One of my first true passions in life was maintaining freshwater aquariums. There is something about being able to observe a world totally foreign to our own that drew me in. It wasn't long before I discovered the splendor of planted aquascapes. I would have to say that my first foray into this realm probably planted the botanical seed that would later explode into the obsession it is today.
I was always rather perplexed by a plant that I would see for sale at the local aquarium shop. They were labelled as "banana plants" because of their peculiar root structures. They never seemed to fit my aesthetic in those early days so I largely passed them by. Recently I have gotten back into aquariums, only this time it is very plant centric. While perusing the plants offered here in town, I again came across the peculiar banana plant.
This time around, I am a bit more versed in taxonomy and this plant made more sense. I realized that the banana plants we see for sale for aquariums are small, immature specimens of some sort of "lily pad." A deeper investigation would prove me correct. Though not a true water lily (family Nymphaeaceae), the banana plants nonetheless take on a similar growth form with large, floating leaves emerging from an underwater rootstock.
Banana plants are known scientifically as Nymphoides aquatica. Their generic name comes from their striking similarity to the afore mentioned water lilies. However, this resemblance is merely superficial. Banana plants belong to the family Menyanthaceae, making it a relative of plants like buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata). They grow native in calm bodies of water throughout southeastern North America. Whereas the young leaves grow immersed, larger adult leaves eventually make their way to the surface where they float.
From time to time, small white flowers are produced. This is when its familiar affiliation makes the most sense. This species is dioecious, though seed set is apparently sporadic. Regardless, banana plants readily reproduce vegetatively, either by fragmentation of their roots or by broken leaves settling in a spot and forming roots themselves.
So far this is an interesting aquarium specimen. It seems to have adjusted to my aquarium rather well and it grows pretty quickly. In time I hope it performs more like it does in the wild than as a sad, stunted specimen doomed to a slow death. Only time will tell.
Flower Pic: Show_ryu (Wikimedia Commons)
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