagittaria Subulata develops land forms with ovate leaves that are 25 to 50 mm (1 – 2 inches) long, with petioles that are equally as long or perhaps up to three times longer than the blade.
All varieties of Sagittaria species have the same structure:
- leaves are collected in thick basal rosettes;
- well-developed roots of white color go deep into the substrate (up to 5 – 8 cm or 2 – 3 inches).
Interesting fact: Strictly speaking, Dwarf Sagittaria is also one of the varieties of Sagittaria Subulata. The Dwarf form was bred by Dutch breeders and introduced into our hobby about 40 years ago.
Varieties of Sagittaria subulata
There are about 45 varieties of Sagittaria species in the world. Apart from that the original Sagittaria subulata also has some variations of this species, for example:
Sagittaria subulata var. gracillima: This species is commonly known as Narrowleaf Sagittaria. Just like Dwarf Sagittaria, it also possesses thin leaves (1mm to 6mm in width.) that makes is very hard to tell apart when it is small.
The problem, though, is that Narrowleaf Sagittaria can grow up to 40 cm (15 inches) and more. It can become a real problem when people confuse it with Dwarf Sagittaria and plant it in a foreground. This species is only useful for planting in the mid-ground and background of tanks.
When the leaves of this variety reach the water level, they wind below the surface and become dense tangles.
Note: If you want to see the difference between Narrowleaf Sagittaria and Dwarf Sagittaria, when they at the same size, you need to compare the color. Narrowleaf Sagittaria is darker green. Dwarf Sagittaria is more lime green.
Sagittaria subulata var. kurziana: Also known as Broadleaf Sagittaria. It is one of the most decorative plants of the species, it resembles some species of Vallisneria.
Submersed phyllodes (leaves) are 20cm to 30 long (8 – 12 inches), and 7 – 15mm (0.3 – 0.6 inches) wide. It is very useful for the same purpose as the preceding variety, but it is more decorative.
Tank Requirements and Water Parameters
All varieties of Sagittaria subulata can withstand hard water as well as water with surplus of organic substances. They are fit for any kind of tank, not being sensitive to temperature variations; this makes them suitable for beginners.
Sagittaria subulata is suited for even the smallest of tanks. They can be housed in both nano and large tanks with ease. Hence, the recommended tank size is a minimum of 5 gallons, you can opt for large tanks if you plan on heavy stocking.
Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:
Temperature: Sagittaria subulata can tolerate temperature variations, it can easily thrive in the temperature range between 20 – 27 °C (68 – 82 °F) and even lower temperatures without adverse effects on its form and health.
pH: This hardy plant does not care much about pH levels, however, it will appreciate optimal pH values between 6.0 – 8.0
Hardness: Dwarf sagittaria is a very adaptable plant, it can thrive in soft water to hard water with values of 2 – 15 GH.
Dwarf sagittaria only requires moderate lighting, it will do best in the range of 30 – 60 PAR.
Under very high lighting for an extended period of time, the plant may turn yellowish or even melt. If you see it, it is a sign that you have way too much light.
They can survive under very low lighting but it will cause them to grow slower and a little bit taller as if they reach for more light.
Dwarf Sagittaria is a root feeder. This plant is not very efficient at absorbing nutrients from the water column with its leaves. Therefore, in order to create optimal conditions, use nutrient-rich substrates such as ADA Amazonia soil, Mr. Aqua Aquarium Soil, Caribsea Eco-Complete, etc.
Dwarf Sagittaria will not be likely to do well in gravel- or sand-only substrate.
Note: In this case, it will require Root Tabs to fertilize them.
CO2 and fertilization:
Sagittaria species are sensitive to low levels of iron, an indication is discoloration or yellowing of the leaves which is often a sign of iron deficiency.
Dwarf sagittaria will thrive without CO2 injection, but its growth will be slower, and sometimes stunted if other water parameters are not good enough (cumulative effect).
Nonetheless, if you are planning to use CO2 injections you will also have to provide more light and make sure that fertilization needs are duly met. It will help you to maintain the balance in the planted tank and avoid algae problems.
Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank with the Dwarf sagittaria, 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 Dwarf Sagittaria
Caring for Dwarf sagittaria is relatively easy, it is one of the few plants that can thrive successfully in tanks with extreme pH, temperature, and water hardness conditions.
The plants grow fast, and you might need to trim them regularly in order to attain a nice carpet effect in the aquarium. In addition, constant trimming increases the propagation rate by significantly aiding the development of runners.
Dwarf sagittaria is not a stem plant, it is a rosette plant. It means that every time we trim it, we damage all the leaves that are coming out of a center point. So, there is a chance that the existing leaves may die back. In their turn, you will eventually get newer and smaller leaves. As a result, the more you trim it the smaller and smaller it is going to get.
If you do not have enough nutrients in the substrate, regular fertilizer application may be essential, consider adding it at least once every week. Also, in cases where signs of iron deficiency appear, the tank water should be dosed appropriately with Seachem Fluorish Iron or any other good iron supplements.
Planting and Propagation of Dwarf Sagittaria
Place the plants with tweezers into the substrate (about 1 inch or 2 – 3 cm deep), however, do not bury the root crown too deep into the substrate to prevent rot. Make sure to space out Dwarf sagittaria properly (5 – 7 cm or 2 – 3 inches apart), this way they will grow better, and create a wonderful carpet faster.
