Vallisneria Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Vallisneria Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Vallisneria is a classical aquarium plant, it has given great pleasure to both veteran and novice aquarists for generations. It is also one of the most popular and easily obtained plants in the aquarium hobby.

The plant is very attractive, and it is used to introduce vertical accents in the background of planted tanks, some varieties can be used to adorn the mid-grounds as well. Vallisneria features a tall rosulate structure, bright ribbon-like green leaves, and the ability to populate rapidly in an aquarium using its prolific runners.

Its reputation as an old standby is well deserved, as Vallisneria is quite undemanding and the easiest in the genus to care for. Keep reading for more information on Vallisneria, and how to grow it in your aquarium. 

Vallisneria – check out the price on Amazon

Quick Notes about Vallisneria

Common Name Vallisneria
Other Names Eelgrass, Tape grass, Vals or Vallis, Wild-celery
Scientific Name
Vallisneria sp.
Difficulty Easy 
Optimal Lighting Medium
Optimal pH 6.5 – 8.0
Optimal GH 4 – 18
Optimal Temperature 20 – 28 °C (68 – 82 °F)
Substrate Any
Growth Rate Moderate to fast
Placement in Tank
Background 
Size 20 to 40+ cm (8 – 16 inches or more)
Fertilizers 
Not needed to low
CO2 Not needed to low
Propagation By runners
Color
Green  

Background Information

Vallisneria is a genus of aquatic plants belonging to the family Hydrocharitaceae; a flowering plant family with 16 known genera and about 135 known species that includes a number of notable aquatic plants species, e.g. the tape grasses, and the common or European frogbit.

Vallisneria was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 and named in honor of Antonio Vallisneri who was an Italian medical scientist, physician, and naturalist. Vallisneria is geographically distributed all over the tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

Habitat of Vallisneria

Vallisneria has a cosmopolitan distribution; its diverse species are found in North America, South America, Africa, Eurasia, and Australia.

This genus contains species that are hydrophytes; plants that live submerged in water bodies. They are seen in slow to fast-moving rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands.

Description of Vallisneria

Vallisneria Care GuideVallisneria are submersed perennial plants found in freshwater and brackish regions, Vals are mostly tall plants with ribbon or tape-like leaves that grow from a basal meristem.

They are dioecious, meaning that a single plant has either male or female flowers. The female flowers grow on long, thin, spirally coiled scapes. They are inconspicuous, greenish, and float on the water surface whereas the male flowers develop at the base.

Species of Vallisneria are mostly ideal for placement in the background of planted tanks while some are suitable for the mid-grounds in large tanks.

Their leaves are bright green, rosulate, long, wide, or narrow depending on the species, and they rise to the surface so they can form dense green tangles suitable for breeding purposes of some fish species.

The tallest species of Vallisneria produce firm ribbon-shaped leaves, 30 mm wide. All species of Vallisneria propagates readily from stolons.

Most Popular Varieties of Vallisneria

Many species of Vallisneria are available in the aquarium trade, in that regard, your choice should be based on the size of your tank and where you want to place the plants in your tank.

Vallisneria americana (gigantea):

Vallisneria giganteaAlso known as Giant val or Jungle val, it has a bulbiform rhizome with a tangle of not very long roots. From its rhizome, 10 – 15 ribbon-like leaves emerge, they are about 20 – 35 mm (~1 inch) wide and up to 1m (~3 ft.) long or more. They are bright green, usually with 15 longitudinal obliquely connected veins.

Due to its enormous size, this species is only suitable for large (tall) aquariums where it can grow and develop properly.

Another downside is that it grows fast but propagates slower than other Vallisneria species. It also prefers slightly higher temperatures than the other common species of Vallisneria.

Vallisneria nana:

Vallisneria nanaVallisneria nana is native to Australia. This species possesses dark green, narrow or thin leaves (less than 1 cm (0.4 inches) wide), and shorter than most other Vals (10 – 15 inches or 25 or 40 cm).

It has a distinct grass-like appearance and takes more time to get established in the aquarium. It is suitable as a mid-ground or background plant in small tanks.

