Water Wisteria Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation

Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis, Synnema triflorum)

Hygrophila difformis commonly known as Water wisteria is a popular tropical aquarium plant characterised by its fast-growing nature and beautiful greenish appearance. This plant is loved by those in the aquarium hobby because it is undemanding, very attractive and easy to care for. One can easily grow Water wisteria with very little experience, this plant forms a background cover in your aquarium or planted tank and your shrimp/fish will love them.

So, let’s talk about everything you need to know about this popular aquarium plant and how you can cultivate it easily for aquascaping.

Water wisteria – check out the price on Amazon

Quick Notes about Water Wisteria

Common Name Water Wisteria
Other Names Wild wisteria, Vaantjes plant
Scientific Name Hygrophila difformis (Ruellia difformis and Synnema triflorum)
Difficulty Easy
Lighting Moderate
pH 6.0 – 8.0
Water hardness   soft – medium – hard
Temperature (optimal) 20 – 27 C (68 – 82 F)
Substrate Nutrien-rich / can float
Growth Rate Fast
Growth Conditions
Submerse and Immersed
(Immersed preferable)
Placement in Tank Mid to Background or Carpet
Height up to 50 cm (~ 20 inches) without trimming
CO2 Not needed – Low
Propagation Cutting

Origin & Habitat of Water Wisteria

Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis, Synnema triflorum)This plant species is native to Southern Asia – India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. It grows upright in marshylands and shallow water bodies.

Water wisteria thrives on shallow water bodies in its natural habitats during the rainy season where it can be seen partially immersed or floating on the water’s surface. It grows better in the rainy season than in the dry season.

Similar to growing successfully in marshy habitats in Asia, the Water wisteria can replicate this feat in the home aquarium if proper living conditions and parameters are set up. If conditions are favourable, Water wisteria grows to a maximum height of 20 inches and 10 inches in width.

Interesting fact: Water wisteria is commonly grown as an aquarium plant in the United States since the 1970s by aquarists and is widely available for sale by large pet supply store retailers.

Taxonomy of Water Wisteria

Hygrophila difformis (Water wisteria) is classified as an aquatic plant and its taxonomical classification is as follows:

  • Kingdom: Plant
  • Order: Lamiales
  • Family: Acanthaceae
  • Sub-family: Acanthoideae
  • Genus: Hygrophila
  • Species: Hygrophila Difformis

It has other scientific names like: Ruellia difformis and Synnema triflorum.

Description of Water Wisteria

Water wisteria are one of the best aquatic plants to have in the aquarium and its majorly attributable to its beautiful structure and functions.

Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis)It possesses the following characteristics:

  • Bright green leaves with serrated margins, oval, lace-like, about 1 – 4 cm long (~0.5 – 1.5 inches), borne on short green stalks.
  • Blue-violet flowers.
  • Grandular hairs.
  • Firm slightly darker stem which supports the weights of its heavy leaves, fern-like, thick and erect, about 8 – 12 inches long (20 – 30 cm).
  • Thin white root for anchorage to substrates.
  • Height: 7 – 20 inches (20 – 50 cm).
  • Width: 5 – 10 inches (15 – 20 cm).
  • Heterophylly: This is an ability to change or alter their morphology in response to environmental conditions. This feature is also known as phenotypic plasticity, it is exhibited in response to diverse environmental conditions such as light intensity and quality, temperature and water availability. Don’t panic when you find one with different kinds of leaves, it’s completely normal.

Water Wisteria Types

Unlike most popular freshwater aquatic plants, Hygrophila Difformis Water wisteria does not have distinct known types.

Water Parameters / Tank Requirements

Water wisteria can thrive in a tank with little supervision and lack of nutrient supplementation. However, certain requirements should be provided to guarantee healthy growth and survival of this plant species.

Tank size:

The water wisteria tends to take up a lot of space, therefore 10 gallons (~40 litres) is the minimum recommended tank size needed for this plant species. Of course, more is better!

