Rotala Rotundifolia Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Rotala rotundifolia

Today, we will be talking about another commonly used plant in the hobby – Rotala rotundifolia also known as ‘the Dwarf Rotala’. Personally, it is one of my favorite plants for shrimp tanks.

Rotala rotundifolia is a popular plant in the aquarium world. It is a fast growing stem plant used in decorating the mid-ground and background of planted tanks. Dwarf Rotala has a vibrant green and reddish coloration, which creates a visually appealing impression in aquariums. It is undemanding, tolerant of a wide range of water parameters and finally – it is easy to grow and maintain.

In this article, we will provide a complete care sheet and other useful information you should know about this versatile plant.

Rotala rotundifolia – check out the price on Amazon

Quick Notes about Rotala Rotundifolia

Common Name Rotála rotundifólia
Other Names The dwarf rotala, Round-leaf toothcup, Pink sprites
Scientific Name
Rotála rotundifólia
Difficulty Easy to Medium
Lighting Medium to High
Optimal pH 6.0 – 8.0
Optimal GH 2 – 12 (1 – 30)
Optimal Temperature 20 – 28 C (68 – 82 F)
Substrate Needed
Growth Form Stem
Growth Rate Moderate to fast
Placement in Tank
Mid-ground or background
Height up 5 – 30+ cm (2 – 12+ inches)
Not needed to low
CO2 Not needed to low
Propagation Head Cuttings or Runners

Origin of Rotala Rotundifolia

Rotala rotundifolia is a perennial aquatic plant that is native to South East Asia. The name Rotala rotundifolia came from Latin words which implies: ‘The plant with the rounded leaves’. The plant is part of the family – Lythraceae and its taxonomical status is highlighted below:

Rotala rotundifolia buyKingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Order: Myrtales
Family: Lythraceae
Genus: Rotala
Species Rotala rotundifolia

The genus ‘Rotala’ is from the Lythraceae family. It is a genus of stem plants / bunchy plants with a fast growth pattern. Plants in this genus are generally used in aquascaping because of their beauty and distinct coloration, which varies from green to red or reddish-pink depending on the species.

Rotala rotundifolia has definite emersed terrestrial and underwater / submersed forms, in emersed forms, the leaves of the Rotala are round and thicker whereas in submersed form the leaves are notably narrow, thin and lanceolate.

These plants can grow up to 30 cm (12 inches), hence most suitable for decorating the mid-ground or background of tanks.

Habitat & Ecology of Rotala Rotundifolia

Rotala rotundifolia is an aquatic, amphibious, tropical and sub-tropical plant that has considerable phenotypic plasticity and grow as obligate aquatics in shallow water, and semi-aquatics or terrestrial habitats.

The plant is can be found mostly in countries in South-east Asia. These countries include Japan, China, Taiwan, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and India.  Rotala rotundifolia can be seen in these aforementioned countries where it dwells in rice paddies, low-lying fields, marshes, and swamps as a weed.

This plant has also been introduced to the United States, where it was declared as an invasive species in some areas.

Note: According to my research, Rotala rotundifolia was added as a Category One invasive species by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council in 2007. Nowadays, it is no longer listed as a potential threat by any other US state. However, it is a recognized weedy invasive species in Australia.

Description of Rotala Rotundifolia

Rotala rotundifolia orangeRotala rotundifolia is a perennial aquatic plant (5 – 30 cm or 2 – 12 inches) with soft stems that branch to form low, creeping clumps.

This species exhibits phenotypic plasticity, which allows it to morph in different environments. It has both submersed and emersed life forms, which differ in quite a number of characteristics. The emergent form of Rotala rotundifolia has fleshy, vibrant green and rounded leaves, while the submersed form has darker green or reddish leaves that are thin, narrow and lanceolate.

Growth habit in these life forms vary as well. The leaves are often 2.5 cm (1 inch) long or less and grows in a cluster of 2 or 3 around its pink stems.

Rotala rotundifolia forms aerial roots that cling and easily intermingle, its stems act like stolons: bending towards the ground to propagate. The plant also produces spikes of small pink flowers at the top of the stems although flowering only occurs on plant tips that are aerial or emergent.

Rotala rotundifolia is capable of vigorous spread by stem fragments that root adventitiously at lower nodes. It also produces viable seeds that germinate under certain favorable conditions.

The Most Popular Varieties of Genus Rotala

Apart from the famous Rotala rotundifolia, other species in the genus include the following:

Rotala IndicaRotala Indica: Rotala rotundifolia was previously mistaken to be Rotala indica whereas it is a totally different species. It is also known as Rotala ‘Bonsai’. It is smaller than Rotala rotundifolia and is used for decorating nano aquariums.

The leaves are rounder and more greenish in color (under low light), compared to Rotala rotundifolia. The plant requires medium lighting and additional CO2 for proper growth.

Rotala Macandra: This is another species in the genus ‘Rotala’. It is also called the Giant Rotala or King of the Reds. This type of Rotala has broader lRotala Macandraeaves, which are green in color (emersed form) and pinkish brown to red /orange in submersed form.

