Red Tiger Lotus Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Red tiger lotus (Nymphaea zenkeri)

Today, we will be talking about yet another unique plant in the hobby: The Red tiger lotus. This wonderful plant is a lily pad or water lily from the genus Nymphaea.

The Red tiger lotus has attractive and charming broad arrow-like red leaves / lily pads which adds a whole new aesthetics to an aquarium. There are lots of pros associated with this plant: care level and maintenance are easy, it is hardy and perfect for introducing a whole new contrast in a tank filled with green plants.

In this article, I will be talking about everything you need to know about this interesting plant; a detailed care guide and how you can easily cultivate one in your aquarium.

Red Tiger Lotus – check out the price on Amazon

Quick Notes about Red Tiger Lotus

Common Name Red tiger lotus
Scientific Name
Nymphaea zenkeri
Difficulty Easy 
Lighting Medium to High
Optimal pH 6.0 – 8.0
Optimal GH 2 – 15
Optimal Temperature 22 – 28 C (71– 82 F)
Substrate Needed
Growth Form Stem
Growth Rate Fast
Placement in Tank
Mid-ground or background
Height 15 – 60+ cm (~5 – 25+ inches)
Fertilizers 
Not needed to low
CO2 Not needed to low
Propagation Daughter plants via bulbs or seeds

Origin of Red Tiger Lotus

Red tiger lotus (Nymphaea zenkeri) huge leavesRed tiger lotus (Nymphaea zenkeri) is a flowering plant of the Nymphaeaceae family which is native to Southeast Asia and West tropical regions of Africa. This species is also known as tiger lotus or Nymphaea lotus. It is scientifically classified as follows:

Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Order: Nymphaeales
Family: Nymphaeaceae
Genus: Nymphaea
Species: Nymphaea zenkeri

Habitat of Red Tiger Lotus

Red tiger lotus can be found dwelling in ditches of stagnant water, the sidelines of lakes, ponds and other areas of stagnant water. The relatively shallow water in its native habitat has made the plant quite tolerant of water temperature, lighting and dissolved CO2 in the water.

Description of Red Tiger Lotus

Red tiger lotus possesses beautiful and charming arrow-shaped or heart-shaped red leaves, these red leaves can develop striped variegation under intense lighting conditions.

They will extend arrow-shaped lily pads to the surface of the water, producing blue or white flowers; it is these flowers that when they wilt, the fruit bears seeds that serves as a propagative means of the tiger lotus.

The seeds develop into bulbs which roots in the substrate and growth of a new plant begins. Note: The blossoms are usually white, but due to selective breeding and hybridisation, there are varieties that will produce blue or red flowers.

The height of the tiger lotus ranges from 15 – 60+ cm (~5 – 25+ inches) and can grow taller under optimal conditions. Red tiger lotus exhibits a fast growth rate pattern, with its strong root system that spreads all over the tank if they are not properly contained (we will talk more about this later in the article).

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Red tiger lotus is a unique plant species and it is tolerant of a wide range of water temperatures and other water parameters.

Tank size:

This plant species can thrive in a variety of tank sizes, even suited for nano tanks if properly maintained. However, the recommended minimum tank size is 10 gallons (~40 liters).

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Water temperature: Red tiger lotus can thrive in water temperatures with degrees 22 – 28 °C (71 – 82 °F). This plant dreads lower temperature conditions which often results in dormancy and deterioration.

pH: Water pH of 6.0 – 8.0 is optimal for the healthy growth and development of this species.

Hardness: Red tiger lotus can easily tolerate soft or hard water. However, the plant will appreciate water hardness of 2 – 15 dGH.

Lighting:

Red tiger lotus is not too demanding when it comes to lighting. It is capable of growing even in low-light tank setups. Regardless of this fact, it is still recommended medium – high lighting because just like many other plants used in the hobby, Red tiger lotus is likely to grow to be more compact and dense in this condition.

Supplements:

Substrate: The plant will do just fine in a well-fertilized or nutrient-rich substrate. However, lots of aquarists believe that the ideal substrate for cultivating this species is an iron-rich clay gravel substrate as it can support its nutrient needs and abundant root system.

Personally, I think that any nutrient-rich substrate on the market (like ADA Amazonia soil, Caribsea Eco-Complete Aquasoil, Seachem Flourite Black Sand, etc.) will be an excellent choice for Red tiger lotus.

Read more about it in my article “Top 5 Substrates For Planted Aquariums”.

