Rotala Indica: Care Guide for an Awesome Aquarium Plant

Common Name(s)Rotala Indica, Indian toothpick
Scientific NameRotala Indica
OriginSoutheast Asia
Ease of GrowingEasy
AquascapeMidground and background
Height5-12 inches
Temperature72-82°F (22-28°C)
Growth RateModerate
PropagationPropagation is possible by cutting stems.
Light RequirementModerate to high lighting (At least 8 hours a day)
CO2 RequirementCO2 is recommended for faster growth and for producing red coloration.
Rotala Indica
Cherry Shrimp on Rotala Indica plant. Mobile_gnome, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Rotala Indica, nicknamed Indian toothpick, is a type of flowering plant native to Southeast Asia. Discovered in 1881 by German botanist Bernhard Adalbert Emil Koehne, a renowned professor of botany in Berlin, who also authored the Lythraceae family of plants. Although native to Southeast Asia, Rotala Indica has been introduced to other regions such as Italy and Portugal, as well as California and Louisiana in the United States.

As an introduced species, Rotala Indica has been used as a weed for growing rice because it can produce an abundance of viable seeds. Besides Indian toothpick, which gets its nickname because its weeds are native to India, Rotala Indica has also been commonly referred to as Ameletia Indica or Rotala Elatinomorpha. Rotala Indica grows to be beautiful with vibrant, bright reddish-pink leaves when properly cared for properly. Paying attention to the coloring of your leaves can indicate your plants’ health and needs.

Rotala Indica Care

Rotala Indica is an extremely popular choice for aquarists because of its low care maintenance and the fact that Rotala Indica poses no threat at all to other living creatures in your aquarium. It is considered a relatively “hands-off” plant when it comes to caring for it.

Despite its low maintenance style, you still need to consider its wants and needs regarding water and lighting requirements and the proper environment. Rotala Indica is known to have small leaves in appearance that are green, reddish, or pink. Depending on the amount and power of light you use will determine the growth and coloring of your plant, which can also act as an indicator if you are using the correct amount or not.

Rotala Indica Light Requirements

A general rule when caring for Rotala Indica is to have a moderate to high level of aquarium light, with at least 8 hours of light per day. Allowing for high light will turn the naturally green leaves of the Rotala Indica into a reddish-pink tone. Alternatively, low to medium light will cause the green leaves to become dull, yellow-green tones.

Depending on the amount of water you would choose to use in your tank would then determine your light wattage.  Approximately 3.5 to 5 watts of power per gallon of water. The recommended size tank is a minimum of 10 gallons, although ideally, you would go a little bigger so as to maintain stable water conditions. The larger the tank and the number of gallons of water, the more watts you need.

Proper lighting for Rotala Indica doesn’t just affect the coloring of the plant but may also affect your plant’s growth. While you may successfully grow Rotala Indica in low light, resulting in a slower growth rate and duller coloring, it will certainly grow faster and brighter in high light.

Generally, in high light conditions, your Rotala Indica will grow up to 2.5cm, or 1in, per week. They have been known to reach 30cm (roughly 11 in) in height. Due to the rather dense leaves of the Rotala Indica, casual trimming can be handy.

Rotala Indica Water Parameters

Rotala Indica thrives the most successfully in a soft, freshwater environment while simulating a standard tropical condition. Your water temperature should be between 72°F to 82°F, and your water hardness should be between 3 to 8 KH, with a pH level between 6.0 to 7.5. Because Rotala Indica thrives on high volumes of light, they tend to grow towards the light, often reaching the top of your aquarium and spilling over.

When able to breach the surface of the water, and if allowed without pruning, Rotala Indica will eventually grow emersed leaves and flowers, sometimes purple in color. If you do not wish for your plants to grow emersed, you can easily trim the leaves once they get to the top of your aquarium and replant them at the back into your substrate at the bottom of your aquascape.

Rotala Indica Propagation

Rotala Indica can easily be propagated by trimming a few inches of stem, removing the leaves at the bottom of the stems, then planting back into your substrate. Keep in mind that the more you propagate your Rotala, the more dense and bushy look you will end up with. The denser your Rotala becomes, the less light can reach the bottom of the tank, which can result in the yellowing of the leaves or breaking off at the bottom.

It is also possible that once your Rotala has been growing successfully and developing its own root system, it will propagate on its own by developing runners. In this case, you can opt not to embrace your aquascape’s full look and cut, remove, or even sell.

Rotala Indica CO2 Requirements

Rotala Indica does not require co2 to thrive, although having co2 won’t cause any harm to the plant. Another reason this plant gets classified as low maintenance is the lack of need for co2. Because Rotala Indica may not be the only inhabitant in your aquascape, and many other plants do require co2, Rotala Indica is often provided with co2. However, on their own, they don’t necessarily require it.

Some aquarists have argued that adding co2 enhances the red-pink hues, while others liken the coloring strictly to proper lighting. Overall, it seems that the choice of whether or not to use co2 won’t negatively impact the success of your Rotala Indica.

Rotala Indica. Novocainstain, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Planting Rotala Indica in an Aquarium

Rotala Indica requires a proper substrate, such as plain sand or granulated gravel, to grow successfully. It is not necessary to use soil fertilizer to have successful growth. When planting your Rotala Indica, you want to make sure to leave enough space between the stems, about a half-inch to an inch.

This is because the leaves grow in large clumps, and without proper space or pruning care, they can easily become bushy or overcrowded. Fish tend to love swimming and hiding in the beautiful cluster leaves, so it’s a good rule of thumb to have enough room and space when planting so as to make it possible for your aquarium friends to swim in and out of the Rotala.

