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Utricularia Graminifolia - TESTED - How To Grow This Beautiful Carpeting Plant
March 21, 2023
Grass-leaved bladderwort, better known as Utricularia Graminifolia or simply UG, is one of the most beautiful yet mysterious carpeting aquarium plants. We put this carnivorous marsh plant with the melodic-sounding name to a little test that should shed light on its cultivation preferences in the aquarium. When searching for information about UG, one inevitably comes across reports that this plant is highly demanding of its environment and may not thrive or even rot under certain conditions. So research about the plant's growing requirements may contribute more to uncertainty than clarity. This doesn't have to be the case because Utricularia Graminifolia is not that complicated to keep and can grow beautifully in an aquarium. Our experience and a recent test run with UG indicate how this plant can be successfully established in its submerged stage. Before we turn to the test insights, let's first look at this carnivorous aquarium plant's origin, growth, use, and care.
Origin & Natural Habitat
Utricularia Graminifolia originates from parts of Southeast Asia, India, and China. It grows either free-floating or self-attached on rocks and wood in marshy places such as springs and rivers whose banks are often flooded. UG is also found in other sites with wet soils up to an altitude of 2000m. The plant rarely sprouts in full sun and prefers shady areas with soft waters.
UG has small flat stalks that shine light green and grow only a few centimeters long. Its growth is also decumbent rather than upright, and spreading is creeping. Like many other aquarium plants, it also can grow emersed; in that stage, it probably flowers year round. The pale pink flower has violet markings and is held by a stem that can grow up to 30 cm long. If the nutrient balance in the aquarium is optimal, Utricularia graminifolia grows healthy, lush, bright green, and much faster than often reported.
Planting & Layout Position
Utricularia graminifolia is often planted in the aquarium substrate – aqua soil, sand, or gravel – and is used as a classic foreground plant or for Iwagumi layouts in the art of aquascaping. Especially larger planted areas look beautiful this way and remind us of undulating, untouched, and lush meadows. Alternatively, it can be used in other aquarium areas and even without any substrate. Therefore, UG can also be kept as a floating plant or an epiphyte, for example, on stones or wood.
Either way, UG should be handled with care, as it is a very delicate plant and can be damaged if handled too roughly. If you plant it in a substrate, we recommend dividing it into small portions and putting 2/3 of each portion deep into the substrate to counteract floating. In combination with UG, we generally advise against bottom-dwelling fish species, as UG does not anchor very firmly to the substrate and thus tends to float up.
Maintenance & Care
Regular pruning every 2-3 weeks seems to be a necessary measure. If pruning is not done consistently and regularly, the plant cushions become too dense and high. The floating of entire plant cushions can be a sobering consequence. Instead of classic leaf pruning, it may be beneficial to cut out entire shoots, as algae like to colonize pruned leaf edges. The scissors must be inserted carefully, vertically, and not too deep into the substrate for cutting off the shoots. After that, carefully pull out the shoots with tweezers. This procedure will thin out the overgrown area. In some places, the substrate should be somewhat visible afterward, offering enough room for new growth. Nevertheless, the UG pruning can also be done conventionally by cutting off the leaves. The plant does not die because of this, just as it can remain algae-free after pruning.
Plant Fact Sheet
Plant type: Grass-like plant
Plant Category: Carpeting, epiphyte, floating
Height of growth: 3 - 10 cm
Growth rate: Moderate
Color: Radiant light green
Light intensity: low-high
Temperature: 16 - 28 °C
A Different Kind Of Nutritional Intake
Now one more interesting fact before we move on to our test insights. Utricularia graminifolia can develop tiny bladder traps in which microorganisms can be caught. These traps serve the plant for nutrient extraction like other carnivorous species. It seems logical that such "food microorganisms" do not yet exist in just-started aquariums and only appear when a biological ecosystem has formed. Don't worry. Baby shrimp and fish are not among the microorganisms that fall into UG's trap.
The Test And The Resulting Conclusions
Questions Seeking Answers
- Is the Dark Start an effective method to prevent melting symptoms in UG and establish the plant without much or any losses?
- Is a nutrient-rich substrate such as aqua soil suitable for UG cultivation?
- What composition and amounts of liquid fertilizer does UG tolerate, and should nitrogen fertilization principally be avoided?
- What are the requirements of UG regarding light intensity and CO2 levels?
The Test Aquarium
To verify these questions, we prepared an aquarium consisting of three chambers of equal size. We set up the test so that the components used in the three 13.5-liter aquariums were also as identical as possible in quantity. We conducted a seven-week Dark Start period – without water changes – to develop a biological ecosystem before planting. The following components and parameters were used in each aquarium chamber:
- Seachem Tidal 35 – hang-on filter (filter sponge, 130g of Seachem matrix)
- Chihiros WRGB 2 Slim 90 – covering all three chambers with an illumination intensity of 55%.
