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Growing Crytocorynes Emersed PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jose María Romero León   

The cryptocorynes are plants of the aroid family whose distribution extends through most of Southeast Asia, from India to the Philippines and New Guinea. This plant species is often found  in rivers, streams, artificial canals, and swampy jungles.  Many plants from this species spends a greater part of the year in emergent growth. In the midst of the end of the wet season, when water levels are low, cryptocorynes species begin to flourish with striking shapes, flowers and colors.


Only a few species like crispatula, aponogetifolia, cordata and a few others can be found  with flowers while mostly submerged.  For this reason, to get the full flowering beauty from the cryptocorynes family , it is important to have the grow emersed so that they can achieve their blooms.

Another advantage of emersed grown cryptocorynes is they grow easier and require less maintenance their submerged counterparts which require an aquarium habitat suitable for them with substrate, CO2, fertilization and so on. Not to mention some species are nearly impossible to cultivate in a submerged aquarium.

For cryptocorynes enthusiasts, growing emersed plants is a great way to maintain a large collection of species without all the complications and care required to grow them in a submerged environment. Emersed grown Cryptocorynes has the advantage when it comes to sexual and asexual reproduction (blooms and pollination).  They will reproduce in greater numbers and in less time. Most importantly, an emergent crop and the consequent flowering is the only reliable form of cryptocorynes identification in most cases.

What do cryptocorynes need to grow emergent?

Native growing crypt in Sri Lanka While for many who are familiar with aquatic plants, this question may seem obvious. But then again emergent growing conditions are slightly different then a full blown planted aquarium. Let’s first investigate the main factors influencing the  growing a crop in emergent conditions.

  • Humidity

The regions where these plants are found are typically in the tropics where there is constant rainfall and warm weather. The vast majority of crypt species live in deep jungles with extensive vegetation cover, which provides protection against the sun. The combination of shade, heat, and constant rainfall creates an optimal growing environment  of over seventy percent humidity. 

  • Rich Soil

Providing nutrient rich soil is a crucial factor for growing a healthy crop of emergent cryptocorynes.  As a heavy root feeder, the soil is where the cryptocorynes will get the most nutrients for their survival.

In the cryptocorynes their habitats are developed in a wide range of soils, clay, sand, drop litter, and decaying plant matter. It is important to find an ideal composition for the soil if you want the Cryptocorynes to flourish. Generally, you want to mimic the composition of the soil of origin, but we must bear in mind that the living conditions in the wilderness, are not the same as in a pot. With that said, copying the origin’s soil composition will work in most cases, but sometimes you must also mimic the full environment.

The main features of a great soil consists of a slightly acidic pH, and a soil that is able to retain and drain water  well at the same time.  The grain size is not as important, but personally I prefer a particle size average.

What types of soils and substrates can you use?

Silica Sand is an inert substrate that adds nothing to the plant, and that only serves a base for the soil.  It does not retains a lot of water with only a small portion retained in the composition by capillary action. This type is  seldom used as a single substrate (except if we are to cultivate a hydroponic) and is  usually found as part of a mixture with other elements. Its pH tends to be neutral or slightly acidic, and there is a remarkable presence of nutrients.

Compost is a general term for this man-made soil.  Most often it consists of composing plant matter, bark, leaves etc. Compost has a lot of nutrients, but the vast majority gives the soil a neutral pH.   I also have used compost with some success both alone and mixed with other ingredients.  A substrate mixture which has been proven great for most cryptocorynes species is a half and half combination of silica sand and compost. 

Peat is formed by decomposing plant debris with an limited oxygen supply in an acid medium.  There are two types of peat white and black. The white form is made by decomposing Sphagnum mosses. While the black form is made up of slowly decomposing plant vegetation found in marshes.


In both cases, these peat forms are found naturally in  flooded areas, or places that remain wet all the time with high humidity.  The top portion of peat begins to dry while the bottom layer keeps on forming deeper layers of decomposing plant material. This whole process enriches the peat, and makes it an ideal material to use.

The white sphagnum peat presents a very low pH, around 4, and provides very few nutrients in its composition and degrades slowly.   The black peat presents a pH higher, around 5 and 6, and provides more nutrients and is more mineralized.  In both cases, the nutritional contribution is negligible.

The black peat mixed  with other soils should help facilitate water movement because of its small pore structure.  You can mix it with a variety of other substrates such as clay and sand add acidity to the overall soil composition. 

Humus Hayas of forest (Fagus sylvatica) is a substrate highly recommended both by Jan D. Bastmeijer and Niels Jacobsen who are research experts in cultivating crypts. According to Jacobsen,  the accumulation of leaves in deep layers and their subsequent decomposition makes the composition of humus extremely rich in humic acids which is one of the favorable conditions for crypts soils.

