The Exotic Bucephalandra Aquarium Plant from Borneo

Bucephalandra is an increasingly popular genus of exotic aquarium plants native to Borneo. Often referred to as “buce”, these plants are prized for their unique leaf shapes, vibrant colors, and slow growth habits. However, successfully growing bucephalandra requires understanding the plant’s natural origins, preferred water parameters, and care requirements. This comprehensive guide will provide aquarists with everything they need to know to incorporate bucephalandra into their freshwater planted aquarium.

What is Bucephalandra?

Bucephalandra belongs to the Araceae family of plants and gets its name from the Greek words “boukephalon”, meaning bull’s head, and “landra”, meaning from the land. This name refers to thick and sturdy leaves resembling a bull’s head.

Over 30 identified species of bucephalandra are found in the wild, with new types still being discovered and classified. All bucephalandra are native to the island of Borneo where they grow along the banks of fast-moving streams and rivers. Their natural habitat has lent them the classification of rheophytes, or plants that have adapted to thrive in moving water environments.

In the wild, bucephalandra grow emersed during drier months when water levels recede. They transition to growing submersed, fully underwater, during monsoon seasons when streams overflow their banks. This amphibious nature allows most bucephalandra species to adapt well to fully submerged growth in home aquariums.

The leaves of bucephalandra display a wide diversity of shape, size, and coloration:

  • Shape: Leaves may be long and strap-like or round and coin-shaped. Unique vein patterns add visual interest.
  • Size: Leaf span ranges from petite, under an inch, to very large species over 5 inches wide.
  • Coloration: Greens, reds, browns, blues, and purples are commonly seen. Iridescence and metallic sheens make for a dynamic appearance.

This combination of traits makes bucephalandra a uniquely decorative aquarium plant. It has sometimes been called “the jewel of aquatic plants”.

Why is Bucephalandra So Expensive?

Given its status as a specialty plant from a remote locale, it’s no wonder bucephalandra commands premium prices in the aquarium trade. Rare aquatic plants often initially enter the hobby through dedicated collectors who trek to exotic locales to procure these unusual species. These dangerous and expensive collecting expeditions limit newly introduced plants’ supply.

Bucephalandra’s slow growth rate also keeps supply low. Aquatic plant farmers must meticulously propagate small batches of bucephalandra over long periods to generate commercial quantities. Demand for the plant far outpaces its plodding growth.

New bucephalandra variants take years to stabilize through selective breeding. Unique coloration and leaf patterns in naturally occurring mutants may take over a decade to isolate and reproduce in large numbers. These rare variants skyrocket in price due to very limited availability.

However, as more aquatic plant farms switch portions of their operations to focus on bucephalandra, prices are gradually decreasing across more common species. Wider availability through commercial propagation may help make bucephalandra more accessible to the average hobbyist.

Is Bucephalandra Difficult to Grow?

Despite originating from a highly specialized natural habitat, most varieties of bucephalandra adapt surprisingly well to general home aquarium conditions. The plant has a reputation for being challenging or finicky largely due to its slow growth rate and need for stable conditions, which limit forgiveness for husbandry mistakes.

However, bucephalandra’s basic care needs are quite modest provided its requirements are met consistently. The plant thrives under low to moderate light, prefers soft, acidic water, and has minimal need for fertilization. It is not a heavy root feeder, which makes it suitable for attachment to hardscapes rather than planted in substrate.

While bucephalandra grows slowly even in ideal conditions, growth completely stalls under stress. Adapting water parameters and maintaining stable tank conditions are key to success with this plant. Regular pruning and cleaning of leaves will help manage the algae growth the plant is prone to.

Overall, the exotic mystique surrounding bucephalandra exaggerates notions of difficulty somewhat. While requiring more specialized care than hardier plants, bucephalandra is not impossible for hobbyists to grow when given what it needs.

Popular Types of Bucephalandra

With over 30 identified variants and new cultivars still emerging, there is a bucephalandra to fit any aesthetic. Here are some of the most popular types commonly available:

Bucephalandra ‘Brownie Blue’

This variety is named for its chocolaty brown leaves that fade to blue around the edges. The blue coloration becomes more intense under higher light. The leaves have a unique rippled appearance.

Bucephalandra ‘Cherry Red’

‘Cherry Red’ features deep red leaves with prominent veining. New leaves emerge chartreuse before darkening to red. The undersides of leaves display an intense dark red.

