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Rotala rotundifolia in planted tank — The Complete Care Guide to Rotala Rotundifolia

The Com­plete Care Guide to Rota­la Rotundifolia

Issue 005/ June 10, 2020
If there were a clas­sic’ plant used in plant­ed aquar­i­ums, it’d be Rota­la Rotun­di­fo­lia. In this guide we’ll cov­er every­thing you’d ever want to know about this species: water para­me­ters, trim­ming and main­te­nance for lush, bushy growth, prop­a­ga­tion, and more.

Rota­la is wide­ly-con­sid­ered a hall­mark of aquar­i­um plants — it’s easy to grow, not picky about water para­me­ters, and looks great under high­er-light con­di­tions. Let’s take a quick look at some spe­cif­ic for the species:

visu­al appearance

This plant varies sig­nif­i­cant­ly depend­ing on its envi­ron­ment. How­ev­er, it’s impor­tant to note that there are some species in the Rota­la genus that are mis­la­belled. Rota­la Indi­ca, Rota­la Col­orata, Rota­la H’ra, Rota­la Bon­sai, and oth­ers are occa­sion­al­ly misiden­ti­fied and sold as Rotun­di­fo­lia, so it’s crit­i­cal that you deter­mine which species you have in the Rota­la genus.

Note: if you want the beau­ti­ful­ly-red, bushy appear­ance of Rota­la, you’ll need high-light con­di­tions (i.e. 75PAR or greater.)

This species grows fast — it’s best-suit­ed as a back­ground plant. If you’re plant­i­ng this species with­in a high-tech tank, expect to trim at least once per week once it’s established.

the name matters

rota­la rotun­di­fo­lia is the sci­en­tif­ic name of the plant — its genus is Rota­la, and the species is Rotun­di­fo­lia. Note that there are oth­er species with­in the Rota­la genus, includ­ing Col­orata, Bon­sai, Red’, and oth­ers. Each of these is a com­plete­ly sep­a­rate species of plant, and should be treat­ed separately.

With high light and prop­er nutri­ents, Rotun­di­fo­lia turns a vivid red col­or desir­able in many aquas­capes. Its leaves also take on a more point­ed, razor­like’ shape and will often exhib­it pearling’.

In medium/​low light tanks it’ll keep its usu­al green appear­ance. Note that eti­o­la­tion in this species (in lay­man’s terms, a plan­t’s striv­ing” towards a light source) results in espe­cial­ly-neg­a­tive appear­ances, cre­at­ing the com­mon spindly stem’ look seen in many begin­ner tanks.

rotun­di­fo­li­a’s water parameters

This species is a per­fect exam­ple of the stan­dard’ para­me­ters in aquas­cap­ing: a spe­cif­ic set of ranges at which you can keep most aquat­ic plants. (More on the Stan­dard Para­me­ters here.) In this range most any aquat­ic plant will sur­vive.

For Rota­la Rotun­di­fo­lia to thrive, using water para­me­ters close to those shown below have trig­gered lush, active growth in this species:

  • pH: 6.57.5
  • GH: 4 – 6
  • KH: 1 – 4
  • Tem­per­a­ture: 70 – 82º F (21 – 28º C)
  • Light­ing: High, 8 hours 

Adher­ing to these val­ues will give you healthy, robust growth with Rota­la Rotun­di­fo­lia. (And most oth­er aquat­ic plant species.)

In gen­er­al: keep your water para­me­ters cor­rect and sta­ble, and you’ll have no prob­lems grow­ing this species.

the impor­tance of temperature

If you’re a new­er aquar­ist that’s not see­ing the vig­orus growth that’s expect­ed from Rota­la, you’ll like­ly tend to inves­ti­gate nutrients/​pH/​lighting before you con­sid­er temperature.

