Natural aquarium propagation

Aquarium plants reproduce naturally by means of runners, offsets, and adventitious plantlets.

Runners Runners are horizontal branches produced at the base of the plant that develop daughter plants (called slips) at the ends. The rootlike runners normally grow just above, or sometimes just below, the surface of the substrate and may continue to extend, producing slips along the runner at intervals of about 2.4-6 in (6-15 cm). The new slips obtain the majority of their nutrients from the parent plant and quickly produce roots and new leaves, eventually anchoring in the substrate and becoming completely formed adult plants. The runners between the parent and new adult plants may break down or stay attached and continue to grow new slips. Each new slip produces a new segment so that a chained runner develops, rather than a long, single one.

To remove a daughter plant, cut and shorten the runner and trim the roots on the new plant before replanting it. The new plant should be at least a quarter of the size of the adult plant before it is removed. Detaching daughter plants may prevent the runner from continuing to produce new slips. A good method of selecting new plants is to allow the runner to produce several slips and then remove and replant the healthiest and/or fastest-growing ones.

Many floating plants also produce new plants on runners, although these should be left attached until the runner breaks down naturally. This will happen when the new plant is sufficiently well developed to survive on its own.

Above: Barclaya longifolia (the orchid lily) can be propagated only by seed. At this stage, the seeds are ready to be removed and sown in damp substrate. Most should sprout and produce new plants, which can eventually be moved into an aquarium.

Common species of aquarium plants that propagate by runners include Cryptocoryne, Echinodorus, Sagittaria, Vallisneria, and some floating species.

Offsets Offsets are produced in a similar way to runners, but are formed much closer to the parent plant. Many plants that grow in clumps reproduce in this way. Some Cryptocoryne and Echinodorus species produce offsets, creating the appearance of a larger individual plant. Offsets can be gently removed from the main plant and replanted elsewhere in the aquarium once the roots have been trimmed. Separating offsets normally requires removing the whole plant from the tank first, so do not carry out this procedure too often, otherwise the parent plant may sustain lasting damage. When moving established plants, be sure to remove the entire rootstock from the substrate. Any root left in the substrate will rot and could prevent plants from rooting in that area or adversely affect the health of nearby roots.

Adventitious plantlets Small plantlets that form on various parts of an adult plant are described as adventitious plantlets. Depending on the species, these may form on the leaves, stem nodes or on shoots. Small leaves are produced first, followed by roots, and the new plant remains attached to the parent plant until the area of attachment dies back and the new plant is released. Once a plantlet has a few leaves and at least 1.2-1.6 in (3-4 cm) of root growth,

Pistia Root
Above: Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) produces new plants on runners. Eventually, the runner will begin to die and break apart, leaving a fully formed plant that will later produce its own daughter plants.

These daughter plants of Echinodorus sp. are ready to be planted in the substrate.

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