Bucephalandra ‘Green Velvet’

This buce lives up to its name with plush, velvety green leaves. It stays compact, making it a great foreground plant.

Bucephalandra ‘Black Pearl’

Nearly black leaves make ‘Black Pearl’ a dramatic accent plant. Leaf undersides are also extremely dark. The plant remains relatively small.

Bucephalandra ‘Godzilla’

Aptly named, ‘Godzilla’ produces enormous leaves up to 7 inches across. The leaves are olive green with unique tobacco-colored veining. It needs ample space.

Bucephalandra ‘Catherine’

This variety has wavy blue-green leaves with ruffled edges. ‘Catherine’ is a hybrid cultivar that stays compact with a full, bushy growth habit.

Bucephalandra ‘Purple ‘Mini Coin’

A petite bucephalandra variety with thick, coin-shaped leaves that emerge chartreuse before darkening to a rich purple. It’s ideal for small-scale aquascapes.

How to Grow Bucephalandra in the Aquarium

Bucephalandra’s versatility is one of its best assets. The plant can be grown without substrate, allowing creativity in how it’s incorporated into the aquascape:

Attach to Hardscape

Bucephalandra rhizomes can be tied directly to rocks, driftwood, and other decor using cotton thread, super glue gel, or strong aquarium-safe adhesives. This allows placement in precise positions.

Include in Moss Walls

Affix bucephalandra plants into slots included in moss wall panels. The contrasting textures look amazing as the moss fills out.

Weave Into Moss Carpets

Bucephalandra’s short stature and unique leaf shapes allow it to mix into moss carpets attached to hardscapes effectively. The two complement each other well.

Place in Substrate

While not essential, bucephalandra can be planted in substrate if the rhizome remains unburied. Take care not to cover the base when planting.

This versatility makes incorporating bucephalandra into an aquascape as simple or creative as desired and provides aquarists with many unique design options to create stunning layouts.

Should Bucephalandra Be Planted in Substrate?

Bucephalandra will thrive just fine when attached to hardscape or left free floating. However, many aquarists also plant their bucephalandra directly into the substrate. This can be safely done provided a few important guidelines are followed:

  • Leave rhizomes exposed – The rhizome is the thickened rootstalk bucephalandra grows from. Never bury rhizomes under substrate.
  • Avoid compacting substrate – Heavy aquasoil or sand can compress around delicate roots and rhizomes, damaging the plant. Use a lightweight, porous substrate.
  • Allow space to spread – Even slow growing bucephalandra will gradually spread via rhizomes. Give adjacent space for new plantlets.
  • Use root tabs – Since roots access nutrients directly, use root tabs or other supplements to enrich substrate.
  • Provide support – Stiff leaves make bucephalandra prone to uprooting if not anchored well. Place small rocks around base.

With attention to these factors, planting directly in substrate can work well for bucephalandra. The appearance of emerging from the aquascape floor matches its natural habitat. Substrate planting requires a gentle, stable approach to succeed.

Techniques for Propagating Bucephalandra

Bucephalandra is propagated vegetatively, without seeds, by dividing existing plants. Propagation is typically done using rhizome cuttings:

Rhizome Cuttings

  • Use a sterilized blade to cut a rhizome into segments, ensuring each piece has leaves attached.
  • Cuttings should have 2-3 leaves each. More leaves can overwhelm the small rhizome section.
  • Allow cuttings to sit for several days until scabbing over before attaching to a new surface.
  • Super glue gel or cyanoacrylate work well to affix cuttings to hardscape or substrate.

Dividing Established Clumps

  • Large bucephalandra clumps can be broken up into smaller plantlets.
  • Carefully separate rooted stems from the main rhizome using your fingers or small snips.
  • Ensure some roots and at least one leaf remain on each new division.
  • Plantlet size divisions adapt faster than single leaves or petioles.

Emersed Growth

  • Bucephalandra can be emersed by laying a chopped rhizome flat on moist soil or moss.
  • Keep humid and partially shaded. New plantlets will begin to grow from rhizome sections.
  • Transition back to submerged growth after several weeks to months.

Tissue Culture

  • Common commercially, bucephalandra plantlets are cloned under sterile lab conditions.
  • Tissue culture is faster but more expensive. Growers must re-establish submerged growth.

With proper sterile technique, propagation is an easy way to expand a bucephalandra collection. Share trimmings with fellow aquarists!

