Rotala Indica Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Rotala Indica Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Rotala indica is an annual herbaceous species that is prized as a durable and easy to care for the plant in the aquarium hobby.

This plant features relatively small, vibrant green shoots that may develop a reddish-pink coloration mainly at the tips. In addition, Rotala indica has an upright growth habit and grows moderately fast, and its vertically-oriented stems are best suited for background and midground placement in an aquarium.

Here is a complete care guide to help you grow and nurture Rotala indica successfully in your home aquarium.

Quick Notes about Rotala Indica

Common Name Rotála indica
Other Names Indian toothcup, Ammannia ‘Bonsai’ and Rotala ‘Bonsai’
Scientific Name
Rotála indica
Difficulty Easy to Medium
Lighting Medium 
Optimal pH 6.0 – 7.5
Optimal GH 2 – 12 
Optimal Temperature 68 – 82 °F (20 – 28 °C)
Substrate Any (preferably nutrient-rich)
Can float:
Yes
Growth Form Stem
Growth Rate Fast
Placement in Tank
Midground or background
Height up 4 – 8 inches (10 – 20 cm)
Fertilizers 
Not needed to low
CO2 Not needed to low
Propagation Head Cuttings 

Origin of Rotala Indica

This is a species of flowering plants in the loosestrife family Lythraceae and genus Rotala which comprises stem/bunchy plants endowed with a fast growth pattern.

Rotala Indica is also referred to as Indian toothcup and Rotala ‘Bonsai’, and the species is used by many aquarists to aquascape their freshwater tanks because of its impressive growth form and beautiful coloration.

The scientific classification of Rotala indica is as follows:

Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Myrtales
Family: Lythraceae
Genus: Rotala
Species: Rotala indica

Habitat of Rotala Indica

Rotala indica is native to India and Southeast Asia, where it grows along rice paddies, marshes, and low-lying fields as an annual weed.

Also, the amphibious plant is known as an introduced species and a weed dwelling in rice-growing regions in Congo, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, and California and Louisiana in the United States.

Description of Rotala Indica

Rotala IndicaRotala indica is characterized by its erect, delicate stems (averagely 4 – 8 inches or 10 to 20 cm tall) with thin, rounded or obovate, obtuse leaves that are about 0.4 – 0.8 inches (1.5 – 2 cm) long.

The leaves of this plant are usually lush green, though they may develop pink or red hues at the upper parts (shoot tips) under high lighting conditions.

Also, the leaves are arranged oppositely in perpendicular pairs along the delicate stems and flowers occur singly on the leaf axils or in short, dense spikes.

Rotala indica can be grown emersed or submersed just like its close relative: Rotala rotundifolia.

Difference between Rotala indica and Rotala rotundifolia

Both species are often mistaken for one another, especially, when they grow emersed (above water) and have round leaves.

However, underwater (submersed form) Rotala indica can be differentiated from Rotala rotundifolia by its slightly smaller size, more rounded leaves, and solitary or spike inflorescence as opposed to terminal inflorescence.

  Rotala indica Rotala rotundifolia
Size Smaller size (up to 8+ inches) Bigger (up to 12+ inches)
Shape of the leaves More rounded leaves More narrow and lanceolate
Structure of the leaves Thicker at the tips Thin
Inflorescence Solitary or spike Terminal

Difference between Rotala indica and Rotala rotundifolia

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

This attractive herbaceous plant is adaptable to a wide range of water values and tolerant to varying conditions, and that qualifies it as an excellent candidate for various kinds of aquarium setups.

Tank size:

Rotala indica is suitable for aquascaping nano and large aquariums. However, I recommend growing the plant in an aquarium that’s no smaller than 10 gallons (~40 liters).

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Temperature: The optimal temperature for growing Rotala indica is between the range of 68 – 82 °F (20 – 28 °C). So the plant should have no problem thriving in most tropical aquariums provided that there are decreased temperature fluctuations.

pH: The species will thrive in tanks with pH levels between 6.0 to 7.5. Make sure to test the water parameters at regular intervals using an accurate testing kit.

