Water Wisteria – A Complete Care Guide

Water wisteria is a fast-growing plant that can quickly overtake your fish tank if not cared for properly. In this guide, we will teach you how to care for water wisteria and help it thrive in your tank. We will also discuss the benefits of having water wisteria in your tank and how to keep it looking its best. Let’s get started!

Water Wisteria Introduction

One of the most common live aquarium plants to come across at local fish stores is water wisteria. This freshwater plant is scientifically known as Hygrophila difformis and belongs to the Acanthaceae family, which includes many other aquatic and terrestrial plant species.

Though these aquarium plants are known as wisteria, they are not related to the magnificent purple blossoms made by flowering plants in the Wisteria genus under the Fabaceae family.

Instead, the water wisteria plant can add dynamic to the freshwater aquarium with its bushy, lettuce-like appearance and little to no extra care requirements.

A Brief Overview Of Water Wisteria

Scientific NameHygrophila difformis
Common NamesWater wisteria
FamilyAcanthaceae
OriginIndia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan
Skill LevelVery easy
LightingLow-high, 40-200PAR (Umols)
Tank PlacementMidground and background
Flow RateModerate
Temperature Range70-85 °F
Height24 inches
pH Range6.0-7.5
Growth RateVery fast
Feed TypeWater column feeder
Co2 RequirementNo

Origins And Habitat

Water wisteria is native to Southeast Asia, namely throughout parts of India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. It grows in many water and lighting conditions but has been found in abundance in bog-like environments. In some cultures, water wisteria is regularly used for its medicinal properties, though the true effects have been poorly studied.

In the aquarium, water wisteria will thrive in nearly all environmental conditions as long as nutrients are made available.

Is Water Wisteria Invasive?

Water wisteria is an extremely hardy plant that will thrive in tropical climates. It has a very high potential to become an invasive species but has been limited in its worldwide distribution thus far. That being said, water wisteria has been introduced to non-native countries, such as Taiwan, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.

All aquarium hobbyists are strongly encouraged to properly dispose of plant cuttings to prevent propagation in local waterways.

What Does Water Wisteria Look Like?

Water wisteria is named Hygrophila difformis due to this plant species growing different leaf morphologies. Interestingly, no two water wisteria look the same (video source).

Usually, this is a case of different lighting or temperature conditions, but differing morphologies are within wisteria’s DNA. This can make identifying water wisteria slightly more challenging than other plants.

Water wisteria can look small and bushy or tall and bundled. In most aquarium setups, water wisteria is tall and bundled with a lacey appearance. Plants may be made up of one or more thick stems with either lace-like leaves or broad leaves; lace-like leaves will have many thin edges while broad leaves are solid and round in appearance.

The appearance of your water wisteria may change over time depending on aquarium conditions. If allowed to grow above the water line, wisteria will usually grow broad leaves.

It is believed that temperature and lighting can also cause wisteria plants to develop one leaf type or another, but appearance is largely due to genetics and maturity. Pruning can also have an effect and trimming broad-leafed water wisteria has resulted in a lacier appearance for some hobbyists.

In general, water wisteria is a bright green color that has the potential to grow to a maximum height of 24 inches if left uncontrolled. This freshwater plant has an extremely fast growth rate which can either be a nuisance to hobbyists looking to eradicate it from their tanks or a blessing for beginners who are struggling with keeping nutrient levels down.

Water wisteria is commonly confused with water sprite (Ceratopteris thalictroides) another unrelated aquatic plant.

Water Wisteria vs. Water Sprite

Water wisteria and water sprite, also known as Indian fern or fine leaf Indian fern, are not related but can be very similar in appearance. These plants have very similar care requirements and appearances. Telling them apart can be pretty tricky.

The main difference between these two bright green species of plants is that water wisteria has separated stems for individual plants while water sprite has several stems and leaves that originate from the center of the singular bundle. Water sprite also has much finer and more lace-looking leaves and stems. All of this combined makes water sprite much bushier and more delicate in appearance than water wisteria.