Caring for Bucephalandra: Keeping Plants Healthy

While relatively hardy, bucephalandra does require certain care parameters be met to thrive in aquarium conditions long-term:

Low to Moderate Light

Bucephalandra grows best in low to moderate intensity lighting approximately 30-50 PAR at substrate level. High light typically results in algae.

Soft, Slightly Acidic Water

Target a pH between 6.0-6.8, hardness less than 6 dGH. Limestone raises pH/GH which can induce deficiency.

Stable Conditions

Avoid large fluctuations in lighting, temperature, pH, etc. that can shock this slow growing, sensitive plant.

Minimal Fertilization

Use a weak liquid fert or root tabs. Avoid large water column dosing, instead rely on fish waste. Copper is toxic.

Prune Old Leaves

Remove any damaged, torn, or heavily algae-covered leaves. Pruning stimulates new growth.

Gently Clean

Use a soft cloth or brush to gently clean leaves during water changes. Prevent buildup.

Watch for Pests

Snails, aphids, and thrips may damage bucephalandra. Remove or use protective measures if seen.

Meeting these parameters consistently will reward aquarists with flourishing, vibrant bucephalandra specimens.

Bucephalandra Pricing: What Impacts Cost?

Bucephalandra is one of the most expensive aquarium plants available, with rare variants fetching prices from $200-500 for a single rhizome! What makes this plant so costly?

  • Difficulty Propagating – Slow growth and the need to propagate vegetatively limit supply volume.
  • Wild Sourced – Newly discovered wild variants are often extremely limited until successfully propagated.
  • Labor Intensive Farming – Meticulous tissue culture labs and greenhouse farms have high operating costs.
  • Collector Demand – Bucephalandra is prized by rare plant collectors willing to pay top dollar for unusual specimens.
  • New Variants – New leaf shapes, colors, and patterns breeders develop carry high price tags. Unique genetics!
  • Import Restrictions – Strict regulations, phytosanitary certificates, and inspections raise costs of importing exotic aquatic plants.
  • Shipping Challenges – Insulated packaging and expedited shipping required to move these tropical plants safely.

While still pricey, farm raised selections of common Bucephalandra types have now become reasonably affordable to most hobbyists. Unique wild variants and newly bred cultivars remain coveted, prized selections.

Using Bucephalandra in Aquascaping Designs

The diverse sizes, shapes, and colors of bucephalandra provide aquascapers with many options to incorporate this plant into underwater layouts creatively.

Accent Plant

Bucephalandra’s unique textures make it ideal for an accent plant to draw the eye. Position focal point plants in prominent locations.

Contrasting Colors

Mix brightly colored red and purple varieties amongst green plants to contrast colors. Use colors to lead the eye.

Filling Space

Bucephalandra’s compact growth gently fills awkward gaps in hardscape layouts.

Complimenting Moss

Combine bucephalandra’s solid, wavy leaves with wispy mosses for pleasing contrasts in texture and form.

Fore- and Mid-ground

The low, mounding growth habit of most buce varieties make them suitable foreground or midground plants for scale.

Applied creatively as design elements, bucephalandra can be used by aquascapers to craft beautifully complex compositions in planted tank layouts.

The Rare Sight of Bucephalandra Flowering

A thriving bucephalandra plant may occasionally surprise aquarists with a rare treat – flowers! When conditions are ideal, bucephalandra will send up a solitary, wavy stalk topped with a fleshy inflorescence known as a spathe.

The slender flower stalk emerges first, extending just above the water’s surface before unfurling the spathe. The unique spathe starts a solid white or sometimes light pinkish hue before peeling back to reveal the finger-like spadix containing small flowers.

Once emerged, the entire flowering structure usually only remains fully open for a single 24 hour period before collapsing. Flowers release a faint, sweet fragrance to attract pollinating insects in the wild. No viable seeds or propagation results from aquarium blooms lacking necessary pollinators. However, this fleeting floral display remains a sure sign of excellent plant health!

While flowering is uncommon under water, optimizing care and maturation can coax plants to bloom. Any bucephalandra flower is a rare, beautiful occurrence in home aquaria!

Popular Bucephalandra Variety Examples

With new color morphs and leaf shapes continually being discovered and propagated, there is incredible diversity among the varieties of Bucephalandra available to aquarists today. Here is a sampling of some of the most popular variants:

Bucephalandra ‘Godzilla’ – Enormous leaves reaching over 5 inches wide give this aptly named monster a dramatic appearance. The dark green leaves feature unique brown central veining.

