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Chain Swords


  1. Where to get live plants? Re: chain swords
    by (Neil Frank) (17 Apr 1994)
  2. Grass plants/crazy idea?
    by krandall/ (Mon, 26 Jan 1998)
  3. pygmy swords
    by George Booth <booth/> (Sun, 18 Apr 1999)
  4. Aquatic Plants Digest V3 #1129
    by "Roger S. Miller" <rgrmill/> (Sat, 3 Jul 1999)
  5. Aquatic Plants Digest V4 #1550
    by Roger Miller <rgrmill/> (Sat, 19 Jan 2002)

unidentified chain sword

photo and video still by Erik Olson

Where to get live plants? Re: chain swords

by (Neil Frank)
Date: 17 Apr 1994

In article <>, Bob Hoesch <> wrote:
>On a different thread,  does anyone know about the taxonomy of  "dwarf chain 
>swords"?  I used to buy Echinodorus magdalenensis from Robert Gasser. This 
>designation doesen't seem to be current.   Since then I've seen designations 
>of  "E. latifolius",  " E. latifolius var. magdalenensis",  "E.bolivianus",  
>"E.bolivianus var. magdalanensis"  and  "E. quadricostatus", all  for what 
>appears to be  the same plant.   And this is not the same plant as E. 
>tenellus, the "pygmy chain sword".  Then there is something called
>which is also called "micro chain sword".   Are there any plant taxonomists 
>out there who can sort this mess?

Although I am definitely not a taxonomist, I think I can shed some light.
I have been recently trying to sort out the differences among the different
chain swords and am trying to prepare a review article which focuses
on the Echinodorus.  Here is the introduction:
Among the many plants of the genus Echinodorus (commonly known as
sword plants) are only a few varieties which propagate by rhizome
runners.  These are commonly called the "chain" swords.  The
aquarium literature has assigned names such as pygmy chain sword,
dwarf amazon sword and junior sword.  Under proper conditions,
these form dense lawns in the aquatic garden and as such are an
ideal foreground plant.  In his recent revision to the genus
(1975), Rataj lists six species from North and South America
which reproduce in this manner: E. tenellus,  E. latifolius,  E.
quadricostatus, E. angustifolius, E. austroamericanus, and E.
isthmicus.  Some of these have more than one variety and Rataj
notes that there may also be hybrids.  There is also a chain
sword species from Africa - E. humilis.  Anyone who has surveyed
the aquarium plant or botanical literature will have noticed that
these names constantly undergo changes.  There is little
consistency among authors.  You will see many older names for
'chain' swords - Echinodorus intermediatus, E. magdalenensis, E.
grisbachii, E. spec. 'longifolius,' E. subulatus, E. parvulus and
possibly others.  Some of these names (E. grisebachii and E.
intermediatus) are still in use, but to describe different
plants.  Also, it now seems that more recent revisions have been
formalized and E. austroamericanus may be called E. bolivianus
(discussed in De Wit, 1990) and so it goes.  One will also see
inconsistent use among the common names.  In this article, I
review the similarities and differences in the various
descriptions and illustrations found in the aquarium literature
and attempt to assign names to the plants in my collection.  
[I have E. tenellus (2 varieties - var. tenellus and var.
parvulus), E. quadricostatus and possibly E. latifolius.
Echinodorus intermediatus and E. magdalenensis seem to be old
names (i.e. synonyms) for E. quadricostatus and E. intermediatus,


 \ The above does not represent OIT, UNC-CH, laUNChpad, or its other users. /

Grass plants/crazy idea?

by krandall/
Date: Mon, 26 Jan 1998

>I am about to order some type of short grass plants for a 60G. I want to do
>two different ones in patches on opposite sides of the tank. I am thinking
>maybe Pygmy Swords and Dwarf Sag. Since I don't want to have one take over
>the whole tank I wondered if I couldn't bury a fence in the substrate to
>contain the roots?  Like you edge flower beds with to keep the grass out. I
>was thinking of using either thin acrylic or Plexiglas and forming in to a
>curve. Maybe a little silicone to hold it in place. Making sure it was on
>the bottom glass and JUST under the surface so it wouldn't show. Also
>thought about sheet plastic. (I am starting from scratch on this tank) Just
>laying a strip on the bottom and then put in the substrate and trim to

I haven't worked much with dwarf Sag, but I know that E. tenellus regularly
hops out of pots and colonizes surrounding areas of my tanks.  Since the
chaining effect happens above the surface, a divider under the substrate
won't help much.

