Pogostemon Helferi Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Pogostemon Helferi Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Pogostemon helferi, commonly known as “Dao-noi” (means Little star in the Thai dialect) is a small, beautiful stem plant that may drastically complement the aesthetics and outlay of freshwater aquaria. I am saying “may” because this plant is also very finicky and demanding. Thus I lot of people struggle with it.

Pogostemon helferi is somewhat difficult to grow because it requires nutrient-rich substrate, high-intensity lighting, water flow, and calculated nutrient dosing.

In my experience, this is probably one of the most difficult aquatic plants I have come across.

Keep reading for everything there is to know about Pogostemon helferi, including how to care for the plant in a home aquarium.

Quick Notes about Pogostemon Helferi

Common Name Pogostemon helferi
Other Names Dao-noi or Little star
Scientific Name Pogostemon helferi
Tank Size (minimum) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Difficulty Medium to hard
Lighting Moderate to high 
Optimal pH 6.0 – 8.0
Optimal hardness Moderately hard water 
Optimal temperature 72 – 77 °F (22 – 26 °C)
Substrate Needed (Nutrient-rich)
Can float:
No
Can Be Grown Emersed
Yes
Size 3 – 6 inches (7 – 15 cm)
Growth Form
Stem
Growth Rate Slow to moderate (submersed), moderate (emersed)
Placement in Tank Foreground / midground
Fertilizer
Needed
CO2 Needed
Propagation Cutting, lateral shoots, and seed (emersed)

Habitat of Pogostemon Helferi

Pogostemon Helferi Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation distributionPogostemon helferi has a limited distribution range. This plant can only be found across Myanmar and western Thailand.

In its natural habitat, Pogostemon helferi often grows emersed or submerged along the banks of rivers and streams. That makes this plant also a good choice for paludarium setups.

Description of Pogostemon Helferi

Pogostemon helferi is probably one of the most beautiful foreground plants available in our hobby.

This is an ornamental aquatic stem plant (averagely 3 – 6 inches or 7 to 15 cm tall) characterized by a bushy appearance, compact growth, curly leaves, and bright green coloration.

The leaves of Pogostemon helferi are rippled (zig-zag shaped) and curved slightly downward. Although the leaves look very soft and airy, in reality, they are quite fragile.

Leaf veins are clearly visible; traverse foliage is smooth and well-formed with no marked distortion, serration, or any discoloration.

Pogostemon Helferi Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation - var Red
Pogostemon Helferi var Red

Pogostemon helferi can be grown emersed or submersed. In open aquariums, where it grows above the surface, it forms lovely light purple flowers. As with most plants, it also grows faster compared to submerged form.

Note: There is also a variation of this plant that is called Pogostemon helferi red. It has reddish veins and the leaves are a different shade of green with a red tint.

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Pogostemon helferi is not ideal for beginners due to its high light, CO2, nutrient demands, and stable water parameters.

This is not a hardy plant. On the contrary, Pogostemon helferi is sensitive to temperature fluctuations and water quality. Thus, it is very important to have a cycled and fully established tank for this species.

Tank size:

The recommended tank size for growing Pogostemon helferi is a minimum of 10 gallons (~40 L).

Although the plant can also be used sparingly in tanks with even lesser capacity (nano tanks) to adorn the foregrounds, I would not recommend doing it. As I have already said, the problem with smaller tanks is that Pogostemon helferi requires stable water parameters. Unfortunately, it is very hard to achieve in small tanks.

Therefore, having a larger tank is always preferable for the stability of water chemistry.

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Temperature: The ideal temperature for Pogostemon helferi is between72 – 77 °F (22 – 26 °C).

Some sources say that this plant can have a temperature tolerance between 60 – 82 °F (15 to 28 °C). Unfortunately, they do not mention that such fluctuations should occur very slowly (over the course of several days!). Any sudden swings in temperature will cause Pogostemon helferi to melt.

pH: The pH level for Pogostemon helferi is between 6.0 – 8.0.

Hardness: The plant is adaptable to a range of water hardness values. However, it grows best in freshwaters with hardness between 6 – 18 GH. Pogostemon helferi does not like soft water.

Important: Ideally we need to know the water parameters the plant got accustomed. The transition from soft to hard water and vice versa will melt the plant.

Lighting:

Submersed Pogostemon helferi will appreciate good lighting to maintain its robust appearance.

