Dwarf Water Lettuce: The Ultimate Care Guide

Dwarf Water Lettuce Facts & Overview

Dwarf water lettuce is a herbaceous plant that lives through the year, regardless of seasonal changes, and is known to thrive in the world’s hotter regions. Humankind found this plant growing along the world’s largest river, the Nile, which is why it was also named after it!

Having said that, dwarf water lettuce is found all across the globe. This plant is a smaller form of water lettuce, as its name suggests. However, some larger specimens are found near broad river banks or in huge lakes.

Dwarf species, on the other hand, thrive in small aquariums and ponds. According to documented studies by eminent Ancient Greek botanists, the water lettuce was first introduced some 2,000 years ago.

With the exception of Antarctica, where temperatures are too cold for these frost-intolerant plants to grow, the plant has spread to every continent in the world since its rediscovery.

Dwarf water lettuce

You can consider adding the dwarf water lettuce to your home aquarium to add character to your pet fish’s habitat.

Not to mention, adding this plant to your aquarium can offer plenty of benefits that we have discussed further in the article. Keep reading to understand why you should add this plant to your home aquarium’s decor setup!

Care & Maintenance of Dwarf Water Lettuce

You won’t really have to worry about caring for your dwarf water lettuce excessively. However, this doesn’t mean that you can take an extremely laid-back approach toward it either.

Patio in Thailand Spa with a water garden in Asian style.  Morning Dew on Water Lettuce.

You will have to toe the line between reasonable care and understanding the plant’s needs to create an environment that allows your aquarium health to be at its best! Now, this is where we come in.

This section will tell you some things that are absolutely essential to caring for your dwarf water lettuce. It is a tricky affair but not too difficult to get the hang of.

Size of the Aquarium or Fish Tank

Aquarium with cichlids fish from lake malawi

When it comes to setting up your dwarf water lettuce cultivation, the size of your tank is an important aspect to consider.

While you won’t need too large a tank for your dwarf water lettuce to be healthy, you should avoid buying anything lesser than ten gallons.

Why? Well, you won’t be able to add fish and other aquatic creatures to your tank along with dwarf water lettuce in a tank smaller than ten gallons!

These plants will benefit from the space that any tank larger than ten gallons offers in terms of the room it can use to grow its long roots gradually.

Water Conditions in the Tank

These plants thrive in tropical climates. Therefore, you will have to ensure that the temperature of the water you’ve placed them in should never cross 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

If they do, your plant won’t be able to develop any further. They also prefer high humidity levels to keep the leaves floating on top of the water. 

water cabbage or water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) aquatic plant, green leafy background

Here are some fundamental guidelines to follow when it comes to regulating the temperature of the water: 

  • Check your water conditions on a frequent basis to make sure you’re meeting the plant’s requirements. 
  • Water temperature ranges from 72 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • pH ranges from 6.0 to 7.5, with water hardness ranging from 4 to 5 dKH (soft to medium-hard)

While dwarf water lettuce care is quite simple, this is an area where you’ll want to pay special attention.

Lighting Needs of the Dwarf Water Lettuce

Too much sunlight could be a major issue for the dwarf water lettuce! You must remember that these plants prefer environments that don’t get excessive exposure to the sun, allowing them to stay shady.

However, they still require a sufficient amount of sunlight following a typical sunrise and sunset cycle, but you should keep the lighting to a minimum. Never expose the foliage to direct light. Overexposure to the sun can cause blistering and yellowing!

Raindrops on a leaf of water lettuce (pistia stratiotes) in the pond growing next to duckweed in the afternoon in Dalat Park, Vietnam

Use full-range, tiny bulbs. Keep the lights turned on throughout the day, but not too close to the water’s edge. If at all feasible, place your aquarium near an open window! The remaining lighting should be sufficient to allow the lettuce florets to attain their full potential.


Because these plants float on the water’s surface and lack roots that anchor them, they don’t require any special substrate. Because the roots are free-floating in the water, the substrate material you choose will not affect the plant’s health.

Instead, you’d be better off picking a substrate that works well for the other aquatic creatures and plants in your tank!

Trimming your Dwarf Water Lettuce

Trimming is an essential aspect of dwarf water lettuce maintenance. To avoid overgrowth after the plant reaches maturity, you may need to start cutting it weekly. If you don’t, the plant will swiftly take over and blanket the entire area.