Hardness: Rotala indica can tolerate soft to fairly hard water conditions. Hence ensure that the water hardness is maintained at 2 – 12 °dGH.

Lighting:

Rotala indica has medium light requirements, and it will appreciate 30 – 50 PAR provided by full-spectrum bulbs.

The plant has natural green leaves, but these will turn reddish-pink under sufficient bright light. When exposed to low lighting conditions, the plant will grow thin and the color of its shoots will become yellow-green.

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

Substrate:

Rotala indica can grow either way as planted or even as a floating plant. This is because this plant is able to extract nutrients from both the substrate and the water column.

However, once planted it starts growing faster and shows more stable results.

The recommended substrate for planting Rotala indica is a nutrient-rich substrate.

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

The aforementioned substrates have small-granulated soil that allows the plant to stay rooted firmly and also helps to maintain its natural bunchy appearance. Be sure to provide a substrate bed of at least 2 inches (5 cm) deep to encourage easy spread and anchorage of the plant’s roots.

Keeping Rotala indica in sand or gravel, is also possible, however, you will have to use root tabs and/or liquid fertilizers to help out.

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

CO2 and Nutrient Supplementation:

Nutrients: Rotala indica will thrive in freshwater aquaria without nutrient supplementation if it has nutrient-rich substrate with some nitrates and phosphates in the water.

However, the benefits of regular fertilizer application are immense — as it ensures the plant grows healthy and fosters overall development.  

CO2 application: Same can be said for CO2, although the species is likely to do well once it has fully adjusted to the tank’s conditions; CO2 application promotes rapid and optimal growth, increased density, and vibrant coloration.

Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank with Rotala indica, I would highly recommend reading my articles:

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 Rotala indica

Rotala indica is an ideal species for beginner aquarists. It has low to moderate care demands and adapts easily to varying water conditions.

Under optimal conditions, Rotala indica grows very fast and in some aquariums can become even a problem.

Since overgrowth is common in this species, you are required to carry out regular pruning to remove excess growth. Therefore, make sure to prune the overgrown stems alongside the dead parts or leaves with tweezers.

Once you are done, collect all the clippings from the tank to avoid polluting the tank water. You can equally use this time to stir or brush up densely packed stems gently to bring up debris or decaying organic matter to the surface, then sieve it out.

The plant will appreciate regular additions of chelated iron, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizers to attain lush reddish-pink coloration and prevent stunted growth forms.

Lastly, ensure to replace one-quarter of the aquarium water every week with clean, dechlorinated freshwater, provide enough lighting, and maintain nitrates around 5 ppm to encourage reddish coloration of the plant’s shoots.

Note: Some aquascapers use Rotala indica to create Bonsai trees, they attach this plant to the driftwood and constantly trim it. After trimming, Rotala indica branches off from every single leaf node and becomes very bushy, eventually.

Planting and Propagation of Rotala indica

This plant is loved by aquarists because of the depth and contrast it adds to the background and midground of aquariums, as well as its beautiful growth pattern and ease of cultivation. There’s no denying that Rotala indica will introduce a lot of perspective to any style of aquascape.

Planting Rotala indica is quite simple and straightforward.

  • Just remove the plant from the pot.
  • Separate the stems from the rock wool, disinfect and rinse them thoroughly.
  • Rotala indica cannot be planted in a bunch. To prevent overcrowding in the tank, while planting, aim to maintain a minimum spacing of 1 – 2 inches (3 – 5 cm) between the stems.

Another option is to let it float. You can leave the plant floating in the tank until it makes some roots. However, keep in mind, that Rotala indica will require a lot of nutrients in the water column!

Propagation is by stem cuttings.

Simply cut the upper portion of the stem with a pair of sharp scissors just above a leaf node. The ideal size of these cuttings should be 10 cm long (4 inches).

Afterward, make a hole in the substrate about 1 – 1.5 inches (3 – 4 cm), place the stems gently in the hole, and cover with the substrate.

In time, the healthy stems will develop roots and grow into new plants.

