How To Care For Cabomba (Cabomba Caroliniana): Planting, Propagation, Care & More

Cabomba is a well-known water plant species that is a member of the Cabombaceae family.

Officially called Cabomba caroliniana, it is a resilient and versatile plant that can survive in tropical and high-temperature environments. 

This aquatic plant has been popular amongst people with aquariums for quite a long time now, but it is also well-known amongst its fellow plants in nature as it acts in an invasive way in various countries in Europe and Asia, as well as regions of the United States and Canada.

How To Care For Cabomba (Cabomba Caroliniana): Planting, Propagation, Care & More

Cabomba has tiny needle-like leaves that emerge on thin and delicate stems while their vivid greenery is sometimes pale to green or others red to purple.

Its flowers have the shape of stars or circles depending on the type of Cabomba.

The Cabomba kinds that have green leaves are more common and widely found for people who want to add them to their aquariums than the red-leaved form, which is rather rare.

This article is all about the Cabomba plants, so continue reading to learn everything you need to know about this intriguing plant and how to grow it in your home tank!

Background Information For Cabomba Plants

Cabomba is supposed to be an Aboriginal word for “aquatic plant” which most likely originated in Guyana. It is an aquatic species that belong to the ‘Cabombaceae’ family that is widespread in South America.

Brasenia and Cabomba are the two groups of aquatic plants that belong to and form this class.

Cabomba is also called fanwort, a term that refers to its submerged leaves that resemble a fan.

Habitat Of Cabomba

Cabomba are mostly found on the continents of America, extending from the countries in South America to the southern states of the US.

These plants live in fresh, quiet waters with small current flows, such as ponds, rivers, and streams.

However, Cabomba plants have also reached places like Canada, as they have even been found in the Canadian lake Kasshabog, in addition to other places in the East and the western world with a tropical climate.

Description Of Cabomba

Because of its incredible similarity to the Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum), you can mistake these plants for one another.

All Cabomba varieties are solely underwater plants in their native environments; when the water of the lake, for example, is gone due to climate changes, the plant can only produce two or three emerged leaves.

After that, Cabombas can only survive for a short period in the emersed stage before withering.

If not trimmed, the stems branch aggressively underwater and can grow their length up to 2 meters/6 feet or more depending on their genus.

The Cabomba submerged leaves have the shape of a fan and are divided into small sections of variable lengths that can range from 25 to 50 millimeters or 1 to 2 inches long. 

When these plants become quite tall and rise all the way up to the water’s surface, they begin to develop broad leaves that resemble floating pads.

Some Cabomba types produce floating leaves that are either round or straight and which range from 30 to 40 millimeters, or 1.5 inches long, during the blooming stage.

As for the Cabomba blooms, they range in coloration, and you can find them from yellow to white to purple and red.

Even though it is only a few of the Cabomba types are common in the aquarium industry, all of them are equally perfect and sensitive.

They flourish in a well-lit aquarium with normal water temperatures of 68° F (20° C) or above. In lower water temperatures you will not see them at their best, but they will certainly not die off.

Most Common Cabomba Varieties

The Cabomba types that people put in aquariums are those that are the most common in general, like Cabomba Caroliniana, Cabomba Aquatic, and the variation Cabomba Furcata, which has a red color.

Aquarium And Water Specifications

Aquarium And Water Specifications

Cabomba are suitable for both smaller (such as 10-gallon or 40-liter) and bigger tanks.

This means that you can add them to any tank you want, whether it has a 5-gallon or 20-liter capacity or twice as much.

Water Hardness, pH, And Temperature

Water Temperature

Cabomba are underwater plants that prefer a temperature range from 68 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 28 degrees Celsius).

pH

Cabomba plants prefer waters with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5, a range that is a bit acidic to normal. From studies conducted, it has been shown that Cabomba plants develop better at a pH of 6.5.

Hardness

The optimal water hardness for Cabomba that are under development ranges from 3 to 8 dGH. The reason why these plants need such a soft to a relatively high dGH is that if they are in harder waters, they will dissolve. 

Lighting

Medium to high light is ideal for the Cabomba’s growth. Cabomba is known to have outstanding colors and rapid shoot development under high lighting.

On the contrary, this aquatic plant cannot tolerate low light levels so avoid trying to grow it under such conditions; there are zero chances of it properly developing under low lighting, even medium one, without CO2 infusions.

Instead, it will become long and leggy. Furthermore, Cabomba is a plant that likes to photosynthesize for a big amount of time throughout the day. A minimum of 10 to 12 hours daily is the usual, but it usually does it for much longer. 

Cabomba plants might grow better as free-floating rather than if they were rooted in the substrate.

This is especially true in cases where the lighting levels are not high enough, so the farther away the Cabomba plants are from the surface of the water and the lighting source, the harder it is for them to develop properly.

However, if you decide to increase the light’s intensity, be prepared for an algae development too, particularly when you do not wish to take it to the next level with your CO2 infusions.

