Cryptocoryne: The Versatile Aquarium Plant

Cryptocoryne is a fascinating genus of aquatic plants that’s a favorite among aquarium enthusiasts. Originating from tropical regions like India, Southeast Asia, and New Guinea, these plants are commonly referred to as “crypts.” They are versatile, thriving in various water conditions, from soft acidic water to hard alkaline water. This comprehensive guide aims to provide an in-depth look into the world of Cryptocoryne.

We’ll explore the different species, their unique characteristics, care requirements, and how to propagate them. Whether you’re a seasoned aquarist or just starting, Cryptocoryne can be the perfect addition to your underwater garden. Let’s dive right in!

Cryptocoryne Aquarium Plant

Overview of Cryptocoryne

Cryptocorynes are part of the Araceae family, closely related to other aquatic genera like Anubias and Lagenandra. The name “Cryptocoryne” comes from Greek words meaning “hidden club,” referring to their unique inflorescence that remains curled up under water.

In the wild, Cryptocorynes are naturally found in streams, rivers, and seasonally flooded forest pools across tropical Asia. Most species thrive in shaded areas and shallow waters, with some able to even grow emersed during dry seasons.

There are over 60 recognized species of Cryptocoryne today, with new species still being discovered. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes – from petite plants like C. parva that remain under 3 inches, to larger species reaching over 12 inches, like C. crispatula.

The most popular among aquarists are the mid-sized varieties that grow to 6-8 inches tall. This includes classics like C. wendtii and C. undulata. Their versatility, undemanding nature, and variety of leaf shapes and colors make them a staple in planted aquariums.

Species Spotlight

With over 60 species, it can get overwhelming for beginners to pick the right Cryptocoryne. Here are 10 of the most popular and readily available species in the hobby:

Cryptocoryne parva

One of the tiniest Cryptocorynes, C. parva remains under 3 inches tall. It has compact growth and tiny, rounded leaves that make it perfect for nano tanks or foreground planting. Easy to care for, C. parva grows slowly but steadily under low to moderate light.

Cryptocoryne lucens

Known for its bright green, slightly translucent leaves, C. lucens works great as a mid-ground plant. It has a height of 5-8 inches and does well under most lighting conditions. The leaves have a subtle hammered texture and undulated edges.

Cryptocoryne flamingo

A rare and unique species, C. flamingo has pinkish-red leaves that make it a colorful highlight. Slow growing and needing stable water parameters, it does best under medium to high light. Provide nutrient-rich substrate for the best coloration.

Cryptocoryne wendtii

One of the most popular and readily available crypts, C. wendtii comes in many varieties like ‘Green,’ ‘Brown,’ and ‘Red.’ It has mid-sized leaves growing up to 6 inches tall and is very versatile and hardy. An excellent beginner plant that does well in low to high-light tanks.

Cryptocoryne beckettii

A hardy, easy-to-keep species, C. beckettii adapts well to a range of conditions. It has broad textured leaves and can grow quite dense and even become invasive. Does great in low tech setups. Trim it often to maintain a compact shape.

Cryptocoryne balansae

The long, arching leaves of C. balansae give it a grass-like appearance. Growing up to 10 inches tall, it sways gently in the current. Needs moderate lighting and benefits from added CO2. Looks amazing as a background plant.

Cryptocoryne willisii

Often confused with C. parva due to similarly short stature, C. willisii has narrower leaves. It’s an undemanding plant suitable for small tanks, growing under 3 inches tall. Prefers shaded spots and nutrient-rich substrate.

Cryptocoryne walkeri

A Cryptocoryne species native to Sri Lanka, C. walkeri is known for its hardiness and adaptability. Its sword-shaped leaves have a rippled or bullated texture. Does well in low tech setups. It can grow up to 8 inches tall.

Cryptocoryne undulata

With its wavy leaf margins that give it an undulated appearance, C. undulata provides great visual interest. Grows up to 6 inches tall and does well under low to moderate light. An easy crypt for beginners.

Cryptocoryne lutea

A versatile species that can grow emersed or submersed. C. lutea has wide, robust leaves that can reach 8 inches tall. It adapts well to various water parameters and is suitable for beginner aquarists under low to moderate lighting.

Growing Conditions

One of the best things about Cryptocorynes is their adaptability. While they do have some preferences, they can thrive under a wide range of conditions. Here’s a look at some of their key needs:

Can Cryptocoryne grow without CO2?

Yes, most Cryptocoryne species can grow perfectly fine without the addition of CO2. They are adaptable plants that can thrive under low tech setups, making them ideal for beginner aquarists.

That said, providing CO2 will certainly benefit Cryptocorynes. With added carbon, they can photosynthesize faster and thus grow quicker and produce fuller leaves. CO2 also enhances the coloration of some species. So it’s not essential, but can help them flourish.

Do Cryptocorynes need soil?

While some Cryptocoryne species strongly prefer a nutrient-rich substrate, many are adaptable to gravel, sand, or aquarium soil. Species like C. wendtii and C. undulata will grow in almost any substrate. Others like C. beckettii and C. parva appreciate root tabs or soil to feed from.

Using soil substrates like ADA Aqua Soil can promote faster growth and brighter coloration due to the added nutrients. But for beginners, an inert gravel or sand substrate with root tabs works well too.

Cryptocoryne light requirements

Most Cryptocorynes are quite flexible when it comes to lighting needs. They can thrive under low, moderate or high light conditions. Slower growing varieties like C. wendtii and C. undulata do fine under low to moderate light of 25-50 micromols.

High light demanding species include C. parva, C. lucens, and C. balansae which need at least 50 micromols of light. Bright illumination also brings out more vibrant colors in the leaves. So tailor the lighting to the species – low to highlight their lush greens, or high to develop reds and purples.

