Sword Plants

Sword Plants

One of the most commonly available aquatic plants are Amazon swords; Echinodoras species. My aim in this post is to help you have success with the Genus.
The blanket needs of the majority of sword plants are a highly enriched substrate, bright lighting, regular fertilization, 72-82 degrees, moderately soft to moderately hard water, and a pH between 6.8 and 7.5.

What all swords need, in the substrate and in the water (via fertilization) is chelated iron. If you sword's leaves start to yellow, iron is what it lacks. People who fail with the plant usually do so by forgetting that fact.

You really don't need to buy a substrate made especially for planted tanks. Laterite, a iron-rich clay collected on the banks of rivers in the tropics, is available boxed in granular form. An inch wide layer under two inches of fine (between course sand and regular gravel) will be all your swords need. If you wish to use a planted tank substrate (Eco-complete, Florite) if you put a layer of laterite you'll add the needed long-term 'kick' to it.

Why is this important? Other than the dwarf species, sword plants are nutrient hogs. They MUST have available chelated iron and trace elements available in the substrate and the water.

You don't need four or more watts per gallon of light to successfully keep Amazon swords. As long as its bright and full spectrum, two watts will make your swords happy.

Brighter lighting and Co2 injection will cause your swords to explode with growth. Those species that reproduce via runners will quickly carpet your tank, no matter the size, and the larger species will shoot out literally hundreds of leaves and commonly flower in the tank with daughter plants between blooms.
Now some species.

The most commonly available sword plant is also among the largest of the genus- E. bleheri. Happily situated, this giant can and does reach over two feet tall with a more than two feet leaf spread, and can rapidly produce well over 100 leaves. Any plant in E. bleheri's sphere will suffer, as the species has a wide and vigorous root system.

Despite those caveats, E. bleheri in health is a gorgeous plant, with deep green leaves, the shade depending on the light going on or through. It is also quite long-lived, as I've had them in my tanks for more than 10 years.

If the size of E. bleheri is too much for your tank, seek out E. parviflorus, which is sometimes called the Black Amazon Sword. E. parviflorus is less than half the size of E. bleheri and just as beautiful. A trio or quartet of these is in perfect scale for a 55 gallon, and it can be a eye-catching centerpiece in a smaller container. It is also an adaptable and hardy plant that adds a bit of exotica to your tank. The common name is a misnomer, as E. parviflorus isn't black; it's a slightly lighter green than E. bleheri.

The grass-like bottom plant in many show aquariums is commonly E. tenellus; the dwarf chain sword that reaches a tad over three inches in height. Commonly grown emersed in greenhouses, E. tenellus sheds the arial oval-shaped leaves and grows grass-like submerged ones when planted in your tank. When happy, E. tenellus sends out runners from its base bearing daughter plants on the nodes. After they start to grow roots and leaves, press the runners in the gravel (no more than an eighth of an inch). You can remove and replant the daughter plants once they have four or five leaves if the runner goes in an unsuitable direction.

E. tenellus can and will totally carpet your tank, making it look very much like a lawn that needs a trim. In small tanks, like a 10 gallon, if the runners are pinched off as they form E. tenellus will form itself into a miniature sword plant. In bright light the tips of the leaves turn an attractive rusty color. Altogether, a thoroughly satisfying plant.

A touch larger than E. tenellus is E. quadricostatus, which grows to six inches in great conditions, but usually stays around four. The leaves of E. quadricostatus are wider and more sword-like than E. tenellus, and a pretty light green. It sends out runners like the latter, and will carpet your tank if given good conditions. Ideal as a centerpiece in small tanks.

E. uruguayensis is one of the very few swords that can be kept in cooler water, down to 64 degrees, though it grows better in the mid-70's to 80. Long, commonly slightly ruffled, tape-like leaves are an attractive translucent dark green. Properly kept, uruguayensis will produce many leaves, making it almost fountain-like in form.
Uruguayensis reaches around a foot tall, but when really happy, can grow a few inches taller. It reproduces by side shoots from it's rhizome. Curiously, uruguayensis doesn't come from Uruguay; it comes from Brazil.

For hard water, the large E. osirus may be for you. Commonly called the Red Amazon Sword, only the new leaves are an attractive reddish color; the adult, heavily-veined leaves are dark green and slightly ruffled. A relatively easy species to keep, a good source of iron, especially in bright light, will keep it healthy.
Keep in mind though it's not as massive as E. blehri, E. osirus gets over 20 inches tall. It does better in hard water than soft.

Other species include the large E. macrophyllus, with leaves a foot long and eight inches wide; E. major, the ruffled sword, a foot tall with slender leaves, and the wide, large-leaved Radicans Sword, E. cordifolius, which is a true giant.

I hope this post encourages you to give swords a try. They are generally hardy, long-lived true aquatic plants that properly kept can be a showpiece in your tank.


References: The Encyclopedia of Aquarium Plants, (Barron 2003) by Peter Hiscock.

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