There is no way to avoid this, as hi-tech aquariums must have a balance in terms of their lighting, CO2, and other minerals and nutrients percentages and levels.

Substrate

Cabomba plants grow mostly in loose soils and do not have their roots deeply in the ground when found out in the wild. Moreover, it is uncommon to see them on cobblestones, sandy places, or even rock edges.

Essentially, though, the substrate is irrelevant, as Cabombas can grow in any substrate since they absorb nutrients from the waters they are found in.

CO2 And Fertilization

CO2 supplementation helps to keep the Cabomba healthy and promotes quicker shoot development, though the plants will also survive without it in strong lighting conditions.

Fertilizer injection is also advised. This should be conducted on a frequent basis if you want elegant and thriving plants, as Cabombas are extremely difficult to grow without fertilizer.

Even though Cabomba can also have their roots under the substrate, they are not feeding themselves from it.

As we have already mentioned, Cabomba are absorbing the nutrients and minerals they need to grow from the water they are in, so a product like Seachem Excel will help you properly take care of them.

The issue, in this case, is that the higher the level of CO2 and copper, which most fertilizers on the market include, the more harmful the fertilizer turns out to be for the other living organisms in the aquarium, like shrimps.

Care And Maintenance Of Cabomba

Care And Maintenance Of Cabomba

Interestingly, the aquarium market frequently labels Cabombas as “simple to care for.” Of course, if you provide optimum conditions with the right amounts of CO2, nutrients, and sunshine, these plants will develop quickly, and they will do so efficiently.

The only issue with this is that, in order to create a balanced high-tech aquarium that will be ideal for plants like Cabomba, you will have to first understand how to maintain it that way.

Cabomba require a lot of nutrients and sunshine to thrive and keep their colorful shoots like the red ones you find in Cabomba Furcata or the lime-green in Cabomba Caroliniana and Cabomba Aquatica.

These plants’ primary need to grow is getting enough light, which is very important if you truly wish for them to remain healthy and vibrant forever.

The Cabombas that have a green color requires a minimum of 30 to 40 PAR of lighting, whereas the red ones need even more than that, so something between 40 and 50 is ideal.

Limiting nitrates is also important if you want the true colors to display. As previously stated, the lights should be left on for a minimum of 10 to 12 hours every day.

The Cabomba plants take a good portion of the nutrients they need from the water column, which means that you need to regularly add fertilizer dozes to the water to aid with their development.

Cabomba plants grow quickly, adding up to 1 inch or 2.5 centimeters every day when growing circumstances are suitable.

As a result, their rapid growth rate may necessitate regular trimming, otherwise, Cabombas may grow all the way to the tank’s surface if not trimmed on a regular basis.

Broken stems and decomposed leaves in the aquarium might block the tank’s filter and degrade the quality of the water; thus, they must be removed together with the pruned unwanted stems and disposed of with them to ensure a healthy and clean ecosystem in the aquarium.

Cabomba’s Planting And Propagation

Cabomba Caroliniana looks good in the backdrop of filled aquariums. Cabomba Furcata can also be used to highlight decorations in the middle of big aquariums.

Fill the substrate with fresh and healthy stems by putting them more than an inch below the substrate. Do not forget to trim the bottom two to three pairs of leaves before planting in sets of five or six roots.

At first, the roots might struggle to stay under the substrate, but you can simply force them back under it by using tweezers if you see that they float to the surface.

Another option that is even better is to use some weights to keep the Cabomba in place and make sure they are rooted in the substrate.

Since Cabomba are usually free-floating, you can also choose to grow them on the water’s surface. However, most people do prefer to ground them in the substrate for a more aesthetically pleasing result.

If you do, however, decide to let your Cabomba flow on the water, that is very simple to achieve.

All you have to do is buy some healthy and vivid Cabomba stems from the store, remove the rubber bands that are binding them, follow a proper disinfecting procedure, and put them in the aquarium.

Once that is done, your Cabomba will be floating on the aquarium’s water surface and their roots will soon sprout from the stems.

The Cabomba plants’ development process can be a rapid one, and their propagation process can be asexual (by fragmentation) or sexual (through emerging blossoms).

Cabomba plants can easily multiply in the tank by taking terminal cuttings from a grown stem in the tank and placing them in the substrate.

How much or how little you will cut the stems is entirely based on your preference, but 4 to 5 inches or 10 to 12 centimeters is generally sufficient.

When cutting the stems, make sure to do it gently to prevent breaking or harming the Cabombas’ thin stems, which are delicate and can instantly break.

Furthermore, by trimming the Cabomba top, you will notice how thicker they will start becoming. Therefore, repeating this procedure till the plants grow bushy enough for you is highly recommended.

