Echinodorus Tenellus (Pygmy Chain Sword): Ultimate Care Guide

Echinodorus Tenellus, also known as Pygmy Chain Sword, is an easy-to-grow carpeting plant. This can be a great choice for hobbyists looking for an alternative to more demanding carpeting plants that need intense lighting and CO2 injection. Native to the Amazon River basin in South America, Echinodorus Tenellus can grow well in most low tech tanks. This plant can grow quickly, so you should be prepared for frequent trimming.

If you’re looking for an easy carpeting plant that doesn’t need a high tech aquarium, then Echinodorus Tenellus may be just what you want. We’ve put together this guide that covers everything you need to know when caring for this simple and beautiful carpeting plant!

Echinodorus Tenellus Care

Echinodorus Tenellus is a simple carpeting plant to care for. It needs nutrient rich aquarium planting soil and medium intensity lighting, but doesn’t demand CO2 injection. Adding additional micro and macronutrients to the water column can aid growth, although this isn’t a requirement. Pruning and trimming are important for keeping this plant looking its best. Leaves can grow higher than needed and should be completely removed. Runners also need frequent attention and can crisscross substrate giving your carpet a tangled and messy look.

Echinodorus Tenellus (Pygmy Chain Sword)
Echinodorus Tenellus (Pygmy Chain Sword). Edited. Uccio D’Agostino, CC BY 4.0

Are Echinodorus Tenellus easy to care for in an aquarium?

Echinodorus Tenellus is much easier to grow than similar carpeting plants. It doesn’t need high intensity lighting or CO2 injection to grow. Adding CO2 injection will boost growth rate if available, but high intensity lighting may result in red coloration on leaves depending on variety.

Pruning Echinodorus Tenellus can be a challenge as it grows rapidly by producing runners. Without regular cutting and pruning this plant can quickly take over tanks, and gain unattractive growth patterns. Expect to prune this plant at least once per week to maintain a uniform and thick carpet along substrate.

Lighting for Echinodorus Tenellus

Echinodorus Tenellus doesn’t need bright lighting like some other carpeting plants. Medium intensity lighting is usually enough. This plant can grow under high intensity lighting, but can develop a red tint in its leaves. Some varieties are more resistant to this, and can keep their solid green color even under bright lighting.

Temperature for Echinodorus Tenellus

Echinodorus Tenellus grows well at normal freshwater tank temperatures between 68° and 84° F.

Water pH for Echinodorus Tenellus

Echinodorus Tenellus thrives in slightly acidic water. A range between 6.2 and 7.5 pH is best. At higher pH levels this plant can undergo color changes similar to when it’s exposed to bright lighting.

Growth Rate for Echinodorus Tenellus

Echinodorus Tenellus can grow quickly with good quality nutrient planting soil. It’s capable of forming a thick carpet within a matter of weeks in ideal conditions.

Growth Height for Echinodorus Tenellus

An excellent carpeting plant, Echinodorus Tenellus usually grows between 2 to 4 inches in height. This makes it suitable as a carpeting plant in medium and large aquariums, and as a background plant in nano tanks.

CO2 Requirement for Echinodorus Tenellus

Unlike many carpeting plants, Echinodorus Tenellus doesn’t require CO2 injection to grow well. Added CO2 can boost growth rate, but isn’t necessary for this plant to form an attractive carpet.

How to Propagate Echinodorus Tenellus

Echinodorus Tenellus sends runners through substrate which produce plantlets along their length. Once roots form these plantlets can be removed from the mother plant. Separated plantlets they should be placed about ¾ of an inch apart in a nutrient rich growing medium such as ADA Aquasoil. One good method is placing groups of five together in a spaced cluster. Using pinsettes is the best method for placing plantlets without disturbing aquarium substrate. Pinsettes are similar to long tweezers, and are a common tool with aquascaping enthusiasts. With good growing conditions these clusters will spread out in a carpet over tank substrate in a few weeks.

Removing plantlets isn’t just good for propagation, it can also help your carpet grow healthy and uniform. Plantlets can be a drain on the rest of the plant, and can cause thin and sparse growth in other areas. Removing plantlets and allowing them to grow on their own can lead to healthier growth on the mother plant.

