Madagascar lace (Aponogeton madagascariensis) is unarguably one of the most beautiful aquatic plants in the aquarium hobby. Madagascar lace has attractive and charming fenestrated leaves which adds a whole new aesthetics to an aquarium.
Even though this plant is very popular among aquarists and in the aquarium trade Madagascar lace is considered hard to keep because of its specific care requirements.
If you are considering adding Madagascar lace to your tank, then you will definitely find this article helpful. This article provides a lot of information about Aponogeton madagascariensis; these include background information about this plant, how to plant and care for it in an aquarium.
Quick Notes about Madagascar Lace
|Common Name||Madagascar lace|
|Other Names||Lace Plant, Lattice Leaf|
|Scientific Name||Aponogeton madagascariensis|
|Tank Size (minimum)||30 gallons (~120 liters)|
|Lighting||Moderate to high|
|Optimal pH||5.5 – 7.5|
|Optimal hardness||2 – 10|
|Optimal temperature||68 – 75 °F (20 – 24 °C)|
|Can Be Grown Emersed
|Size||2 ft (60 cm) and more|
|Growth Rate||Very fast|
|Placement in Tank||Background|
|Propagation||Daughter plants via bulbs or seeds|
Origin and Taxonomy of Madagascar Lace
This plant species was first described by French botanist Charles François Brisseau de Mirbel in 1802. After that, it was renamed multiple times, for example, Hydrogeton fenestralis (by C.H. Persoon in 1805), Aponogeton fenestralis (by J.D. Hooker in 1883) until it was finally classified as Aponogeton madagascariensis by H.Bruggen in 1968
In science, the Aponogeton genus is poorly understood systematically because its taxonomic study has been hampered by the similar, often convergent
vegetative morphology of most species.
Habitat of Madagascar Lace
Madagascar lace is endemic to the Central, West, and East river systems in Madagascar and the Comoros Islands. Nowadays this plant is also naturalized in Mauritius.
In nature, this species can be found in a variety of freshwater environments ranging from stagnant ponds, and marches to turbulent rivers, on basalt or on calcareous rocks and in marshes, generally, between sea-level and 1800 m altitude.
Description of Madagascar Lace
An unusual form of leaf morphogenesis makes Aponogeton madagascariensis a unique plant. Basically, this is the only aquatic plant that has perforated leaf morphology. Because of this, Madagascar lace has been cultivated by aquarium enthusiasts for over 100 years!
Interesting fact: Madagascar lace forms perforations in its leaves through a process known as programmed cell death (PCD). PCD is a series of tightly controlled events leading to the demise of targeted cells.
Basically, it leads to the formation of small openings in young, leaves that later enlarge 10–20-fold to form holes in mature leaves. These holes are formed in highly predictable places with respect to the vein pattern. Its leaves are connected by a network of longitudinal and transverse veinlets, enclosing segments (called areoles) that are roughly square.
Note: Interestingly, the first 1–3 emerging leaves grow without perforations, while subsequent leaves do form perforations
Madagascar lace is also a very diverse plant. This plant can grow leaves of different colors (from dark green to reddish), shapes (oval, oblong, lanceolate, ovate, or obovate), pointing up or along the substrate.
Its leaves can grow up to 2 ft (60 cm) or even more. They grow out of the apex of the corm. Madagascar lace is a very large plant and should be placed only in the background or used as a focal point in aquascaping.
Madagascar lace is a beautiful flowering plant. In aquariums, where it grows above the surface, it forms lovely white flowers and develops purple tints.
According to multiple studies, although this process has now been well-documented, the purpose of perforation formation during leaf development remains widely unknown.
There is a theory that the leaves have developed such ‘ability’ to allow water to flow through and not be ripped away from the plant itself. However, there are two main arguments against it.
- First, it is really strange that only one plant evolved this way out of thousands of aquatic plant species.
- Second, Madagascar lace also grows in stagnant waters where perforated leaves do not benefit the plant at all.
Tank Requirements and Water Parameters
This plant requires a lot of space because of its growth potential.
Therefore, the recommended tank size for growing Madagascar lace is a minimum of 30 gallons (~120 liters). The bigger the better.
Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:
Temperature: Madagascar lace grows best in the temperature range of 68 °F to 75 °F (20 – 24 °C). In nature, it does not like very warm temperatures. When the water temperature gets closer to 79 °F (26°C) the growth rate slows down significantly. Keeping it at 82 °F (28 °F) can lead to the destruction of the plant.
pH: Madagascar lace prefers slightly acidic water. Essentially, a pH level of 5.5 – 7.5 is appropriate for this species. Be sure to monitor the pH of the aquarium water.
