Water Wisteria Fast Facts
Common Name: Water Wisteria
Other Common Names: n/a
Scientific Name: Hygrophila difformis
Plant Type: Floating Stem Plant
Natural Habitat: Marshes in Southeast Asia
Care Level: Beginner
What is Water Wisteria?
Water Wisteria is one of the most common aquarium plants around. It’s also a popular addition to ponds in certain parts of North America, where it can thrive with increased sunlight.
Water Wisteria is an easy-to-grow beginners plant that comes in the form of a stem plant. Like Anacharis and Hornwort, it grows easily floating, unlike those two plants it also roots well and is found growing in an immersed form in the wild.
One of the first ways to tell if a plant is easy-to-grow in the aquarium is simple: find out if it’s considered an invasive species. If so, then chances are you’re not going to have much trouble keeping it healthy.
In this case, Hygrophila difformis is considered an invasive species in Texas, but it’s not quite on the noxious weed list, unlike its relative Hygrophila polysperma. The latter is sometimes known as Dwarf Wisteria has become a physical hazard in some places, growing in thick mats that can block waterways and choke native plant life.
In fact, Hygrophila polysperma is illegal to possess in many states despite how easily it can be found when looking for aquatic plants.
Water Wisteria grows quickly, but it’s rare that it becomes a serious problem. A well-done tank can expect 3”-4” of growth per stem each week, which is fast but not on the same level as other plants.
The plant grows from a central stem. In the wild, these stems may be floating, or rooted. Rooted specimens often become immersed in the shallow water they grow in, creating foliage above the waterline.
One of the more curious things about Hygrophila difformis is the change in leaves as it emerges from the water. The broad leaves we normally associate with the stems become something different, becoming needle-like and branching.
The stems can also be used to create a carpet without the high lighting requirements commanded by plants like Glossostigma elatinoides or Hemianthus callitrichoides. CO2 may still be needed for an impressive sod, but it’s a neat trick for aquascapers not ready to commit to other high-maintenance carpet plants just yet.
The takeaway for beginners is this: Water Wisteria is an easy-to-grow plant that can be planted in versatile ways. Perfect for the beginning aquascaper who wants to start getting creative with their plants, or the newbie who just needs a good-looking nutrient sink for the back row of the aquarium.
What Kind of Aquaria is Water Wisteria Right For?
Water Wisteria has relatively broad leaves when it’s growing under the surface of the aquarium. It provides a lot of shade and cover for shy fish under 4” in length or so. Larger fish may also enjoy it, but if they prefer broadleaves you may want to try your hand at growing an Echinodorous sp. Instead.
The quick-growing nature of Hygrophila difformis doesn’t just mean a lot of trimming, Water Wisteria is an effective nutrient sink. I don’t advise only using plants to pull nitrates out of the water column, but this plant can be a good part of a comprehensive strategy.
Water Wisteria isn’t necessarily a low-light plant. It will still grow in low-tech aquaria with weaker lighting, but often it becomes a pale green and takes on a spindly, elongated look.
I’d recommend it in the following situations:
- Dutch Style Tanks- Water Wisteria makes a great mid-to-back row plant in these structured tanks. It may be too fast-growing for some people’s tastes once high lighting and CO2 is involved.
- Moderately Lit Planted Tanks- Moderate lighting can make it harder to find good stem plants, most require high lighting. If you’re in the 2-3W/Gallon range (100-150 Lumen/Gallon for LEDs), Water Wisteria is a great choice.
- Shrimp Tanks- Shrimp tanks usually have decent lighting to see the critters with, and they can always use an extra nutrient sink. Water Wisteria fits the bill with its rapid growth and easy care.
- Breeding Tanks- Water Wisteria can grow floating and rooted in the substrate. Often breeding tanks are just jammed full of plants to help keep the fry protected after hatching or birth. This is a good choice, especially if you don’t care to keep multiple plants in the same tank.
- “Jungle” Tanks- These tanks are usually jammed full of plants, with a bit of thought put into the initial hardscape. Fast-growing plants do well in these tanks, and those that are considered a handful in more carefully manicured planted aquaria are favored for producing denser growth.
Water Wisteria doesn’t have too many special requirements, it’s mostly in how you use the plant once it’s in the tank. While not as invasive as Java Moss, you’d be hard-pressed to kill an entire bundle of Water Wisteria in any normal situation.
That said, let’s look at what you’ll need to keep it alive.
Ideal Water Conditions
Like most beginner plants, Water Wisteria doesn’t care much about the water it’s in.
The hard, alkaline water a lot of us deal with is fine. Tropical temperatures from 70-85°F (21-30°C) are best, with a pH ranging from 6.5-7.5 producing the best growth. Neither are hard requirements, Water Wisteria seems to thrive in most conditions.
That said, Water Wisteria isn’t suited for salty environments. I’ve seen it touted as being a good brackish plant, but that’s only the case if you’re running very low salinity. Otherwise, it’s likely the plant will melt any good growth and replace it with very stunted leaves.
Light and CO2
Moderate lighting is fine for ideal Water Wisteria growth. You don’t have to run a high-tech tank to get an impressive amount of dense foliage.