Bucephalandra ‘Velvet Leaf’ – Plush, soft leaves have a distinctive velvety texture. New leaves unfurl a striking blue-green before darkening with maturity. Compact growth habit.

Bucephalandra ‘Catherine’ – Ruffled leaf edges give this variety an delicate, feminine look. Blue-green leaves yellow slightly under high lighting. Hybrid cultivar.

Bucephalandra ‘Black Centipede’ – Deep black leaves with hints of purple retain their dramatic coloring even in low light conditions. They were named for the creeping rhizome growth.

Bucephalandra ‘Pink Lady’ – Bright magenta leaves make this cultivar pop against green plants. Rhizomes also take on a pinkish hue. Requires sufficient lighting to achieve full color.

With new varieties still being discovered and propagated by specialty growers, the diversity among Bucephalandra selections will continue expanding.

Comparing Emersed Versus Submersed Growth Forms

In their natural habitat, bucephalandra grows emersed and submersed depending on seasonal water fluctuations. These two forms exhibit some differences aquarists should understand:

Emersed Growth

  • Grows above water line, leaves exposed to air
  • Thicker waxy cuticle on leaves
  • Stomata distribute upper leaf surface
  • Exhibits brighter coloration
  • Flowers more readily

Submersed Growth

  • Grows fully underwater, leaves continually wet
  • Thinner cuticle, fewer stomata clustered lower on leaves
  • Color often dulls underwater from pigment dilution
  • Reduced flowering, but still possible in peak health

Either emersed or submersed forms can be used to start bucephalandra in an aquarium environment. Once adapted to underwater life, most varieties will transition smoothly and begin thriving. Recognizing traits of each form helps inform proper care.

Suitable Houseplant Companions for Bucephalandra

The following popular houseplants can make great additions alongside bucephalandra in partially submerged aquatic plant displays:

  • Anubias – With similar care needs, anubias combine well with bucephalandra. Let them attach to a shared piece of wood or stone.
  • Pothos – Trailing pothos vines dangling down into the water provide quick growing contrast to bucephalandra’s slow pace. The roots also help filter water.
  • Peace Lily – Tolerant of high humidity, peace lily is a safe choice for an emersed plant near aquarium water. Its white flowers stand out dramatically.
  • Umbrella Plant – The lush, glossy leaves of umbrella plant complement bucephalandra’s textures. It thrives in bright, humid conditions an open-top aquarium provides.
  • Ferns – Aquarium safe options like java fern or rabbit’s foot fern combine well with bucephalandra. Their delicate fronds contrast the thicker buce leaves.
  • Dieffenbachia – With similar veined leaf patterns, dieffenbachia makes an ideal companion. Just be cautious with keeping this poisonous plant away from pets or children.
  • Calathea – The striking patterns and colors of calathea provide diversity. Ensure the aquarium environment remains sufficiently humid for these tropical plants.

Mixed, bucephalandra and suitable houseplants can create a visually engaging paludarium or riparium aquarium display thriving with plant life above and below the water’s surface.

Determining Ideal Plant Density Per Gallon

When incorporating bucephalandra into an aquascape, use the following guidelines to select the appropriate density per gallon of tank volume:

  • Foreground – Use 3-5 small bucephalandra plants per gallon for a carpeted look. Cover bottom completely.
  • Midground – Space midground plants further apart, utilizing 1-2 medium bucephalandra per gallon.
  • Accent – Limit large statement bucephalandra to 1 accent plant per 5-10 gallons. Give them space to shine.
  • Mixed Plantings – Reduce bucephalandra density when combined with other plants. Try 1-2 plants per 5 gallons.
  • Propagation – Start with a higher initial density to account for future proliferation via rhizomes.

Start conservatively, observing growth rate and filler needs. Adjust plant ratios over time, increasing or reducing density to achieve the desired aesthetic.


With striking colors, unique leaf shapes, diverse growth forms and its origin from an exotic locale, bucephalandra offers aquarium hobbyists a plant with visual potential. Despite its slow pace, bucephalandra adapts readily to general aquarium conditions when provided relatively simple care. Once established, bucephalandra is a testament to the aquarist’s patience and plant husbandry skills. This “jewel of the aquatic plant world” certainly lives up to its reputation and remains a coveted, if challenging, addition to any freshwater planted tank.