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Aquarium Cryptocoryne Plants

Although the proper scientific name of this aquarium plant genus is Cryptocoryne, they are commonly referred to as “crypts.”

By Text and photos Robert Paul Hudson

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Foreground to Middle Ground Crypts
The following six crypts work best if placed in the front or middle portions of your aquascape.

Cryptocoryne albida: This species is native to Myanmar and southern Thailand. This short plant has narrow lanceolate (tapering to a point; similar to a lance) leaves that range from light green to reddish-brown. It tends to respond more favorably to soft water, and a nutrient-rich, slightly acidic substrate accelerates its growth from a snail’s pace to noticeable. It is best planted in the tank foreground not too close to other plants. This plant is not often available commercially in the United States, but it is occasionally imported.

Cryptocoryne affinis: Occurring in the Malay Peninsula, this plant has been used in aquaria for more than 50 years. It is quite easy to grow, but the availability of it comes and goes. The reason for this is that C. affinis is not an easy plant to propagate and mass produce; therefore, nurseries often opt not to grow the plant.

This attractive species varies in height from 4 to 12 inches, depending on conditions in the tank. The top side of the lanceolate leaves is a bright green with lighter vein patterns and often bullate (puckered; inflated like a blister), while the underside is bluish-red. Cryptocoryne affinis is a fast grower, as far as crypts go, under conditions to its liking. But it is prone to melting if the aquarium is not kept stable.

Cryptocoryne walkerii (formerly C. lutea): Like C. wendtii and other Sri Lankan crypts, C. walkerii ranks as one of the crypts that should be in every planted aquarium. It is easy to grow, versatile and very attractive in groups. It readily propagates from runners and grows at a moderate pace under medium to intense light.

Cryptocoryne parva: From Sri Lanka, this is the smallest Cryptocoryne sp. and reaches only 2 or 3 inches tall. It has little spoon-shaped leaves. It can adapt to hard or soft water and needs only moderate light. It is a wonderful foreground plant with one drawback: it grows very slowly. More intense light produces more horizontal growth, while lower-light levels induce the plant to grow taller.

Cryptocoryne wendtii: This is probably the most widely known and used Cryptocoryne species. Cryptocoryne wendtii comes in a wide range of colors and sizes. Red, green, bronze and brown are standard colors for this Sri Lankan native. Genetically mutated strains with variegated colors have been produced, with the latest one being the ‘Florida Sunset,’ which has leaves of multiple shades of red, yellow, orange and white.

Leaf shape and size variations of C. wendtii include narrow, broad, tall and short variants. It is unquestionably the easiest Cryptocoryne species to grow in aquaria. This species is suitable for the middle and background areas of the planted aquarium.

Cryptocoryne undulate: This species occurs in central Sri Lanka. It is second only to C. wendtii in being the easiest crypt to grow in aquaria; it is highly adaptable. Color with this species ranges from a medium green to a dark brown or red. Plant this species in groups and in the middle ground of the aquascape.

Click image to enlarge
Cryptocoryne affinis
Though it has been kept in planted aquaria for more than half a century, Cryptocoryne affinis is harder to propagate and therefore isn’t available as often.
Cryptocoryne usteriana
Cryptocoryne usteriana is a tall background plant that is tolerant of a wide variety of water parameters.
Cryptocoryne ciliata
Cryptocoryne ciliata is a hardy species in the aquarium.
Cryptocoryne moehlmannii
Cryptocoryne moehlmannii, a slow-growing crypt from Sumatra, does best when planted and left in place rather than repeatedly uprooted and replanted.

Middle and Background Crypts
This crypt group is at its aesthetically most pleasing when thoughtfully planted in the middle and background areas of the aquarium.

Cryptocoryne cordata var. blassii: There are several varieties of C. cordata, but C. cordata var. blassii (of the Malay Peninsula) is the variety most commonly seen in aquaria. Its large round leaves, olive green topside and beet red underside make it an attractive plant for the mid to rear of the aquarium. It can take several weeks or even months for the plant to become established after planting. Once it becomes established, growth tends to be more vigorous. It seems adaptable to hard water but may do better in soft, slightly acidic conditions.

Cryptocoryne crispatula var. balansae: From India and Thailand, this plant is usually sold by the name “balansae,” but it is considered to be a variant of C. crispatula. Balansae can definitely take its time when it comes to getting established, but it is worth the wait. Its long, straplike, deep green leaves grow up to 16 inches and often have a wonderful dimpled surface. It does best with moderately hard water and bright light. The leaves grow straight up and arch at the water surface. Arranged in thick stands, it creates an impressive visual statement.

There are three crypts in this group that look alike: C. ciliate, C. pontederifolia and C. moehlmannii. The latter two even grow side by side in the same region but each are a distinct species.

Cryptocoryne pontederifolia: Crypt- ocoryne pontederifolia is a striking light green plant with good-size ovate leaves that are broader at the base and come to sharp, elongated points. The species originates from Sumatra. Moderate to bright light is all it really needs. It is not a plant that does well if frequently uprooted and replanted. Pick a spot and leave it there, and it will grow in nicely.

Cryptocoryne moehlmannii: Almost identical to C. pontederifolia and from the same locality, this plant typically has less elongated leaves that may either be bullate or have a smooth shiny surface. Its growing requirements are the same as other crypts in this group.

Cryptocoryne ciliate: From India and New Guinea, this is a durable, highly adaptable plant. It grows in a variety of water conditions, including brackish. Strong light allows the plant to grow at a reasonable rate. It adapts well to growing above water in paludariums.

Cryptocoryne usteriana: This plant, from the Philippines, is attractive because it grows well in hard water with little effort or special care. It can grow fairly large with straplike leaves draping across the water surface. Typically, the leaves are dark green and puckered on the top side with a dark red underside that stands out. A hybrid recently developed in Germany has red on both sides of its leaves. Cryptocoryne usteriana occasionally flowers underwater (it is the only crypt I’m aware of that does this). The plant grows quickly and readily reproduces by runners. One healthy plant could produce several new plants within a year. The plant is becoming more widely available.

Collecting Crypts
Crypts appeal to collectors and reach a whole new realm of admiration outside the aquarium. Collectors grow each individual plant in its own pot, with a special soil mixture and in only a few inches of water. They are grown in sealed containers to provide high humidity and better control of air temperatures. There are many species grown this way that will not grow in aquaria, and these species are very hard to come by. They are often traded between collectors and sometimes sold to a select group of people for hundreds of dollars. The goal is to bring each plant to bloom. To outsiders, the flowers are nothing spectacular. Interest in crypts is not shared by the average aquarium hobbyist either, but in the eyes of avid crypt fans, there is nothing more rewarding.

Something New
Irrespective of whether your looking for something simple or challenging — the Cryptocoryne genus has a plant for every aquatic plant enthusiast. As long as you are patient with these plants and are willing to allow them time to settle in and mature within your setup, you won’t be disappointed.

For the modern aquascaper who is constantly uprooting and rearranging plants, crypts are probably not the best choice. But for the hobbyist who is planning a garden for the long term — over a period of months or years — crypts are a good choice for their aquarium. Back to Page 1>>

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