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Care Guide for Bucephalandra — A Colorful Alternative to Anubias

When it comes to beginner-friendly aquarium plants, most people think of anubias or java fern. But if you’re looking for something a little more unique, try bucephalandra. This lovely plant has unusual, iridescent leaves, does well in low lighting, and is perfect for nano aquariums. However, they tend to cost more than anubias and are very slow growing compared to other aquatic plants. Keep reading to learn all about the beautiful bucephalandra.

What is Bucephalandra?

Bucephalandra (or “buce” for short) is a genus of rheophyte plants that grows along the banks of fast-moving streams in Borneo. They grow emersed (or above water) during the dry season and submersed (or below water) during the rainy season. Buce plants often have oblong leaves with wavy edges, but some types are more circular in shape, skinner in width, or have straight edges. The foliage greatly varies from light to dark greens, and certain varieties come with red, purple, or bluish tints. Up close, you may notice some species have small white dots on the leaves, as well as an iridescent sheen that changes in the light. If your buce is thriving, it may even produce a white or pink flower for your enjoyment.

bucephalandra green wavy

Bucephalandra “Green Wavy”

What are the different types of buce? Currently, more than 30 species have been identified, but there are hundreds of different common names available on the market — such as green wavy, brownie blue, black pearl, mini coin, dark skeleton king, Godzilla, and deep purple. (Note: To help prevent overharvesting in the wild, we at Aquarium Co-Op only sell farm-raised bucephalandra on our website.)

Why is bucephalandra so expensive? They are relatively new to the aquarium hobby and therefore are in high demand among fishkeepers. Plus, they are very slow growing compared to other species. As plant farms gradually increase their stock, the price will hopefully decrease over time.

How big do bucephalandra get? Some species grow by creeping horizontally and stay around 2–4 inches (5–10 cm) tall, whereas species that grow upright may reach 7–10 inches (18–25 cm). Different types of buce have leaves ranging from 0.5–4 inches (1–10 cm) long. Most aquascapers enjoy using bucephalandra in the foreground or middle of the aquarium, or they attach them to hardscape.

Is bucephalandra hard to grow? Buce are considered easy to care for because they can live in low lighting, do not need a lot of fertilizer or CO2 injection, and can grow without any substrate. That being said, they tend to grow very slowly and can be prone to algae growth. We like to grow our buce in the shaded parts of our aquariums and use algae eaters to keep their leaves clean.

purple bucephalandra from Borneo

Buce comes in many colors like green, purple, red, and blue

How to Plant Bucephalandra

Like anubias and java fern, buce plants have a rhizome, which is like a thick stem or trunk that sprouts both leaves and roots. The great thing about rhizome plants is that they do not need to be planted in substrate. You can easily wedge them between a crack in a rock or more firmly attach them to decor using sewing thread or super glue gel. Be careful not smother the rhizome with too much glue or else it may suffer. For more details, read our post on using super glue to attach plants.

If you do wish to put the plant in the ground, the key is to make sure the rhizome is not covered up. First, push the plant deeply into the sand or gravel so the roots and rhizome are buried. Then gently pull the plant upwards until the rhizome is completely exposed but the roots are still in the substrate.

Finally, you have the option of leaving the bucephalandra in the plastic basket with rock wool. Feed the plant by inserting a root tab into the rock wool so that it reaches the roots. Then drop the whole pot into an Easy Planter decoration, which makes the buce look like it is growing out of a rock. The planter allows you to easily move the buce whenever you desire and keeps fish from digging up your plants.

Why is my bucephalandra melting? Most plant farms grow their plants emersed, so when your new buce is suddenly submerged underwater, some of the leaves may melt while it adjusts to its new environment. Nutrients are primarily stored in the rhizome, so do not throw it away. As long as the rhizome looks healthy, leave it in the aquarium and it will start to grow new shoots that form into leaves and roots. For more information on melting plants, see our full article.


bucephalandra growing in the wild

Bucephalandra growing emersed in the wild

How to Care for Bucephalandra

Buce plants have very similar care requirements to anubias and java fern and can handle a wide range of temperatures from 70–82°F (21–28°C) and pH from 6–8. They can also grow in low to medium lighting, but as mentioned before, higher lighting may invite algae problems because of their slow growth. While adding CO2 gas is not necessary, it can help to speed up growth. Because of their native habitat in fast-moving rivers, bucephalandra have developed very strong roots, so they will do well in fish tanks with high flow once established.

Does bucephalandra need fertilizer? Like most rhizome plants, they consume most of their nutrients from the water column and therefore would benefit from an all-in-one liquid fertilizer like Easy Green.

Can bucephalandra grow out of water? Yes, buce do quite well when grown emersed, so try adding them to a paludarium or terrarium with plenty of water and high humidity. You can also grow them together with moss to help keep their roots moist at all times.

Red wine shrimp with Buephalandra

Wine red Caridina shrimp on a forest of buce

How to Propagate Bucephalandra

In the wild, buce usually produce flowers above the water that have special odors to attracts pollinators. Successful fertilization results in fruit with seeds that drop into the water and spread to different areas. In an aquarium setting, the easiest way to propagate buce is by cutting the rhizome into two pieces with a pair of clean, sharp scissors. Try to find natural bends in the rhizome, where the plant has begun to form separate clumps of foliage. Then attach the new piece to a rock or driftwood as detailed previously, and it will continue growing as a second plant.

Bucephalandra plant with underwater flower

Buce flowers grown underwater are beautiful but do not produce seeds

If you have never kept bucephalandra before, save up your money to get this rare jewel for your planted aquarium. They have an elegant beauty that is irresistible to both beginners and experienced aquascapers. Check out our selection of buce plants to order your own today.

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