Cyperus Helferi | Aquarium Plant Care Guide

Originally from Thailand, Cyperus Helferi is a relatively new plant to aquarium hobbyists. Found along ponds and slow flowing water, it is one of the few plants from the Cyperaceae family that can grow fully submersed. This plant can cause some difficulty when newly added to tank environments due to its tendency to “melt.’ Often this stems from plant breeders growing them emersed to reduce costs. When moving to an aquarium where they are fully submersed these plants go through a transition period where some leaves die off, or melt.

Cyperus Helferi grows in a rosette, with leaves branching out from a center stalk. It has a small and shallow root system which can cause issues when they are included in tanks with herbivores and fish that like to rearrange their environments.

Cyperus Helferi was brought to the attention of hobbyists by Takashi Amano, a famous Japanese aquarium enthusiast. Creating distinct and minimalist Aquascapes–influenced by Japanese gardening–Takashi Amano made numerous contributions to the aquarium hobby. He also popularized the use of the algae loving Amano Shrimp in aquariums to control algae growth.

If you are planning on adding this great plant to your tanks, there are some facts you’ll need to get the best experience. Let’s explore how to care for and utilize Cyperus Halferi!

Is Cyperus Helferi Hard to Grow?

Cyperus Helferi has a reputation as a plant for more experienced hobbyists. This mainly originates from the difficulty it has in acclimating to fully submersed growth in an aquarium. Once the plant becomes accustomed to a new tank environment it can be mostly trouble-free.

This plant will benefit from added fertilizers, both liquid and root tabs. It also performs best with bright lighting and Co2 injection. Bright lighting is highly recommended but Co2 can be optional depending on your tank’s plant load.

Cyperus Helferi
Cyperus Helferi. Ghostsword, CC BY 3.0.

Can you grow Cyperus Helferi emersed?

Cyperus Helferi can be grown emersed and this is the preferred method of plant breeders supplying aquarium hobbyists. This can be a drawback, as these plants will have a tendency to die back and regrow leaves when moving to a fully submersed aquarium environment.

This ability to grow emersed also makes this plant suitable for outdoor pond landscaping and the more adventurous aquarium Aquascape designer. Cyperus Helferi can add variation to a paludarium, which is an aquarium with a mix of aquatic and dry land–essentially an aquarium and terrarium hybrid.

How to Care for Cyperus Helferi in an Aquarium

When planting Cyperus Helferi you have two options: wet start and dry start. Wet start is the most common. Dry starts can allow this plant to form a stronger root system before growing submersed. Wet starts are when new plants are placed–fully submersed–either in an established aquarium or when preparing a new tank. With a dry start you allow the plants to become established in their emersed form before flooding the aquarium with water.

When wet starting this plant, help it integrate to its new environment by providing liquid fertilizer or using root tabs. Cyperus Helferi is normally a slow grower and can take time to acclimatize to a new tank, adding fertilizer can help this process go smoothly.

Dry starting is an uncommon option but is gaining popularity. Most aquarium plants that can grow emersed may be dry started and this includes Cyperus Helferi. To dry start, install your substrate and hardscape material, then place your plants. Keep the soil moist but not flooded. It is often helpful to include a “well” in your substrate to collect water which can be pulled out with a tube. This will prevent your substrate from becoming oversaturated.

Maintain your dry start’s moisture: mist thoroughly 2 to 3 times and day and keep it covered with plastic wrap to keep the humidity high. Uncover it for around 30 minutes a day to let it breathe and discourage mold formation. Ensure enough lighting. Your dry start will need around 10 hours a day of bright light for best results.

The dry start process can take 4 to 6 weeks but can vary depending on plant choices. The goal is to encourage stronger root system development and better substrate cover in the case of mosses and certain other plants.

When you feel you are ready, fill your tank and apply liquid fertilizer to help your plants along.

Ideal Substrate for Cyperus Helferi

Cyperus Helferi takes nutrients from soil so you’ll want to use a substrate appropriate to planted aquariums. This species does not have an extensive root system, especially starting out. Choose a substrate with fine enough grain to allow the roots to hold securely. ADA Aqua Soil is a very popular choice, and is used extensively for planted aquariums.