Water type, Temperature, Hardness and pH:

The water pH level can be anywhere between 6.0 – 8.0. A pH testing kit should be utilised to ascertain the measure of acidity or alkalinity of the tank water periodically. Soft to Moderately hard water is needed for this plant’s survival (2-8 KH).

A temperature of 68 – 82 F (20 – 27 C) is optimal for this particular plant and should be maintained in the tank. This is to ensure that the temperature of the water in the tank reflect that of its natural habitat.

Lighting:

Artificial lighting is an essential requirement for aquarium hobby. Your tanks should not be positioned directly under natural light (sunlight) because of its dynamic nature and promotion of algae growth (read my article “7 Tips for Shrimp and Fish Tank Location”).

Hence, artificial lighting is the only option here. Water wisteria performs better under moderate lighting maintained for at least 10 hours daily.

Keep in mind that lighting not only accelerates Water wisteria’s growth rate but also helps in brightening the color of its leaves.

Filter:

Provide well-filtered water. Mechanical filters should be available for use in the tank. Filtration aids in keeping toxins out of the aquarium and supplying it with fresh oxygenated water. Select a mechanical filter that doesn’t cause too much surface splashing, this will ensure that the plants remains undisturbed by sudden movements in the water caused by the mechanical filter.

Substrate:

Substrates are essential for aquatic plants growth and development. Therefore, choosing the right substrate is crucial for this plant. Nutrient-based substrate is ideal for Water wisteria. However, gravel-based and sand-based substrate can also be used if they are properly fertilised.

When choosing gravels, it is essential that you consider fine gravels over larger-grained gravels since it will be a whole lot easier for the roots to attach to fine grains in order to firmly anchor the plant in place and also take-up nutrients.

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

Supplements:

Provision of fertilizers (iron, nitrogen, potassium) and Co2 injections is not compulsory, but they can significantly help the plant grow healthily.

Fertilizers (or root tabs – link to check the price on Amazon) help to promote fast growth and maintaining good health status of the plant. Ensure that the plants receive fertilizers rich in iron as its deficiency causes the leaves to turn pale and yellowish.

You can implement the following parameters as the ideal fertilization for this plant species:

Co2: 10-40mg/l
Nitrates: 10-50mg/l
Phosphates: 0.1-3mg/l
Potassium: 5-30mg/l
Iron: 0.01-0.5mg/l

Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank, 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 high level of CO2 and Copper (most fertilizers contain copper) is extremely dangerous to the shrimp. In my article about copper, I also refer to the most popular shrimp-safe plant fertilizers. 

Planting Water Wisteria

Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis)Once you have put everything in place, it’s time to plant new stems in the tank. The best choice of substrates in the tank is a soil substrate, although sand can also do just fine. Providing proper lighting, supplements and other necessary requirements is essential for healthy growth.

  1. Considering that Water wisteria shoots out long roots all along its stem, some aquarists use it cover the bottom of the tank. So, if you desire the carpet effect in the tank, cultivate the stems on their side and root them firmly in the substrate. Those roots will cause the plant to “crawl” across the bottom. Note that only leaves pointing upwards will grow to form the carpet effect.
  2. On the other hand, if you do not like that, then plant the roots in the substrate and allow the stems to grow towards the light source as usual.

Note: Personally, I do not thank that Water wisteria is a good ground cover plant. First of all, the space between nodes is way too big for this to work. Second, the leave are too large to form a nice carpet effect. However, some people think otherwise.

Water Wisteria and Propagation

Water wisteria is very easy to propagate, all you have to do is cut parts of the stem and grow them in a substrate rich in essential nutrients. These cuttings will develop their own roots in a couple of days, grow into new plants and the cycle continues.

When planting your stem cuttings in a substrate, ensure that you remove any leaves from the base up to 2 inches of the stem to allow new roots to emerge in the last node of the new plants.

Ensure that plants are not compacted to prevent stuffing and competition amongst them. You can start with a few cuttings spaced properly and add more stems later if there is extra space. This will significantly help the tank inhabitants from choking due to overstuffing.

