Dwarf Water Lettuce Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation

Dwarf Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)

Dwarf Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes, from: pistos (G.): water and stratiotes (G.): a soldier – water soldier) is a very common floating plant to find in ponds and aquariums. This plant has been on the market for many years and it is extremely popular amongst hobbyists as it is reliable and relatively easy care for even for a beginner.

Although Dwarf Water Lettuce is not the absolute easiest or the hardest aquarium plant to care for, it is still a pretty tough plant that can completely overrun your aquarium or pond under good conditions. It propagates quickly and will provide shade to areas of the aquarium, which will improve the survival rate of your fish fry and baby shrimp.

Dwarf Water Lettuce is a truly beautiful and very beneficial plant for aquariums with no or gentle water flow. It does require an average aquarium light to keep it alive. So, let’s talk about everything you need to know about this popular aquarium plant and how you can use it for aquascaping.

Dwarf water lettuce – check out the price on Amazon

Quick Notes about Dwarf Water Lettuce

Common Name Dwarf Water lettuce 
Scientific Name Pistia stratiotes
Difficulty Easy
Lighting Medium (Fast under the right lighting)
pH 6.0 – 7.5
Water hardness    Soft – medium
Temperature 22 – 28 oC (71 to 82 °F )
Substrate Not needed
Growth Rate Fast
Placement in Tank Floating
Height Small to very large;
5 – 25 cm ( 2 – 10 inches)
CO2 Not needed 
Propagation Sexual and asexual via runners connected to daughter plants

Origin & Habitat of Dwarf Water Lettuce

The Dwarf Water Lettuce is a double-sided plant for both the aquarium and the pond. It is known to be both instrumental as well as aesthetic at the same time. It not helps in fighting algal bloom in the given environment, but it also helps in accentuating the overall décor of any given environment in which it is placed.

Dwarf Water lettuce tends to be a herbaceous, floating plant that is found all across the globe –especially in subtropical and tropical regions. Water lettuce also goes by the names as Nile Cabbage or Water Cabbage because of its appearance like a leafy, green vegetable.

Interesting fact: Water lettuce was introduced or discovered alongside the Nile River some 2000 years ago. Various references to the plant have been made in the writings from the famous botanists of the ancient Greek era and in the hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptian era. It is common to find water lettuce of Pistia in marshes, bogs, and lakes of every corner of the world –except for Antarctica.

Description or Appearance of Dwarf Water Lettuce

Dwarf Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) Flower propagationBelonging to the tropical herbaceous perennial plant category, Dwarf Water Lettuce, as the name implies, appears like a small, thick bush of leafy, green vegetables like a cabbage.

The leaves are light green in color and feature parallel veins along with wavy margins that get a covering of short hair. The beautiful flowers of the plant get hidden in the middle amongst the leaves. The plant is also known to bear fruits in the form of small, rounded berries that are formed after successful fertilization.

On the underside, it has long white to blackish roots that may extend for more than a foot, providing breeding and hiding space.

Dwarf Water Lettuce is known to float on the surface of the water with its roots hanging and submerged beneath the plant’s floating leaves. The plant is a perennial monocotyledon featuring the presence of soft, thick leaves that attractively form a rosette.

Note: Unlike standard Water Lettuce, which grows really big, the leaves of Dwarf Water Lettuce are known to reach as much as 1.5 – 2.5 cm (0.5 – 1 inch) in dimension with no stem in them.

However, it is important to remember that if the surface water has no movement, Dwarf Water Lettuce will grow bigger with time. In this case, the size of the plant can reach up to 10 cm (4 inches) or even more!

Water Parameters / Tank Requirements

This plant does not need anything special to thrive. It appears as weeds when placed outdoors. Therefore, care is quite easy for Dwarf Water Lettuce, if provide the right growing conditions. Some of the relevant parameters in association with the overall growth and sustainability of the plant are:

Tank size:

Dwarf Water Lettuce grows really fast and tends to take up a lot of space. Keep in mind that a single plant can cover a 30-inch tank in a fairly short time. Therefore 10 gallons (~40 liters) is the minimum recommended tank size needed for this plant species. Of course, more is better!

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

It can grow in a relatively wide pH range, however, the optimal pH will be from 6.0 to 7.5 pH (soft to slightly hard). As a tropical aquatic plant, Dwarf Water Lettuce thrives in warm water (72 – 86F or 22 – 30 C) and only grows when the water temperature is above 64 – 68F (18 – 20С). Low to moderate hardness (3-8GH) is preferable. Hard water (more than 12) staggers the growth of the plant.
Note: Pistia stratiotes is extremely frost-sensitive and will not tolerate freezing temperatures.

Substrate:

Dwarf Water Lettuce does not need a substrate. This plant is a floater and grows only on the surface of the water.

Lighting:

Dwarf Water Lettuce needs medium light. For example, a typical 10 – 12 hours light cycle with 4000K to 7000K will be good enough for this plant. For growing the plants in an aquarium, you might require a continuous set of full-range T5 or T8 small-sized bulbs. These are regarded as sufficient for growing these plants.

