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Bolbitis heudelotii (African Water Fern) is an aquatic plant, which belongs to the ferns. Like all ferns, its fronds grow from rhizome. Unlike many other aquatic ferns, it doesn’t propagate by forming runners directly on the surface of the old leaves. Propagation of Bolbitis is through rhizome division, in the same way as Anubias. It’s not necessarily need to be planted in substrate. It can quickly attach itself to a stone or driftwood.
Deep-green color of Bolbitis can be used as a great addition to any aquascape since it provides a nice contrast to many aquatic plants of bright-green color. Placing Bolbitis in the background of the aquascape creates the illusion of a distant dark, deep forest. But it can be also placed in the midground areas of the aquarium. In this case it will definitely draw the attention of the viewer, as it’s perfectly utilized by Takashi Amano in his tanks.
If you are willing to place Bolbitis in the back or midground of the composition, then you need to know the following features of this plant. Just like Anubias, each newly grown leaf of Bolbitis is bigger than the previous one. At the same time its rhizome becoming more thick. Leaves of the fern can grow big and long, reaching 60 cm tall. And of course such Bolbitis is better to be placed in the background of the aquarium. Also it has a special decorative feature that allows its leaves to grow above the water surface while keeping them from drying out. Aquascape with Bolbitis, leaves of which have grown above the coverless aquarium, looks impressive. But if you willing to use Bolbitis as a midgrount plant, then you should not allow it rhizome to develop therefore preventing its leaves from growing taller than 15 cm. Once it put forth a big leaf, this leaf should be removed together with the part of rhizome. Unfortunately Bolbitis stops growing for a while afterwards due to the stress. But later its rhizome starts to branch out and new rhizomes put forth smaller leaves (about 10-15 cm tall). This approach is somewhat similar to the cultivation of bonsai trees.
Another interesting feature of Bolbitis is that the small leaves growing from the young rhizome can grow not only upwards, but also horizontally nicely covering driftwood, stones or other plants. Larger leaves growing from bigger rhizome don’t posses such feature and usually grow upwards. The young leaves of Bolbitis are also different in shape from the old ones. The photo in the beginning of the article shows the young, small leaves, which have slightly rounded edges. Large leaves growing from bigger rhizome have more apparent toothed edges.
Bolbitis heudelotii belongs to the easy growing aquarium plants. It can even grow without fertilization thanks to its slow growth rate. But it grows better in neutral or slightly acidic water. This may require a small supply of CO2 to keep pH at the level of 3-5 mg/l. Formation of dark brown marks on its leaves is the first sign that this plant is kept under bad conditions.