CO2 and fertilizer application: Definitely, tiger lotus can do without CO2 and additional nutrient application. Although this is not mandatory, you might want to consider CO2 injection in low amounts and root tab fertilizers or liquid plant fertilizers for vibrant and lush looking plants.

Note: Don’t oversupply if you do not want very huge plants in your aquarium.

Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank with the Red tiger lotus, I would highly recommend reading my articles:
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.  

Planting and Propagation of Red Tiger Lotus

Red tiger lotus (Nymphaea zenkeri) bulbGrowing Red tiger lotus in aquariums is easy. This plant is available in bulbs with or without any leaves, these bulbs must not be completely buried in the substrate to prevent rot. Place the firm healthy bulbs on the surface of the substrate, burying about 1/2 of the bulbs in the substrate should be enough. Do not burry too deep, the bulb can start rotting.

Tip: If you have no idea where the top is, let it float in your tank until you get new shoots grow. Depending on the conditions of the bulb it can take some time (from a few days up to several months!).

A thick root system will develop underneath the substrate for and growth continues. Red tiger lotus appreciates deep (at least 5 cm or 2 inches) and well-fertilized substrates.

Red tiger lotus can propagate in two ways:

  • Rare one (in aquariums): Propagation is by seeds produced by the plant after the flowers must have wilted.
  • Common (in aquariums): By separating the bulb and the plant itself, which can be done when bulbs / shoots has fully developed and formed roots of its 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.

Recommendation: Red tiger lotus should not be planted near sensitive plants in the aquarium because Red tiger lotus absorbs large amounts of nutrients from the tank water to support its growth. It will consume lots and lots of nitrates, iron, CO2, macro and micronutrients which can starve other plants cultivated close to it.

How to contain the root system

The root system of the Red tiger lotus can be very large. Containing the bulb is a sure way in preventing the plant’s root system from taking over the aquarium substrate. Here are the things required to achieve this:

  • A plastic container that can hold at least four cups.
  • A piece of fine nylon mesh fabric big enough to wrap the container.
  • Rubber band or fishing line.
  • Four cups of the enriched substrate.
  • Root tab fertilizer.

Follow these steps:

  1. Fill the plastic container with the chosen substrate and root tab fertilizer.
  2. Wrap the container tightly with fine mesh fabric.
  3. Cut a piece of fishing line which will be used to tie the fabric. Eight inches will be sufficient.
  4. Being the fabric together and twist. When the excess fabric is twisted together, double it over itself and tie with the rubber band or fishing line.
  5. You can now place the container in the aquarium. The plastic container can be concealed using large flat rocks and pieces of wood.

As a result, Red tiger lotus will grow through the mesh fabric but with the roots contained in the container.

Why do we use mesh for this? Because it is easier to add root tabs.

The point is that with this method the plant will not get enough nutrients for a long time. Eventually, it will consume everything in this container and we will have to supplement the plant with root tabs in the future.

Maintenance and Care of Red Tiger Lotus

Red tiger lotus is totally undemanding and easy to care for, however, a strict care routine should be adhered to in ensuring that it grows healthily.

  • This plant exhibits a phenomenal growth rate. They are capable of taking over the tank if left unattended. You should observe the plant closely and trim it form time to time to prevent unnecessary overgrowth in the tank.
  • To produce bushy / dense-growing Red tiger lotus in your aquarium, you need to trim the plants regularly, this will prevent them from growing too tall. Tip: When you remove the leaves, cut them off as close to the base of the plant as possible, as it is prone to rot otherwise.
  • Red tiger lotus has the ability to produce seeds which will create more lotuses in the aquarium. Unfortunately, many detest this and there is something you can actually do about it. You need to monitor the plant and cut the surface leaves and flowers before they wilt and turn to fruits. No fruits, no seeds. Problem solved!
  • It should be noted that the plant’s rapid growth rate is fuelled by nutrients it gets from the substrate, CO2 and lighting (medium – high). These factors can be limited in addition to regular pruning, confining the bulb and root structure to ‘slow’ down the growth rate a bit and prevent it from becoming too huge for the aquarium.

Trimming and “Training” Red Tiger Lotus

Red tiger lotus (Nymphaea zenkeri) and runners

As I have just said, these plants will flower if allowed to form lily pads. However, experienced aquarists advise starting to train the plant to grow below the water right from the beginning. Cut the pads off at the base to make it bushier. Do not let the plant to spend energy to get to the top.

Benefits of Red Tiger Lotus:

Aquascape: This beautiful, carpeting plant is one of the best choices for aquascapes (particularly for Dutch aquarium). Red tiger lotus grows really nicely in the tanks and looks very cool to be used as a focal point.

