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Nymphaea lotus (zenkeri) – The Tiger Lotus, a Beast of a Plant

When you look at the hobby today, one can see that the popularity of freshwater planted aquaria has really taken off. With the cost of lighting and CO2 systems becoming more reasonable, it is becoming easier to keep a lushly planted aquarium than ever before. Not only has cost of equipment become more reasonable, but the selection of plants available at most hobby stores has certainly grown.

All kinds of plants are being cultivated for the aquarium hobby now. Everything from standard Amazon swords (Echinodorus bleheri) to new strains of Cryptocoryne that produce orange and pink and green leaves. Some plants available are certainly challenging, while other plants are virtually maintenance free. All plants that have needs, and when those needs are met they flourish and can become real centerpieces for your aquarium. One perfect example is the African Tiger Lotus – Nymphaea lotus (zenkeri).

Frank's FrogThe African Tiger Lotus, as its name suggests, can be found throughout the rivers of Africa where it can grow to a height of well over 24 inches and cover twice as much space in width. This potential growth is certainly not confined to wild populations of this plant. Even in your home aquarium, the Tiger Lotus can dominate the aquascape. Large, rounded heart-shaped, lily-like leaves sprout from small, round bulbs. These bulbs can also produce more bulbs. The leaves may take one of two color variants, a deep red or a bright green. Each color variant has dark spotting and speckling on the leaves. As the leaves emerge, some of the foliage stays low, suspended in the water column, while some leaves reach for the surface. The leaves that reach the top form floating lily pads. If you want to keep the leaves from reaching the surface, simply prune those leaves back. If you don’t mind seeing the lotus pads floating at the surface, allowing this growth may allow the plant to bloom. Like others in the Nymphaea genus, the Tiger Lotus can produce a beautiful and aromatic bloom, not unlike the hardy water lilies that you see in ornamental ponds.  This species typically displays a white blossom with a yellow center. In an open-topped aquarium, it is a really beautiful sight to see a large lotus in full bloom.

There is a down side to allowing the plant to stretch out. With the expanding leaves and rate at which this plant can consume nutrients (which is very quickly), you may actually have a little trouble getting other plants to grow in the vicinity of a healthy Tiger Lotus.  To complicate matters, the Tiger Lotus produces a phenolic compound that can retard the growth of other plants around it.  So if you want to keep this beast of a plant, you will want to provide it with ample room to grow. I have seen this plant take up a full third of a 170 gallon aquarium. A truly impressive plant when given the chance to thrive!

This plants needs are relatively easy to meet. A nutrient rich substrate and a good liquid iron supplement are two things that will really make your lotus grow. Lighting can be moderate to intense. I have grown this plant under metal halides and power compact lighting with equal success. It seems that really accelerated growth rates are achieved when bright intense lighting and lots of iron are supplied in tandem. If the simple needs for this plant can be met, the Tiger Lotus will prove to be one of the more stout and robust plants in your aquarium. Just one last note -when you buy a Tiger Lotus, just drop the bulb in the area that you want to see it grow. Do not bury the bulb, it rot if its covered. Simply leaving the bulb on the substrate is the best way to start these plants out. The new sprouts will anchor themselves down in the substrate with their roots and begin growing out and up in no time.

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