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Related FAQs: Foxtail, genus Myriophyllum Plants for the Aquarium Garden, Pond Plants and Planting

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/The Aquarium Gardener Series

Plants for All Seasons, Species of Myriophyllum

 Bob Fenner

Water Milfoil emersed and submersed growth

The milfoils or parrot feathers, what a beautiful name, of the genus Myriophyllum ("Mere-ee-oh-fill-um") encompass species of hardy and adaptable plants for all aquaristic endeavors; cool, cold, tropical aquariums, even ponds.

Did you know that most of the ones sold are grown outdoors in temperate ponds, rooted, and have flowers borne on aerial shoots?

Classification & Species of Use To Aquarists:

Think you've seen about all the types of Myriophyllum that there are? Think again; there are some hundred species worldwide, most coming from temperate zones. The varieties we'll list here are aquarium-use aquatic, but many others are amphibious bog plants that only live partly submersed for the wet season.

Milfoils or parrot feathers are characterized by their soft stems bearing whorls of fine feather-like leaves. Their flowers are borne on aerial shoots. If space between the aquarium top and the water's surface can be made, some portion of these plants should be encouraged to grow aerially. This for sheer beauty as well as enhanced plant metabolism.

Myriophyllum aquaticum, Brazilian milfoil

Synonyms:Herpestes reflexa, Myriophyllum prosperpinacoides, M. brasiliense.

Natural Distribution & Ecology: Widely occurring over most of South America, to the southern U.S.; introduced into E. Africa. More amphibious than totally aquatic; marshes, pools, slow-moving rivers in shallows. Temperature range for Brazilian milfoil ideally in the 70's F.; will live between mid 60's-80's.

Physical Description:A defining characteristic of this Myriophyllum species is the similarity of its aerial and underwater foliage. Submerged shoots sport four to six perpendicular axils up to 3 cm. in length, each with up to ten pairs of feathery segments turning slightly downward.

Cultivation Notes:

Substrate/Soil:Though often kept as a floating form in aquariums, the more tropical species are best planted in shallow water in a loamy soil mix. For outside pond growers, Myriophyllums should be overwintered indoors, and reintroduced in Spring as marsh plants along the water's edge.

Light/Lighting (intensity, spectrum, duration): These plants like bright light, about 1 1/2 watt per gallon, full spectrum, a good eight to ten hours per day; more at higher temperatures.

pH, KH, Other Chemical:Not super-critical; pH 5.0-7.5; soft to medium hardness.

Temperature Range:

Species Kept With:For appearance sake, larger, more bold forms for contrast; Cryptocoryne, Echinodorus, Sagittaria.

Trimming:Pinch off growing tips and replant if desired.


Sexually, the single-sex flowers appear singly on the emersed leaf axils. Female flowers occur lower down on the shoot and lack petals; male flowers with four shell-shaped white to pinkish petals.

Myriophyllum heterophyllum. Red Foxtail... variably reddish depending on growing/environmental conditions.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Baensch, Hans A. & Rudiger Riehl. 1993. Aquarium Atlas, v. 2. BAENSCH, Germany. 1212 pp.

Brunner, Gerhard. 1973. Aquarium Plants. T.F.H. Publications, NJ. 159 pp.

James, Barry. 1986. A Fishkeeper's Guide To Aquarium Plants. Salamander Books, U.K.. 117 pp.

Paffrath, K. Undated. The Brazilian milfoil- an amphibious plant to enhance any aquarium or garden pool. Aquarium Digest Intl. #37.

Rataj, Karel. 1983. Myriophyllum hippuroides, a beautiful water milfoil. TFH 3/83.

Riehl, Rudiger & Hans A. Baensch. 1987. Aquarium Atlas, v. 1. MERGUS, Germany. 992 pp.

Roe, Colin D. 1967. A Manual of Aquarium Plants. Shirley Aquatics, England. 111 pp.

Stemmermann, Lani. 1981. A Guide to Pacific Wetland Plants. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Honolulu. 118 pp.

Stodola, Jiri. 1967. Encyclopedia of Water Plants. T.F.H. Publications, NJ. 368 pp.

Wischnath, Lothar. 1989. Some unusual Myriophyllum species. TFH 12/89.

Graphics Notes:

1) M. spicatum growing outdoors in Southern California; note the soft, easily broken submersed stems supporting the feather like leaf whorls as opposed to the fuller, stiffer structure above water.

2,3) A whole lot of Brazilian milfoil, M. aquaticum growing outdoors in a tub, and displayed in an aquarium for sale.

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