However, most of the lettuce plants that you get out there are should be subjected to direct bright light or sunlight only gradually for the best outcomes. Upon purchasing, if you tend to place them under the light right after, the chances are that the leaves might get scorched with the plant struggling to grow rapidly later on.

Note: Over-lighted Water Lettuce commonly appear reddish to yellow to brown. In addition, under brighter lighting, it can start growing too fast and too big as well.

Supplements:

As a floating plant, Dwarf Water Lettuce does not require CO2 supplementation. You do not have to fertilize it unless the water is really low in nitrates or you really want to cultivate them.

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

Water Flow:

The less flow you have in your tank the bigger Dwarf Water Lettuce will get. So, if you want to keep them small, it is best kept in an aquarium with gentle water flow. I will repeat – the gentle flow.
Tip: To prevent Water lettuce to be pushed around the tank by the current, you can install some kind of barrier to prevent the plant to go near turbulent water. For example, use a floating rope or tube to divide the surface area and keep them there.

Humidity:

Once again people often forget that this is a tropical aquatic plant. Ideally, Dwarf Water Lettuce needs high humidity (70 or more). Therefore, you need to partially close your aquarium with a lid.

Care & Maintenance of Dwarf Water Lettuce

Dwarf Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) RootsDwarf Water lettuce is known to grow at a rapid pace once you provide the right conditions for it. At the same time, proper care of the plant is also required such that it lives to its longest possible life. Upon the first stage of its care & maintenance, it is recommended to keep removing the excess leaves or plants in a group. This helps in preventing overcrowding of the plant while avoiding any kind of nutrient deficiency to the plant at the same time.

As you remove the new daughter plants from the bed, it will help in promoting additional growth of the plant. Moreover, this is regarded as an ideal condition for propagating the plant. While removing the small, daughter plants is beneficial, when you get rid of the larger plants, it will shun the overall growth. This turns out helpful when you wish to minimize the overall task of taking care and maintaining the growth.

If the pond or aquarium that you are using is specifically small, water lettuce is known to consume specific nutrients while turning yellow at the same time. For treating the same, you might consider floating Water Lettuce in a dip of Miracle Glow (dissolved) for a stretch of hours, treatment of pond or aquarium with some natural nutrient booster, or applying a solution of the given depleted nutrient to the given plant-growing environment.

DO NOT ever submerge the Water lettuce. This plant has oleophobic surface to repel water instead it has tiny hairs which act as the repellent and allows them to float. If the leaves get submerged for a longer time they do become wet and eventually die. 

Trimming Dwarf Water Lettuce

Dwarf Water Lettuce is a rapid grower, so care needs to be taken if you do not want it to overrun your aquarium. Do not allow your plants to completely crowd the surface. Pinch off plantlets or remove individuals to keep them gapped.

Note: You will have to do it every week.

If you see that the roots of the plants are too long (reach the bottom of the tank or tangle up in other plants, decorations, filter, etc.), you can pull them out every 2 – 3 weeks and cut them off. Leave about 10 cm (4 inches) of roots. Do not worry, Dwarf Water Lettuce will survive. 

Planting Dwarf Water Lettuce

Dwarf Water lettuce, naturally, is known to grow in the form of rosettes on the surface of the water. The plant is known to feature thick, yet soft leaves. The roots of the plant are dense and feathery and reach up to 15 inches (40 cm) below the surface of the water. Thus, this plant is known to provide ample shade and shelter for small fish or shrimp – whether in a pond or in an aquarium.

It is quite common to spot a water lettuce plant in an aquarium setup. You can either go for purchasing an aquarium-fit water lettuce plant or grow the same for yourself after following a few important points. The overall process of water lettuce reproduction tends to be vegetative in nature.

The same can be easily achieved by the utilization of stolons. Upon this process, the growth of the plant can be propagated through seeds that are covered with sand or with the help of division of the plant’s parts.

Another way to anchor them is to use their roots, instead of cutting them so they stay away from turbulent water. 

Propagation of Dwarf Water Lettuce

Dwarf water lettuceWater lettuce is known to propagate both asexually and sexually. When you are growing the plant in a home-based aquarium, sexual propagation is not so common. Upon propagation, the flowers of the plant are extremely tiny and are situated towards the center of the plant. Each plant is known to feature either a male or a female flower set. Upon the occurrence of successful fertilization, you will observe the appearance of multiple berries featuring multi-seeds towards the center.

In a home-based aquarium, asexual propagation is commonly observed in these plants. Upon the same, small-sized daughter water lettuce starts floating just beside the mother lettuce. The daughter and the mother lettuce are conjoined with the help of a stolon. Upon asexual propagation, thick mats of the plant get formed. Therefore, you should take care that these mats do not completely cover the surface of the aquarium.

Note: Dwarf Water lettuce can grow quite quickly, put out runners with daughter plants even when very, very tiny. 

How to Procure Dwarf Water Lettuce?

These plants are mostly available in leading aquarium shops and garden centers that aim at selling the plant commercially for advanced profits. When you tend to purchase the plant with the help of the mail order, they might not appear their best when received through the mail. It is recommended to allow the plants to recuperate themselves for a short interval of time in some small-sized pot in an area having ample shade. Once the plants are restored to their original, fuller conditions, these can be transported into the pond or aquarium of your choice.