With­in rea­son — this is a mis­take. Assum­ing your water para­me­ters are even close to ide­al for this plant, you’ll get much faster growth by ensur­ing your water tem­per­a­ture is 75 – 80º F. This plant loves warmer water.

trim­ming and prop­a­gat­ing rotala

rota­la rotun­di­fo­lia is an extreme­ly-fast grow­ing stem plant. With high-tech (high light + CO2) tanks you should expect week­ly trim­ming for this species. For the lush, bushy’ effect com­mon­ly-seen in IAPLC tank entries, it’s impor­tant to trim often just under your desired final’ height. New growth will appear as branch­es at the trimmed point.

It’s impor­tant to trim con­sis­tent­ly to force’ side shoots in exist­ing stems. Rota­la as a species does this read­i­ly, but will quick­ly shade-out short­er stems and low­er leaves — you’ll need to ensure it’s pruned enough to pre­vent this shad­ing action from occurring. 

Since this plant grows quick­ly and can get bushy, be aware that it can (and near­ly always does) shade low­er leaves and growth. If there are slow-grow­ing plants plant­ed near your Rota­la, be mind­ful of ensur­ing they’re not choked by its shade.

A com­mon prob­lem with this species is the bend­ing of its stems — this is direct­ly caused by poor trim­ming tech­nique (or lack of trim­ming at all), or in some cas­es exces­sive­ly high flow in the tank. Fol­low­ing the trim method described above will pre­vent Rotun­di­fo­li­a’s stems from bend­ing and add sup­port’ for high­er flow tanks.

Just like oth­er stem plants, Rotun­di­fo­lia is quite eas­i­ly prop­a­gat­ed by replant­i­ng cut stems. Doing this can quick­ly pro­duce a thick, lush bush’ of Rotundifolia.

com­mon prob­lems with rotala

Black Stems / Black spots on Stems

This hap­pens often when you trans­plant Rota­la from anoth­er tank — it’s main­ly a result of chang­ing water para­me­ters, stress from ship­ping / plant­i­ng, lack of light, or good water flow. If the high­er por­tions of the plant are grow­ing well, trim and replant it, then toss the black­ened por­tions. (You don’t want that black­ened por­tion melt­ing in the tank — the car­bon com­pounds, cel­lu­lose, and oth­er mat­ter are a trig­ger for algae.)

My Rota­la isn’t bushy!

If there’s one thing that begin­ners are guilty of, it’s not trim­ming enough. Do a google image search for Rota­la, and you’ll see thou­sands of spindly, thin exam­ples of plants demon­strat­ing poor trim­ming technique.

Rota­la — just like oth­er stem plants — looks much bet­ter when it’s trimmed often. Cut just above or below a node, and the plant will sprout new shoots from that point. Over time, that’ll cre­ate the bushy” look that award-win­ning aquas­capes make heavy use of in the back­ground of tanks.

It seems to be dying-off under the first lay­er’ of leaves.

While it’s great that you’re able to get the bushy’ appear­ance, it’s also crit­i­cal that you prune often enough that the shad­ing’ action of high­er leaves does­n’t cause the decline of low­er leaves and short­er stems. If this isn’t done, every­thing under that first lay­er’ of beau­ti­ful­ly-red leaves will be black, brown, and like­ly caus­ing increased water issues from organ­ics giv­en-off by decay­ing plant matter.

There aren’t very many leaves on my rota­la; it appears spindly and faded.

While there are a few pos­si­ble caus­es, in most cas­es this is the direct result of inad­e­quate light­ing. Rota­la will hap­pi­ly grow in low­er-light con­di­tions, but is par­tic­u­lar­ly prone to eti­o­la­tion, where the plant will increase the dis­tance between leaf nodes on the stem in order to reach high­er light as quick­ly as possible. 

To pre­vent this, you can either move the light clos­er to the plant, or increase the amount of light pro­vid­ed. (As a side effect, increas­ing the PAR avail­able to the plant will like­ly give it that clas­sic red appear­ance, as well as increase its ten­den­cy to become bush­like’.)

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