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Hardiness: Difficult
Light Needs: Medium
Plant Structure: Bulb
Family: Aponagetonaceae
Genus: Aponogeton
Region: Africa
Location: Madagascar
Size: Height: 30-60cm+ (12-24 in+)
Growth Rate: Fast
Can Be Grown Emersed: No


Aponogeton madagascariensis is usually found in moving water on the island of Madagascar. Its lace-like (fenestrated) leaves are unique, and this species has been a challenge for aquarists since the 195os. There are two closely related varieties, henkelianus and major that have broad leaves and two-spiked whitish or yellowish flowers which can be self-fertilized with a paint brush to produce viable seeds. Variety henkelianus has irregular fenestration of the leaves, and variety major has a much more regular (rectangular) fenestration. The other variety in the aquarium trade, var. madagascariensis is a much larger plant with narrower leaves that can be up to 1 meter long including the petiole. This variety has pink or purple flowers usually with five spikes, and these flowers can not be self-fertilized. The stems of A. madagascariensis flowers can be up to 1.5 cm in diameter. If A. madagascariensis reaches full size, it will be too large for any tank smaller than 500 liters.

All varieties of A. madagascariensis, prefer to get established in a substrate low in organic matter. Rich substrates, or those with with added peat or manure should be avoided. Dark brown dead spots on the older leaves that spread until the whole leaf is dead indicate too rich a substrate. The presence of roots from other plants also helps the lace plant get established. Ideally, these 'companion plants' should not overgrow or shade the lace plant leaves. The smaller, more compact Cryptocoryne species serve this purpose well. It is best to have the companion plants established before planting the lace plant bulb, which, by the way, should not be buried completely. Along with moderate, unobstructed lighting, the lace plant requires CO2 additions to do its best, along with careful maintenance of all macronutrients and micronutrients. The lace plant is especially sensitive to a lack of soluble iron in the water. The literature on aquarium plants states that lace plants have rest periods where the leaves die back. The bulbs, however, should not be allowed to dry during the rest period. Eventually they start growing again. If kept with constant good growing conditions, however, the lace plant can keep producing leaves for years without a rest period. If not supplied with adequate CO2 and nutrients, a lace plant bulb will initially produce healthy leaves, but it is using stored food reserves in the bulb, and will soon run out of reserves and dwindle away. Finally, it is important to note that A. madagascariensis does far better when temperatures are not allowed to reach over around seventy five degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius). Growth over that temperature can result in much slower and smaller growth; high enough warmth can lead to a total cessation of growth.

If seeds are produced, they will, like other Aponogeton seeds, be released with waterproof fleshy seed coats that allow them to float for a day or two until the seed coat disintegrates, releasing the embryo, which sinks and immediately tries to get rooted. These embryo seedlings should be planted in silica sand mixed with a small amount of soil to produce 'muddy' sand. Given the good growing conditions described above, the seedlings should reach in three or four months a size where their leaves are 10 cm long and their bulbs over 1 cm in diameter. At this size the little plants can be transplanted.

The henkelianus and major varieties, with good lighting, can be fairly compact plants, which can fit in the mid-ground of large tanks. The madagascariensis variety should be at the back of the tank and is only suitable for aquascaping when the plants are small enough that they have not yet reached the surface.

Photo #1: US and International Copyright 2006 by Jeff Senske All Rights Reserved