Water Sprite

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Another major difference between these two plants is that water sprite is a type of fern and will not flower when grown above the surface.

Placement And Lighting

Water wisteria is most commonly kept as a background plant. It does not need much light or flow but will do best with at least moderate settings.

Like other aquatic plants, more light will typically cause the plant to grow shorter and bushier. Limiting light will cause the plant to reach for the light, causing a leggy, sparse appearance. That being said, some hobbyists have successfully grown water wisteria under fluorescent lighting.

Can Water Wisteria Grow Floating?

Water wisteria is primarily a water column feeder. This means that it gets most of the nutrients it needs from the surrounding water column instead of from the substrate. This makes growing this plant at the surface of the water preferable.

However, wisteria will quickly take over any space that is available to grow. This can quickly block out light from plants below and minimize surface agitation. Floating water wisteria is still one of the best natural coverages for fish fry and shrimp, though.

What Are Good Tank Mates For Water Wisteria?

Water wisteria can be kept with almost all freshwater fish tank mates. This plant is extremely hardy and resilient and will grow back bigger and stronger if uprooted or eaten.

Ideal Tank Mates

Because of its thick stem, some hobbyists have successfully kept water wisteria with goldfish. By the time goldfish are able to uproot the plant or eat all its leaves, chances are that the plant has already started regrowing itself. In fact, this might even help the wisteria plant propagate as lateral root shoots detach from the main stem and replant themselves elsewhere in the tank.

Water wisteria is especially popular among breeding tanks. The uptake of nutrients and bushy appearance help keep water parameters in check while providing fish and fry with places to hide. For the same reasons, freshwater shrimp will also love this plant.

If using water wisteria in a pond setting, make sure that it cannot travel to local waterways to prevent it from becoming an invasive species.

Fish Species To Avoid

There aren’t many tank mates that can’t be kept with water wisteria. Even if your fish is prone to eating or uprooting plants, water wisteria will persevere. However, this is an extremely fast-growing plant that should not be kept in smaller tanks under 30 gallons.

Water wisteria is very efficient at taking up nutrients and will display its best colors and form in return. Once nutrients are depleted, the plant will struggle to survive. Nano tanks have limited nutrients available due to smaller bioloads, which can make keeping this plant species in small tanks more challenging than you would expect.

Feeding Water Wisteria (Fertilization)

Water wisteria does not need additional fertilization and adding fertilizers could actually cause more of a problem than would be beneficial.

This plant species is an incredibly fast-growing plant as it is and added nutrients could cause it to become unruly. This would make for additional removal and maintenance when the wisteria grows like a weed.

If the aquarium is heavily stocked with live plants, then fertilizers might be necessary to keep water wisteria happy. These aquatic plants are water column feeders and will do best when given liquid fertilizers as opposed to root tabs; root tabs may be supplemented for other plants, but wisteria will not benefit as much.

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How Much And How Often To Feed

If you are going to dose your aquarium with fertilizers, then you will need to know how much is enough. The exact amount will depend on the import and export of nutrients in the system, including bioload, lighting, filtration, carbon dioxide, and maintenance. One thing is for certain though, water wisteria will definitely take all the nutrients it can get.

As we’ll discuss, it is best to keep nitrates higher than normal in planted aquariums. This ensures that there is never a shortage of nutrients, which could lead to decreased growth rates and even plant death.

Most hobbyists find that they need to dose fertilizers at least once a week.

CO2 Injection

Similarly, wisteria does not need CO2 and dosing can actually be harmful if used in excess.

Carbon dioxide should only be dosed in large, heavily planted systems. Dosing carbon dioxide in a small aquarium with wisteria can cause massive overgrowth that could suffocate the system.

Water Wisteria Care

All in all, water wisteria doesn’t require much additional care. Put it in your tank and it’s sure to grow. The only factors that could potentially limit this plant’s growth rate are lighting and nutrient availability.