I remember from a discussion with Claus Christensen, he told me that a few
people in Europe keep plants separated with dividers coated with a weed
killer of some sort.  I sure wouldn't dare try that in _my_ tank though!<g>

IMO, the best way to keep plants like this separated is to have an area of
unplanted gravel between them.  If you keep this "DMZ" diligently weeded
out, you should be able to keep the plants separated.  Remember though,
that both these plants have a very similar look.  Unless you just feel the
need to have more species of plants in the tank (and I certainly understand
that!) you might be happier choosing one or the other.  From the standpoint
of aquascaping, you don't need both.

Another option is to plant one species at each end, and just sit back and
watch what happens.  It can be very interesting to see which species will
win out in a turf war.  I had this happen several years ago.  I'd been
keeping Lillaeopsis in one end of a 70G tank, and E. tenellus in the other
end.  Both did pretty well, and neither made significant inroads on the
other until we had a prolonged heat wave.  During that period, the Swords
just couldn't compete, and retreated further and further.  The Lillaeopsis,
which was not adversely effected by the heat, rapidly took over where ever
the Swords fell back.  I just let it happen, and watched.  Within a few
months, the Lillaeopsis had taken over the whole tank.  Since I like the
Lillaeopsis better, I didn't mind too much.  Now I keep my E. tenellus in
another tank!

As a side note, it would be great if you could remove your long sig. file
when posting on the list.  It's cute, but we've all seen it now and it
takes up a lot of space.  Thanks!

Karen Randall
Aquatic Gardeners Association

pygmy swords

by George Booth <booth/>
Date: Sun, 18 Apr 1999

>Date: Fri, 16 Apr 1999 20:44:51 -0600 (MDT)
>From: "Roger S. Miller" <>

>A couple years ago I bought a few (5, I think) plants that the local store
>called "pygmy chain swords".  I assumed that the plant was E. tenellus and
>the fish store guy agreed.  (He might have agreed if I thought they were
>Martian snoot grass.)  The plants were apparently in an emersed-grown
>form. They were about 2 1/2 inches high and their leaves were straight and
>consisted of an indistinct petiole and a lanceolate blade.  The blades
>were only about 4 millimeters across and slightly shorter than the

This sound like what I identify as E. quadricostatus. A few of the Japanese
books seem to call them that also. Check Amano. 

If the runners are above or near the top of the substrate, I would go with
Echinodorus. If they are in the subtrate, Sagitarria may be what you have.
E. quadricostatus has nicely root-like roots whereas S. pusilla has roots
more like crypts and you will find lumpy nodes amoug the roots. S. pullia
seems to grow low in bright light and tall in darker areas. E. quad. is
just the opposite. 

I've always thought that E. tenellus is more like your front lawn - thin,
short blades, mostly medium to dark green with some reddish leaves. Mine
stays under 2" tall. 

George Booth, Ft. Collins, Colorado

Aquatic Plants Digest V3 #1129

by "Roger S. Miller" <rgrmill/>
Date: Sat, 3 Jul 1999

On Sat, 3 Jul 1999, Jeff Valine wrote:
> Hi all.  I found what I hope is some E. tenellus (it was not labeled) at an
> LFS, but I'm somewhat confused by the pictures I have seen compared to what
> I bought.  What I bought looks exactly like the picture of E. tenellus on
> the Florida Aquatics poster:
> Including a couple of runners sticking in the air, and the little "dingle
> balls" on the runners.  However, both my Baensch vol 1, and Tropica
> ( show E. tenellus without the
> "dingle balls", and with the runners along the ground similiar to L.
> brasiliensis.  So what do you think I bought?

I think the photo at is an emersed-grown form.  The "dingle
balls" may be seed heads.  In submersed forms the runners stay close to
the substrate surface.

I don't have Baensch #1, but the painting at Tropica (I like Tropica's
plant drawings) is more like I think E. tenellus usually looks in
submersed culture.

Roger Miller

Aquatic Plants Digest V4 #1550

by Roger Miller <rgrmill/>
Date: Sat, 19 Jan 2002

On Saturday 19 January 2002 13:48,  Cheryl wrote:

> Hi Y'all. I have some pygmy chain swords that are simply not doing their
> job as a foreground plant. The leaves are more than 8 inches long in the
> brightest part of the tank.

I have "pygmy" chain swords that do the same thing and some that stay small 
and reddish.  As far as I'm concerned these plants are so different from each 
other that they shouldn't be called by the same name.  The green variety 
isn't a very good foreground plant for a small or medium-sized tank.  Maybe 
they would be OK in a big tank.

My preferred way of keeping the "green giant" E. tennellus from getting too 
tall is just to remove the plants that start stretching out.  It only seems 
to be the older plants that shoot up; the younger ones -- given adequate 
light -- usually stay small for quite a while.  They don't need a lot of 
light, but if they're shaded they will reach for what they need. 

Roger Miller

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