Water lettuce is naturally known to grow while floating on the surface of the water –in the pond or aquarium. The leaves of the plant keep originating from the rosette and feature the presence of deep, submerged, and hairy roots beneath the water surface. 

Dwarf Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)Problems associated with Dwarf Water Lettuce

  • Shedding the roots: In some cases, when you receive your Dwarf Water Lettuce, it can start shedding its roots from the stress of shipping. Do not panic by that because the roots will grow back.
  • Plant fading: Without enough light, the leaves will become smaller.
  • Slow growth: Too hard water, too cold, not enough nutrients in the water column.
  • Loss (yellowing) of color: Sometimes, yellowing of the leaves might take place due to increased sun exposure or continued nutrient deficiency.
    Note: The leaves can also turn yellow because of age. It is most often the oldest one on the bottom. You can just peel them off.
  • Mosquitos: The dense hair of the plant might serve as the breeding ground for mosquito larvae. Therefore, it is recommended to maintain a check on the overall cleanliness of the aquarium from time to time.
  • Destabilizing ecosystem: The prolific growth of Dwarf Water Lettuce can choke the surrounding waterways while destabilizing the natural ecosystem in your aquarium.
  • Suppresses other plants: When these plants are allowed to grow unchecked, water lettuce can take over other aquatic plants as well. Trim the plant and remove some as it grows. Otherwise, the plants at the bottom of the tank (that require more light) will get no light and die out.
  • Cannot be submerged: If you make the Dwarf water lettuce sink, it will die and ruin the water quality as it rots.
  • Humidity deficit: Dry, curling ends of leaves are typically due to low water vapor. Maintain high humidity.

Dwarf Water Lettuce & Tankmates

 Dwarf Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) Water lettuce and its dense, hairy roots are known to provide a heavenly shelter for the fish and shrimps around. The hanging roots of the plant help in providing protection to spawn and other smaller fish varieties. To top it all, water lettuce is renowned to be compatible with most fish species. At the same time, it is recommended to refrain from growing these plants in an aquarium having goldfish or other herbivore fish as these will consume its edible roots.

This plant is considered to be one of the best plants for the shrimp tank. Read more about it in my article “Top 5 Plants for Your Shrimp Tank” and “Top 5 Pros and Cons of having Plants in Shrimp Aquarium”. It is possible to keep any shrimp species with it.

Regarding snails, certain varieties of snails that cannot harm or try to devour Dwarf Water Lettuce. For example, Ramshorn snailsNerite snailsMalaysian Trumpet snails, Japanese trapdoor snailsMystery snails, etc.,

Water lettuce is a great choice for any aquarium with crayfish or crabs. It is a well know 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 like Water lettuce.

Dwarf Water Lettuce in Aquascaping

Water Lettuce is increasingly gaining the impetus of being the topmost choice of homeowners or aquarists who prefer using the water plant as a popular option for aquascaping. The plant is known to add a perfect mixture of interesting color, appearance, and texture to the mixed plant groupings in ponds and aquariums.

Water lettuce –specifically “dwarf lettuce,” is recognized for its soft, velvety texture that spreads out like strawberry plants across the water’s surface. To top it all, these plants also produce inconspicuous flowers and small-sized berries as well. The bright green leaves of Pistia are veined deeply, and thus, resemble the heads of the floating lettuce on water. 

Benefits of Dwarf Water Lettuce for Aquarium

Dwarf Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)Reduces algal bloom: In addition to appearing aesthetic in an aquarium setup, the main advantage of these plants is that they help in reducing the overall probability of algal bloom in the given environment. Dwarf Water Lettuce simply out competes algae for nutrients. While algal bloom is a common phenomenon in most of the tanks out there, when you plant Water Lettuce, you can be assured of the best outcomes. The plant can also be utilized for keeping the water pure.

Reduces nitrates: Water Lettuce is absolutely wonderful for sucking up nitrates and ammonia.

Natural filtration: It will absorb heavy metals, decaying food, and fish (snail or shrimp) waste and etc.

Provides hiding places: The leaves and their dangling root masses make great shade and places for fry, small or shy fish to hide and feed, as well as shrimp.

Provides an additional surface area for beneficial bacteria.

Quarantine Dwarf Water Lettuce

Do not forget to quarantine any new plants before put them into your tank!

  • They can have parasites, pests like snail or even predators (dragonfly, damsefly nymphs, etc.).
  • They can be treated with chemicals (pesticide) to remove parasites, snails, etc. However, these chemicals are extremely poisonous to shrimp and invertebrates.

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

With the right growing and propagation techniques, you can ensure that the Dwarf Water Lettuce grows for its longest period. Moreover, with proper care & maintenance, you can also look forward to enhancing the overall aesthetics of your tank in an effortless manner. It is equally important to prevent these plants to outrun the others in the given environment. Most people should be able to care for it just fine without any issues.

Dwarf water lettuce – check out the price on Amazon

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