Bright illumination is required to witness the full growth potential of this plant. Therefore, you should provide medium-high lighting (30-50 PAR) using an efficient lighting system.

In addition, maintain a standard photoperiod of at least 8 hours daily (absolute minimum!). Ideally, a 10-hour photoperiod is preferable. 

When exposed to low lighting conditions, in the best-case scenario, Pogostemon helferi will grow thin and the color of its shoots will become yellow-green. However, in most cases, the plant usually melts in the tank due to inadequate light or shading by taller plants. So endeavor to prevent such situations.

Read more about it in my article “Advanced Guide to Planted Tank Lighting”.

Substrate:

When grown submerged, Pogostemon helferi needs a nutrient-rich substrate. This plant is a heavy feeder and it has a strong root system.

Thus, enriched aqua soils would suffice, these hold essential nutrients which are good for the development of the plant’s roots, stems, and leaves.

Cultivation in enriched substrates will help the plant develop thicker stems and healthy, fleshy foliage.

Some recommended soil substrates for this plant include (links to check the price on Amazon):

Note: Emersed Pogostemon helferi is capable of growing even on rocks and driftwood!

Related article:

Flow:

Pogostemon helferi does not like stationary water. In its natural habitat, this plant is found in fast-flowing rivers and streams. Its short and compact rosettes and undulated leaves are well adapted to rapid water.

Lack of flow will make it melt in days. Thus, we need to provide at least something.

CO2 and Fertilization:

CO2: CO2 injection is a necessity as far as Pogostemon helferi is concerned. This plant requires stable levels of CO2 to stay healthy and grow densely. So, it’s better to use a pressurized CO2 system.

Low-tech tanks are not a good choice for Pogostemon helferi. Without CO2 this plant will look flaccid, leggy, and stretched out. In addition, it will grow very slowly and not compact.

Fertilization: This is where many people make a lot of mistakes. Of course, just like any plant, Pogostemon helferi will benefit from macro and micronutrients. This will help to sustain healthy growth and ensure that the plants maintain the best coloration.

However, an excessive amount of nutrients will also suppress its growth. Take a look at the chemical composition of water where Pogostemon helferi grows naturally. As we can see, nitrates and phosphates are very low.

Laboratory analysis of the chemical composition of water in the province of Kanchanaburi of Thailand:

  • Acidity (pH) 7.8
  • Conductivity 210 µS,
  • Bicarbonate 132 ppm,
  • Nitrate (N) 0 ppm,
  • Phosphate (P) < 0.14 ppm,
  • Potassium (K) < 0.34 ppm ,
  • Magnesium (Mg) 3 ppm ,
  • Boron ( B) < 0.01 ppm.

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Care and Maintenance of Pogostemon Helferi

Pogostemon Helferi Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation 2Pogostemon helferi is a demanding plant and it is not good for beginners since it requires almost ideal conditions.

Even under optimal conditions, this plant will have only a moderate growth rate at best. So, do not worry, Pogostemon helferi is not capable of overrunning the tank if left unattended for some time.

Pruning. As simple as it sounds, cutting down old leaves is one of the significant methods of caring for this plant.

DO NOT let other plants overshadow Pogostemon helferi. This is a sure way to kill this plant.

Partial water changes are crucial since they add more microelements (nutrition) to the water clean and improve the growth rate.

Planting and Propagation of Pogostemon Helferi

This species is suitable for placement in the foreground and midground of planted tanks due to its small size and bushy appearance.

Planting. Planting Pogostemon helferi is a straightforward process.

You need to place the specimens into a substrate having a thickness of 2 – 3 inches (5 – 7 cm) to prevent difficulty in rooting.

Another interesting feature of Pogostemon helferi is that it does not require a lot of spacing. It will be better to maintain a spacing of about 2 inches (5 cm) apart from each other. This way it will reduce the competition at the early stage and let plantlets establish.

However, do not plant it too tightly. Dense groupings do seem to hinder Pogostemon helferi.

Propagation. Pogostemon helferi is easily propagated by:

  • seeds (only when grown emersed),
  • lateral shoots (near the base of the stem),
  • head cutting mature stems (possible but not recommended).

Note: Because of its small size, head cutting is not the best way to propagate this plant. However, pruning of the tops equally promotes the growth of side shoots, making the plants denser.

In aquariums, lateral shoots are the main way of propagation of Pogostemon helferi. You need to cut lateral shoots right at the base so it will have a crown and a few roots.

