Red Root Floater Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Red Root Floater (Phyllanthus fluitans) Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Red root floater (Phyllantus fluitans) is a versatile and very colorful floating plant that is sure to beautify your freshwater aquarium. The plant is known for its bright red roots and round green/ deep brown-red water-repellent leaves that become even more reddish under intense lighting.

This aquatic plant is durable, beautiful, and relatively easy to care for. In addition, Red root floater offers a lot of benefits such as oxygenation, denitrification, provision of hiding spots for shrimp and fry to escape aggressive species, and shade to different areas of the aquarium which actually encourages reclusive species to emerge from hiding.

Keep reading for detailed information on the Red root floater— including its nature, care, planting, and propagation in a home aquarium.

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Quick Notes about Red Root Floater Plant

Common Name Red root floater
Other Names Floating spurge, Apple Duckweed
Scientific Name Phyllantus fluitans
Tank Size (minimum) 5 gallons (~20 liters)
Difficulty Medium
Lighting Moderate to high lighting
Optimal pH 6.5 – 7.5
Water hardness    Soft to moderately hard water.
Temperature 72 to 80 (22 – 26C)
Substrate Not needed
Growth Rate Moderate to high
Placement in Tank Floating
Leave size 2 – 2.5 cm (about 1 inch)
CO2 Not needed 
Propagation From the stalks, it can also branch 

Origin of Red Root Floater

The Red root floater belongs to the flowering plant family Phyllantaceae with over 2000 species of trees, shrubs, and herbs, it was formerly classified under the spurge family Euphorbiaceae.

The largest genus in this plant family (Phyllantaceae) is Phyllantus, and the only aquatic species in the genus is Phyllantus fluitans which is known as Red root floater in the aquarium hobby.

Habitat of Red Root Floater

Red Root Floater (Phyllanthus fluitans)

Red root floater (Phyllantus fluitans) is indigenous to the Amazon River Basin in South America where it grows as a free-floating aquatic plant on the surface of still or stagnant waters.

The plant has also been spotted in some parts of North and Central America.

Description of Red Root Floater

Red root floater is a South-American floating plant species, and its name stems from the famous bright red roots which it has.

The Red root floater has round-like, water-repellent, light green floating leaves that change color in response to growth conditions. The leaves are capable of turning deep brown-red/ reddish-purple or pink in freshwater tanks with ample lighting and a limited supply of nitrogen.

Red Root Floater (Phyllanthus fluitans ) Care Guide – flowersPhyllantus fluitans has thin submerged stems with abundant red roots and floating leaves with a heart-shaped base that conceals the stems. Notably, these leaves are typically about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in size and possess a convex center, whereas the leaf margins are just even with the waterline, and if growth conditions are favorable enough, the leaf axils will bear tiny white flowers with six petals.

Red root floater is identical to a floating fern of the genus Salvinia, however, it has just one floating leaf on each alternate node instead of two found on the Salvinia.

Due to its deep red coloration, water repellent nature, and slower growth when compared to other floating plants, most aquarists tend to opt for Red root floater over Frogbit, Dwarf Water lettuce, Duckweed, etc.

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Tank size:

The recommended tank size for growing Red root floater is a minimum of 5 gallons (~20 liters), they grow best in open, well-lit tanks.

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Temperature: The optimal temperature for Red root floater is between the range of 22 – 26 °C. (72 – 80 °F). The plant does not tolerate too low or high temperatures as well as it can cause a melt.

pH: Keep the pH of the tank water between the ideal values 6.5 – 7.5 for best growth and health conditions of the floating plant.

Hardness: The plant is capable of tolerating soft to moderately hard water, preferably in the range of 0-12 GH.


Red root floater requires moderate – high lighting and an artificial lighting source such as LED light best serves this purpose as it does not emit heat in the aquarium water. Hence, it should be used to provide the necessary light needed for their growth activities.

It is advisable to provide more light in a hard water environment, whereas light intensity can be lower in a soft water environment.

Too much light or too little light will harm the plants, so always keep the light just bright enough and adjust accordingly to the water conditions.

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


Since the plant is a floating type, there is no specific substrate requirement.

Water flow:

One should strive to provide gentle surface agitation on the water surface. The Red root floater appreciates gentle water flow similar to that in its natural habitat.

However, don’t be too overzealous. If kept in waters with high/turbulent flow, the plant will melt, thus defeating the purpose of having it in the first place.

CO2 and Fertilization:

CO2 is not mandatory. As a floater plant, the Red root floater has unlimited and constant access to carbon dioxide (CO2) that they use for photosynthesis and growth accordingly.

On the other hand, fertilization is needed because Red root floater gets a great deal of the required nutrients from the tank water. Therefore, it’s good to dose the tank water with liquid fertilizers from time to time to replenish depleted nutrients and promote favorable growth conditions.

Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank with the Red root floater, 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 Red Root Floater

Red root floater is good for beginner aquarists since it is fairly easy to care for, you just need to keep a few things in check and the plant will flourish all year round.

The plant is known for its deep red leaves and roots, so it’s in your best interest to provide sufficient iron levels for them to use up in the development of this reddish coloration.

Your sure bet is to source for a good iron supplement and dose the aquarium water regularly. Don’t over do it anyway, always apply according to instructions of the product manufacturer.

