Salvinia Auriculata Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Salvinia Auriculata Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Salvinia auriculata is a floating aquatic fern ideal for decorating fish and shrimp tanks. This plant requires minimal care, it is hardy and highly adaptable to varying water conditions.

Notable for its fast growth rate, Salvinia auriculata only needs abundant nutrients and lighting to grow vigorously and spread dense green mats on the surface of the water.

In this article, we will explain how you can cultivate, maintain, and care Salvinia auriculata in your aquarium.

Salvinia auriculata – check out the price on Amazon

Quick Notes about Salvinia Auriculata

Common Name Salvinia auriculata
Other Names African payal, Butterfly fern, and Eared watermoss
Scientific Name
Salvinia auriculata
Tank Size (minimum) 10 gallons (40 liters)
Difficulty Easy to Medium
Optimal Lighting Moderate to high
Optimal pH 6.0 – 8.0
Optimal GH 3 – 18
Optimal Temperature 22 – 26 °C (72– 79°F)
Substrate any
Growth Rate Moderate to fast
Placement in Tank
Size up to 3cm (1 inch)
CO2 Not needed
Propagation Vegetatively through fragmentation or by splitting

Origin and Taxonomy of Salvinia Auriculata

Salvinia auriculata is an aquatic plant species known by the common names African payal, Butterfly fern, and Eared watermoss.

The plant belongs to Salviniaceae, a family of Heterosporous fern in the order Salviniales. This fern family comprises two genera, Azolla and Salvinia.

Salvinia auriculata is classified under Salvinia, named in honor of Anton Maria Salvini- a 17th-century Italian scientist. The genus contains 12 known species which are quite similar in morphology.

Habitat of Salvinia Auriculata

Salvinia Auriculata Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and PropagationSalvinia auriculata is indigenous to tropical America, presently dominant in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru & Venezuela.

This species has been introduced and can be found naturalized in other parts of the world as an ornamental plant.

This free-floating fern inhabits still and slow-moving waters ranging from lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, swamps, ditches, reservoirs, and rice fields.

The plant is highly competitive! It can displace native plants and animals, grows rapidly, and capable of blocking canals and waterways.

Moreover, Salvinia auriculata is listed as an invasive species in countries like Cuba, Dominican Republic, Taiwan, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

It thrives best in nutrient-rich warm water and tolerates mild temperate conditions, occasional frost, and low salinity levels.

Description of Salvinia Auriculata

Sylvania (auriculata)Salvinia auriculata is a perennial floating fern with horizontally growing abundant shoots. The color of this aquatic plant varies from bright green to olive-green.

It features numerous leaves that are arranged in whorls of three. Out of these three leaves, two are floating (often 1 – 3 cm or ½ – 1 inch in size), while one stays submerged.

The floating leaves are densely covered with fine protective, egg-beater shaped hairs, and the third leaf in each whorl is modified to form a finely divided root structure of about 1 – 2 inches (2.5 – 5 cm).

The plant undergoes changes in morphology or diverse growth forms depending on environmental conditions. These are primary, secondary, and tertiary growth forms.

Floating leaves of the primary form are flat, well-spaced, oval with slightly lobed bases. On the other hand, leaves of the tertiary form are densely crowded and tightly folded upwards along the mid-vein whereas floating leaves of the secondary form are intermediate to the primary and tertiary forms.

Salvinia natans
Salvinia natans

Salvinia auriculata lacks true roots and depends on the hair-like projections of the submerged leaves to function as root. The submerged leaves also bear spore-producing structures known as sporocarps.

Note: Sometimes this plant is confused with Salvinia natans, which, in turn, is practically not used in the aquarium hobby, since it belongs to annual plants.

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Tank size:

Salvinia auriculata can be kept in tanks of varying sizes and depths since it floats on the water surface.

Under optimal conditions, it grows really fast and tends to take up a lot of space. Keep in mind that even a single plant can cover a 20-inch tank in a fairly short time.

Therefore, I would recommend keeping them in a 10 gallon (~40 L) tank at least.

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Temperature: The ideal temperature range for this species is 71 – 80 °F (22 – 26 °C). Keep in mind that the warmer the water, the faster the Salvinia grows and the larger its leaves become.

pH: It can grow in a relatively wide pH range, however, the optimal pH is between 6.0 – 8.0.

Hardness: In general, Salvinia auriculata does not care about hardness. It can easily tolerate soft or hard water. So, for optimal growth and development of this plant species, maintain water hardness in the range 3 – 18 GH.


Salvinia auriculata can thrive in moderate to high lighting conditions. It needs bright lighting to grow rapidly and sprout new shoots. Under low illumination, the plant’s growth rate will decline.

Bright lighting can be provided using a LED light, and the lights should be turned on for at least 10 hours daily.

In nature, this plant grows in open ponds, lakes, swamps, etc. with very little shade. Therefore, direct sunlight does best for this plant.

However, that is not really suitable for aquariums housing other plant and animal species that may not appreciate direct sunlight or a very powerful artificial high light. So, we have to keep the balance here.

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

Water flow:

In the natural ecosystem, Duckweed inhabits ponds and shallow streams where the current is slow-moving.  They often do not survive in fast-moving water (<0.3 m/sec). Therefore, still / slow water currents are recommended for tanks housing this plant.

CO2 and fertilization:

CO2 injection is no mandatory. Salvinia auriculata does not require CO2 dosing as it gets it from the air.

However, the same cannot be said of external fertilizers. The floating plant draws a great deal of the required nutrients from the water.

