The Enigmatic Madagascar Lace Plant: Unveiling its Mysteries

Hello there, my fellow aquarists! It’s me, Ted Coletti, your friendly columnist back with another exciting topic. Today, I want to delve into the enchanting world of the Madagascar lace plant. Brace yourselves for this captivating journey into the realm of aquatic flora!

Unveiling the Madagascar Lace Plant

The Madagascar lace plant, also known as Aponogeton madagascariensis, is a marvel among aquatic plants. Its claim to fame lies in its mesmerizing leaf structure. As you can see from the accompanying photos, the leaves of this plant are uniquely “skeletonized” or fenestrated. Rising from a tuberous rhizome, which is often mistaken for a bulb, the Madagascar lace forms a captivating rosette of leaves. These leaves can vary in length, ranging from a mere 2 inches to an impressive 3 feet, depending on the variety. If the discus fish rules the aquarium as a king, then the Madagascar lace plant surely reigns as the queen of aquarium plants!

A Tale of Survival and Restoration

Once upon a time, after World War II, the Madagascar lace plant faced a severe threat of extinction due to its high demand. However, through the wonders of tissue cultivation, proper propagation, and division, its numbers have been reversed, saving it from the brink of disappearance. Despite this, the Madagascar lace plant remains a rare gem in the world of aquascaping, often carrying a hefty price tag when available.

The Varieties that Dazzle

Dr. Paul Loiselle, a renowned aquarist from the New York Aquarium, has witnessed a plethora of intermediate forms of the Madagascar lace plant in its natural habitat. While initially, various forms of this plant were given separate species status, we now know that there are primarily three cultivated varieties for the home aquarium.

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The first variety, Aponogeton madagascariensis var. madagascariensis, boasts narrow leaves with fenestration that forms somewhat rounded cavities. This is the form I acquired as a generous gift from the legendary Jim Langhammer of Detroit at the American Livebearer Association Convention last year. The rhizome tuber of this variety can be cut to propagate more plants.

Another fascinating variety is Aponogeton madagascariensis var. henkelianus, with its transversal veins and a slightly irregular lattice structure. Lastly, we have Aponogeton madagascariensis var. major, which displays an amazing skeletonized structure consisting only of veins. My personal experience has mainly revolved around this majestic variety, which showcases consistent fenestration.

Nurturing the Madagascar Lace Plant

To successfully cultivate and enjoy this show-stopping plant, a few key requirements must be met. Here are the secrets to unlock its full potential:

1. Embrace the Warm-Water Resting Phase: Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Madagascar lace plant thrives during its summer resting phase in warm water. It may appear lackluster during this period, shedding most of its leaves and growing smaller ones. However, fear not, my friends! This is a natural process for this exceptional plant. As fall arrives, new foliage will emerge, more abundant and grander than ever. This warm-water resting phase was shared by Albert Greenberg, a respected pioneer in the aquarium plant realm, with TFH readers in the 1960s. Let’s bring this valuable knowledge back to life!

2. Maintain Cooler Water for Other Seasons: When the Madagascar lace plant is not in its summer resting phase, a temperature range in the 60s to mid-70s Fahrenheit (15-24 degrees Celsius) works best. Aim for the high 60s to low 70s (around 20 degrees Celsius) for optimal conditions.

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3. Keep the Bulb Submerged: Unlike most aquarium plants, the Madagascar lace plant does not require an emersed form or a drying-out period. Allow the bulb to remain in the substrate throughout, creating a stable and suitable environment. Some hardy cryptocorynes make excellent companion plants, keeping the substrate fresh.

4. Opt for Low to Moderate Lighting: Unlike many other aquarium plants, the Madagascar lace plant prefers lower light conditions. Modern high-efficiency lights can sometimes trigger dormancy and promote unwanted algae growth on the plant’s fenestrated leaves. Stick to standard fluorescent tubes with a range of 1 to 2 watts per gallon for a balanced and thriving ecosystem.

5. Plant the Rhizome Properly: When planting the Madagascar lace plant, bury the rhizome tuber halfway into the substrate, ensuring the growing tip is above the surface. Initially, you may need to plant the tuber deeper until the roots establish themselves, preventing it from floating to the surface. Afterward, you can gently adjust its position without disrupting leaf growth.

6. Provide a Rich yet Clean Substrate: Deep substrates are not necessary for this marvelous plant. A depth of around 1 to 2 inches is sufficient to prevent stagnation. Opt for a mix of laterite or clay-based medium fused with swimming pool filter sand or fine gravel, along with a fertilizer tablet. Remember, we don’t vacuum the planted aquarium!

7. Ensure Proper Water Flow: As the Madagascar lace plant thrives in high tanks, it is crucial to maintain proper water circulation. A power filter can provide the necessary water flow, supporting the plant’s overall health and vitality.

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With these care instructions, your Madagascar lace plant will flourish in a wide range of water conditions, from soft and acidic to moderately hard and alkaline. If you’re lucky, you may even witness the rare sight of flowers and seeds developing. Harvest the seeds as they float in a thin jacket for a day or two, and attempt propagation in a small bowl. Although the Madagascar lace plant may not flower as prolifically as dry Aponogeton bulbs, commonly found in pet stores, its unique allure makes it a prized possession for any aquarist.

So, my friends, it seems that a plant that thrives in cool temperatures, low light, and changing environments can indeed find a perfect home in a goodeid tank! With that, I bid you adieu and will catch you next month back at “Livebearers Unlimited.”

Oh, before I forget—Rhonda didn’t vacuum before she left. But I think we can forgive her for that! Now, dive into the world of the Madagascar lace plant and let it awaken your aquatic imagination.

For more aquascaping wonders and to explore a wide range of aquatic plants, visit the Ames Farm Center.