- Hardiness: Easy
- Light Needs: Medium
- Plant Structure: Stem
- Family: Acanthaceae
- Genus: Hygrophila
- Region: Asia
- Location: Sri Lanka, India
- Size: Stem width: 5-20cm (2-8 in)
- Growth Rate: Fast
- Can Be Grown Emersed: Yes
Hygrophila balsamica is a marsh dwelling stem plant native to India and Sri Lanka. It has been known to the hobby for a long time but has only recently become kept by more than a small number of hobbyists. Why? If its emersed shoots are placed directly into an aquarium containing fish or invertebrates, the animals will be poisoned. However, the plant is not at all toxic in its submersed form and may be used without issue once submersed growth is obtained. Since many nurseries growing aquatic plants grow their stock emersed, it's easy to see why it is still so uncommon. That is beginning to change as it becomes more widely traded and sold among hobbyists and online sellers.
It is much more suitable for aquariums with abundant light and co2 than those with low light and little or no carbon dioxide supplementation, where its beautiful bright green and finely divided leaves will become less pinnate and lose size. Apart from those requirements and a need for a great deal of iron, it does not place any special demands on the grower and is not particularly susceptible to stunting or any other common problems.
Propagation poses no difficulties of any kind. It grows an abundance of side shoots and quickly sprouts new ones from the tops of topped stems. Even individual leaves left to float around the aquarium will grow roots and eventually become new plants. When conditions are to its liking, all of that can happen with surprising rapidity, so it bears mentioning that it is not a low maintenance plant.
In terms of aquascaping, H. balsamica can be used in several ways. One is to remove all new side shoots and give each stem room to grow straight up, as it will when not crowded. Using the plant in that manner would allow it to fit right in a Dutch style aquascape. Another alternative is to remove the crown of a mature stem and allow the side shoots to form a large, billowy bush, which can be very attractive. Finally, it can be used as an effective 'green fill' behind dark green plants like Microsorum species. While it is versatile, it must be remembered that Hygrophila balsamica needs a lot of room. It can grow to be very large!
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