Make it a hobby to prune excess Red root floater foliage when it appears to be overcrowding the top layer of the tank and covering the whole surface.

If you fail to do this, the floating plants will shade the plants at the bottom of the tank completely and that is bad especially if they are not low-light plants.

Also, overcrowding causes competition for resources and rapid depletion of the nutrients in the water, therefore make sure to prune the plants as at when due, and dispose properly.

Be sure to provide the essential macronutrients in the right doses as the plants enjoy nutrient-rich water, and also perform regular partial water changes to maintain excellent water quality, thus curtailing the growth of algae and diatoms in the aquarium.

Furthermore, keep in mind that high light will cause the plants to grow larger and bumpy, and they will turn from green to pink-red or even deep red coloration and the roots will attain the renowned bright red coloration too.

The same cannot be said of low light, the plant will possess smaller, flatter leaves, pale green coloration with a small tinge of red.

Planting and Propagation of Red Root Floater

Red root floater can be planted just by floating the plantlets on the water surface.

You can create a loop of airline tubing to confine the plants to a particular area rather than have them float around on the top. Be sure to provide adequate nutrients and gentle water flow (they do not do well in waters with a lot of movement), and watch them grow healthy while multiplying rapidly to form new plants.

The plant propagates by itself when established through the branching out of side shoots. Additionally, one can easily propagate Red root floater by dividing its mature stalk between the clusters of the roots and leaves, and also by splitting already formed daughter plants.

Meanwhile, make sure to provide enough iron and bright lighting to boost the growth of the newly formed plants, that way you will be rewarded with deep red coloration, healthy growth, and even more individual plants in the long run.

Problems Associated with Red Root Floater

Melting: This may be a result of a flow issue, i.e. too much flow, and it will cause the plants to rot (turn brown). Hence, be sure to provide a gentle flow to keep the plants in a good condition.

Melting can as well be caused by excessive lighting, in this case, tone down the intensity of the LED light and reduce the photoperiod significantly and the plants will gradually return to normal health.

Overcrowding: Red root floater grows fast under the right conditions and they can cover the whole surface within a short period.

This situation should be avoided because they will make the environment uncomfortable for plants in the aquarium by blocking light from getting to them, thus promoting a stunt in their growth.

Holes in leaves: If you notice small holes in the leaves of your Red root floater, you shouldn’t take it lightly.

This is often caused by a potassium deficiency. It can be tackled by providing potassium-rich fertilizers like Flourish Advance to make up for the limited potassium content in the aquarium water, within a short time your plants should bounce back to life.

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

Benefits of Red Root Floater

Aesthetics: Red root floater is a nice-looking floating plant, it improves the aesthetics of an aquarium. Its beautiful dense green foliage is an impressive addition to tanks, it makes your aquarium look more natural.

Breeding ground: Red root floater provides a breeding ground for egg scatterers and dwarf shrimp.

Shelter / Cover: It provides cover/shade for aquatic species that prefer low-lighting conditions. For example, its submerged root-like leaves provide hiding spots for fry and juvenile fish.

Light penetration: It was mentioned as a problem but using Red root floater can also be a good way to filter lights if you have plants that do not need it (for example Java FernAmazon SwordMarimo Moss Ball, Anubias, etc.). It helps to diffuse very bright aquarium lighting.

Oxygenation: It promotes oxygenation in the tank. The plant oxygenates the tank water through photosynthesis and also absorbs toxins that are harmful to aquatic life.

Algae control:  Red root floater is extremely effective against algae. It outcompetes algae for nutrients and suppresses its growth.

You can read more about it in my articles:

Removal of excess nutrients: Red root floater is helpful in absorbing harmful chemicals that are emitted from fish waste, decayed plant matter, and tap water. It helps to maintain good water quality by removing harmful toxins like ammonianitrates and nitrites, and other heavy metals.

This plant grows rapidly, therefore it needs lots of nutrients to keep up with its rapid growth patterns.

Red Root Floater and Tankmates

Red root floater is ideal for Betta tanks as the Bettas often roam about at the surface to search for food particles around the red roots. Apart from Betta fish, You can easily plant Red root floater in a tank inhabiting the following aquatic species:


However avoid species that may find Red root floater palatable, e.g. like Koi fish, Goldfish, Oscars, Rainbow, Jack Dempsey, Clown loaches, African Cichlids.

These species can really cause problems in the planted tanks.

Quarantine Red Root Floater

Do not forget to quarantine Red root floater before putting it into your aquarium!

  • The plant can have parasites, pests like snails, or even predators (dragonfly, damsefly nymphs, etc.).
  • It could also be treated with chemicals (pesticide) to remove parasites, snails, etc. However, these chemicals are extremely poisonous to fish, shrimp, and other 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

Red root floater is a good addition to most kinds of tank setups and a great way to attain a pop of red in your aquarium.

This floating plant is inexpensive, attractive, and a perfect substitute for plants like Duckweed that requires more attention to keep it in good condition.

Throw in a bit of Red root floater in your tank and be rewarded with a lush deep-red foliage that will complement the greens and introduce a whole new perspective to your aquascape.

Related articles:

Red root floater – check out the price on Amazon

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