|Height||Varies according to nutrient availability|
|Width||Varies according to nutrient availability|
|Substrate||Sand, gravel or soil|
|pH||6 – 7.2|
|Lighting||Low – High|
|Ideal Temperature||68-81°F (20-27°C)|
|Carbonate Hardness (KH)||5-12 dKH|
What do you get if you cross a bunch of bananas with a water lily?
A banana plant!
If you are looking for a unique yet easy-to-grow aquarium plant, the banana plant is exactly what you are looking for. And today, I am going to teach you everything you need to know about them.
What is a banana plant?
This unusual plant is native to the south and southeast of the United States and is typically found in lakes, ponds swamps and slow rivers. In Maryland, the banana plant is such a rare sighting in its natural habitat that it is classified as endangered.
While the banana plant may be a threatened plant in its natural environment, you won’t have any difficulty tracking down a seller, should you want a banana plant in your aquarium. Don’t worry! Banana plants are grown from cuttings of established banana plants and are not collected from their native habitat.
What are other names for banana plants?
- Aquatic banana plant
- Underwater banana plant
- Banana lily
- Heart water lily
- Big floating heart
- The brain plant
But among the aquarium community, this plant is usually referred to as the aquarium banana plant or by its scientific name Nymphoides aquatica.
How do you identify an aquarium banana plant?
You will instantly be able to identify a banana plant by its tubers – they resemble an unripened bunch of bananas…
These thick tubers are the part of the plant where the nutrients are stored. Many beginners confuse the tubers for the roots of the plant. However, this is not the case, and if you plant the tubers under your substrate, they will soon rot.
The roots of the aquarium banana plant actually grow from the stem of the plant. And as you would expect, they look more… rooty. The thin roots grow downward, toward the substrate and are either white or light green in color.
Now, the leaves are where things get interesting. While it will produce multiple leaves that stay underwater, the banana plant will shoot a runner toward the surface of your aquarium. Within a week or so, you will have a lily pad sitting at the top of your aquarium.
That’s a long stem, right? I have seen these stems grow as long as 28 inches!
Although they are typically light to dark green, it’s not uncommon for the leaves of a banana plant to have a patchy red color.
How do you plant an aquarium banana plant?
Want to know something cool about the banana plant? It can either be left to float or you can plant it in the substrate of your aquarium.
A healthy floating banana plant takes more effort than one planted in the substrate, and liquid fertilizer is a must.
Curiously, a floating banana plant will eventually produce roots that will grow down into your substrate, anchoring it into place. I have seen these roots grow as long as a foot!
Below, you see an example of a floating banana plant with its roots seeking out the substrate underneath.
For beginners, and those of you just looking for an easy-to-grow plant, I recommend planting the banana plant in the substrate of your aquarium.
If you are planting in soil, no fertilizer is required because the soil will provide all the nutrients your banana plant needs to grow big and healthy.
Sand and gravel, on the other hand, do not provide the same nutrients. If you want to plant your banana plant in either of these substrates, then I recommend using root tabs. Simply push a root tab into the substrate near the root of your plants, and it will release all the nutrients your banana plant needs to grow!
Be mindful, however, that no more than 1/3 of the banana-like tubers should be buried in your substrate. Any more than that and the tubers may begin to rot.
Don’t want your banana plant to float? Keep it in place by using a plant weight, glue or even tying the banana plant to a rock.
Once the banana plant’s roots are established, they will be able to hold the plant down. At this stage, your weight or tethers can be removed.
Note that in some instances, the roots have been known to lift the banana plant up, making the plant look like it’s floating in mid-air. Well, mid-water, anyway!
As for lighting, banana plants grow well under both low or high light. However, if you want to see the banana plant grow its heart-shaped lily leaves on the surface, then medium to high light is best – in low light, the leaves are likely to stay submerged.
In fact, in an aquarium setting, many hobbyists choose to stunt the growth of the plant. The reason? The leaves that surface might look pretty, but they can pose a problem to the other plants in your aquarium by blocking out the light.
By lowering the light and temperature and skipping the CO2, you can simulate winter conditions. The result is smaller leaves and shorter stalks, meaning you don’t have to worry about the banana plant taking over your tank.
Alternatively, a quick snip with a pair of scissors and the lily and stem are removed from your banana plant.
Lighting can also affect the color of your banana plant. In low lighting conditions, the banana plant will have a dark green coloration while medium to high light will see it turn a light-green color.
As for temperature, let’s just say there is a reason that the banana plant prefers to grow in the southern states of the US – the climate.
Banana plants prefer warmer temperatures, making it a great addition to your tropical tank. Even so, the banana plant will tolerate temperatures as low as 50°F (10°C). However, its growth will be stunted.
Finally, there’s water movement. Banana plants typically grow in slow-moving rivers, creeks and ponds. As you might have guessed, this means that they don’t like fast water movement where the current will blow the lily pads around your tank. So, reduce the flow rate of your filter, if necessary.
Propagating your banana plant
Why buy more banana plants when you can grow them yourself?
Once your banana plant has shot a runner to the surface, wait for the lily pad leaf to unfurl. Once mature, cut the stalk off so that at least 4 inches (10cm) remains.
Place the cutting back inside your aquarium and wait a few weeks. Before long, you will notice small white roots beginning to form at the base of the stalk like this…
You might even notice the beginnings of new leaves starting to grow. Now, all that is left to do is to plant the roots in your substrate.
For the best chance of success, your tank needs to meet the recommended growing conditions – low water flow, dosing liquid fertilizer and medium to high lighting.
Troubleshooting banana plants
Snails and plecos are both known to chomp on banana plants. If you come home to discover your banana plant has been devoured, there is a good chance that one of these two are to blame.
Another problem is the banana plant losing its tubers…
There are two theories behind this.
The first is excess nutrients. The banana-like tubers are where the plant stores its nutrients. If the roots are pulling enough nutrients out of your substrate and water, then there is no need for the tubers, and they fall off.
The other is that the plant isn’t actually a Nymphoides aquatica but instead a plant that looks incredibly similar, Nymphoides mexicana, which sheds its tubers.
In either case, the tubers falling off does not mean that your plant is unhealthy or dying. If the leaves, stalks and rhizome all look normal, and growth is consistent, then there is no need to act.
If you are looking for a plant that is easy to take care of, look no further than the banana plant. The best part is that once you have one, you can easily grow more!
Do you have banana plants in your aquarium? Let me know in the comments below!
Ian Sterling, founder of Fishlab.com, began his aquarium journey over 30 years ago, driven by a deep fascination for fish and their diverse personalities. His website, Fishlab.com, is dedicated to making fishkeeping accessible and enjoyable, offering beginner-friendly guidance, expert insights, and a community for aquarists to connect and share experiences.