Corkscrew Vallisneria:

Corkscrew Vallisneria (Vallisneria torta)Corkscrew Vallisneria (Vallisneria torta) is a very nice-looking plant. It is also one of the longest varieties of Vallisneria in the aquarium hobby. It can grow up to 50 cm (or 20 inches) tall. 

This is a twisted-leaved species. Its leaves have a spiral pattern and it usually tends to be a bit more compact than some of the other Vallisneria species.

The leaves are light green, somewhat transparent that creates a beautiful contrast when planted in groups. The leaves are finely serrulate and substantially shorter than some species of Vallisneria.

Vallisneria spiralis:  

Vallisneria spiralisThis species is also known as Straight Vallisneria. It has bright green leaves usually with five longitudinal veins, ribbon-shaped, 5 – 12 mm (up to 0.5 inches) wide, 40 – 50 cm (16 – 20 inches) long, but it can grow even higher its natural habitat.

The term ‘spiralis’ refers to the floral peduncle and not the leaves. Also known is Vallisneria spiralis var. leopard which has wider and thicker leaves with stripes or spots.

Under favorable conditions, Vallisneria spiralis will propagate rapidly and fill up the background of tanks with dense growth.

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Maintaining optimal water values and best-growing conditions is key to ensuring that Vallisneria stay healthy, thus promoting the overall growth and development.

Tank size:

Even Vallisneria nana or Vallisneria natans (one of the smallest of Vals), will grow huge. Therefore, the minimum tank size for growing Vallisneria is 10 gallons (40 liters). You will need a larger tank if you are keen on planting the large species like Vallisneria gigantea. Otherwise, it may grow enough to choke the tank.

Tip: For smaller tanks, you can go with Dwarf sagittaria. They look quite similar but Dwarf sagittaria is way smaller. 

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Water temperature: Vallisneria will appreciate optimal water temperature between 68 – 82 °F (20 – 28 °C), it is known to tolerate temperature in the range of 15 – 30 °C (59 – 86 °F) as well.

pH: Ideal pH values for growing Vallisneria is between 6.5 – 8.0. It doesn’t grow well under too acidic conditions.

Hardness: Vallisneria can tolerate hard and soft water equally. Nonetheless, it will thrive best in water hardness between the ranges of 4 – 18 GH.

Light:

Although Vallisneria is often recommended even for low-light planted tanks, it will not be an optimal environment for it.

In my experience, Vallisneria will more appreciate moderate – high lighting (30 – 50 PAR). Low light will encourage the leaves to grow tall (to be closer to the light). 

Bright lighting helps the plants maintain their vibrant green leaves and also boosts the robust growth of lateral shoots.

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

Substrate:

Vallisneria is one of the easiest aquarium plants. It will grow in anything including plain gravel or sand as long as your fish and snails produce enough bioload (waste). In this case, you might not even need to add any fertilizers.
Vallisneria is a root feeder. So, a nutrient-rich substrate will benefit the plant, if there is not enough natural bioload in the tank, and you do not want to add fertilizers.

Note: Sand substrate will just slow down how fast they spread as it is harder for them to spread roots and runners.

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

CO2 and fertilization:

Aquarium root tabsAdditional CO2 injection helps to keep Vallisneria healthy, and it positively influences the growth rate and development- you will notice the leaves getting thicker and more vibrant.

Root tabs (link to check the price on Amazon) should be utilized to provide extra nutrition to the plants. The application of fertilizers facilitates growth and curbs the possibility of nutritional deficiency as this plant is a heavy root feeder.

Note: It cannot take the recommended dose of liquid CO2 well. There are many reports that Vallisneria is prone to melting with the liquid CO2. Surprisingly, Seachem Excel (link to Amazon) is often blamed for that. Therefore, if you use one, it would be better to gradually increase the dose of Excel and look for a reaction.

Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank with the Vallisneria, 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 Vallisneria

Caring for Vallisneria is easy as it adapts to different conditions very quickly. It is also one of the few plants in the aquarium trade that can be grown in brackish water.