Hardness: This plant can grow well in both hard and soft water. However, it is best to consider soft to moderately hard water in your aquarium.
Some aquarists say that in their tanks Madagascar lace grew even in the low-tech tanks and required moderate lighting at best.
However, if you want to see how this plant grows at its full potential, you need to provide a lot of light!
For example, to propagate Madagascar lace, scientists used lighting that emitted 125 μmol/m2/s (PAR) on 12-hour light/dark cycles. This plant needs strong lighting and long photoperiod.
Madagascar lace is a very heavy-root feeder plant. It requires a nutrient-rich substrate to grow optimally.
This plant has huge roots! They can easily reach 10 – 15 inches (25 – 40 cm) long. Therefore, the substrate should have a minimum depth of about 2 – 3 inches (5 – 7 cm).
Some recommended soil substrates for Madagascar lace include (links to check the price on Amazon):
Flow is recommended but not strictly necessary. Positioning the plant near your filter flow will help the plant to stay clean a little bit longer (see the care section).
CO2 and Fertilization:
CO2: CO2 supplementation is highly recommended, it is very difficult to grow Madagascar lace without CO2.
Important: You need to understand 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: Additionally, Madagascar lace will benefit from regular dosing of root tabs. This will help to sustain healthy growth and ensure that the plants maintain the best coloration.
Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank with Madagascar lace, 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 Madagascar Lace
Generally, Aponogeton madagascariensis is considered to be a difficult plant to keep alive for long periods. Aquarists complain that it dies within a year or so. As a result, it was even suggested to treat it as an “annual’ or seasonal plant.
|This so-called dormancy period is often treated the wrong way. Some people recommend to dig up the plant, dry the bulb and keep it in dark places within a humid substrate until it is ready to grow again.
Well. DO NOT do that. This is wrong and outdated information!
Well, it is true that Madagascar lace has some specific requirements and can be challenging to keep even for experienced aquarists. However, if appropriately cared for it will live for many years.
Main rules on how to care for Madagascar lace:
Cleaning. Madagascar lace has perforated leaves that get stuck with some dirt and algae all the time. Do not allow this to happen. You need to clean its leaves at least once per 2 – 3 weeks. Gently hold the leaf between your palms and rub it.
Clean water. You do not want any detritus floating in your water column. Otherwise, you will have to clean it very often! Because of its leaves structure, this is a very essential requirement.
Trimming. Remove old and damaged leaves at once. These leaves will use resources of the plant making it weaker. Do not underestimate the importance of trimming. All energy of Madagascar lace is concentrated in its bulb.
Important: When the dormancy period starts, remove almost all leaves. You can leave 3 – 5 the most healthy leaves.
Supplementation. Each week, add a little bit of iron, 1 mg/L monopotassium phosphate, and 10 mg/L potassium nitrate. Every few months stuck root tabs under it. Madagascar lace is a large and fast-growing plant. It requires a lot of nutrients.
Water changes. Each week, 15 – 30 % of the water volume should be changed.
Cleaning the bulb. This is probably THE MOST important part that nobody talks about.
Once a year, when the growth stops (usually in summer because of high temp) and starts the dormancy period, you need to dig up the plant and inspect the bulb. In most cases, you will see that the bulb starts rotting from the downside. Do not panic, this is OK.
Rotting starts because of the huge roots of this plant. In our aquariums, it happens because our substrates are not deep enough, as a result, they tightly envelop the bulb.
For example, in nature, Madagascar lace is often secured in gravel substrate at the bottom of rivers. However, using its extremely long roots, this plant is able to get to the nutrient-rich soil. Obviously, it can be really hard to replicate in our tanks.
Use a knife to remove all rotting parts. It should be absolutely clean.
Take activated carbon, crush it into powder, add some water and apply it to the treated surface.
Let it dry for a few hours. After that, you can replant Madagascar lace.
Planting and Propagation of Madagascar Lace
Madagascar lace is available in bulbs with or without any leaves.
The bulbs should NOT be completely buried in the substrate to prevent rot. Burying about 2/3 of the bulbs in the substrate should be enough. Use small stones to keep it in place if needed.
A thick root system will develop underneath the substrate and growth continues. Madagascar lace appreciates deep and nutrient-rich substrates.
Madagascar lace can propagate in two ways:
- Rare one (in aquariums): Propagation is by seeds produced by the plant after the flowers must have wilted.
