Above: Bucephalandra 'Brownie Ghost 2011' has a particularly strong purplish tone. Buceps belong to a genus of flowering rheophyte that grows with a creeping rhizome. They are endemic to Indonesia and come in varied and unusual forms.
Above: Buceps are most often grown on hardscape, even though they can be grown directly on substrate if their rhizomes are not buried too deep.
While they are outwardly hardy, they can also be prone to ‘melting’ and algae infestation. These issues stem from 3 common mistakes in growing them.
Uncycled / biologically immature tank
Buceps are very prone to melting in new tanks that have not been sufficiently cycled. It is quite deceptive as they ‘look hardy’ and have tough looking leaves. However as slow growers they expend considerable energy to adapt to new environments, and are very vulnerable to ammonia damage in new tanks, which measurements of surface water may not reveal.
Cycle a new tank for at least 2 weeks, and allow other plants to grow in, before adding Buceps.
What if I have introduced my Buceps too early?
Your Buceps may be covered in Diatoms, as shown in the picture above. They look nasty but thankfully are rather benign. The best thing you can do is to keep other parameters consistent ( lighting, nutrition, flow) and simply wait. It can take several weeks, but Diatoms can disappear very quickly as well. The worst thing you can do is to add more variables ( e,g. new additives ) which makes it harder for the Buceps to acclimatise.
What if my Buceps have melted?
Unfortunately there is no way to ‘save’ plants that have melted.
Having high organic waste levels / little housekeeping
Keeping Buceps in a tank with very high fishload is generally a bad idea. Organic waste easily accumulates on their slow-growing leaves, which become covered with algae, such as shown below:
What can I do?
Practice changing water the 2Hr Way regularly, which involves stirring up and siphoning away detritus on substrate and on the surface of slow growers such as Buceps. This instantly reduces the #1 algae trigger- organic waste. As slow growers, Buceps have a far harder time outgrowing algae than faster growing stem plants. APT Fix can be spot-dosed as an effective remedy for existing algae, while more regular water change (and feeding more moderately) would help control the build-up of organic waste in the future.
Buceps do a lot better in environments with good flow. Small tanks with hang-on back filters tend to have ‘dead zones’ with poor flow. Sometimes, wood and rocks may impede flow. When planting, it is better to avoid these areas. It can be counter-intuitive as Buceps can grow attached to hardscape and we have a natural tendency to place them in deep crevices.
What can I do?
Adding a supplementary pump may help improve flow. In a tank with wood and rock aquascape, try to relocate the Buceps to zones where there is better flow. However, too much flow is also a magnet for BBA. Read more about this here.
Bucephalandra require stable tank conditions to grow well. Ideally, they should be introduced into tanks after the tank has stabilised. The signs that a tank has reached this stage include the absence of diatoms, the presence of a healthy population of smaller organisms (small snails etc.) and having plants that have 'grown in' for a while. This reduces the risk of 'melt' considerably.
As slow growers, Buceps have a tougher time outgrowing algae than faster stem plants. Lower organic waste levels help alot in keeping Buceps algae-free. Fewer fish relative to plant mass and regular water change are important.
Buceps do well with good flow, so a proper-sized filter helps. Also, growing them in areas of of good flow (vs 'dead zones). Hobbyists enjoy much higher rates of success with lower light (50 umols of PAR) and providing comprehensive but not heavy nutrients (APT Complete is preferred over EI-style dosing in these cases). They also do better with lower temperatures (71F/21C to 79F/26C).