Making Cryptocoryne Less Cryptic

Posted by Aquatropic Staff on August 22, 2023

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Cryptocoryne or “crypts” is a genus name that is widely applied to a group of flowering plants native to Southern and Southeastern Asia and New Guinea. They belong to the family Araceae which is characterized by an inflorescence (a specialized stem on which a group of flowers grows), which grows a spadix (which is a tight cluster of small flowers – almost looking like a tiny corn on the cob). They were first described in 1779 by the Swedish scientist Anders Retzius. Today there are over 70 described species and perhaps closer to 100 in total!

A riverine (situated on a river or riverbank) species they are normally found in gently flowing water, but also in seasonally flooded forests. They can grow out of water as well, so long as humidity is high enough and the roots can stay relatively wet, which isn’t an issue on riverbanks and in some of these low laying forests. Coming from these dense forests in South Asia crypts are well adapted to growing in low light situations, and therefore make a good aquarium candidate and generally a fairly solid beginner plant. That said, being so widespread throughout a large area crypt do come from differing water parameters with some preferring hard water, some preferring soft and some even found in euryhaline areas (areas that fluctuate in salinity). Most of them available to us in the pet trade are very hardy and should do well in neutral to slightly basic/alkaline waters.

In aquariums crypts needs are fairly easily met, but here are a few considerations. Substrate is a primary concern. These plants are heavy root feeders and so they require access to a lot of nutrients in their root zone. Commercial aquarium substrates are a good place to start. They won't damage the plants roots and should allow them to spread. Check carefully – not all planted aquarium substrates are actually that nutrient rich, and while all of them will allow you to grow crypts, you may need to do more than just add the substrate. For those who are into the DIY method “dirted” tanks or mineralized topsoil tanks are aquariums where people have processed soil into a fine substrate that is perfect for growing plants. These require some effort, need to be capped by another substrate to keep them in place and will need to be replaced when they become depleted.

The easiest way to grow crypts is to select a substrate that is suitable for their roots (such as a plant specific substrate, or a finer sand) and then purchase root fertilizer tabs that you can push into the substrate and close to the root zone. Crypts are such heavy root feeders that doing this is probably a good idea regardless of what substrate you choose – but watch your plants, they will tell you what they need through their appearance and vigor. The aquarium doesn’t need to be brightly lit or enriched with carbon dioxide – however some crypts are known to develop and display stunning colors when given these growing conditions. If lights are too bright and the plants don’t grow fast enough, it can encourage algae growth on the leaves and that can result in the loss of the plant. Always best to start with less light – and slowly work your way up while giving the plant access to all the root nutrients it needs and potentially co2 supplementation as well to keep up with the lighting. Crypts come in all sorts of different sizes, and so depending on your variety, and your aquarium they should probably be planted in the midground, or background plantings so that they don’t cover up other plants. In some very large aquariums, or with some truly small crypts under bright lighting they can potentially serve as foreground plants as well.

A final note on keeping crypts is that when they are new or go through any rapid change there is a chance of “crypt melt”. Crypt melt is when the leaves of the crypt seemingly melt away quickly leaving one with a completely bald plant. This is okay – and some vendors will actually sell crypts without leaves (from cutting them off before shipping) knowing that the change from one aquarium to another and the stress more than likely will cause the leaves to melt anyways. Frequent water changes can ensure greater stability – less difference in water quality from old and new water – and therefore reduce the likelihood of crypt melt. Planting crypts should always be done in a cycled, established aquarium as the water quality issues associated with uncycled aquariums are also conducive to causing your new plants to melt. Lastly some people grow plants for the aquarium trade emersed. Emersed plants are aquatic plants that are grown out of the water in warm, highly humid environments. The advantages of this, are that you avoid most algae issues (allowing you to run aquarium lights longer than one normally would), and the plants have unlimited access to environmental co2 (carbon dioxide levels in your home are likely to be at least 2-3 times atmospheric levels. This means that it's an effective way to grow algae free plants quickly for sale or, for more advanced hobbyist's large projects requiring them to quickly propagate lots of plants. Crypts enjoy this culture method, and being a plant that is already able to grow out of water to some degree they don’t think twice about thriving emersed. The downside is that when you order emersed plants or buy them, there will be a fairly drastic environmental change, and that causes – you guessed it – crypt melt. The good news is that healthy specimens in good environmental conditions will rebound within a month; keep those conditions stable and you will soon be rewarded with a thick stand of crypts in your aquarium!

Crypts reproduce easily, spreading all by themselves and kicking out new, smaller versions of themselves just making dense clumps wherever you plant them and reward them with rich substrate to grow in. So, visit your local fish store today and see what sustainable, algae and pest free plants they have available from Aquatropic today!