Note: The peduncles should reach the water surface to bloom. Cross-pollination is not needed. Madagascar lace is self–pollinating
- Common (in aquariums): By separating the bulb and the plant itself, which can be done when bulbs / shoots have fully developed and formed roots of their own.
At this time the plant will detach from the bulb or it can now be manually removed and replanted in the aquarium to grow another one.
Problems Associated With Growing Madagascar Lace
Rest (dormancy) periods: Madagascar lace has rest periods where some leaves die and the growth rate almost stops.
Solution: Check the temperature in the first place. Providing enough nutrients and keeping it in optimal water parameters will shorten this period to a minimum. Just wait until the plant recovers. Eventually, it will start growing again.
Outgrowth: The major problem associated with Aponogeton madagascariensis is that it grows too large and too fast. Madagascar lace is capable of growing very huge once it is supplied with plenty of light, CO2, and nutrients.
Solution: It is recommended to keep these factors balanced and trim the leaves regularly to prevent the plant from taking most space in the tank.
Bad bulbs: If you are buying Madagascar lace for the first time, you need to keep in mind that not all bulbs are good. Unfortunately, some will never sprout.
Relocation: The root system of Madagascar lace is enormous. Therefore, when you decide to remove the plant, you will pull everything up!
Algae: Madagascar lace is susceptible to algae growth. Another factor that encourages this is the availability of intense lighting or prolonged photoperiods which is highly required for this species.
Solution: Regular cleaning and/or keeping clean up crew (shrimp, snails, and some fish species).
Nutrient sensitive: Madagascar lace cannot survive without nutrition for a long time. It dies down due to a lack of nutrients.
Solution: Regular feeding.
- How to Spot Nutrient Deficiencies in Aquatic Plants
- Everything about Nitrates in Planted Tanks
- Phosphates in Freshwater Tanks
Madagascar Lace and Compatible Tankmates
The Madagascar lace should be kept with docile freshwater fish and inverts. It’s important to have species that will rummage for tiny food particles, debris, and algae films present on the plant.
The plant is best kept with small, peaceful community fish such as Neon tetras, Killifish, Swordtails, White Mountain Minnows, Zebra Danio, Cherry Barb, Sunburst Platy, Endlers, Mollies, Otocinclus Catfish, Pygmy Cory Catfish, etc.
Inverts are not left out. Considering the fact that Madagascar lace prefers slightly acidic water. Thus, you should consider species that prefer the same water parameters, for example, Crystal red shrimp, Blue bolt shrimp, Caridina cf. babaulti, etc.
Once again, ornamental snails should not be kept in a tank with low PH for a long time. It will negatively affect their shell. However, if your pH is close to 7.0, it is possible to keep almost any snail or dwarf shrimp you like. Examples, Japanese trapdoor snails, Ramshorn snails, Nerite snails, Malaysian Trumpet snails, Black Devil Snails, Asolene spixi, Rabbit Snails, etc.).
Avoid or Be Careful
Avoid fish species that may find Madagascar lace too palatable, e.g. Silver dollars, Bueno Aires tetras, Koi fish, Goldfish, Oscars, Rainbow, Jack Dempsey, Clown loaches, African Cichlids. These species can really cause problems in the planted tanks.
Madagascar lace and most types of crayfish or freshwater crabs are not a good combination as well. These animals will cut, eat, and uproot everything in the tank. So, keep it in mind and do your research beforehand.
The submerged aquatic plant, Madagascar lace plant receives its common name from its unique lattice-like leaf pattern.
This plant has been in cultivation since 1855 and continues to rank among the most beautiful and desirable ornamental freshwater aquarium plants.
However, behind its beauty lies a need for proper maintenance and care. Therefore, Madagascar lace cannot be recommended for beginners due to its specific requirements.
- van Bruggen, H. W. E. “Revision of the genus Aponogeton (Aponogetonaceae).” Blumea: Biodiversity, Evolution and Biogeography of Plants 16, no. 1 (1968): 243-265.
- Denbigh, Georgia. “Investigating anthocyanin profile, localization, and transport in Aponogeton madagascariensis.” (2020).
- Dauphinee AN, Wright H, Rantong G, Gunawardena AHLAN. 2012. The involvement of ethylene in programmed cell death and climacteric-like behaviour during the remodeling of lace plant (Aponogeton madagascariensis) leaves. Botany. 90(12):1237–1244. doi:10.1139/b2012-093