In the early stages, Vallisneria will appreciate the application of fertilizers and root tabs, especially when cultivated in a plain substrate.

Root tabs contain essential macronutrients and micronutrients that promote strong root development, helps plantlets get off to a strong start, and keeps the established plants flourishing. Roots tabs should be placed midway into the gravel bed and replaced after a while according to usage instructions.

Application of liquid fertilizers like Seachem Fluorish and Iron (plant supplement) (an excellent source of bioavailable organic carbon for plants) provides essential nutrients and sufficient carbon levels that will reward you with lush and healthy aquarium plants.

However, if you need to choose between liquid fertilizer and root tabs, I would always go for root tabs. Due to the fact that Vallisneria is a root feeder, it will mostly benefit from root tab fertilizers.

Trimming Vallisneria

Vallisneria species produce vertical shoots rapidly and these shoots will shade small plants. The top of overgrown leaves should be pruned with trimming scissors.

You don’t have to watch them grow all the way to the top of the tank because they will form a thick layer of foliage that shades plants on the lower level. Other than this reason, there is no call for constant pruning of the Vallisneria.

The trimmed leaves will heal back to some degree but in many cases, they will not continue to grow. Instead of damaged leaves, Vallisneria will often regrow new leaves which will replace damaged ones eventually. This is usually a simultaneous process when the trimmed edges start to die back and new ones grow.

Tip: It may be very hard to trim long plants. However, if you trim plants and do water changes at the same time it may become very easy.

  • Lower the water volume in the tank to use it as a measurement.
  • Pull the leaves upright.
  • Trim Vallisneria about at water level.

In addition, it is really important to use sharp scissors to trim Vallisneria. Otherwise, badly cut or ripped off leaves may die back entirely.

How to Plant and Propagate Vallisneria

How to Propagate Vallisneria runnersPlanting Vallisneria is an easy task. The roots of the plants should be placed under the substrate while the crown (where the leaves emerge) should be just above the substrate to prevent rot.

The plants can be placed in the substrate, preferably plain gravel or coarse sand, using tweezers or bare fingers. All you have to do is to plug the plant right into the substrate, then pull it out a bit so that only the roots stay underneath.

The plants should be cultivated in small groups in the mid-grounds or background section of the aquarium for the best results.

Vallisneria propagates vegetatively through stolons or runners. Once the plant settles, these numerous prolific runners start spreading all over the tank. In addition, daughter plants will develop and start sending off runners as well.

Under optimal conditions, Vallisneria can develop runners in only a few days. These runners can be clipped off the main plant for planting or outright disposal.
Vallisneria also reproduces by flowering and seed production, although this is rarely seen in the aquarium.

Benefits and Uses of Vallisneria

Aquascape: If you want to create Jungle aquascaping, Vallisneria may be a good choice for you.

Foraging place: Vallisneria serves a foraging ground for fish, shrimp, and snails. In addition, 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: Shrimp and small fish species will use Vallisneria as a cover and breeding place to lay their eggs on.

Removal of excess nutrients: As a relatively fast-growing plant, Vallisneria will absorb and utilize harmful chemicals that are emitted from the animals’ waste, decayed plant matter, and tap water such as nitrates, CO2, ammonia, heavy metals, etc.

Oxygenation: Helps in oxygenating the water column.

Reduces algal bloom: Vallisneria helps in reducing the overall probability of algal bloom in the given environment. The plant is pretty greedy for nutrients. So, it simply outcompetes algae.

Problems Associated with Vallisneria

Chlorosis: This is a condition whereby the plants lose the normal green coloration of its leaves due to iron deficiency or lack of quality lighting.

Rot: The crown of the plants may rot if it is buried too deep into the substrate. This might lead to the potential death of the plants.

Melting: Vallisneria does not react well to unstable CO2 levels and low nitrate levels. The plants will gradually decline and the leaves will start to wither.

Also common is melting of the leaves at the earliest stages of planting. It is just an annoying feature of this genus. This is mostly due to changes in the water conditions; the present aquarium having water chemistry different from its previous environment.