The leaves are oval-shaped, slightly sharp, and have a wavy margin. The stems of this species can grow up to 40 – 50 cm in height.

Rotala Macandra is a pretty demanding plant, it requires acidic water, lots of iron, water movements, CO2, and lots of light. Without high light, it will rot away.

Rotala WallichiiRotala Wallichii: This consists of a single stem, which does not branch in submersed form. Wallichii can reach 40 – 50 cm (15 – 20 inches) in height. Leaves in whorls are 10 to 12 mm long and only 1.25 mm wide (like needles), green or brown-green and the tips are often reddish or yellow-gold.

The leaves are arranged all around the node, like the spokes of a bicycle. Leaves are thin, thick and abundant (up to 15 for each whorl). 


Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Tank size:

The recommended tank size for housing this plant species is a minimum of 10 gallons (40 liters).

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Water temperature: Rotala rotundifolia can tolerate a wide range of temperature conditions, but it will thrive best in tropical aquariums with a temperature between the range of 20 – 28 °C (68 – 82 °F). It can equally withstand relatively cool temperatures.

Note: The submerged Rotala rotundifolia found in the remote valley in Wenzhou city, Zhejiang Province, China, is able to survive across the winter under a temperature as low as 4 °C.

pH: The pH of the tank water provided can fluctuate from 6 – 8. Always test the water parameters at regular intervals using a testing kit.
Hardness: You are required to ensure that water hardness is maintained at 4 – 15 °dGH.


Rotala rotundifolia is often used as an aquarium plant that can grow in medium light. However, it needs a relatively high light condition for optimal growth to show its true colors. It will appreciate 35 – 50 PAR provided by full spectrum (5000-7000K) bulbs.

Note: Rotala rotundifolia has green leaves, which will turn reddish-pink under sufficient bright light. If the plant is exposed to low lighting it will grow thin with a yellow-green color.

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


The Dwarf Rotala can survive in almost all kinds of substrates. Even more, it can even float! However, I will advise you to use small-granulated soil for the best results. This plant simply grows better on it than on sand and gravel in terms of plant height, tiller number, and biomass accumulation.

Rotala rotundifolia will thrive best in nutrient-rich substrates such as ADA Amazonia soil, Caribsea Eco-Complete Aquasoil, Seachem Flourite Black Sand, etc. These substrates will allow the plant to stay rooted firmly and help maintain its natural bunchy outlook.

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

If you have sand or gravel, it is still possible to keep Rotala rotundifolia. However, you will have to use root tabs to provide the necessary nutrients to the plant from time to time.


Nutrients: Fertilizer application is not mandatory for maintaining this plant species, although it is essential you supply them with fertilizers containing micronutrients like iron to promote healthy growth and development.

Also, maintaining nitrates below 5ppm and phosphates above 1ppm will enhance its lush reddish appearance.

CO2 application: Dwarf Rotala will do well in aquariums without CO2 injection after a period of adjustment, but additional CO2 will help it attain better density, fast growth, and better coloration.
For more information, read “CO2 in a Planted Tank Guide”.

Planting Rotala Rotundifolia

Rotala rotundifolia is perfect for a variety of aquascaping projects. It is popular for its ease of cultivation and beautiful growth pattern. It is widely used in Nature style and Dutch aquascapes because of the contrast and depth it adds to aquariums. As I have already mentioned, Dwarf Rotala is best suited for background and mid-ground placement.

This plant comes available in pots. To plant this species: remove it from the pot, disinfect and rinse thoroughly. Next up is to plant individual stems in the substrate, make a hole in the substrate, and insert the plant.

Ensure to maintain a distance of 3 – 4 cm (1 – 1.5. inches) between the Rotalas’ to avoid overcrowding.

Note: if you dose the plants with liquid fertilizer at this early stage, it will kick off healthy growth. Iron and potassium supplements should be provided in the right quantities to boost development and combat adverse growth conditions.

Propagation of Rotala Rotundifolia

Propagation is easy. The Dwarf Rotala can be propagated by cuttings, you have to cut the upper portion of the stem (top) with a pair of sharp scissors.

These cuttings should be at least 10 cm long (4 inches), make a small hole in the plant substrate about 3 – 4 cm, and place the stems in the hole and cover with the substrate. This is it.

Maintenance and Care of Rotala Rotundifolia

Dwarf Rotala is excellent for the first time aquarist, it requires minimal care and it will not stress you out. In addition, it does not afraid of ammonium, so it can easily survive cycling.

Note: According to the study, biologists believe that Rotala Rotundifolia can be used to effectively remove nitrogen and phosphorus in waters in many countries all over the world.

Regular checks are necessary: snip away dead parts or leaves with tweezers and take them away from the tank to avoid polluting the tank water. Stir or brush up the dense packed stems gently to bring up debris or decaying organic matter to the surface and sieve them out.

Incorporate supplemental liquid fertilizer in your care routine, dosing the plant with chelated iron and potassium supplements will help then attain vibrant red leaves, and prevent stunted growth forms.