Therefore, the application of fertilizers in the water column would be much appreciated. The regular addition of fertilizers increases the yield and will result in an overall healthier appearance. So, if you want to increase its growth, fertilizers (NPK- Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) or supplements should be provided on a regular basis.

Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank with the Salvinia auriculata, 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 Salvinia Auriculata

Even though the plant’s care requirement is minimal, there are some care tips that will help to achieve best growth.

The need for constant pruning is paramount in case of overgrowth especially when the plants appear to be covering the surface of the aquarium or overrunning it.

This is a call for you to get rid of some foliage, leaving a substantial amount in the tank to continue growing and spreading off lateral shoots.

Salvinia auriculata is capable of casting too much shade in the aquarium. When light does not reach the plants at the lower levels, their growth gets hampered and they may become stunted.

Whenever you notice the plants overcrowding the water surface, scoop out some shoots with a skimmer or fishnet, you can also make use of this opportunity to pick out sick or damaged leaves.

Afterward, dispose of the collected leaves, preferably sealed in a plastic bag for pickup. The practice of proper disposal techniques will help prevent plants from entering local waterways and wreaking havoc therein.

Keep an eye on the color of the shoots, the foliage tends to lose its vibrant color and may turn yellow when there is a nutrient deficiency. To forestall this, add fertilizers containing the essential nutrients in the right doses to replenish nutrients required by the plants for optimal growth.

Also, protect the plants from condensation drips because it makes them rot. The tank lid can be tilted slightly so that the droplets will roll down the slope back into the tank rather than drip directly on the leaves.

Be sure to carry out partial water changes by removing about 20-25% of the existing water bi-weekly and replacing it with clean freshwater. Asides that, make sure to reduce the water flow and provide slow currents since the plant prefers/thrives in slow-moving waters.

Planting and Propagation of Salvinia Auriculata

Salvinia auriculata is a floating plant that lies flat on the water surface. It can be cultivated in any aquarium by floating, just spread the finely divided portions on the water, and allow it to float and branch out.

The first step is to split and properly disinfect the newly purchased plants.

Next, spread the portions uniformly on the water surface. The plants should not be allowed to cover the whole surface; about one-third of it is fine since they will ultimately branch out and spread further.

This floating plant propagates vegetatively through fragmentation, i.e. the continuous branching and breaking away of lateral and terminal shoots.

The plant’s partial death often stimulates dormant buds to develop, and each node has up to 5 dormant buds. Usually, older stems will detach from these nodes as more buds develop.

Alternatively, one can split the branches formed by the existing plants to create new plants and this act promotes its spread in the water.

Problems Associated with Salvinia Auriculata

Overgrowth: Salvinia auriculata is a fast-growing plant and it may overrun the tank if left unattended. In addition, they will create shades thereby blocking light from getting to plants at the bottom of the tank. Hence, the dense mass should be pruned and discarded from time to time to prevent overcrowding and shadowing at the surface.

Oxygen depletionIf you do not have any aeration in the tank or there is no water flow that can disturb the surface – Do not let Salvinia auriculata create a thick layer on the surface for a long time. It can result in oxygen depletion in the water column by reducing the gas exchange. It may potentially lead to the suffocation of your fish or shrimp.

Leaf Rot: This is due to condensation drips falling on the floating leaves. Hence, make efforts to curtail contact of leaves with the droplets or it may die and ruin the water quality as it rots.

Discoloration: Discoloration is a sign of poor health and lack of nutrients seems to be the major cause of this problem. The application of fertilizers on a regular basis will help replenish nutrients in the tank water, and the plants will be rewarded with an even deep green coloration and robust growth.

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

Benefits of Salvinia Auriculata

Breeding ground: Salvinia auriculata 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: I have mentioned it as a problem before but using Salvinia auriculata 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: The presence of Salvinia auriculata in the aquarium helps to inhibit the growth of algae. The plants tend to outcompete algae for the available resources thereby depriving them of the nutrients required for their growth.

You can also read “How to Remove Algae with Plants”.

Aesthetics: Salvinia auriculata is an attractive 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.

Removal of excess nutrients: Salvinia auriculata 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 their rapid growth patterns.

Salvinia Auriculata and Tankmates

Salvinia auriculata should be kept with aquatic species that can thrive in a shaded aquarium. Here are some compatible species that can co-exist peacefully with Salvinia auriculata.



Freshwater snails:


You should avoid large, hostile, aggressive, and plant-eating fish species that will waste no time in tearing up Salvinia auriculata. For example, fish species like Goldfish, Oscars, Rainbow, Jack Dempsey, Clown loaches should be avoided.

Buying Salvinia Auriculata

Due to its popularity, this floating plant is easily obtainable at local fish stores and online through reputable vendors. It costs as low as $5 for a small pot.

Alternatively, you can request for a decent portion of the plant from hobbyists nearby to cultivate in your own tank.

Bear in mind that healthy plants possess vibrant green coloration and the shoots should be devoid of abnormalities.

Quarantine Salvinia auriculata

Do not forget to quarantine the Salvinia auriculata 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

Floating plants are attractive, they provide a lot of benefits and aid in creating a natural ecosystem suitable for aquatic life.

Salvinia auriculata can totally alter the look of your tank, it will help create a natural look that is reminiscent of ponds and swamps.

If you have ever considered adding floating plants to your tank, now is the time. Salvinia auriculata is an excellent choice. It adds great value to an aquarium and doesn’t require much effort to maintain.

Related articles:

Top 7 Floating Plants for Beginners
Aquarium Floating Plants. Pros and Cons

Salvinia auriculata – check out the price on Amazon

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