Cyperus Helferi Lighting Requirement

Cyperus Helferi does best with bright lighting. Plan for 10 hours a day of moderately-bright to bright lighting. Apply 180 LPG (lumens per gallon) for the best health and growth rate. You can reduce this to 120 LPG, but below that you may experience slow growth or other plant issues.

Also keep in mind the extent bright light contributes to algae production. Due to the high LPG values needed by Cyperus Helferi you will want to take extra steps to control algae growth. Consider Co2 injection and algae eating tank mates such as the Amano Shrimp.

Cyperus Helferi Temperature

Cyperus Helferi tolerate a wide range on temperatures between 68° – 80° F (20° – 27° C).

Cyperus Helferi pH

Cyperus Helferi prefers slightly acidic to neutral water with a pH between 6 and 7.5. Ideally you should be using a substrate such as ADA Aqua Soil that will naturally lower the pH value. Avoid crushed coral or aragonite in your substrate as these can quickly raise alkalinity beyond what this plant tolerates.

Cyperus Helferi Growth Rate

Cyperus Helferi is a slow growing aquarium plant. Growth rate can be increased with bright lighting, Co2 injection and satisfactory nutrition.

Cyperus Helferi Growth Height

Cyperus Helferi can grow up to 16 inches. If a tank doesn’t have enough vertical room this plant will likely need trimming. To trim, identify the leaves you want to remove and cut them about 1 inch above the plant’s base. The remainder will die and fall off.

Is Aquarium Co2 Injection Necessary for Cyperus Helferi?

Cyperus Helferi greatly benefits from Co2 injection. Not strictly necessary but without additional Co2 this plant can have stunted growth. Lack of enough Co2 is the second most common cause of failures of this species, behind insufficient lighting. In nature, Cyperus Helferi usually grows emersed. While it can tolerate growing submersed, this isn’t its natural environment and Co2 injection can help it thrive.

Cyperus Helferi Propagation

A healthy Cyperus Helferi plant will produce daughter plants near the base. Separate these with a sharp knife and replant. This species does not grow submersed in the wild. If you have propagation issues, consider growing emersed. This is the method most often used by commercial plant producers.

How to Trim Cyperus Helferi

To trim Cyperus Helferi,  sever the leaf about 1 inch above the plant’s base. The remaining leaf will wilt and die off over time. You will always need to trim whole leaves and trim them near the base. If you only cut off the top, the rest of the leaf will still melt. That can hurt the aesthetics of your tank.

Why is my Cyperus Helferi melting?

Cyperus Helferi can melt for a number of reasons. Most commonly when acclimatizing to submersed growing in an aquarium. For ease of propagation and cost savings, commercial producers often grow this species emersed instead of submersed. New plants you buy have likely never been fully submersed. Growing in an aquarium is a big change and it takes this plant some time, and some melted foliage, to make that transition.

The other reason this plant can melt is poor growing conditions. Low lighting levels and low Co2 levels can work against healthy growth. Check that you are using enough light. This plant does best with bright lighting, up to 180 LPG (lumens per gallon). If you have a thickly planted tank this can worsen any lighting deficiencies.

Lack of Co2 is another reason your Cyperus Helferi may be melting. Like low lighting levels, this can be aggravated by having a heavily planted tank. This species accepts submersed growing, but may have difficulty thriving in these conditions. It may even have trouble in tanks with other plants which are growing fine. If you are having issues, consider Co2 injection for your aquarium.

It is possible to have melting issues due to nutrition. As long as you are using a quality substrate such as ADA Aqua Soil, this is less likely. Added fertilizer can help but you should check your lighting and Co2 levels before reaching for the fertilizer bottle.

Where can I find Cyperus Helferi for sale?

Cyperus Helferi is widely available from aquarium supply stores and on the internet. If you want to ensure you are working with plants that are 100% sterile, consider buying plants as tissue cultures. If you are planning an aquarium with many different plant species, tissue cultures can help ensure your tank stays disease and parasite free.