Trimming Rotala Rotundifolia

Rotala rotundifolia requires regular trimming to gain density (form dense bushes). Trimming should be done initially about 10 cm (4 inches) below the final height that you want the plant’s tops to be at.

As the tops grow out, cut the ones that grow faster than the rest, the reason for this is to allow the shoots to branch and the canopy to gain density as it grows upwards. Afterward, dispose of trimmed parts or replant them, the choice is yours to make.

Benefits of Rotala Rotundifolia:

Aquascape: This beautiful plant is one of the best choices for jungle aquascapes. It grows really nicely in the tanks and looks very cool. Without pruning, the plant will take a bushy appearance.

Foraging place: This plant has beautiful long leaves that will create a lot of surface for biofilm, which is an ideal first food for newly hatched fry and shrimplets.

Shelter: Rotala rotundifolia provides shelter and hiding spots for shy fish and shrimp.

Removal of excess nutrientsRotala rotundifolia helps to eliminate excess nutrients and nitrates from the tank water.

Oxygenation: Helps in oxygenating the water column.

Prevents gas pocketsRotala rotundifolia’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.

Accumulates heavy metals: Researches found out that it can accumulate heavy metals. Therefore, it also has the potential to be used for wastewater treatment.

Reduces algal bloomIn addition to appearing aesthetic in an aquarium setup, another benefit of these plants is that they inhibit abundant growth of algae. Basically, Rotala rotundifolia helps in reducing the overall probability of algal bloom in the given environment. The plant 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”.

Tank Equipment for Aquascapes and Plants (Amazon build list, links)

LightFinnex Planted+
Canister FilterFluval External Filter
Air PumpTetra Whisper
HeaterEheim Jager Aquarium Thermostat
SubstrateADA Aqua soil
Lily PipesJARDLI Glass Lily Pipe Outflow
CO2 RegulatorCO2 Regulator with Solenoid 110V-Mini Dual Gauge Display Bubble Counter
Trimming toolsStainless Steel Aquatic Plants Aquascaping Tools Set
Test KitAPI Freshwater Master Test

Problems associated with Rotala Rotundifolia

Chlorosis and necrosis at leaf margins: This is a condition in which the plant’s leaves produce insufficient chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is very essential and responsible for the green coloration of leaves. When a plant is suffering from chlorosis, the leaves are pale, yellow or yellow-white in color.

The major cause of this condition is lack of iron – which is actively involved in the formation of chlorophyll, nitrogen deficiency, and high acidic (less than 5.0 pH) or alkalinic pH. To remedy this condition, dose plant with chelated iron and ensure that the optimal pH level is always maintained in the tank.

Stunted growth: The plant will exhibit signs of stunting once the nitrates level is too low or when you do not dose enough trace elements. This condition also occurs when there is no or inadequate CO2. Remedy these inadequacies and tone up the light intensity as well, it will aid their recovery.

Losing its lower leaves: It is a good sign that Rotala rotundifolia does not get enough light. Also, if planted too thick, the lower part suffers a lack of light and loses the leaves.

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

Rotala Rotundifolia and Tankmates

Rotala rotundifolia and Amano shrimpRotala rotundifolia is easily compatible with most kinds of freshwater fish and other aquatic species because it is hardy and non-toxic. The plant is tough, durable, and grows relatively fast, therefore, it cannot be totally eaten up by hostile fish species.

Rotala rotundifolia 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 Rotala rotundifolia 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 and uproot everything in the tank. Therefore, the best choice will be to have floater plants.

For compatible plants, you can plant Rotala rotundifolia together with, for example, Anubias Nana, Anachris, Java fern, and Water wisteria. You need to pick plants, which will not compete with Rotala rotundifolia for the nutrients in the substrate, can live in its shade or floaters.

Buying Rotala Rotundifolia

Rotala rotundifolia is an inexpensive plant species, and it is widely available in pet stores. You can obtain a pot for as low as $5. While purchasing this plant, ensure that you only obtain the ones devoid of irregularities like cuts, holes, and rips on the leaves.

The leaves should be bright green or reddish, avoid discolored plants. Also, note that plants with healthy-looking stem and roots will have a higher chance of survival in the tank.

Quarantine Rotala Rotundifolia

Do not forget to quarantine the Rotala rotundifolia 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

Rotala rotundifolia is a perfect plant for both beginners and experienced aquarists. The plant is a great addition to aquariums, suitable for mid-ground & background placement, and its bright green & red hues add an aesthetically pleasing contrast to any kind of tank.

The lush vibrant foliage of this plant creates an impressive highlight, you can mix it with other plants of varying colors too for a more artistic and lively effect in the tank. Rotala rotundifolia is perfect for shrimp tanks as well, inverts will use them for their foraging, breeding and molting activities.

Rotala rotundifolia – check out the price on Amazon

Related articles:

  1. Top 5 Plants for Your Shrimp Tank
  2. Top 7 Floating Plants for Beginners
  3. 10 Tips For Rooted Aquarium Plants
  4. Rotala Macrandra Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation
  5. Rotala Indica Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation 

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