Dwarf Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes): Ultimate Care Guide

Dwarf Water Lettuce is also known as Nile Cabbage and Water Cabbage. Dwarf Water Lettuce is believed to originate in Africa.  This floating plant grows only on the surface of water and was first discovered near Lake Victoria on the Nile River.  It was its discovery on the Nile River that gave it its nickname, “Nile Cabbage.”  This particular water lettuce has wavy-edged leaves that are lined with soft, velvety, water-repellant hairs that help it trap air and remain buoyant.  From its humble origins, this modest plant is now very abundant all over the world, is easy to take care of and can be used in a variety of different aquariums. 

Dwarf Lettuce Care

Start Growing Water Lettuce in Your Aquarium by choosing the healthiest specimen to start with. Once your tank is correctly set up, you can start looking for a specimen to add to your tank.  If your tank includes any fish, ensure that you quarantine your plant before placing it in the tank with other inhabitants.  Most often in home-based aquariums, Dwarf Lettuce is not grown from seeds, it can propagate as an asexual plant, much like spider plants, so daughter plants are grown from “mother plants.”  To start your own propagation of this plant, simply ensure that what you are buying is of the best quality so that it can have the best chance of survival and growth in your aquarium.  What you are looking for are specimen that are bright or dark green, with fine white hairs that stick up from the leaves’ surface.  Ensure that you don’t purchase a Water Lettuce plant that has any tinged or yellowing leaves that appear as though they are melting or soggy.  These could be warning signs that the plant you are purchasing is malnourished or sick.  Also, ensure that the roots of the plant you are intending to buy have a long and strong set of roots.  In general, try to purchase a Water Lettuce plant that is as healthy as possible. 

Dwarf Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)
Dwarf Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)

Dwarf Water Lettuce Lighting Requirements

Dwarf Water Lettuce requires slightly shady environments, with moderate lighting levels. When you are maintaining Dwarf Water Lettuce in your home aquarium, make sure that there is no direct light to the leaves, which can lead to burnt, yellowing leaves.  Where they originate, these Water Lettuce live in slightly shady environments with a reasonable amount of sun that had a standard day/night cycle.  You may consider placing your aquarium near an open window, because the residual lighting should be more than enough to maintain the full potential of this aquatic plant. 

Dwarf Water Lettuce Temperature

Tropical environments and warmer water temperatures are best for Dwarf Water Lettuce. The Dwarf Water Lettuce is not keen on cold weather, as a matter of fact, most won’t even grow at all if temperatures dip into the upper 60s.  This Water Lettuce likes high humidity levels to support its leaves, and water temperatures between 72°F and 86°F.  Because this aquatic plant does not experience strong currents in the wild, they don’t grow as well in choppy waters, so make sure you have a gentle to moderate flow of water as well.  In addition to keeping the water warm, you can ad barriers to protect the plants from heavier flows in your aquarium if you are a more experienced aquarist. 

Dwarf Water Lettuce pH

Water pH Levels for Dwarf Water Lettuce should be between 6.0 to 7.5 with a moderate hardness (3GH to 8GH). This plant tolerates a wide berth of conditions, and because the Dwarf Water Lettuce is a floating plant, it doesn’t need CO2 supplementation or fertilizers unless your water is very low in nitrates.  This adorable aquatic plant does, however, appreciate a pH level of between 6 and 7.5 with a moderate hardness of between 3 and 8GH.  Try to test your water conditions regularly to ensure that the plant’s needs are being met.  pH levels and water conditions are the first things to look at if the plant begins to show signs of distress. 

Dwarf Water Lettuce Growth Rate

The Dwarf Lettuce Plant is a fast-growing plant and will quickly overtake an environment if not kept in check. If you aren’t careful, the Dwarf Water Lettuce will quickly propagate and cover the surface of your aquarium, however, you can keep the spread under control.  Make sure your Water Lettuce has at least a 10-gallon tank with plenty of room for long roots so that they don’t get tangled up in other plants or tank decorations.  Also, trim the roots every couple of weeks and leave about 4 inches attached so that the plants don’t grow too fast.  Additionally, try to clear out a few plants every week or so to keep the population of this plant under control. 

Dwarf Water Lettuce Growth Height

Dwarf Water Lettuce usually grows to about 4 inches wide, but in the wild can grow up to 10 inches. While the width of a Dwarf Water Lettuce plant can get to be about 4 inches wide in an aquarium, it is important to note that the roots should be at a minimum of 4 inches long and can grow much longer without proper maintenance.  So, the maintenance on this plant is moderately high.  It tends to grow in thick bushes or matts much like cabbage. 

Dwarf Water Lettuce Propagation

Start with a healthy specimen of Dwarf Water Lettuce to begin propagation. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, once you have your tank set up and optimized for growing Dwarf Water Lettuce, it is time to start looking for a healthy specimen of Water Lettuce to begin Propagation.  After quarantining the plant, place its roots in the water of its new home and keep its leaves above the water until it settles and is able to float on its own.  With the appropriate water conditions and flow, the Dwarf Water Lettuce will begin to asexually reproduce on its own.  If you find that your Water Lettuce is moving around too much because of the flow of filters or movement in your tank, you may be able to weight the roots gently to keep them from being damaged.  This aquatic plant also has the ability to reproduce through fertilization of flowers that are produced on the plants, and if done successfully you may observe the appearance of multiple berries featuring multi-seeds towards the center. 