Water Wisteria should be planted in a tank with at least 1.5W/gallon (75 Lumens/gallon for LEDs), but 2 is preferable.
CO2 is unnecessary, but it often provokes even denser growth. You can use something like Seachem Excel to make up the difference if you’re not interested in setting up a CO2 tank.
If you do run high lighting and CO2, you may end up trimming the plant every couple of days to maintain your aquascape. High growth rates can translate into a lot of maintenance for plants in high-tech tanks and this is no exception.
One of the best ways to tell if you have adequate lighting is just to inspect a plant’s new growth after it’s been in the tank for some time. You’ll usually see new growth that looks spindly and pale if your light isn’t up to par.
In the case of Water Wisteria, there’s not much risk of it dying from lack of light, but there are better plants for those devoted to low light tanks. The thin stalks, pale growth, and sparse vegetation from low lighting simply aren’t attractive.
In order to maintain quality growth over time, you may need to add some fertilizer into the mix. The best indication you need the chemical enhancement is yellowed growth, which usually indicates a lack of iron.
A lack of iron, phosphorus, or magnesium can all cause problems.
Chances are you don’t need anything specialized. A weekly dose of liquid fertilizer like SeaChem Flourish works well. Water Wisteria readily picks up nutrients from the water column.
Planted specimens can also draw from the roots, and using root tabs once every few months can help keep them healthy in the long term. It’s also nice for any other plant that’s looking to pick up nutrients from the substrate.
Propagation of Hygrophila difformis is easy: cut new stems and let them float until they begin creating roots. You can also plant the smaller cuttings directly in the soil, particularly if you’re looking to bulk up a group of Water Wisteria stems.
You can create a shrub effect with almost all stem plants by cutting just above the nodes of the plant. You’ll know you did it right when you see two stems emerge from the single cut. These stems can likewise be trimmed to split and so on.
The shrub effect is visually different from just planting more stems. It can also make it easier to get denser growth in one area since each cutting requires space on the substrate.
Cuttings should be 2-3” long for the best results.
Be wary of adding too many stems if you’re not on top of tank maintenance. While it’s not on the level of Java Moss or Guppy Grass, Water Wisteria can easily get out of control if you’re not quick with the scissors.
How to Use Hygrophila difformis in Aquascaping
On a practical level, Water Wisteria can be used to fit diverse roles within your aquascape. There are three main ways that it’s used, and each has its own appeal.
Even better: Hygrophila difformis can look quite different depending on which method you’re going with. Let’s take a closer look
Stem Bunches and Shrubs
If you prefer the classic look of a bunch of stems stuck together, Water Wisteria is a good choice. In ordered tanks, such as those in the Dutch Style, you can trim and maintain the stems however you want to get the look you’re going for.
This plant is the right height for mid-ground use in some larger tanks. Just be aware that it can get out of control and prevent viewing those in the back row if not regularly maintained.
Shrubs can be created from one stem using the cutting method described above. You can plant these singly or in small groups, which creates a wider horizontal effect than denser groups of single stems.
In either case, you should keep an eye on the newest growth. If it becomes less dense or loses color, you may have an issue to address in the tank. Quick growth makes it an ideal plant to use as an early warning system in tanks with slower-growing plants.
As a floating plant, Water Wisteria grows rapidly and can be used to provide cover for shy fish and invertebrates.
It’s particularly attractive in this case, since the leaves that emerge at the surface will often become the immersed version. The plant’s leaf morphology changes at the surface, from a broad single leaf into longer, more branched, needle-like leaves.
Floating Water Wisteria should be used with liquid fertilizers to keep growth healthy.
Propagation for floating plants is easy: cut off the stem and throw it in the tank. That’s all that needs to be done, and the plant will establish itself very quickly.
Water Wisteria can be used to make an impressive carpet, but it requires a little bit more skill than growing it as a stem or floater.
The idea here is simple: Water Wisteria grows well when rooted, and puts off horizontal shoots when floating. It even does so in heavy current at times.
These horizontal stems can then be placed underneath the substrate of the tank, allowing the projecting stems to come up through the soil. These stems will grow vertically as the main stem continues along its horizontal path.
The end result?
A thick but relatively tall carpet plant. This isn’t Glosso, which hugs the ground tightly, but closer to a cover like Dwarf Sagittaria.
Unlike some easier carpet plant recommendations (see Java Moss “carpets”), it actually looks good too!
Moderate lighting will be required to keep up density, and higher lighting may be preferred. Likewise, you’ll want to add CO2 or a chemical substitute to the system. A large patch of the substrate with a Wisteria carpet takes a lot more resources than you think.
You can keep the stems trimmed 1-4” above the surface depending on your personal taste, but try to leave all of the stems with leaves. Those that don’t have them will be shed by the plant, and you’ll have to coax another into its place.
A Water Wisteria carpet looks great and is easier than most plants used for ground cover. The main problem that you’ll have is just keeping it trimmed, which you’ll have to do once or twice each week.
Easy and Versatile, It’s Water Wisteria!
Water Wisteria is a beginner-level plant with a lot of diverse possibilities in your aquascaping, just make sure you keep your scissors handy! Whether you choose to float it in a breeder tank or use it to create thick ground cover for your Betta’s jungle… it’s great stuff!