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How to grow Anubias species

February 23, 2021 5 min read

How to grow Anubias species

How to grow Anubias species

Anubias have been a long staple in the aquarium hobby. This shade loving genus is named after the Egyptian god Anubis, lord of the underworld/shadowlands. Anubias originate from Africa - and there are many different species and varietals in cultivation.

Anubias nana petite - a smaller varietal of Anubias, attached to driftwood here in the center. Even though this tank does not run on CO2 injection it grows well. It is an immensely popular plant in the aquarium hobby due to its relative ease of growing.

Larger species include Anubias gigantea, Anubias afzelii, Anubias heterophylla, Anubias gracilis. These have leafs that are as long as the palm of the hand. Often larger species may be sold as smaller, baby specimens, so take note if your intention is to get a smaller plant.

Medium sized Anubias include Anubias barteria 'nana' and its many variants and Anubias coffeefolia. Their leaves reach around 8 - 10cm in length when fully grown.

Smaller Anubias species include Anubias nana 'petite' & its variants, Anubias 'Stardust'; these have leaves around 1.5 - 2 cm long, around the size of a smaller thumbnail. 

The smallest Anubias species include Anubias nana 'Pangolino", Anubias 'Chilli'; these have leaf sizes around 1cm to 2cm but are more narrow compared to Anubias 'petite'. 

Varigated varietals exist for most sizes. Popular ones on the market are Anubias white, Anubias 'Pinto' and Anubias 'petite white'.

Anubias nana 'petite' maintains a small, neat form. These bunch are grown in a non CO2 injected tank and are a tad smaller than the ones grown with CO2 injection.

Anubias white petite is a variegated white Anubias that stays very small. Its rarity means that it can be difficult to find and expensive to purchase. At 2hr Aquarist we often grown Anubias planted directly on the aquasoil substrate. It is a popular myth amongst beginners that Anubias, Java fern and Bucephalandra do not grow well planted in the substrate - the opposite is true - they actually grow better planted in soil than not. However, the rhizome should not be buried deep. In aquasoils, where the top layers are loose, burying the rhizome slightly to keep it in place is fine.

Anubias species are all generally very hardy plants that are easy to grow in the aquarium - they can acclimatize to a large range of water parameters and are not demanding in terms of light as they can be grown in shade. However, to grow them well long term in good form, algae free, still requires us to fulfil their basic needs. 

Smaller Anubias species tend to be more delicate, and variegated ones even more so.

As with most aquatic plants, they prefer clean, filtered water with low organic waste levels - this keeps them algae free. They grow well attached to hardscape and do not have to be planted on the substrate. If planted on the substrate, their rhizomes should not be buried, as this causes it to rot. They root deeply into the substrate over time which can make moving them troublesome. Keeping them attached to hardscape allows easy re-positioning. 

Anubias barteri nana growing emersed in soil. They grow very well in soil/aquasoil as long as the rhizome is not buried. They take in nutrients through their roots well just like most other plants. 

Though they can grow in tanks without CO2 injection, CO2 injection gives more robust, algae-resistant plants and increase growth rates significantly. Their nutrient requirements are low as their growth rates is slow, however, to grow them well long term, they need a comprehensive nutrient regiment - premature deterioration of old leaves and yellowing/off colored leaves can be a sign of a lack of nutrients.

They are vulnerable to BBA if hit by too strong direct flow, so keep them away from the direct vicinity of the filter output. Contrary to popular belief, they can be grown in very bright light - this however, will accelerate their growth rates and expose any weakness in their nutrient access. Though they can be attached to hardscape, they grow very well with their roots in substrate/soil as they can take in nutrients through that route as well. When planting them in soil, keep the rhizome above the substrate line - burying the rhizome can lead to rot.

Anubias are popular among the aquascaping crowd as they grow well on wood and blends well with mosses and other epiphytes.

Key success factors

  • Clean water and long term stable parameters.
  • Higher light levels give faster growth but can lead to increased algae presence. Growing the plants in lower light tends to be a more stable approach.
  • Anubias will grow in as little light as 10 umols of PAR. Use them in shade areas of the tank where other plants do not grow well.
  • Comprehensive water column nutrient availability necessary for long term health and robust plants/optimal form. It takes months for Anubias species to show deficiencies in slow growing tanks. 

Anubias are great for low-tech (non-CO2 injected) setups such as this. They can be attached to hardscape flexibly and are also shade tolerant.

How to propagate

Often the rhizome will naturally sprout separate growth heads after some time and these can be cut from the main rhizome once they reach suitable size.

The rhizome can also be divided using a sharp blade once it reaches a suitable length. Healthy specimens can be divided more finely while unhealthy plants can disintegrate. You can use a blade or scissors to cut a longer rhizome into smaller pieces. Each piece will grow into a new plant. For a healthy rhizome of Anubias barteri nana, a longer rhizome can be divided into 4-5cm segments; each segment should have a couple of leaves. For a healthy sample of Anubias nana petite, a longer rhizome can be divided into 2-3cm segments; each segment should have at least a couple of leaves.

Attaching Anubias species to hardscape

Anubias can be attached to hardscape using zip ties, string or super-glue. I usually use superglue myself since its very convenient and fast. Use gel-type superglue; add a small amount onto the rhizome itself and press the plant against the hardscape for a few seconds (about 10 seconds). The bond should hold if the contact surface is adequate. This operation can even be done underwater. However, the glue does leave white marks on the hardscape.

Anubias nana petite

Signs of deficiencies

Although Anubias are very tough and can survive without additional supplementation, at least in the short run, sometimes they will run into nutrient deficiencies over the long term. This depends on what is in your tap water, and whether your aquarium generates adequate comprehensive set of nutrients over the long run. 

Yellowing of older leaves, pale colored new leaves, or obvious chlorosis as shown in the picture below are all signs that nutrients are lacking.  

Buying tips

Plants that are very dark green colored indicates that the plants were grown in deeper shade, while lighter green plants are grown in farms with more light. The shade of green will change depending on the light levels in your own tank. 

Buying healthy plants makes a tremendous difference. Avoid plants with yellowing leaves or soft/mushy leaves/stems. Plant should be relatively rigid (even those grown submerged). Even coloration is a good sign. For Anubias species, sometimes it can be difficult to tell the state of health of the plant visually as they are quite hardy plants and sometimes do not show much external signs even though the plants have been sitting on the shelves for too long. If you experience very severe melting upon planting, while other plant species in the same tank are doing well, you may have picked up a batch that has been too long in transit or packaging. Buying from another source may be a good idea.