Do not glue them onto driftwood or anything else. Dwarf sagittaria is a root feeder.
Dwarf sagittaria propagates by producing runners which spreads like a carpet on the tank floor. These runners can equally be pinched off, relocated, and planted in the substrate.
Tip: In order to increase the propagation rate of Dwarf sagittaria, trim off a few of the leaves from each plant. The plant will use the energy to send more runners and you will get that carpet effect sooner.
Note: Dwarf sagittaria is a good plant for a Dry Start Method.
Benefits of Dwarf Sagittaria:
Prevents gas pockets: Dwarf sagittaria’s root system will help to break up anaerobic pockets in the substrate.
Note: Hydrogen sulfide pockets (H2S, the gas smells like rotten eggs) can be really dangerous to your fish or shrimp.
Foraging place: This plant will be an additional place for the growth of biofilm, which is an ideal first food for newly hatched fry and shrimplets.
Shelter: The dense carpets formed by Dwarf sagittaria will provide a shelter / hiding spot for shrimp, small and shy fish, and a breeding place for egg-scatterers.
Oxygenation: As with all plants, it helps in oxygenating the water column in the aquarium.
Problems associated with Dwarf Sagittaria
Yellowing of the leaves: Discoloration is caused by low levels of iron. Dwarf Sagittaria is very sensitive to iron deficiency; when this happens you will notice the leaves losing its normal vibrant green color, and gradually turning yellow. This condition can be averted by monitoring the iron levels with an accurate test kit, and dosing iron supplements when necessary.
Melting: A melt occurs as a result of damages in transit, physical transfer, or transition from emersed form to submersed form. Some aquarium plants are cultivated and nurtured in land from, and a transfer to a submersed environment will cause the plant to wither and shed its emersed leaves. Don’t panic, new leaves will develop as soon as the plants adapt fully to the new environment.
Rot: This occurs when you cultivate this plant too deep into the substrate, and the crown begins to rot. Crown rot will ultimately result in the plant dying off because its roots and stem won’t be able to absorb, and conduct the nutrients it requires to grow.
Relocation: In spite of their small size, the root system of Dwarf Sagittaria is pretty strong. Therefore, if you ever decide to remove or relocate the plant, you should be very careful or you will pull up a big part of your substrate. Sometimes it is better to cut it off instead of pulling it up.
Dwarf Sagittaria and Tankmates
Dwarf Sagittaria has a nice grasslike form that can be used to accentuate other plant species with a different growth habit e.g. Anubias nana, Monte Carlo, Glossostigma elatinoides, etc., thereby creating a more natural look in the aquarium.
Suitable tankmates for this plant species are mostly livebearers, shrimp, and snails. For example:
- Peaceful Fish. It would be a nice idea to keep this plant in the company of fish that won’t harm it. Good examples include Otocinclus Catfish, Pygmy Cory Catfish, Neon tetras, Guppy, Cherry Barb, Green Swordtails, Rasboras, Red, or blue wagtail platy, etc.
- Shrimp. In addition, shrimp species – all varieties of Neocaridina species (Red Cherry Shrimp, Blue Velvet Shrimp, Black Rose, Snowball shrimp, Orange Sakura, Green Jade, Rili Shrimp, etc) or Caridina species (for example, Crystal Red Shrimp, Caridina cf. babaulti, Blue Tiger Shrimp, etc.), Amano shrimp, Ghost shrimp, Bamboo shrimp, Vampire shrimp, Basically, you can keep any shrimp species with it. They will love it!
- Snails (for example, Ramshorn snails, Nerite snails, Malaysian Trumpet snails, Japanese trapdoor snails, Mystery snails,). Be careful with snails that can harm or try to devour the plant. Check out the list of freshwater snails here.
You should avoid hostile, aggressive diggers, and plant-eating fish species that will waste no time in tearing up the plants and fighting other fish in the tank. Fish species like Goldfish, Oscars, Rainbow fish are likely to nibble on the succulent leaves of this plant, therefore they should be avoided.
Do not keep Dwarf Sagittaria with crayfish or crabs. It is a well-known fact that these invertebrates are plant destructive (read my introduction to crayfish care). They will eat and uproot everything in the tank. Therefore, the best choice will be to have floater plants in their tanks.
Buying Dwarf Sagittaria
Dwarf Sagittaria is a popular plant species in the hobby, it is widely available, and can be easily found in pet stores (offline and online) for purchase. It is inexpensive and retails for as low as $10 (a bunch of 5 stems or more).
Good signs of a healthy Dwarf sag is the presence of healthy roots and crown, and bright green leaves devoid of discoloration and pests.
Quarantine Dwarf Sagittaria
Unless you are completely sure that Dwarf Sagittaria 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.
To find out more, read my articles:
This is the plant that cannot go wrong. The small / average size of Dwarf sagittaria makes it ideal for planting in the foreground and mid-ground of tanks. It is stunning, and blends nicely with other green plants, thereby enhancing the intrinsic feeling of depth in the tank.
This plant can tolerate varying degrees of water temperature and hardness, it can also thrive in tanks without CO2 injection, and only requires minimal care. These are a lot of positives, hence I would recommend this plant to beginners.
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