Leaving a 1/2in of space between stems when planting Rotala Indica allows light to reach down to the substrate. A common problem with Rotala Indica being planted too close together is that the tops that are closer to the light and therefore are able to easily turn the proper reddish-pink color, while the bottom, being blocked by light, can turn yellow and can die off. Allowing for proper spacing and accessibility to light helps avoid this occurrence.

Unlike some other aquascape plants, Indica Rotala grows vertically rather than horizontally when planted in an aquarium. It can be beneficial to purchase young plants already grown around 6in tall to make it easier on you, as the roots are fragile, and growing vertically can be harder to keep the plant rooted as the leaves begin to grow in clusters, adding weight to your plant.

Whereas horizontal plants are able to grow in a sprawling nature and provide a nice support system to grow and spread. Without proper planting, it is possible for your Rotala to become dislodged the taller that it grows and float right up to the top surface of your aquarium. To avoid this from happening, a good trick is to plant the stem at a slight angle in your substrate.

This way, there is a bit of weight at the bottom of the stem, providing good support to grow tall and strong. Due to the vertical nature of the Rotala Indica versus a sprawling nature, it would look best when placed in the background of your tank instead of the middle.

Rotala Indica vs Rotala Rotundifolia

There are many different types of Rotala plants, some of which have many similarities, making it hard to determine the correct one.

Rotala Indica and Rotala Rotundifolia are the two Rotalas that often get mistaken for the same plant. There have been varying opinions on whether the two are the same species or are different. A common belief is that they are the same, although there was some confusion with labeling in the 1960s, which has caused present-day confusion and debate.

Rotala Rotundifolia comes from the Latin phrase” the plant with the round leaves.” Despite the name, the rounded leaves usually only form when grown in marsh environments. In an aquarium, the leaves are usually more narrow. Nearly identical to Rotala Indica when it comes to caring, Rotala Rotundifolia is low maintenance, requiring low light and low (if any) co2.

Similarly, it can grow up to 6-12 inches in height. Within the family of Rotala Rotundifolia, there are two types named for their specific color. Rotala Rotundifolia ‘Green’ and Rotala Rotundifolia ‘Red.’

Rotala Rotundifolia ‘Green’ displays green leaves that will stay green throughout its lifespan, despite exposure to light or co2. While this plant only requires medium light, exposure to excessive light will do nothing to turn the leaves from green to a pink or red hue.

Rotundifolia ‘Green’ may also grow taller, reaching up to 19 inches in height, with its narrow leaves up to 1in wide. They can start by growing sideways before traveling up the side of your tank, so opting to plant in a corner of your tank would aesthetically be best.

Rotala Rotundifolia ‘Red’ grows much shorter than other Rotalas, averaging 4-8 inches in height. It is a bushier plant with bright red and sometimes orange coloring. To really bring out its vibrant color, you would need to apply iron-rich additives to achieve that intense red color.

Often ‘Green’ and ‘Red’ Rotundilfolia are planted close together for a pleasing color contrast in an aquascape. Some other differences between ‘Green’ and ‘Red’, besides coloring, is that ‘Red’ Rotundifolia requires high lighting and a high level of co2. 


Rotala Indica vs Rotala Macrandra

Rotala Macrandra, also known as Giant Red Rotala, is one of the most advanced care plants of the Rotalas, requiring high lighting and co2. Growing anywhere from 8-12in tall, Rotala Macrandra is known for its attractive red leaves. Because this plant is a bit more high maintenance, its red leaves can easily become damaged if not properly cared for.

Rotala Macrandra requires high levels of nutrients, like iron, and can often decay if it doesn’t receive any. Along with a high co2 requirement, it can also be beneficial to provide co2 injections. It is also best suited for soft to moderately hard water at a temperature between 75°F to 82°F. It’s important not to plant your Rotala Macrandra close together in your substrate because good circulation is important for this plant’s health and successful growth rate.

Rotala Indica vs Rotala Wallichii

Rotala Wallichii is another rather advanced Rotala plant when it comes to lighting and co2 care. It has the narrowest leaves compared to other Rotalas, with an average height of up to 12in. Requiring high levels of light, co2, and constant fertilization, Rotala Wallichii can appear dainty and rather delicate, making it a popular plant to grow alongside other rather large plants in an aquascape.

It can be considered high maintenance due to the high levels of light and co2 needed to thrive, but also because it requires high levels of nutrients such as iron and phosphates. If cared for properly, the tips of the Rotala Wallichii’s leaves give off a soft pink hue.

Rotala Indica vs Bonsai Rotala

Bonsai Rotala, commonly known as Ammania Bonsai, also known as True Rotala Indica, has very similar care requirements to Rotala Indica, such as the need for high lighting, and doesn’t require co2. Like Rotundofolia ‘Red,’ Bonsai Rotala can give off bright red hues under excessive light. While still being considered an “easy” plant, there are still a few important care requirements.

It requires high lighting, a fertile substrate, and nutrient-rich water. While there is much debate today on whether or not Rotala Indica and Rotala Rotundifolia are of the same species, in part to the mislabeling in the 1960s, most believe that Bonsai Rotala is actually the true Rotala Indica.

Bonsai Rotala is found in warmer parts of Asia and sometimes in an open paddy field. Bonsai Rotala is a rather compact plant, best to plant in bundles in your substrate. At its tallest, Bonsai Rotala may grow to be 7in.

While there are many variations of Rotalas to choose from, you really can’t go wrong, as Rotalals Indicas and other Rotalas provide a beautiful backdrop to any aquarium. Be sure to follow proper care requirements, prune regularly, and enjoy!

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