Substrate and Planting

Choosing the right substrate and planting technique helps Cryptocorynes establish themselves faster and grow better. Here are some tips:

Cryptocoryne in sand

Cryptocorynes can adapt to plain sand substrates quite well. The finer grain size allows their roots to spread easily. However, their growth may be slower compared to soil or gravel. Add root tabs around the plants every 2-3 months to provide nutrients.

Slow-growing crypts like C. wendtii and C. lucens do especially well in sand beds. The lighter color of sand also contrasts and highlights their leaf patterns. Choose more stable varieties as sensitive ones may struggle.

Best substrate for Cryptocoryne

Here’s a comparison of common aquarium substrates for Cryptocoryne:

  • Soil: Provides nutrients for fast growth and intensifies coloration. Best for root feeders like C. wendtii. Can get messy. Use aquasoil or potting soil.
  • Gravel: Low tech and beginner-friendly. Add root tabs for heavier root feeders. Choose smoother gravels as large grit may damage roots.
  • Sand: Allows easy root spread and looks great contrasted with crypt leaves. Lacks nutrients so supplement with root tabs or fertilizers.
  • Lava rock: Creates structure and allows water flow to roots. Use plant-friendly types like ADA La Piedra. Can feel unnatural.

For most crypts, a nutrient-rich soil with gravel or sand cap provides the optimum growth environment. Ensure 2-3 inch substrate depth for healthy root development.

CO2 and Cryptocoryne

While CO2 is not essential for Cryptocorynes, supplementing it can significantly boost their growth and coloration. Let’s look at how it benefits one of the most popular species:

Do Cryptocoryne wendtii need CO2?

Providing CO2 is highly recommended if you want to maximize growth and achieve that vibrant red coloration in C. wendtii. Under high CO2 levels (up to 30 ppm), it will develop much more intensely colored leaves under high lights.

Without CO2 injection, C. wendtii tends to grow slower and have more greenish leaves. The CO2 allows it to carry out faster photosynthesis and produces those signature red pigments in the leaves.

You can get away with no CO2 for C. wendtii, but growth will be stunted. For optimum growth, provide 2-3 bps of CO2 along with nutrients and high light to bring out the red hues. Start with lower CO2 and increase slowly while monitoring fish.

Other crypt species also benefit from added CO2, especially fast growers like C. parva and C. balansae. Go for pressurized CO2 systems as the initial investment pays off over time. DIY yeast-based setups can work for smaller tanks but require more maintenance.

Comparing Cryptocoryne with Staurogyne Repens

Staurogyne repens is another popular aquatic plant often compared to Cryptocorynes. Here’s an overview of their key differences:

Feature Cryptocoryne Staurogyne Repens

CO2 Requirement: Optional, benefits from CO2 Recommended, thrives with CO2

Light Requirement: Low to high light depending on species Medium to high light

Growth Rate: Slow to moderate Fast growth rate

Height: 2-12 inches depending on species Grows low, under 6 inches

Leaf Shape: Variable, wavy to spear-shaped Round, compact leaves

Care Level: Easy, undemanding Moderate, more sensitive

Propagation: Rhizome division, plantlets Cuttings

Position: Midground to background Carpet, foreground

Aquascape Use: Focal point, contrast Carpets, fills space

Cryptocorynes are lower maintenance, adaptable plants capable of growing under a wide range of conditions including low-tech setups. Staurogyne repens needs more controlled conditions with CO2 and high light to thrive and exhibits faster growth.

Cryptocoryne Seeds and Propagation

Cryptocorynes can be propagated both through their seeds as well as vegetative means. Here’s an overview:

Seeds – Produce small fruiting bodies that contain seeds. Can be collected during flowering and sown directly or stored. Germination rates are usually low. Provides an element of chance and excitement!

Rhizome division – Carefully uproot plant, wash off substrate and divide along the rhizome using a sterilized knife or scissors. Replant divisions and remove decaying parts. Quick and easy method.

Plantlets – Many crypts produce smaller plantlets from the mother rhizome which can be detached and planted. Gives genetically identical new plants.

Runners – Species like C. becketii produce elongated stolons or runners that also form plantlets for propagation.

When propagating crypts, ensure high humidity, temperatures around 77F and adequate lighting levels. Use tweezers to carefully plant each division and provide nutrient-rich substrate for establishment. Maintain stable conditions and watch new crypt jungle grow!

Common Issues: Crypt Melt

One phenomenon commonly seen in Cryptocorynes is ‘crypt melt’ – where their leaves suddenly start melting away, leaving bare stems behind. This is triggered by drastic environmental changes like:

  • Introduction to a new tank
  • Major shifts in water parameters
  • Disturbance of the root zone
  • Damages from shipping

Though alarming, crypt melt itself does not kill the plant. Provided the rhizome remains healthy, new leaves will regrow in a few weeks. Patience along with stable conditions helps the plant recover quicker. Avoid further disturbance to the roots and maintain good water quality. The crypts will bounce back to their former glory soon!


The versatile Cryptocoryne genus offers aquatic gardeners a variety of options to experiment with. Their diversity of size, shape, and texture allows designing dynamic aquascapes. Hailing from similar environments, they also complement other popular plants like Anubias and ferns.

While their growth is measured compared to faster growing stems, crypts provide a sense of tranquility and steadiness in the aquarium. Their resilience and undemanding nature makes them ideal for beginners and low-maintenance setups alike.

With proper selection of suitable species, substrate, light, and propagation techniques, aquarists can enjoy healthy, thriving crypts as fascinating living centerpieces of their underwater artworks. Venturing into the world of Cryptocoryne will surely not disappoint!