If you’ve ever taken a look at the plastic plants selection you’ve almost certainly seen a copy of Eelgrass. It’s a favorite for aquarists the world over because it creates the appearance of a luxurious, grassy forest for fish to hide within.
However, many aquarists don’t realize that the real plant is not only hardy enough for beginners to grow but brings along several benefits, including added oxygenation and locking away algal nutrients. Vallisneria spiralis is a great plant for beginners and advanced aquarists alike!
What is Vallisneria Spiralis?
If your pet store carries live plants there’s an excellent chance V. spiralis is on display. Native to a wide swath of North Africa, South and Eastern Europe and Asia, it’s since naturalized in countries around the world.
As a result it’s not always available as many countries, including New Zealand, have banned it to prevent the plant from taking over. That just goes to show you how easy this plant is to grow!
While they look similar they are not especially closely related to true marine Eelgrass (Zostera). However they occupy a similar niche in nature, creating waving meadows of greenery in the shallows and reaching for the surface with leaves up to a meter in length.
While they grow quite tall in nature, Vallisneria in aquariums are limited by both the light intensity as well as the height of the aquarium. Several dwarf varieties are also commonly sold that have a maximum height of 8-12 inches.
- Common Names: Eelgrass, Tape Grass, Straight Vallisneria
- Scientific Name: Vallisneria spiralis
- Origin: Africa, Europe, Asia
- Height: Up to 30 inches
- Lighting: Low to Moderate
- Ease of Care: Easy
Caring for Vallisneria Spiralis
I like using Vallisneria because it offers tremendous value for being so easy to care for. It’s extremely hardy and it’s a fantastic background plant. It creates a thick curtain of wavy growth that fish can weave in and out of while locking away excess nitrates and algal nutrients.
Vallisneria is also highly unpalatable to most plant-eating fish. Nibblers like many Livebearers and Plecos won’t bother Vallisneria however dedicated vegetarians like Silver Dollars may eat it anyway. It’s not tough enough to avoid being uprooted by large cichlids, however.
While I consider Vallisneria a moderate light plant it does grow and even thrive in low light settings if given a rich substrate and CO2 supplementation. However it really does better under moderate plant lights. You’ll also see greener, denser growth with even a little extra light.
Low light levels also slows their vertical growth as well as their willingness to send runners out horizontally.
Fertilizer, CO2, and Water Chemistry
While Vallisneria can get by on low light and little to no CO2 they should be given plenty of nutriment through fertilization. Being rather heavy root feeders a rich substrate is a major key to success.
When the substrate offers plenty of nutrition you’ll also see your Vallisneria sending out runners to colonize open space. If you’re looking to create your own planted aquascape you may find my discussion on 10 of the best plant substrates useful!
Iron is especially important to Vallisneria and can be added either via liquid formula addition after a water change or in solid root tabs.
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Seachem Flourish is Not only do they include major nutrients but they even include trace agents like inositol, choline B12, and biotin to enhance the uptake of elements via the roots.
Supplemental carbon dioxide isn’t required for Vallisneria but like all plants it certainly appreciates it! You’ll see a significant boost in growth and even oxygen bubbles rising from leaves indicating rapid photosynthesis!
Since Vals only need a trickle of CO2, I recommend giving my homemade yeast-based CO2 reactor a try! For little cost and a few minutes of effort, you can have a homemade CO2 injector to boost plant growth and encourage additional oxygen production..
Your pH should be neutral to slightly alkaline. Vallisneria spiralis doesn’t appreciate acidic conditions, with a pH around or below 6.0 fatal to the plant. Temperature-wise, Eelweed thrives in a wide range, from 86F down to 60F. However its growth accelerates in tropical conditions.
Aquascaping with Vallisneria Spiralis
As tall and elegant as Vallisneria spiralis is, it makes a fantastic background plant. Some of the other varieties for sale include Tiger Vallisneria (Vallisneria spiralis “Tiger”) which tends to be more compact. Typically they reach 12-14 inches in height when fully grown.
Tiger Vals have a mottled striping running horizontally along their leaves and can even be interspaced among normal V. spiralis for a more moderate transition to the tallest background specimens.
Occasionally you’ll either see browning leaves or, more likely, your Vallisneria will reach the top of the tank and start shading the surface. When pruning any Vallisneria plant you can’t simply cut the leaf straight through horizontally as the leaf will simply rot and die away.
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This rot can even spread to the main body of the plant, killing it. Instead, you should trim the leaf at the base of the plant which encourages new growth to form. Always use sharp aquascaping scissors as they leave a clean, tear-free wound that will heal cleanly and quickly.
Planting and Propagation
When planting Vallisneria you need to be careful not to bury the crown (located where the leaves adjoin at the base before the roots begin). Burying the crown of the plant will lead to rot and eventual death.
Vallisneria reproduce using several methods, including sexual reproducting via flowers. However the most common way Vallisneria spreads is through underground runners.
Assuming the plants are relatively large and the substrate is to their liking your Vallisneria will eventually side side shoots that will bud clones of the original plant. These runners provide additional nutrition but once the plants are around 3-4 inches tall you can clip the runner free and move it around if you wish.
Vallisneria is a great plant to include in any aquarium with decent lighting but a rich substrate. And even if your substrate is lacking, adding root tablets ensures your Vals won’t go hungry. I recommend Vallisneria for any aquarist looking for a background curtain for their aquascape!