Bucephalandra is a kind of very nice aquatic plants species which you can grow in a tank. This one doesn’t need to be planted in a substrate since it can easily adhere to stones and snags surface.
Bucephalandra variations number several dozens of species and they have specific commercial names. These may include the place where the plant grows, color of its leaves or an object that associates with the plant appearance.
However, only several species from all this diversity have botanic names accepted by academic community and, correspondingly, belong to a specific kind of Bucephalandra.
Bucephalandra commercial names may be a speculative article, since suppliers which give the plants these names want to increase their collection and don’t take taxonomy of plants as seriously as scientists do.
Habitat in the wild
Bucephalandra is a kind of paludal plants of Araceae family which adapted to dwell in flowing waters. The name of the kind – Bucephalandra is connected with the name of the horse of Alexander the Great – Bucephalus (Bous + kephale = Βουκέφαλος, Bukefalos). “Βous” and “kephale” mean “a bull” and “a head”. Appearance of staminate flower of Bucephalandra also resembles a bull’s head.
In botanics these plants have been known since 1858. Bucephalandra appeared in aquarium husbandry in 2005 and became very popular right away. Up to now new variations of the plant appear and they haven’t been described in botanic textbooks yet.
All of them are endemic species of Borneo island and they grow mainly in fast flowing rivers and streams, and seldom along the riverbanks. The plant blooms generally under water. Borneo island has tropical climate and average annual temperature there is higher than 220C.
Seasonality is typical for the island, when amount of precipitation differs by times. During rain season water level in rivers rises and Bucephalandra stays under water for several months. Nevertheless, the plant continues growing and it can easily transform into its submerged form.
During dry season the plant can grow taking its emersed form.
Basic difference between the submerged and emersed form of the plant is that when they grow under water structure of the leaves is thinner and they have more saturated color.
Unfortunately, Bucephalandra gradually disappear from our environment basically due to forests exploitation and deforestation of Borneo island.
It gets more difficult to find some species and some of them exist only in captivity nowadays. Keeping these plants in a tank may be useful for long-term species survival, since many areas of Borneo island suffer from deforestation now.
Due to the species variety and absence of scientific classification as well as a mess in commercial names of the plant it seems impossible to describe it.
Bucephalandra may differ sufficiently in size, shape and leaves color. Experts can distinguish patterns of the plant lamina and divide similar Bucephalandra into different kinds. However, these names of the plant kinds yet remain just commercial names and they have nothing to do with the botanic names.
Besides, proper classification is also complicated by the fact that at various conditions one and the same plant my have different appearance when changing its color and leaves shape.
Bucephalandra is a small sized plant as a rule. Most of the species grow up to 3-5 cm high. But there are many plants that grow large (8-15 cm high) and even larger (up to 25 cm high).
Distinctive and recognizable feature of all Bucephalandra is presence of bright spots on the leaves, which many aquarists mistakenly take for air bubbles that appear as a result of photosynthesis. These spots are encountered in most of arum family plant kinds.
Depending on its kind the plant may have more or less spots on its leaves. You can observe similar spots on Anubias species, but they aren’t that visible. Submerged forms of Bucephalandra have less visible spots and their number increases when the plant grows under water.
Difficulties in keeping
There is a view that Bucephalandra is easy to keep in a tank. However, this isn’t so. In general, species are quite enduring, but still it’s better to consider them as those of medium difficulty in keeping.
Though, some species may be quite challenging to keep.
In the real life many beginner aquarists, who have no problem in keeping Anubias and Cryptocoryne species find it challenging to grow species.
Care and keeping in a tank
The following tank water parameters will do for Bucephalandra: pH in the range from 5 to 8, almost any level of GH and KH is acceptable, and water temperature about 22-28oC.
Since in the wild Bucephalandra grows in fast flowing rivers, it’s important to provide it with sufficient water circulation in a tank. This is easy to do using a powerful external filter and then put the plants along the water flow.
The problem is, that usually this is the favorite place for algae to grow, especially black beard. Algae fouling is fatal both for Bucephalandra and Anubias species. Therefore, try to avoid organic accumulation and algae foiling in a tank where Bucephalandra grows.
In tanks the plant demonstrates better growth pace on solid surfaces such as various rocks, snags, coconut shells. Its roots stick to these surfaces ideally even if it is a granite surface.
Sometimes you even have to cut off the roots when replanting. It was noticed that solid surfaces are the best for the plant root system and in substrates its roots may even start to rot.
You shouldn’t expect Bucephalandra to grow in hard water without CO2 supply. The plant prefers soft water with hardness value up to 6 degrees and in water with such parameters it can grow even without CO2 supply.
The plant isn’t that demanding in terms of tank lighting and it can dwell in quite shadowed areas of the tank. Even provided with minimal amount of light Bucephalandra will continue growing and shooting new leaves, but its coloring won’t be that bright and attractive.
To ensure bright coloring of the plant you will need bright tank lighting and proper fertilizers. Even small amount of CO2 and fertilizers can improve the plant growth pace and its coloring intensity.
The growth rate depends on the plant kind. Some kinds can shoot 2 new leaves in a week if they are provided with proper growth conditions, while the others will shoot just one leaf each 2 weeks.
These are slow-growing plants, but if you provide them with enough of bright lighting, fertilizers and large amount of CO2, you will get the highest growth rate.
Bucephalandra can also be cultivated in paludarium, but their leaves coloring is usually not that bright and the growth pace is low. It is important to control humidity level in paludarium, since in case of even insufficient changes the plant leaves may run dry completely.
Even experts in Bucephalandra cultivating very often can’t avoid the problem, which is very common for this plant – appearance of round holes in the leaf blade. At that, it isn’t due to lack of kalium in the tank water, which is true for most of the tank plants.
You can see, that the problem is quite widespread from the fact, that even in Bucephalandra pictures that sellers show, you can often see these holes in the leaves. They may be large and small both on new and old leaves.
At that, the leaf with such a hole doesn’t die and the whole plant looks healthy and successfully grows.
Sergey is a founder and author of Meethepet.com. He’s been fond of aquarium husbandry since his early childhood.
His favorite aquariums are biotopes (Amazon River), with Echinodorus and Angelfish. However, through the years he’s had experience of keeping almost all types of freshwater fish and shrimps.