Since Water wisteria grows in the marshylands in the wild, you will need a similar nutrient-rich substrate if you desire a proper and faster growth.

  • Floating

This is an alternative method of planting the water wisteria. Yes, this plant is extremely versatile! 

Water wisteria grows pretty happily regardless of where the roots are. One can float the Water wisteria on the water surface to grow. Float it close to the light source to promote rapid growth, although this means you will need to trim it sooner than if it were planted directly in the substrate.

Sometimes aquarists let them float until more roots have sprouted then they plant them. Although it is preferably, this is not absolutely necessary. Water wisteria can grow and develop roots even without it.

Note: At some point, floating Water wisteria starts producing long roots and immersed style leaves. These leaves are bigger compared to completely submersed plants. In addition, its root system is beneficial for breeding as it provides cover and feeding surface area for fishes and shrimp for their activities when floated in the water.

Read more about “Top 7 Floating Plants for Beginners”.

Trimming Water Wisteria

Water wisteria exhibits fast growth and occupies a huge portion of the aquarium floor space so it is advisable that you trim them from time to time. Trim the wisteria plant to the height you desire, and dispose/replant the trimmings, the decision is up to you.

This plant grows fast like a weed, you will notice new shoots emerging from the remaining nodes on the stems and growth will continue. Ensure regular trimming of the water wisteria and collect the detached shoots for disposal to avoid them from growing into new plants.

Disposal of the cut parts is also essential to prevent the prevent decomposition in the tank and formation of algae and other harmful organisms.

Note: Notably, Water wisteria takes up a lot of essential nutrients in the planted tank, thereby depriving other plants in the tank of these resources. For this reason, it is essential to monitor them and keep its size under control.

Water Sprite vs Water Wisteria

Most aquarists have always encountered a problem of distinguishing between these two versatile and easy-to-grow aquatic plants. The reason for this ambiguity is because both of them are quite similar in certain areas and their appearance makes it worse. Both plants have their unique properties which you can use to differentiate them. Here are some points to take note of:

Water wisteria Water sprite
Similarities
  • They both possess fine feathered leaves which possess a bright green color.
  • Both plants have narrow leaf structure but that of the water sprite is more thinner and hairier.
  • Both are vascular plants that have lignified tissues for conducting water and nutrients.
  • Water sprite and water wisteria both exhibit fast growth rate.
Differences
  • Water wisteria is a flowering plant when allowed to grow above the water line.
  • As an aquatic fern, Water sprite is does not possess flowers.
  • Water wisteria has distinguishable stems with leaves and roots coming off the nodes.
  • Water sprite has a central growing point or rhizomes where individual leaves or shoots grow out from.
  • It has thicker leaves
  • The leaves are thinner.
  • Less bushy
  • Very bushy
  • Water wisteria has the ability to exhibit heterophylly (morphology/change in is leaf structure in response to stimuli).
  • Water sprite cannot change leaves.

Water sprite and Water wisteria - Similarities and Differences

Read more about this plant in the article “Water Sprite Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

Problems associated with Water Wisteria

  • Loss of leaves: One of the issues which affect this plant species is the loss of leaves or its bushy shape, reason might be that is lacking light. Water wisteria does well under all light conditions but it’s advised that you maintain moderate light for optimum growth or the plant. Low light or very high light conditions might cause it to shed its beautiful leaves.
  • Loss of color: This occurs as a result of lack of essential nutrients, this plant species needs a lot of nutrients for its growth and brightening of the leaves. Water wisteria is loved for its attractive green color, hence consider dosing liquid nutrients directly to the plant to avoid this condition and improve its overall growth.
  • Emersed to submersed (Physical Transfer): Since many aquarium plant species are not grown underwater in their earliest stages, transfering it to a submersed tank after purchase can be stressful and result in massive shedding of leaves. This transitive process can be worrisome to the aquarist, although the plant will grow back its leave after a short while. There is absolutely no reason to panic when you notice this, just give it time to recover. 

