Ask the WWM Crew
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"Oh those"; "Yeah, banana plants are cute and all, but they don't live". I wish I had a dollar (post-tax) for every time I've heard that statement. Banana plants can be made to live in aquariums; stipulated that you start with healthy specimens, give them water that is not too hard, acidic to slightly alkaline, and plenty of illumination.
"Banana plants invariably turn color and rot on you"; "How about some nice plastic plants, even a polyethylene banana plant instead of a live one?" Arrgggghhhh; Dear Reader, don't do it.
Classification & Species of Use To Aquarists:
The genus of aquarium banana plants, Nymphoides is part of the Family Gentianaceae, a group that includes some terrestrial flowers of medicinal interest. Worldwide the "banana-plant" genus Nymphoides ("Nim-foi-dees") includes five species used by aquarists, though one looks more like a waterlily.
Menyanthes (Nymphoides) aquatica (WALTER) O. KUNTZE, 1891
Synonyms:Anonymos aquatica, Limnanthemum aquaticum (J.F. GMELIN) BRITTON, L. trachysperum ASA GRAY Villarsia aquatica GMELIN.
Natural Distr.:Southeastern U.S..
Physical Desc.:THE banana plant to most aquarists and trades people. Perennial, short-stemmed plant with "banana-like" bunch of root tubercles. Heart shaped leaves of green to reddish-brown color. Floating leaves with purple undersides and red stems about four inches long. Flower, small (1/4-1/2") white, in floating leaf hollow.
Nymphoides cordata (ELLIOT) FERNALD
Distr.:Newfoundland to Florida.
Desc.:Similar to N. aquatica, but with dark green banana tubers that are more slim and pointed. Leaves with a heart shaped ("cordate") base.
Menyanthes (Nymphoides) peltata (Gmelin) O. KUNTZE
Synonyms: Limnanthemum peltatum GMELIN, L. nymphaeoides LINK, Nymphaeoides europea FISCHER, N. flava HILL, Menyanthes nymphoides VENTENAT.
Distribution:Europe, Asia. Another cool-water species.
Description:Called the water fringe, has no "bananas"; this plant looks more like a water lily. Its flowers however place it with the Family Gentianaceae, not the Nymphaeaceae. The water fringe has oppositely arranged leaves sporting pads (to 6 inches) and stems (to more than a foot) much larger than N. aquatica. Yellow flowers with a darker central strip in bracts with funnel-shaped petals to 3/4" diameter.
Menyanthes (Nymphoides) humboldtiana (KUNTH) O.KUNTZE, 1891
Desc:Leaves of 4-8" diameter and flower petals covered with "hairs"; white flowers of five slender petals with a yellow spot at their base.
Menyanthes (Nymphoides) indica (LINNAEUS) O. KUNTZE
Distr.:China, Japan, northeastern Asia and Australia.
Desc:White flowers with yellowish middles.
Pests, Parasites, Disease:
A principal cause of loss of these plants is "death by previous mishandling". Plants that have been beat, left floating in a non-nutritive media in low-light conditions are mostly doomed. Fresh, healthy plants have firm, green "banana" tubers, not stinky, soft-tipped, black and whitish decomposing ones. They should show evidence of new growth.
A number of funguses and bacteria decompose already killed plants. Once they show, chances of salvation are scarce.
Light/Lighting (intensity, spectrum, duration) Twenty to forty thousand lumens at the plant (bottom). Either plant in shallow (a few inches) of water or increase available light.
pH, KH, Other Chemical:pH 5.5-7.2; soft to medium hard water, KH 1-15.
Temperature Range: Cool water species (N. aquatica, N. cordata, N. peltata) 65-75, tropicals 72-85 F.
Species Kept With: North american species are good with other cool water plants, e.g. Myriophyllum and Sagittaria; including floating types (Azolla, Salvinia) given sufficient light/shallow water. For more tropical systems, N. humboldtiana, N. indica are suggested.
Trimming:Should be done regularly to allow light penetration and stimulate side-shoot production. Cut or pinch off floating leaves at tuber base. Additionally, young plants will grow faster if pinched from adults.
Sexually by seeds that fall off the flowers on the surface after ripening.
Asexually, most frequently, via vegetative splitting from separated leaves or cuttings (leaves with flowers will produce roots).
Transported and sold as individual leaves in season. These are caused to bloom by being floated in cool water. Planted in soil and substrate, new plants arise from the new leaf after they flower.
Yes, banana plants can be kept in aquariums; for best results make sure you're dealing with and accommodating a cool or tropical species; do root it at the substrate, either by weighting or adjusting to water level. Provide plenty of light, soft, acidic water, and watch 'em flower.
Baensch, Hans A. & Rudiger Riehl. 1993. Aquarium Atlas, v. 2. BAENSCH, Germany. 1212 pp.
Brunner, Gerhard. 1973. Aquarium Plants. T.F.H. Publications, NJ. 159 pp.
Riehl, Rudiger & Hans A. Baensch. 1987. Aquarium Atlas, v. 1. MERGUS, Germany. 992 pp.
Roe, Colin D. 1967. A Manual of Aquarium Plants. Shirley Aquatics, England. 111 pp.
Stodola, Jiri. 1967. Encyclopedia of Water Plants. T.F.H. Publications, NJ. 368 pp.