Simply pinch off plantlets to prune the plant. The small leaves that begin to form in the center are those. Use your finger to pinch them off or pruning shears to cut them off.

You can also take off some of the roots. As the leaves on the top spread, the roots will continue to grow in the water. If they begin to grow unruly, cut them with scissors. Leave about four inches behind.

The plant will come back to life even if you do end up cutting a little too much. Root trimming may really benefit the plant’s overall health. Cutting them back means there are fewer tendrils for the lettuce to maintain.

Propagation of Dwarf Water Lettuce

The dwarf lettuce plant reproduces and disseminates its kind on the water surface that it inhabits. This process is known as propagation. Typically, it will reproduce sexually in the wild. Male and female flowers can fertilize each other, producing berries and seeds as a result.

In fact, even land-based plants use a similar mechanism to grow. While those circumstances can be replicated in a home aquarium, it’s not particularly frequent. In closed tanks, dwarf water lettuce usually reproduces asexually.

The plant will spread via stolons if this occurs. Stolons are horizontal stems or roots that are also known as runners. They sprout new plants at various nodes throughout the length as they grow beneath the water.

Next to the center plant, little “daughter” plants will grow. If you give them a chance, they will grow into adult plants and resemble little flowers. It’s now totally up to you to decide how far the plant will spread.

You can snip the stolon and dispose of it whenever you observe a daughter plant appears. Alternatively, you can transplant it to a new tank and start a new plant! It’s simple to grow dwarf water lettuce. It’ll only be a little time till the stolons sprout new plants.

Click here to read about rotala wallichii

Planting Dwarf Water Lettuce

It’s only a part of the struggle to get the water and environmental conditions right when it comes to planting the dwarf water lettuce. If your tank is ready to be inhabited by these plants, only then should you go ahead with growing them.

It’s as simple as gently inserting the roots into the water and floating the existing leaves on the surface to introduce the plant to your tank. You should definitely isolate your plant in a quarantine tank before letting it mingle with your fish and other plant environments.

Dwarf water lettuce leaves

Water lettuce, like new fish and invertebrates, can carry illnesses and parasites. You simply don’t want to bring harmful elements into your tank. Allow the plant to spend some time in a quarantine tank to check that no parasites are present.

Keep an eye on the plant after it’s been added to the main aquarium. It’s possible that some plants will lose their roots or become discolored. Root shedding is a common occurrence and usually happens when the plant is in some form of stress.

Don’t make the mistake of leaving your leaves and florets immersed in the water. This could result in rot and fungal issues. The dwarf water lettuce leaves, strangely enough, are hydrophobic. The coating ensures that water glides right off, making sinking the plant practically difficult!

Adjusting the water flow and filtration is also a good idea. Despite the plant’s ability to clean the tank, a filter is still required to keep it in excellent working order. You must, however, tweak the filter to favor the plan.

Further, dwarf water lettuce dislikes being disturbed in the water. Its growth will be stifled by a vigorous water flow. Therefore, you should try and keep things bright and make sure the filter outlet isn’t directing high currents at the plant’s base.

How to Procure a Dwarf Water Lettuce Plant?

If you want to include some of these lovely plants in your aquarium, you may either buy an aquarium-ready plant or grow one yourself.

If your local fish store doesn’t have these plants, a quick search on Amazon will turn up several options. If that fails, you might email local fish stores and pond supply outlets to place an order for a few plants.

Dwarf Water Lettuce & Tankmates

The roots of dwarf water lettuce are particularly dense. As a result, not all fish will thrive in the presence of dwarf water lettuce plants. For larger fish, the roots are too much to navigate through and deal with.

Further, you should avoid placing these plants with fast species of fish or fish with large fins. Fast fish can end up destroying the roots of the plant, whereas large finned fish might suffer by getting caught up in the web of roots of the plant.

You can complement these plants with small fish and invertebrates for the best results.

Problems associated with Dwarf Water Lettuce

There are some problems that could arise in maintaining your dwarf water lettuce. Knowing these issues will help you deal with them effectively and immediately!

Discoloration of the leaves

You have to maintain a fine balance in giving your dwarf water lettuce just the right amount of light exposure because both the extremes of light exposure can result in shrinkage and discoloration of its leaves.

Keep in mind that the dwarf water lettuce dislikes direct light, whether natural or artificial. However, if your tank is entirely shielded from light, your plant may be starving for light. Thus it’s crucial to analyze the lighting situation in your specific scenario.