It may take a while for the plants to recover and bounce back to normal health. However, if the roots are in good shape, Vallisneria will take off once it is settled in and acclimated to the tank.

In addition, it might be not a good idea to start fertilizing Vallisneria right after planting. It can make it only worse. Give it time to recover after transplant shock.

Red coloration in the leaves: Many Vallisneria species may show some changes in coloration of the leaves when they are under too much light or when there are not enough nutrients to feed them.

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

Vallisneria and Tankmates

Vallisneria species have coarse and leathery leaves which makes it uneatable for most plant-eating fish. Only bottom digging fish species can damage the plants because they will easily pull the roots out from the substrate.

Although it is not really a fragile plant, aggressive fish can still tear it apart. So. I would not recommend this for a cichlid tank or a tank with aggressive fish.

Vallisneria will thrive perfectly in freshwater tanks housing livebearers and egg scatterers. The dense bushes serve as a spawning place and shelter for small shrimps and fish. Aquarium snails and dwarf shrimp also love this plant, you will often spot them crawling on the leaves without harming it.

Some examples of suitable tankmates for Vallisneria:

Avoid:

You should avoid hostile, and aggressive diggers, that will waste no time in tearing up the plants and fighting other fish in the tank. Fish species like Silver Dollar, Oscars, Cichlids.

Do not keep Dwarf Sagittaria 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 in their tanks.

Buying Vallisneria

Species of Vallisneria are easy to find in local pet/aquarium stores, you can also purchase these plants online if you fancy online buying. The choice of variety is hugely dependent on the size of your aquarium and where you want to place it.

If your tank is small then you should go for Vallisneria nana, Vallisneria asiatica, and Vallisneria spiralis since they will stay relatively small without a hitch. The larger species, Vallisneria gigantea is only recommended when you have a larger tank since it is best suited for larger aquariums that will contain its enormous size and vigorous growth.

Vallisneria species are quite similar, although they have prominent features that differentiate them from one another. Sometimes, vendors may not get the name tags (labels) right and this will affect their listings.

Best practice is to take a good look at the plants or the reviews before you purchase, and also make sure that the specimens have fresh leaves and roots, plants with brown foliage should be avoided at all costs.

Difference between Sagittaria and Vallisneria

It is very easy to confuse Saggitaria and Vallisneria species when they are small. They both look very similar.  Nonetheless, there are also varying features that distinguish them from each other.

  1. Saggitaria has thicker leaves, especially towards the base. Vallisneria has thinner leaves, they are flatter.
  2. Saggitaria leaves are more opaque compared to Vallisneria that has more translucent leaves.
  3. If you touch the Saggitaria leaves you can feel the central vein that makes a little ridge down the center of the leaf. The vein of Vallisneria leaves is not prominent and barely noticeable.
  4. Vallisneria leaves have small hooks-like structures (almost like hairs) near the tip of the leaves. Saggitaria leaves do not have these.
  5. Vallisneria species send runner above the substrate while Saggitaria does it under the substrate.

Quarantine Vallisneria

Unless you are completely sure that Vallisneria 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 it first to avoid the risk of contamination and poisoning.

DO NOT introduce a new plant to your tank right after you bought it.

  • The plant can have parasites, pests like snails, or even predators (dragonfly, damsefly nymphs, etc.).
  • It may already contain residues of chemicals (pesticide) to remove parasites, snails, etc. These chemicals are extremely poisonous to fish, shrimp, and other invertebrates.

Note: If you decide to disinfect Vallisneria, be careful with the bleach. It is a little bit more sensitive to it. So, use weaker concentrations or other ways to do it.

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

This plant has proven to be one of the best plants in the hobby and I believe you all know why. It is a fascinating and undemanding plant that is commonly used to create beautiful contrasts in the background of low-tech and high-tech planted tanks.

Vallisneria is the perfect choice for beginners because it is easy to grow, its tolerance to varying degrees of temperature is superb, and it requires minimal care to thrive for a long while.

Vallisneria – check out the price on Amazon

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