Benefits Of Having Cabomba Plants In Your Aquarium

  • Aquascape: Cabomba is an excellent option if you wish to create Jungle aquascaping.
  • They clean up the water from unwanted nutrients: Cabombas, being plants that grow really fast, will consume and use hazardous substances such as nitrate, Carbon dioxide, ammonium, and phosphate released by fish waste, rotting plants’ debris, and tap water.
  • They outperform algae: Cabomba plants have the ability to outperform algae for nutrients and slow down their development.
  • They function as shelter for fish, fry, and shrimps: Cabombas provide protection and cover from the sun for invertebrates and tiny fish. They function as a great hiding place for shrimps and fish to hide.
  • They are a foraging site: Cabombas serve as a biofilm buffet, which makes them an excellent first source of nutrients for freshly born fry and little shrimps.
  • They promote oxygenation: Cabombas provide oxygen and aeration to the aquarium water.

Cabomba Difficulties And Issues

Cabomba Difficulties And Issues
  • Losing leaves: In most situations, this is caused by a lack of proper lighting or lack of enough Carbon dioxide.
  • The bottom leaves becoming brown: If the upper leaves are very thick, they might obstruct the light from getting to the bottom leaves, leaving them brown.
  • The flow of Water: The Cabomba plants dislike strong flows of water as they restrict their development by trapping waste and debris on their leaves.
  • Difficult to get them rooted down: Planting Cabombas in the substrate can be difficult because their stems are highly sensitive and can be damaged. Their stems lack well-developed roots that can help them stay rooted in the substrate, so they will probably float away if you don’t use some weights to hold them in. Alternatively, you can wrap the stems in ceramic rings and insert them into the substrate or let the plants free-float until their roots begin to develop. After that, anchoring into the substrate can be effortlessly done.
  • Delicate: Cabomba plants have a fragile bodies. Their leaves can break without much effort and leave you with an aquarium full of them. 
  • Melting: Cabombas do not handle changes in their habitats well. So, for example, changing the tank water’s pH to a higher level of more than 8.0 will result in the Cabombas ultimately melting. 
  • Change of tank: Cabomba dislikes being relocated after it has been established. This plant’s roots are extremely thin so trying to pull it out will probably simply break it. Moreover, after you replant it elsewhere, its roots might start rotting and the plant will die.
  • Unappealing adventitious roots: Cabombas have many long adventitious roots that too many people are quite ugly. Therefore, if you are adding them to your aquarium for decorative purposes, you too might not like them.

Cohabitation In The Aquarium

The thick bushes in the backdrop generated by matured Cabomba shoots provide excellent protection and hiding places for fry and small species of fish.

Cabomba can easily cohabit an aquarium with: 

  • Fish, especially the ones that are peaceful: It is advisable to preserve Cabombas in an aquarium alongside creatures that will not hurt them. Great examples of that are fish like Guppy and Rasboras, but there are plenty of others that can cohabit in an aquarium with these plants.
  • Shrimps: All kinds of shrimps are perfect as Cabomba’s neighbor, so feel free to choose whichever you want!
  • Snails: Some ideas are Ramshorn or Mystery snails but be careful as many snail species can damage or even eat Cabombas.

Cabomba plants induce a chemical defense mechanism to keep herbivores and bacteria away. However, even snail types like Apple snails will try to eat Cabombas when there are no other options.

Therefore, you should avoid growing Cabombas alongside ravenous herbivores such as Oscars and Silver Dollars. Even if they do not consume the plants’ fragile leaves, they can leave them severely damaged.

As for other types of crustaceans, they will act in pretty much the same way, which is why it is common knowledge among aquarists that these creatures are plant destructors.

Buying Cabomba

Cabomba varieties may be found in local aquariums or your local pet store at reasonable prices. If you can’t find Cabombas in these places, you can get them online from trustworthy sellers.

These lovely water plants sell for as little as 5 to 10 dollars for a bundle of 5 or more stems, and they are sold together and wrapped with a rubber band.

Do your best to find and buy Cabombas with tall and strong stems, vivid foliage, and a pale or lime green or red-purple hue which depends on the variety you will choose.

Other possible indicators of excellent health conditions include the existence of little roots, blooms, and the sprouting of new branches.

Finally, before you move on with the purchase of Cabombas, make sure that these plants are legal in your region, state, or country to avoid having to deal with the law when trying to buy or sell them!

The Bottom Line

Cabomba are great plants that work well in tank backgrounds. They produce gorgeous dense greenery that certain types of fish use for cover from the light, as a hiding spot, or even for reproduction purposes.

The only concern is that Cabomba plants are among those types of greenery that either die soon or grow like weeds in the aquarium. It is either one extreme or the other! 

However, if you really want to put your skills to the test, I suggest you start your Cabomba quest with the green-colored variety, which, in contrast to the red one, needs much less attention and care, and is much easier to grow.

Finally, you may easily substitute Cabombas with Hornworts, as they are even simpler in terms of the care and attention they require, while their appearance is strikingly similar.

If you want to find out more about hornworts, their propagation, care, and origins, read our article on them by clicking here.

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