As long as those needs are met, you will be struggling to keep up with prunings.

Planted Tank Parameters

Water wisteria is a heavy water column feeder. These plants need plenty of available nutrients from fish waste, uneaten food, and sometimes fertilizers.

Though hardy, water wisteria does best when a tropical water temperature is maintained between 70-85 °F. This makes them different from other beginner-friendly plants that are more forgiving of cooler water temperatures.

That being said, water wisteria is a great plant to help facilitate the water cycle. They can survive moderate levels of ammonia and nitrite and will help stabilize a new system. They do require available nitrates for constant growth, though.

Filtration 

Water wisteria does not require filtration and can act as a form of filtration in itself. This plant is so efficient at uptaking nutrients that many hobbyists use it in aquariums that do not have filtration, relying on live plants and other organisms to convert nitrogen.

Still, we recommend using a sponge filter, hang on the back filter, or canister filter whenever keeping fish and invertebrates.

Flow

Water wisteria can tolerate low to high water flow. Keep in mind that environmental factors, such as flow, will influence how the plant grows and develops. A higher flow may cause your plant to grow more tightly together while a slower flow might let it take on a bushier appearance.

The main objective for flow in a planted aquarium is to prevent algae growth and to deliver nutrients. As long as these needs are met, your water wisteria will adapt to the rate of flow.

How To Propagate Water Wisteria

Few hobbyists ever need to manually propagate wisteria, but it’s not difficult to do so if you ever need extra of this plant.

Water wisteria is extremely easy to propagate from plants, leaves, or roots. As the plant grows, lateral roots will start to grow from the stem. The plant can be cut in between the leaf nodes and replanted straight into the substrate. If you don’t want to wait for your stem to develop roots, then you can simply cut in between the leaf nodes or take a single leaf and replant it.

It is very difficult to kill water wisteria during the propagation process, so don’t worry about being too aggressive!

Health And Disease

Though rare to happen, water wisteria can die due to unfavorable conditions. This is usually the result of inadequate nutrients or lighting.

Signs Of Health in Water Wisteria

Healthy water wisteria will have bright green leaves and a bushy appearance. An unhappy wisteria plant may appear yellow or brown, have stunted growth, and may start to wilt. By the time water wisteria is affected by an external factor, other aquatic plants will have probably died. These plants are resilient and will be the last ones to fall into a failing system.

But what could possibly kill water wisteria?

The main cause of water wisteria melting is insufficient nutrients. These plants need a constant supply of nutrients and a deficiency will cause plant growth to suffer and eventually stop. If you notice discoloration on the stem or leaves of the plant, check the water parameters. Fertilizers or heavier feedings may help to keep your plant fed.

Another factor that could be a problem is lighting. Water wisteria can tolerate high lighting with no problem, but not if they’re not given enough time to acclimate. The truth is that this is an easy plant that’s commonly found. It’s usually kept under low to medium lighting in stores, making it necessary to acclimate to higher lighting once in your home aquarium.

Keep in mind that it is also very common for new plants to melt during the acclimation process. Over the first few weeks of owning a new plant, the plant will usually shed all of its leaves to grow better and stronger.

Where To Buy Water Wisteria

Water wisteria is widely available in in-person and online pet stores and fish stores. It may be sold submersed or emersed; emersed plants may initially melt more than submersed plants, but do not carry the risk of introducing pest snails into the freshwater aquarium.

This plant is easy to find and highly prolific. It should never cost more than $5. In fact, many hobbyists are willing to give a free piece to fellow planted tank keepers due to its high growth rate.

Final Thoughts

Water wisteria is considered a weed for freshwater aquariums. This plant has a very high growth rate and can adapt to almost all water and tank conditions. Water wisteria is very efficient at uptaking nutrients, which can help stabilize newer systems. In return, it will also grow into a fluffy–yet unpredictable–shape that can provide shelter for fish and shrimp fry.

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

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