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How to grow Xyris red (Xyris smalliana)

August 28, 2023 2 min read

How to grow Xyris red (Xyris smalliana)


Xyris smalliana is a rosette plant that has recently entered the aquarium hobbyist after US collectors discovered that it can grow well submerged long term. The plant was originally collected from south USA. It belongs to a family of flowering grasses that grow in bogs where the soil is wet year round. It has fan shaped leaves that sprouts from a central rosette - the plant grows redder in higher light and leaner nitrogen conditions, while being greener when light intensity is lower. Baby plants start out around an inch in height but the plant's full size is much larger at 10+ cm tall. Smaller plants generally take a long time (many months) to reach the full size though, as it is a slow growing plant.

Xyris smalliana is not a difficult plant to grow as long as you have bright enough lighting, but it grows slowly. It is tolerant of lower CO2/nutrient levels, as long as the environment is stable. In poor growth conditions it will start melting from the outer leaves - however, since this happens slowly most of the time, it gives aquarists time to react and improve growth conditions. It appreciates having more light compared to other aquarium plants and should not be shaded. Xyris grows very well in soil/aquasoil based tanks and develops a huge root system over time.

As it has almost vertical leaves, planting position in the tank can have a significant impact on the amount of light it receives. Plant it in a position where light rays can hit the plant at an angle.

It grows best in very soft water, though it may tolerant slightly hard water.

A larger size specimen, baby plants will take many months to reach this size.

The cell structure of Xyris leaves can be clearly seen under bright lighting.

Key success factors:

Xyris red grown with APT Jazz and APT complete from the 2hr Aquarist gallery.

  • Strong lighting. (100 umols of PAR and above) greatly improves success rates.
  • CO2 injection, even at lower saturation (10ppm+), greatly improves success rates.
  • Soft water
  • Rich substrate accelerates growth. This may be desirable as the plant is very slow growing. Can be grown using rich water column and inert substrate as well.
  • Long term tank stability and consistent parameters.

Trimming and propagation

Xyris red naturally produces baby plants at the base as it grows. These smaller plants can be detached manually by cutting with scissors or just twisting them off with hands. Plantlets that have their own root system and decent sized leaves have a much higher success rate when detached. When plucking off baby plants, try to separate them with some roots attached. For those who are afraid that smaller sized plants are too delicate to handle, you can wait for the baby plants to grow to an inch in height before detaching them.