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Hardiness: Difficult
Light Needs: High
Plant Structure: Stem
Family: Eriocaulaceae
Genus: Tonina
Region: Central/South America, West Indies, Mexico
Location: South America, ranging north into Central America
Size: Individual stem width: 2-3cm (1-1.5in)
Growth Rate: Medium
Can Be Grown Emersed: Yes


Tonina fluviatilis comes from slow-moving, black water rivers and streams from Mexico and Cuba to northern South America, forming dense mats in shallow water. It was first imported by Japanese hobbyists, who were the first recognize its beauty and suitability as an aquarium plant. Although it is a rather recent addition to the planted aquarium hobby in the U.S., it is quickly gaining popularity and becoming more common in the trade. *

T. fluviatilis makes many special demands on the hobbyist, making it unsuitable for beginners. This stem plant requires at least moderately soft water in order for it to thrive; a GH of about 5 or less should be adequate. The substrate material should be acidic (such as Florabase, or ADA Aquasoil), although a mature Eco-complete or Flourite substrate with a peat under layer will suffice. Lighting should be intense (3 watts per gallon or more). CO2 injection is a necessity for this plant to thrive as well. Surprisingly, T. fluviatilis is not all too fussy about water column fertilization other than ample additions of iron/micronutrients. However. do not let nitrate and phosphate levels reach zero. Because of this plant's special demands, some hobbyists choose to set up a special aquarium just for it and other soft water, acidic substrate loving species (Syngonanthus spp., Eriocaulon spp., etc.).

T. fluviatilis grows vertically even under very intense light, setting out the occasional side shoot along the length of the stem. Because of its moderate growth rate, it can be smothered by more competitive, faster growing stem plants; make sure that it does not get shaded. When this plant grows too tall, simply top and replant the more robust top portions. To propagate, snip off the side shoots with a pair of scissors and replant. Replant only the top two inches of each stem for best results, as starting with trimmings that are too tall will result in the lower portions becoming rooty and ratty. Shorter trimmings will grow out into cleaner, healthier looking stalks.

This Tonina species is an excellent green accent plant in the mid ground to background of an aquascape because of its unique, fresh green foliage. It would be an excellent candidate for a Dutch style tank, because of its moderate growth rate, very vertical growth habit, and adjustable height.

* For the plants long known as Tonina sp. 'Belem' and Tonina sp. 'Manaus', please see the genus Syngonanthus

Photo #1Submersed: US and International Copyright 2004 by Svennovitch All Rights Reserved.

Photo #2Submersed: US and International Copyright 2004 by Svennovitch All Rights Reserved.

Photo #3 Emersed with inflorescence: US and International Copyright 2009 by Jeff U. All Rights Reserved

Photo #4 Emersed with inflorescences: US and International Copyright 2009 by Jeff U. All Rights Reserved