Note: Although it is possible to form an impressive carpet of foreground vegetation, Pogostemon helferi is not considered to be a classical carpeting plant.  

Dry Start Method: Alternative Way of Growing Pogostemon Helferi

Pogostemon Helferi Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation - dennerle propagation
Dennerle propagation of Pogostemon Helferi

One of the methods of growing Pogostemon helferi is a Dry Start Method (or DSM). This method will provide unlimited CO2 and a lot of light!

The Dry Start Method significantly boosts the development of slow-growing plants. It also cycles the substrate, and removes any algae problems!

Pogostemon helferi becomes less picky when grown emersed. It makes this plant a great choice for paludarium setups.

  1. Instead of immediately filling the tank with water after planting, we only need to add enough water to reach the surface of the lowest part of our substrate.
  2. Cultivate the stems in a nutrient-rich substrate.
  3. Spray water regularly to provide high humidity (around 80%).
  4. Cover the top of the tank with cling wrap to maintain the humidity.
  5. Fill the tank with water when the plant’s growth kicks off.

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Problems Associated with Pogostemon Helferi

Melting: Unfortunately, Pogostemon helferi is a finicky plant. There are many reasons why this plant can melt all of the sudden.

  • This is a common phenomenon witnessed in plants during a transition from emersed form to submersed form. When an emersed grown Pogostemon helferi is cultivated submerged in an aquarium, the initial leaves will melt/die-off to usher in new leaves, and the growth of the plant continues.
  • Stable water parameters. Sudden changes can cause it to melt.
  • Low lighting, overshadowing, short
  • Not enough or too much fertilization.
  • Inappropriate substrate.

Pogostemon helferi does not like fluctuations. If the plant is moved and the conditions suddenly change, the leaves will melt and you can only hope that it will grow new leaves that are tailored to the new conditions.

Fragile: Pogostemon helferi has fragile leaves. It is very easy to break them during maintenance.

Solution: Just be extra careful when handling this plant.

Hard to plant: It can be really hard to plant Pogostemon helferi into the substrate since the young stems easily get damaged. Also, in the beginning, the stem usually does not have well-developed roots to stay in the substrate, therefore, it may float away.

Solution: Plant it in the substrate using a pair of aquarium tweezers. Place some pebbles or rocks around the stem of the plant. Be careful, the rocks should not damage the stem or roots of the plant.

Palatable: Pogostemon helferi has fin leaves that some snails and fish species may find delicious.

Solution: Do your research beforehand.

Benefits of Pogostemon Helferi

Aquascape: Pogostemon helferi can be an excellent decorative addition to Dutch style aquascapes.

No Overshadowing: This plant will not choke other aquatic plants. Pogostemon helferi does not grow big. So, it will not block the light unlike many other tall and/or floating plants.

Hiding place for fish, fry, and shrimp: Pogostemon helferi will serve as cover and shade for inverts, small frogs, and fish.

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

Pogostemon Helferi and Compatible Tankmates

Pogostemon helferi is compatible with a wide variety of freshwater fish and invertebrates. It can be grown in tropical aquariums containing freshwater fish species, as well as freshwater inverts such as:

Avoid or Be Careful:

Never attempt to keep Pogostemon helferi with crayfish, or freshwater crabs because they will most likely tear up the foliage and uproot the plant.

In the same vein, avoid hostile and aggressive fish species that are known plant devourers, these include Texas cichlids, Front cichlids, Jack Dempsey, Red Devil, and Oscars.

In Conclusion

Pogostemon helferi is a Thai indigenous aquatic plant that is great for planting in the foreground of aquariums. It has a very unique leaf structure and turns into the focal point very easily.

The main problem, though, is that it is one of those plants that either dies rather quickly or thrives in the tank. Nothing in between.

Pogostemon helferi will struggle in a low-tech tank due to its strong need for intense lighting and CO2 supplementation to get that classic look out of it. In addition, water flow and nutrient-rich substrates are needed to grow it properly.

References:

  1. Wangwibulkit, Maneerat, and Srunya Vajrodaya. “Ex-situ propagation of Pogostemon helferi (Hook. f.) Press using tissue culture and a hydroponics system.” Agriculture and natural resources 50, no. 1 (2016): 20-25.
  2. Christensen C, Andersen T, Pedersen O. (2008a) Hunting for Pogostemon helferi. The Aquatic Gardener 21: 31-41.

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