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Anubias: Surely this family is one of the true stars of the aquatic plant world, with every variety being beautiful, long-lived and completely undemanding, bless'em.

There are several different varieties available: Anubias barteri "Coffeefolia", A. barteri var angustifolia ("afzelli"), A. barteri var barteri, A. barteri var caladifolia "1705", A. barteri var nana, A. barteri var nana "Petite"and A. heterophylla. Fortunately, most of these are very easy to find; any fish store which stocks Tropica plants will have them. A. barteri var barteri and A. barteri var nana seem to be the commonest varieties however.

Anubias range from the very small to the very large indeed; A. barteri var nana "Petite" is - as its name suggests - the teensiest Anubias of all, growing only a cute 3-5 cm high. In contrast, A. heterophylla is a striking specimen plant for a large tank, easily growing to 60 cm tall and at least 15 cm wide. 30 cm is the average height for Anubias however.

They all have intensely green leaves with well-defined ribs rising from strong arching stems, but A. barteri "coffeefolia" is unusual in that its new leaves are a rich brown and it has red stems. A. barteri var nana also has the added attraction of regularly producing pretty pinkish-yellow flowers under water (other Anubias will sometimes flower, but not so reliably). Usually, Anubias leaves are roughly heart-shaped, but angustifolia uniquely has long narrow spear-shaped leaves. A. barteri var barteri has attractively rippled edges to its leaves, which can vary considerably in size and shape on the same plant.

Due to their bold leaf shapes and forms, Anubias work best as single specimen plants in the tank (although "Petite" can be grouped together for a pleasing effect). They look stunning planted next to an interesting piece of driftwood, especially if lit with a spotlight. Now that's style

And best of all, these are some of the toughest guys around, tolerating virtually any conditions (which is a blessing for those of us with less-than-green thumbs). All Anubias are happy in very low or high light, any pH between 5.5 and 8.5, any hardness from very soft to very hard, any temperature between 20 and 30C, minimal fertilizer and CO2 (although they like it and will grow better for having some), and they don't mind strong water currents or boisterous fish. And as if all this was not enough to make you jump up and down with glee, their tough leaves are also highly distasteful to herbivorous fish, so your prized Anubias plant is very unlikely to become a goldfish salad bar.

They are very slow-growing however, taking several years to reach their full size. Because of this, many aquarists brusquely accuse them of "not doing well" and whip them out of the tank. But the meek, unassuming Anubias should be left alone to plod along in their own quiet way, putting out a leaf here and there as the fancy takes them. The only drawback is that their slow growth means algae colonizes their leaves quite readily and forms a coating; Anubias don't seem to mind this (they don't mind anything short of actually being doused in petrol and set on fire) but it can look unsightly. Planting them in a shady spot restricts the algae however.

As for planting, Anubias should be tied to a rock or piece of driftwood with fishing line until they become established; if their roots are buried in the substrate they will rot. They propagate naturally by runners, gradually spreading out across the tank floor and making themselves generally at home.

And if you feel like doing something different with them, they also work very well in terrariums.

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