Benefits of Water Wisteria

Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis, Synnema triflorum)Just like most aquatic plants used in the aquarium hobby, Water wisteria has a lot of benefits and we will outline some of them.

  • Water wisteria provides a cover for shrimp, fishes and other tankmates in the aquarium. It serves them great as hiding spots. It will increase your shrimplet survival rate (read more here).
  • Oxygen supply in the tank.
  • Water wisterias are beautiful, hence they add a great aesthetic value to the aquarium. They possess fine feathered leaves and a vibrant green color which beautifies the background of any aquascape.
  • They help to keep water conditions in the tank stable by absorbing nitrates (read more here) which are toxic to fish and shrimp when available in macro quantities.
  • They are cost-effective, requires less to purchase, propagate and maintain it.
  • Asides its benefits in the aquarium hobby, Hygrophila difformis is also used for medicinal purposes.

Water Wisteria and “Tankmates”

Water wisteria is best kept together with shrimp, certain varieties of snails and small fishes that cannot harm or try to devour it.

For example, Ramshorn snailsNerite snailsMalaysian Trumpet snails, Japanese trapdoor snailsMystery snails, etc.,

Any freshwater shrimp which share the same water requirements (for example, Cherry shrimpSnowball shrimpCaridina cf. BabaultiGhost shrimpAmano shrimp,Vampire shrimpBlue tiger shrimpBlue Velvet Shrimp, etc).

Small non-aggressive fish. To ensure its safety and growth consider pairing them with the following species: Tetras, Guppies, Mollies, Dwarf Guorami, Swordtails, Rasboras, Corydoras Catfish, etc.

However, avoid keeping the following species in the tank as they pose a major threat to this plant. They are predators and known for eating the leaves of water wisteria and uprooting the stems.

  • Goldfish
  • Oscars
  • Rainbow fish

Crayfish and crabs are also not a good choice for this plant. In most cases they are too destructive. Check my guides about them to find out more. 

Buying Water wisteria

Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis)When buying Water wisteria you should look out for the following:

  1. Roots: They should be long and abundant so that the plant can be able to anchor itself to the substrate and also take-up essential nutrients required for growth.
  2. The plant’s stem and shoots should be standing upright, that way it will be able to support its own weight.
  3. Color: Ensure that the plant’s colors are bright enough, if there are noticeable yellow or brown color in the shoots or stem, avoid them because it is a sign of poor health.

If you desire to purchase water wisteria for your aquarium then you should check local aquarium stores close to you or order from online aquarium stores. Water wisteria are very affordable and prices go as low as $5-$10 for a potted bunch and you do not have to purchase much of it since it can be easily propagated to get new plants.

Note: The shape and form of the plant’s leaves may differ from its mature form when you order them, so don’t really expect it to be similar. Also the leaves may witness certain changes in leaf structure when submerged.

Quarantine Water Wisteria

Do not forget to quarantine any new plants before put them into your tank!

  • They can have parasites, pests like snail or even predators (dragonfly, damsefly nymphs, etc.).
  • They can be treated with chemicals (pesticide) to remove parasites, snails, etc. However, these chemicals are extremely poisonous to shrimp and invertebrates.

To find out more, read my articles:  

Dragonfly and Damselfly Nymphs. Monsters in Shrimp Tanks. Treatment
How to Remove Snails from a Shrimp Tank.
How to Quarantine and Disinfect Aquarium Plants.
Pesticides in Shrimp Tanks. Plants Quarantine.

In Conclusion

Water wisteria is a versatile aquatic plant and a great addition to your aquarium. This plant is loved by professional and expert aquarists because of its beauty and capabilities (water filtration, beautification, shade/cover). Water wisteria is easy to propagate through stem cuttings. Therefore aquarists can multiply this plant species from a relatively small supply with little effort. It is compatible with most kinds of fishes (small varieties) thus making it one of the best aquatic plants to have in your aquarium.

Water wisteria – check out the price on Amazon

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