Dwarf Water Lettuce Roots

Dwarf Water Lettuce Roots are deeply submerged beneath the water surface. The hairy dense roots of the Dwarf Water Lettuce is what provides a healthy shelter for the fish and shrimps it protects.  100% of the nutrients the Water Lettuce needs is absorbed from the water in the tank it lives in, through its roots.  It is recommended that you not pair this plant with fish that like to nibble and eat the roots, as it will cause it to not be able to absorb the nutrients it needs to survive.  The roots of a Dwarf Water Lettuce plant should be maintained often, at about 4 inches, to keep the growth of this plant under control.  If you are attempting to propagate the plant and see a root floating from the mother plant to a daughter plant, it is ready to be severed when the roots of the daughter plant are plainly visible and it is able to grow on its own. 

Dwarf Water Lettuce Flowers

There are flowers in the center of most Dwarf Water Lettuce plants, although telling the difference between male and female can be difficult. Both the male and female Dwarf Water Lettuce plants make flowers, and it can be difficult to tell which is which because they look very similar.  If your Water Lettuce plant flowers, and you are hoping for sexual reproduction of your plant, then you will know they have been successful when the flowers then produce little berries that contain multi-seeds.  These beautiful little flowers are often hidden in the middle of the plant and amongst the leaves. 

Why is my Dwarf Water Lettuce turning yellow?

If your Dwarf Water Lettuce is turning colors check the water conditions. Yellowing leaves on the Dwarf Water Lettuce can be common for older plants that are shedding leaves from the bottom of the plant.  If the top leaves of your Water Lettuce are changing color though, check the water conditions and make sure that your plant is in its ideal environment.  The aquatic plant should have plenty of warm water, with lots of humidity, and indirect sunlight.  Additionally, don’t forget to keep a close eye on the pH level of your tank so that it is optimized for your plant. 

Why is my Dwarf Water Lettuce Dying?

If your tank conditions are good, and your Dwarf Water Lettuce is still dying, check the lighting. You saw a few yellow leaves, checked the water conditions, and everything is right where it should be.  A few days later, and your Water Lettuce looks very unhealthy… what are the causes?  Try checking the lighting.  Your Dwarf Water Lettuce needs daily indirect light.  It should not have direct light, either by bulbs or sunshine.  Alternately, your plant could be starving for light, so if it is in a shadier portion of your home, try moving it closer to the window for more light. 


Is Dwarf Water Lettuce good for Betta fish tanks?

While Betta fish aren’t usually interested in eating water lettuce, the roots of a Dwarf Water Lettuce contain calcium oxalate crystals, which if ingested by a Betta Fish can lead to severe health consequences.  Because these adorable little fish have an absentminded habit of occasionally nibbling on the roots of plants in their habitat, it is not necessarily recommended to pair these two together.  If you are a highly experienced aquarist though, you may discover that this pairing works as long as the Betta Fish has plenty of healthy options to munch on. 

Where can I find Dwarf Water Lettuce for sale?

Surprisingly you can find Dwarf Water Lettuce for sale at home improvement stores, such as Lowes or The Home Depot.  Water Lettuce can also be found online, although as discussed earlier if you are looking for the healthiest specimen for propagation, it may be better to find these plants in stock at either local fish stores, specialized pet stores, or even pond supply outlets. 

Are Dwarf Water Lettuce considered invasive plants?

Because of its rapid growth, which in the wild can go unchecked, it steals space, water, and nutrients from the other fauna and animals that occupy its space.  So, there are some places where Dwarf Water Lettuce is considered invasive, and therefore considered illegal, and transporting the Water Lettuce in certain states and countries is prohibited.  Currently in the United States it is illegal in Alabama, California, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin. 

Dwarf Water Lettuce and Water Lettuce

As its name suggests, Dwarf Water Lettuce is smaller in size compared to Water Lettuce. Therefore, Dwarf Water Lettuce is better suited for aquariums and small ponds. On the other hand, Water Lettuce naturally grow larger in size. In addition to its larger leaves, they also have very long roots. In fact, roots of Water Lettuce can reach up to 4 feet long.  

Dwarf Water Lettuce and Amazon Frogbit

Amazon Frogbit can be found almost everywhere in the Amazon rainforest and is found where water currents are very low or non-existent.  The Amazon Frogbit grows to a height of almost double that of the Dwarf Water Lettuce, and has a higher tolerance for water temperatures, thriving in water ranging in temperatures between 64°F and 84°F.  The Frogbit has rounder more Lilly type leaves, and also grows at a rapid pace.  If you are trying to make a decision between the Dwarf Water Lettuce and the Amazon Frogbit, make sure you have enough space in your tank for the Frogbit to survive accordingly, since it becomes rather large.