Problems Associated with Rotala Indica:

Chlorosis: This term refers to a condition in which the leaves of a plant produces insufficient chlorophyll hence leading to an abnormal coloration. Chlorophyll is very essential and responsible for the green coloration of leaves. And when a plant is suffering from chlorosis, the leaves are pale, yellow, or yellow-white in color.

Solution: The major cause of leaf chlorosis is lack of iron — which is actively involved in the formation of the green pigment (chlorophyll), as well as nitrogen deficiency and high acidic or alkalinic pH.

This adverse condition can be remedied by dosing the plant with chelated iron, maintaining ideal nitrates and pH levels in the tank.

Stunted growth: The plants will attain stunted growth forms when there is insufficient trace elements or low nitrates level in the tank water. This can equally occur when there is no or inadequate CO2 in the water column.

Solution: Remedy these inadequacies, and tone up the lighting intensity to aid their recovery. Going forward, always test the tank water and ensure it holds ample nutrients to promote optimal health and development of the plants.

Loss of leaves: This is an indication that your Rotala plant does not receive enough light. Additionally, if Rotala indica is cultivated too thick, the lower part suffers from a lack of light and that prompts it to shed the leaves.

Under low light, Rotala indica often has only 2 leaves per internode, whereas under medium to high light, it has 3 – 4 leaves per internode.

Solution: So do well to increase the light intensity, pull it all out and/or trim the plant when it appears to be getting quite dense, that way light will be able to reach all the parts.

Holes in the lower leaves: This is yet another common problem that you can have with Rotala plants

Solution: It can be hard to pinpoint what causes it, but I would start with checking the sufficiency of light and minerals.

Related articles:

Benefits of Rotala Indica:

Aquascape: This beautiful plant is one of the best choices for jungle aquascapes. Rotala indica grows really nicely in the tanks and looks very cool. 

Foraging place: Rotala indica has beautiful wide leaves that will create a lot of surface for biofilm, which is an ideal first food for newly hatched fry and baby shrimp.

Shelter: It will also provide shelter and hiding spots for shy fish and shrimp.

Removal of excess nutrientsRotala indica is highly dependent on nutrient availability in the water column and substrate. So, if you have some problems with nitrates, ammonia, and phosphates, this plant will help you in no time. So, it helps to eliminate excess nutrients and nitrates from the tank water.

Oxygenation: Helps in oxygenating the water column.

Reduces algal bloom: Rotala indica is so greedy for nutrients that it simply outcompetes algae.

If your tank set up allows, you can equally introduce algae-eating species into the tank to help combat the condition, for example, Amano shrimp, Nerite snail, and Otocinclus Catfish. They are great algae eaters. Together they will do a phenomenal job.

For more information, you can read “Types of Algae. Best Algae Eating Team”.

Rotala Indica and Compatible Tankmates

Rotala indica is compatible with a large variety of freshwater aquarium fish, and other aquatic species (invertebrates) since it is hardy, durable, and innocuous.

Compatible tankmates for Rotala indica include:

Avoid or Be Careful:

Never attempt to keep Rotala indica 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.

Buying Rotala Indica

This beautiful stem plant can be obtained from reputable vendors online, local fish stores, and nurseries.

A pot or bunch containing about five specimens costs about $5 – $10, and two of this will be enough to aquascape a small aquarium.

While buying Rotala indica, be on the lookout for healthy specimens as they stand a greater chance of thriving in the aquarium.

Healthy plants should have a lush appearance, vibrant green or reddish coloration, healthy-looking stems and roots, plus fresh leaves devoid of irregularities like discoloration, holes, and rips.

Quarantine Rotala Indica

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 and disinfect Rotala indica to avoid the risk of contamination.

  • The plant can have parasites, and hitchhikers like pest 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

Rotala indica is a welcome addition to any freshwater tank filled with different types of aquatic plants; the species contributes greatly to the tank’s aesthetics by introducing a bunchy appearance with vibrant green and reddish-pink colors.

This hardy plant can be cultivated together with other easy species like Anacharis, Anubias nana, Java fern, and Water wisteria, or its close relatives: Rotala rotundifolia and Rotala macandra to achieve a mix of leaf shapes, sizes, growth forms, and colors in the aquarium for more aesthetical value.

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