- Dennerle 25W Nano Heater
- CO2 System with Aquario NEO Normal Type CO2 diffusers – tiny
- Chihiros dosing system – automated fertilizer dosing
Substrate, Hardscape & Plant Quantity
- 2.1 kg Aqua soil - ADA Amazonia Vers. 2 not using root tabs
- 3 kg Wild Rhino stone (± 0.2 kg)
- 3.5 pots of ADA Utricularia Graminifolia (tissue culture)
Water Parameters & Components
- 23 °C constant water temperature
- CO2 levels of 25 mg/l from day one after planting
- Used Seachem stability as bacteria starter product (manufacturer's dosing recommendation)
- Two times 40% of weekly water changes with reverse osmosis water (remineralization with Green Aqua GH/KH Plus to TDS 120)
- The aquarium chambers were operated with different liquid fertilizers from various brands. In the beginning, we followed the dosage recommended by the manufacturer. In the later course, quantity adjustments were made.
- Aquarium chamber 1 was supplied with a lean fertilizing approach – only microelements.
- Aquarium chambers 2+3 with a complete fertilizing approach – each chamber with a different brand of fertilizer, each of which with macro and microelements.
The fertilizers are not titled in detail because they were not the test object and only served the test procedure. Conclusions on fertilizer quality would be neither meaningful nor appropriate in this context. Therefore, we will only discuss the effects of the fertilizer approach and conclude in this regard.
Test History Briefly Summarized
Aquarium chamber 1 – No plant melted during the test period. The growth rate was the slowest of all, and also, the growth pattern was not quite as vigorous - more narrow leaves - compared to the aquariums fed with a complete fertilizer. From week 5, partial deficiency symptoms appeared in the form of lighter leaf coloration and occasional yellow-brown leaf shoots.
Aquarium chamber 2 – No plant melted during the test period. The growth rate in this chamber was the fastest, and the leaves showed the most vigorous and nicest growth. Apparently, the fertilizer composition used was most conducive to plant growth under the given conditions. Starting with week three, brown and green algae visibly spread in the aquarium, with predominating brown algae. The daily fertilizer amount was reduced by 50% at the beginning of week four and maintained until the test ended. The brown algae growth was stagnant and slowly regressive, with no decrease in green algae growth.
Aquarium chamber 3 – No plant melted during the test period. The growth rate was between chambers 1 and 2, with UG showing a well-developed and healthy leaf structure. The algae phenomena were comparable to chamber 2, and the fertilization was reduced by half beginning with week four. After that, algae growth stagnated and slowly went down.
Answers & Final Test Conclusions
- We are convinced that a Dark Start can contribute significantly to successfully establishing UG in a newly set aquarium. In the test, UG did not show melting symptoms in any chamber but presented a positive growth. UG is usually sensitive to ammonia, which can occur in elevated levels during the first 4-6 weeks after the aquarium is started. UG was, therefore, probably often faced with melting symptoms in our past gallery aquariums. It can be strongly assumed that the more mature an aquarium and the more stable its biological system, the better UG will thrive.
- A nutrient-rich substrate such as aqua soil can be used for growing UG without concerns. The test did not give any indications which would have allowed other conclusions.
- Our test has shown that UG can cope with any liquid fertilizer composition. Accordingly, nitrogen fertilization is also possible. On our YouTube channel is a three-year-old video about an Iwagumi build, in which we say that UG cannot tolerate nitrogen. We can refute this statement with today's knowledge because it simply isn't true.
- Utricularia Graminifolia generally does not have higher requirements for light intensity and CO2 concentration. Proof of this are the shady locations where UG can be found in nature. The plant should therefore be able to thrive in a low-tech aquarium, which it does in my home, in a DOOA Neo Glass Air, with lighting only and without anything else. However, the plant's appearance will be less dense, and the shoots can be longer and thinner.
Interesting Observation During Test Dismantling
What was all the time still covered by the aqua soil all came out when emptying the aquarium chambers - UG's root system. It was fascinating to observe that UG had developed a stronger root system under the lean fertilizer approach and was thus more firmly anchored in the substrate. Remember, no macro elements were added to the water via liquid fertilization in the first chamber, but this was the case in chambers two and three. When the plant was removed, the better anchoring in the soil was clearly noticeable compared to the other two chambers, each supplied with a complete fertilizer.
Even if this finding has little relevance by scientific standards, it at least raises a suspicion. Because of the macronutrient deficit in the water column, UG was forced to develop more roots to get better access to the available macronutrients in the soil. This led to a positive side effect, as the risk of plants floating in the first chamber was significantly lower.
More Valuable Tips
- Some sources recommend the Dry Start Method for UG. We also thought in the past that this would help grow it nicely. But with experience, we can say that a dry start does not bring any significant advantage for the later course. It is useless if the plant spreads to a nice emersed carpet during the dry Start, only to melt away weeks later in the flooded aquarium. This can happen because the ammonia peaks are still to come after the initial Dry Start.
- If you want to plant UG only in a few spots and in smaller amounts, you should do it after the ammonium peaks have flattened out. This takes about six weeks after the aquarium is flooded and the filter is put into operation. We recommend checking the water, especially the ammonia levels, with proper water tests before planting UG. All other plants can be added to the aquarium without worry from the very first day and become contributors to establishing a biological ecosystem.
- Chances are high that you will gather more information from other sources and come across different opinions and recommendations. Some like this is common in aquaristics, as several paths can often lead to the desired result. In the case of Utricularia graminifolia this can be the case. No matter how you decide to go, at best, stick 100% to one recommendation or method. A mixture of different approaches is often doomed to failure.
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