How to Prune Echinodorus Tenellus

When pruning Echinodorus Tenellus it’s important to remove entire leaves which have grown too tall. If you cut only the tops of leaves the rest of the cut leaf will die. This plant can grow rapidly and will need frequent pruning to keep an attractive growing pattern.

Runners will also need occasional removal when they begin to grow out of control. Echinodorus Tenellus has a tendency to send out more runners than needed. If left alone these runners can crisscross substrate leading to an unkempt and “brambly” look. If you want to keep an even carpet of this plant it’s important to trim tall leaves and runners often.

How to grow a Echinodorus Tenellus carpet

Echinodorus Tenellus is an easy carpeting plant and can quickly spread across the bottom of aquariums by sending out runners. You can help this along by planting clusters of five plantlets about ¾ of an inch apart. These clusters will grow together and spread along the bottom of your tank. Unlike some carpeting plants, Echinodorus Tenellus won’t benefit from a dry start. It’s best to grow this plant submerged right from the start.

Where can I find Echinodorus Tenellus for sale?

Echinodorus Tenellus is available from local fish stores and online sources as rooted plants or tissue cultures. Expect to pay between $8 USD to $12 USD for most 5 to 10 packs, and tissue cultures. Rooted plants are larger and easier to place than tissue cultures, but tissues cultures have a few advantages. Plants sold as tissue cultures are certified to be pest and disease free. This can be important when aquascaping with many different plant varieties: the greater number of plants the more likely one will introduce diseases or pests into your aquarium. Tissue cultures can keep your aquarium disease free at the cost of somewhat slower early plant growth.

Echinodorus Tenellus Types

Echinodorus Tenellus is available in various types. These types have unique variations such as different growth and leaf patterns as well as tendencies to produce more red or green coloration. While the difference between types can be small it can be important for achieving your particular aquascaping goals. Let’s look as some of the common types available and how they differ from regular E. Tenellus.

Echinodorus Tenellus Amano

Echinodorus Tenellus ‘Amano’ is a marketing name common in South American countries, particularly Brazil. This is likely common Echinodorus Tenellus and not a special variety.

Echinodorus Tenellus Broadleaf

Echinodorus Tenellus Broadleaf is a cultivar with somewhat broader leaves and a shorter maximum growth height. This plant also keeps its green coloration even in brighter lighting and more alkaline aquarium water. Somewhat hard to find, this plant is most commonly sold as tissue cultures.

Echinodorus Tenellus Blood

Also sold as “Red,” Echinodorus Tenellus Blood has a greater tendency to display reddish colors on taller leaves. Echinodorus Tenellus can develop red colors under bright lighting, but this cultivar can show these colors even under medium lighting.

Echinodorus Tenellus Green

Echinodorus Tenellus Green will keep its green coloration even under bright lighting. This is a good plant for placement in aquariums with high intensity lighting were thick green carpets are needed without tints of red.

Echinodorus Tenellus Micro

Echinodorus Tenellus Micro has the same maximum growth height as regular E. Tenellus, but the leaves are much thinner. This cultivar can be used to better simulate thin bladed carpeting plants while keeping the simpler care needs E. Tenellus is known for. This variety will still need careful pruning. Long leaves should be completely pruned rather than just removing the tops. Most Echinodorus Tenellus leaves won’t survive heavy cutting and partially cut leaves may die.

Echinodorus Tenellus Red

Also sold as “blood,” Echinodorus Tenellus Red is more likely to display reddish colors in medium lighting. Many E. Tenellus cultivars turn partially red under bright lighting, but this version can achieve the same look in dimmer aquariums.

Echinodorus Tenellus vs Helanthium Tenellum

Helanthium Tenellum is a variety of dwarf chain sword that was misclassified as Echinodorus Tenellus for many years. It has a similar growth pattern as E. Tenellus and may even be sold under that name from some sources.

Echinodorus Tenellus vs Hilaeopsis Brasiliensis

Hilaeopsis Brasiliensis is also sold as “Brazilian micro sword” and has a thicker and shorter growth pattern than E. Tenellus. This plant needs bright lighting and CO2 injection for dense and green growth.H. Brasiliensis is better able to simulate the look of short, green grass in aquascaping, but has more demanding growing requirements than E. Tenellus. H. Brasiliensis can be a good choice if you already have a high tech aquarium with bright lighting. It’s simpler to trim and prune than E. Tenellus, and it’s easier to get a thick green carpet.

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