Prevents gas pocketsRed tiger lotus’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: Red tiger lotus will also provide shelter and hiding spots for shy fish and shrimp.

Oxygenation: As with all plants, it helps in oxygenating the water column in the aquarium. 

Problems Associated with Red Tiger Lotus

  • Outgrowth: The major problem associated with this species is that it grows too large and fast. Red tiger lotus is capable of growing very huge once it is supplied with plenty of light, CO2 and nutrients. Therefore, it is recommended to keep these factors balanced and trim the leaves regularly to prevent the plant from taking most space in the tank.
  • Losing its leaves: Red tiger lotus is capable of going into dormancy when exposed to low temperature conditions. While in this condition, the plant can shed all its leaves. The good news is that the plant will produce new leaves eventually and return to normalcy after a while. Keep in mind that this is a seasonal plant and they also tend to die off before the bigger leaves start to grow. Give it a month or two, and you will be having pads on the surface.
  • Relocation: Another problem is that the root system of Red tiger lotus can grow to be enormous. Therefore, if you ever decide to remove the plant, you should cut it off instead of pulling it up. DO NOT ever be tempted to pull it up. You will pull everything up!
  • Burning marks on the leaves: Although high lighting will definitely speed up the growth of the Red tiger lotus, it can also burn the lily pads. If your light is low and you allow the plant to reach the surface of the tank.
  • Block the light: Red tiger lotus will constantly put out runners (long stems to reach the surface). Once they get to the top, it will produce big leaves and grow like crazy, as it has access to the CO2 in the atmosphere. Remove lily pads every now and when, as they are blocking light for other plants in the tank.
  • Suppress other plants: There is a rumor that Red tiger lotus can produce a chemical that will suppress the growth of algae and slow other plant growth.

Seachem Flourish root tabsI cannot confirm or deny the said allegation. However, in my opinion, the problem lays in their huge root system and greediness for the nutrients. Red tiger lotus simply outcompetes other plants and can ‘strangle’ other rooting plants. The root system should be contained, it helps to keep the plant compact. You can also add Seachem Flourish root tabs (link check the price on Amazon) for everything else to keep them happy.

Note:  First time about Allelopathy (Biological warfare) I read in Diana Walstad’s book (Ecology of the Planted Aquarium: A Practical Manual and Scientific Treatise for the Home Aquarist – link to check the price on Amazon).

Red Tiger Lotus and Tankmates

Red tiger lotus is compatible with:

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 and aggressive fish species that will waste no time in tearing up the plants and fighting other fish in the tank. They include Oscars, Cichlids like Frontosa, Texas Cichlids, Red Devil, and Jack Dempsey.

Do not keep Red tiger lotus 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, cut and uproot everything in the tank. Therefore, the best choice will be to have floater plants with them.

For compatible plants, you can plant Red tiger lotus together with, for example, Anubias, Anachris, Java fern, and Water wisteria. Ideally, it will be better to choose plants, which will not compete with Red tiger lotus for the nutrients in the substrate, at least these plants should not be planted too close.

Buying Red Tiger Lotus

Red tiger lotus (Nymphaea zenkeri) in tankRed tiger lotus is widely available in fish and pet stores. It is totally inexpensive and can arrive as a bulb with or without any leaves attached while some come as juvenile plants with established roots and leaves.

Some vendors might try to sell dead bulbs to you but this can be averted. Good Red tiger lotus bulbs should be firm and healthy-looking not soft and squishy. The roots and leaves (if any) should be abundant and fresh, devoid of damages.

However, do not panic if you purchased a Red tiger lotus plant which has leaves but does not have a bulb. As long as the roots and leaves look healthy, the plant should be OK.

After some time, you will find that the plant has produced a new bulb below the surface. The bulb is really only a food storage during dormancy.

Quarantine Red Tiger Lotus

Unless you are completely sure that the plant 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 it 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

The search for plants to add in a freshwater aquarium can be confusing because there are endless choices. Nevertheless, Red tiger lotus is a perfect choice for creating an attractive centerpiece in your aquarium, and if you are seeking to incorporate a unique or different contrast and attain an overall pleasing look in your aquarium.

This is a medium to high light plant and it can survive in low light as well, and it doesn’t require excessive maintenance. The Red tiger lotus is definitely a plant you would want to have in your tank especially if you are a beginner in the hobby.

Red Tiger Lotus – check out the price on Amazon

Related articles:

  1. Top 5 Plants for Your Shrimp Tank
  2. Top 7 Floating Plants for Beginners

Foto by Andtheivy

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