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How to Kill Anubias

Posted by Augusta Hosmer on

It's funny Anubias (an amazingly easy aquarium plant genus) is named for the Egyptian god of funerals, graves, and the afterlife, Anubis - because these things are borderline unkillable. I like to think, somewhere, there's a jackal-headed death god trying to preserve dead plants named after him and getting annoyed he has to wait because they just won't die. 

However, if our friend Anubis wanted to hurry them along to the underworld, there are a few ways he could do it. Here's your guide on how to grow (and how to kill) Anubias aquarium plants. 

Anubias Species and Varieites

The Anubias genus is packed with potential easy aquarium plant options. And the good news? Pretty much all of them are ridiculously hardy. Here are some of our favorites. 

Anubias afzelii

An Anubias afzelii aquatic plant, with thin, grass-like, dark green leaves; tan roots; and thin stems

Afzelii was the first Anubias species, first described in 1857 by Heinrich Wilhelm Schott. It was named after Adam Afzelius, a famed Swedish botanist who collected the plant.

This plant has narrower leaves than most of the species on this list, but it's no less easy to handle, so give afzelii a Schott in your tank. It's sometimes incorrectly sold under the name Anubias congensis, which also has thinner leaves, but they are two distinct species (more on congensis below). 

Anubias barteri

Native to west Africa, barteri has a huge number of varieties you can try out. 

Var. broad leaf (AKA Anubias barteri var. barteri)

A yellow ruler held up to Anubias barteri var. broad leaf; the dark green leaves are tough and several inches wide

 

Getting super creative with the naming, the broadleaf variety of barteri has...wait for it...broader leaves. It's one of the largest species on this list (look at how fat those leaves are).

Var. coffeefolia



Anubias coffeefolia measured next to a ruler

Coffeefolia is one of the most distinctive Anubias barteri because of its ridged leaves and new leaf growth (it gets its name from the coffee color that eventually turns to green on a growing leaf). 

Var. glabra (AKA var. minima; var. lanceolata f. angustifolia) 

Anubias barteri lanceolata/glabra/minima

For this one, there is a lot of confusion around what's a species, what's a synonym, what's a rename, and what's just an Anubias form, even with the source literature for Anubias. The revised naming literature for the plant has minima and lanceolata listed as synonyms for glabra and angustifolia as a form of lanceolata but also as just another barteri variation. There's an ongoing research project to DNA barcode aquarium plant species, and lanceolata was listed as a distinct species...

...so we're calling what we've got in the pic above lanceolata, named for its huge, lance/spear-shaped leaves (if we find updated species research, we'll update the post). It has gorgeous, rust-colored stems for some color contrast in your tank, and can grow to be over a foot tall. Great choice for a cool background plant. 

Var. golden coin (AKA barteri 'round')

A bunch of Anubias barteri goldencoin potted aquarium plants in a black tray

This is another popular Anubias variety with round, coin-like leaves...hence the name "golden coin."

Var. nana (AKA just Anubias nana)

Potted Anubias Nana, an aquarium plant with thick, dark green leaves in a black pot

Anubias nana, regular

Nana is Dustin's Fishtanks' bestsellilng Anubias because of how easy and versatile it is to keep. It's one of the most popular aquarium plants in the trade because of how widespread and tough it is.

 

Anubias nana petite

Anubias nana 'petite'

It also comes in a petite variety that doesn't grow as tall or as wide and has smaller leaves. Anubias nana 'petite' makes for an awesome aquascaping plant. Due to its smaller leaves, it is slightly less hardy than its big sibling. 

Anubias congensis (AKA Anubias heterophylla/Anubias afffinis/Anubias baquaerti/Anubias engleri...it went through a LOT of name changes, okay)

An Anubias congensis aquarium plant on a wooden background; with narrower, dark green leaves w/ a lighter underside, thin stems

Anubias congensis is another narrow-leaf species with spear-like leaves and a taller growth pattern. It also has super thick roots.

Anubias gigantea

A collage of 2 images. Top Image: An Anubias gigantea plant (dark green, arrow-shaped leaves, with tan roots and long green stems). Bottom Image: a size comparison between Gigantea's leaves and a hand (Gigantea is bigger)

Don't think I need to explain how this one got its name. Gigantea is amazing, with massive, arrowhead-shaped leaves. These leaves can grow go be a foot long and half a foot wide. 

Variegated Anubias Varieties 

Several of the above species have some gorgeous multicolored/variegated varities and cultivars that could add a splash of contrast to your aquascape. 

How to Grow Anubias

Anubias Botany - How Anubias Grows and Why It's Awesome

(If you're completely new to this, we did an overview on the basic botany of aquarium plants that will give you more depth on this section).

Natural environment: Anubias are native to tropical waters of western and central Africa. They grow in a variety of conditions, but are often found in shady parts of rivers/streams/marshes. Would make a great choice for an African biotope tank. 

Scientific Classification: Kingdom: Plantae (plants, obviously); Clades: Tracheophytes (Vascular Plants), Angiosperms (bears flowers), monocot (grass-like, seeds contain only one cotyledon/embryonic leaf). Family: Araceae (Subfamily arum family/aroids/Aroideae, it's in the same family as Cryptocoryne, Pistia (water lettuce), and Bucephalandra aquarium plants).