Furthermore, the color of the leaves may change to yellow as they age; it’s good to remove these yellowing leaves from the plant’s base.

Lack of optimal growth

If you can’t meet the specific conditions that the dwarf water lettuce needs for optimal growth, you will find that it is developing and growing at unsatisfactory rates.

Therefore, you might want to make some adjustments to the habitat that you’ve placed them in.

Overgrowth of the dwarf water lettuce plant

There are two other essential issues if the lettuce mat covers the entire surface of your aquarium, in addition to the water lettuce sucking up all the nutrients that other tank occupants require.

These are bettas and other labyrinth breathers, and surface feeder fish like sardines have difficulty thriving in an environment that lacks the surface space they require.

Further, the underside vegetation is in grave danger if it does not have access to the light it needs to exist.

Increasing mosquito population in the house

While the cilia on the surface of dwarf water lettuce leaves play a crucial role in making the plant buoyant, it also makes for a great colonization spot for mosquitos.

Therefore, you might have to take special care to rid your dwarf water lettuce of any signs of mosquito breeding.

Benefits of Dwarf Water Lettuce for Aquarium

Naturally, the dwarf water lettuce plays a more functional role in keeping your aquarium a healthy place for the residents and a pretty place for onlookers.

Controlling the growth of algae

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The very characteristic that makes the dwarf water lettuce harmful to the inhabitants of your aquarium if it grows excessively is the same characteristic that makes it extremely efficient in keeping your tank free of algae.

Since the plant requires high levels of nutrition from its habitat, it resorts to exploiting any algae cover growing in the aquarium. This helps in keeping your tank spick and span!

Purification of the water

Too much nitrate or ammonia in your aquarium is hazardous to your community; thus, no aquarium hobbyist wants it.

Both are absorbed by the water lettuce, resulting in a healthier aquarium ecosystem and encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria. Dwarf water lettuce will also absorb any garbage or metals that you don’t want in your aquarium.

Protection for the younger and smaller creatures in the aquarium


Dwarf water lettuce provides shade and cover for your aquarium’s tiny critters, as well as those who are more reclusive and like to hide. Their thick green foliage and lengthy roots dangling down the tank provide lots of covers.

The appearance of the Dwarf Water Lettuce

The name of the water lettuce gives away a lot about its appearance. They do resemble wavy-edged lettuce or lettuce with vein patterns, which are popular eating greens in the United States.

Their fan-shaped leaves are pale to yellow-green and look like small rosettes when grouped, adding a pleasant touch to your aquarium’s design emphasis. The way these plants float is that air is trapped in the tiny hairs that cover their leaves, which aids in flotation.

They have long, stringy roots that extend down into the aquarium’s water. Because they float, the roots, which are either white or black, may be seen. These roots, which may grow to be more than a foot long, provide private breeding chambers for fish.

Conclusion: Are Dwarf Water Lettuce Plants Right for your Aquarium?

In conclusion, whether dwarf water lettuce plants are right for your aquarium essentially boils down to two questions – what kind of fish do you have, and how big is your aquarium?

After you have found the answer to these questions, you will have to ascertain whether you can commit to providing the optimal habitat that these plants need actually to be helpful for your aquarium if you don’t house fish that are extremely fast swimmers.

Too big or have wavy and large fins, your aquarium pets might benefit from adding this plant to their tank. Further, as we mentioned, your tank must be at least ten gallons large for you to add dwarf water lettuce to it.

If you meet these conditions and follow the maintenance guidelines discussed in this article, the dwarf water lettuce might just be the right plant for your aquarium!


Why is water lettuce bad for the environment?

With a tendency to be overgrown, this plant can end up leaving its habitat water completely devoid of nutrients, making it difficult for other living organisms to survive in it.

Does water lettuce purify water?

Yes, water lettuce does purify water, but only if grown in controlled proportions.

Does water lettuce deplete oxygen?

No, rather water lettuce further oxygenates the water it inhabits.

How big does dwarf water lettuce grow?

The dwarf water lettuce can grow up to ten inches in length.

How does the dwarf water lettuce reproduce in tanks?

In controlled environments such as tanks, dwarf water lettuce will resort to asexual reproduction by using their stolons.

About the author

I'm Gulshan, a passionate pet enthusiast. Dive into my world where I share tips, stories, and snapshots of my animal adventures. Here, pets are more than just animals; they're heartbeats that enrich our lives. Join our journey!