This type of soil encourages a more vigorous development and better long-term plants than in substrates without.  The pH of this type of soil, it is usually quite low, ranging around 4-5. It can be used alone or mixed with soil minerals, clays and sands.

Humus forest Castaño (Castanea sativa) is the Spanish version of the humus from the forest floor. It is the most accessible in the Spain (where I live) and it is also sold in large garden centers as a substrate for acidophilic plants.

Coconut Fibers is a substrate that I’ve had very satisfactory results with. It is a very inert substrate, consists primarily of lignin from coconut shells and fibers grounds. The fibers presents characteristics well suited to our purposes and has the capacity to retain water very well, but at the same time allows for draining and water movement through the material.  The pH ranges from  5.5-6.5.  I have noticed the plants have wonderful growth and have produced healthy white root bundles.

Akadama it is a clay soil from Japan in a region of the same name. It is extracted by removing the top organic layers, and is found to be very granular with a great resistance to desegregation in its grain. It has a slightly acid pH and roots develop magnificently in this substrate. The porosity of the akadama soil allows a large amount of water and nutrient movement. around the roots.  Healthy white roots indicators of great substrates.

There is a variant of the more acidic akadama called kanuma, which is harvested from the same area, but at greater depth in the earth.  My experience with this clay is satisfactory when  mixed with coconut fiber and humus chestnut.

Cryptocoryne growing in mossSepiolit Clay is a mineral widely used in the industry as an absorbent (marketed as absorbent sand for cats). It has a great capacity for ion exchange and high water-holding capacity. It is very grainy with the grains resisting dissolving or breakups.  However, the pH is slightly basic, so the use is limited to cryptocorynes which are easy to cultivate and in a blend of soils.

Other types of clay found in home garden centers or locally can be used.  Most varieties are more neautral in pH, but can easily be mixed with other materials. It is important to look for pesticide free soils.

Vermiculite is a mineral laminar very close to the mica.  It is created by baking the mineral at high temperatures. This allows the final structure to become very porous with the capacity to retain water and move water. It is completely inert, and contributes limited nutrients including magnesium. The pH is neutral. When mixed with other soils this makes a great composition for a substrate.

Moss is becoming increasingly popular among Japanese growers as a substrate base because it offers a low pH and offers good aeration. I have tested with live moss beds (Vesicularia dubyana), to encourage the growth of new seedlings in pieces of rhizomes of different species (aponogetifolia, wendtii, walkerii, becketii, pontederiifolia, spiralis, balansae, x willissi) with considerable success. You can find live mosses in stores that specialize in reptiles.

Other substrates out there that are not mentioned but could be used include rock wool, pine bark, flakes beechwood, and  plant mulch to name a few.

Importance of WaterPump

Water as discussed previously is an important aspect of the creating a high humidity environment. The best way to maintain this high humidity, is to have a layer of water covering part of the containers that the plants are growing in. This helps decrease evaporation and increases humidity.  The sheet of water will also be the location where the roots will absorb many nutrients.

The water must be as soft and acid since many crypt species prefer softer water. We can use water for reverse osmosis water meets our needs, but we can also lower the pH by adding dry leaves in the water which will release humic acid.  Adding a small pump will help circulate this layer of water, which helps circulate nutrients and encourages root growth.

Do not forget we also must also pay attention to water temperature, because in hot climates the water temperature will determine by the ambient air temperature and raise the temperature rapidly.  Maintain the water temperature at around 20 degrees Celsius.

Nutrients and additives

Greenhouse for crypts As explained above, water is a very important nutrient transportation system. If our substrates are not very rich in macro nutrients, we need to add some into the water.  It is also important to provide enough  nitrogen, potassium and phosphate, as well as micronutrients, specifically  iron.

I use a conventional fertilizer for houseplants, but with a dose less than that recommended by the manufacturer. Also once or twice a week I apply the same fertilizer with doses much more diluted directly to the leaves with a misting spray bottle.


Making a Greenhouse

 Building a small greenhouse to grow cryptocorynes is easy.. You will need an airtight container that can open and close, and can have a cover to shield sunlight.  An old aquarium works very well. Place a few inches of water to cover the crypt pots slightly.  Then, take a submersible pump and position it so that it circulates the water properly.    And lastly, if you are not growing the crypts outside, you will need to find a lighting fixture to supply light energy.

An outdoor setup is harder to maintain due to fluctuating temperatures outside. You want to keep the temperature about 20 degrees Celsius, so you may need a  heater or foam insulation to help retain heat. A opaque cover will help block direct sunlight and help regulate temperature as well.  Select a shaded area for your system, and remember the sunlight can increase the interior temperature quite rapidly, so choose your location wisely.



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