Characteristics: Herbaceous perennial; thick, typically dark green leaves; has a creeping rhizome (modified horizontal stem) where shoots and roots can spring off; slow-growing; can be grown emersed or submersed, and is amphibious; since it's an aroid, some of its parts contain calcium oxalate, which is very bitter and can be toxic in large amounts. 

How is this helpful? It means it's a tough, easy plant that plant-eating fish usually won't like to gnaw on, and a rhizome makes it very easy to get new plants.

Where to Put Anubias in Your Fish Tank

Depends on your species and your tank!

Most Anubias species are great midground plants. Typically, smaller species like nana 'petite' are used in the foreground. Taller, narrower species like congensis and lanceolata make for sick background plants. 

A collage of five images. The top two are of a Dustin's Fishtanks customer's planted tank filled with a variety of species; the bottom three are a bunch of Anubias nana petite
Anubias nana petite throughout a Dustin's Fishtanks customer's aquarium

 

In a smaller tank, some of the shorter species you'd usually see in the foreground and midground could be placed in the midground/background instead. Just depends on the look you're going for. Experiment with it and see what you like.

(For more suggestions on where to plant aquarium plants, check out our blog post on plant placement!)

Anubias Care/Propagation

Care wise, this is a VERY undemanding plant and is fantastic for beginners. They are tolerant of mistakes and incredibly hardy in a wide variety of water parameters and setups. 

Light: As mentioned above, Schott named the genus Anubias after the god Anubis. Why? Because of its ability to grow in dark places. Most Anubias will thrive and grow more quickly in moderate to high light, but they can look just as good in low-light, low-tech tanks. They just might grow a little slower. Just watch out for algae growth in higher light since these plants naturally often grow slowly in the shade. 

Species you can keep it with: Just about anything, even fish like cichlids and goldfish who are rough on planted tanks or coldwater species. Fish typically won't eat it.

Water Flow: This is a strong, slow-growing genus that primarily grows in rivers and streams in the wild, so having a bit more water flow is helpful. 

Temperature: Honestly, I haven't found a temp this plant won't grow in short of sticking it in ice water or a boiling pot. If you have a freshwater fish tank, chances are the species you're keeping will be in a temp range Anubias can tolerate. That said, it will grow more quickly in warmer tanks (75-80F). Also, even though it can grow in a wide range, it can sometimes go into temperature shock, so acclimatize it appropriately. You may see some melt during transition periods, but it typically bounces back.

CO2: I mean...if you want to see Anubias go wild, go for it. But these are definitely not the kind of plants you absolutely must supplement CO2 to see growth. Usually, whatever your fish produce will be enough. 

Fertilizers: Pretty much the same as CO2 and light. It will do great with ferts and CO2 supplements, but usually, it'll grow without them. Your fish/substrate will generally provide enough. If it shows signs of being deficient in something (yellowing leaves, etc.) fertilize, but you won't have to worry about it much. If you're keeping only plants and no fish, then yes, you will need to dose it occasionally. But even then, it isn't particularly nutrient-demanding. 

Propagation: this is a very easy genus to propagate. You can grow it from a seed fairly easily, or you can do even less work and split/cut the rhizome. Dustin did a video demonstration on it; linked it at the bottom of the post if you wanna watch. 

Planting: the most important piece of advice when it comes to taking care of your Anubias is how to plant it. You can bury the roots in the substrate, but you cannot cover the rhizome. It's best to attach the plant to a piece of driftwood or other parts of your hardscape with thread, wire, or aquarium glue instead (there's a video on how to do that linked at the bottom of the post if you're interested). You can also grow it partially submerged out of the top of your tank. 

Which brings us to....

How to Kill Anubias

Yeah, these plants are tough, but they do have a few varieties of aquatic plant kryptonite. So, here are some things to avoid if you're trying not to shoot the Aquarium Achilles in its heel. 

Burying the Rhizome/Rhizome Rot

This is, by far, one of the biggest ways people manage to kill Anubias. It stands up to beginners' abuse unless its rhizome rots due to improper care or covering it when you plant it. 

It's easy to tell when Anubias gets a rotten rhizome: it loses leaves and changes from thick, firm, sturdy, and green to brown/yellow/black and mushy (sometimes it even smells bad). Rot is contagious to other Anubias in the tank, so if you see one plant with it, be careful about the others. Cut off as much of the infection as you can, and quickly discard plants that can't be saved to prevent spread. Be sure to sterilize your scissors/knife if you use it for other plants.

A labeled diagram of the external structures of Anubias nana (including the rhizome, leaf, petiole, nodes, and roots)
A labeled diagram of the external parts of Anubias nana - note the rhizome, which shouldn't be buried

Soft Water

Anubias also enjoys hard, mineral-rich water. Trying to grow it in RO water and soft water can lead to nutrition deficiencies even this plant can't deal with. 

For more info on water hardness/water chemistry, check out the first in the aquarium science blog series, "Water Chemistry without the Che-misery."

There's a reason these plants are so popular, and Dustin's Fishtanks loves 'em too. Check out some of Dustin's videos on them below, let fly some blog suggestions, and tank on!

How to Grow Anubias: Anubias Flowering Species Sunday

How to Cut Anubias, 2 from 1 Species Sunday, How to Split Anubias, How to Split a Sword


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