Dwarf Aquarium Lily (Nymphaea stellata) Care Guide For Aquariums

With their variant, conspicuous colors, and wide leaves, dwarf aquarium lily (Nymphaea stellata) plants look like lily pads in an aquarium.

Dwarf aquarium lilies may be a background plant, but once you’re used to them, you’ll feel like something’s missing when they’re not there.

The good news is that they’re pretty easy to grow, but you’ll need to take proper care of them. So follow along in this guide to learn about dwarf aquarium lilies and their care.

Quick Care Overview

  • Scientific Name: Nymphaea stellata and nymphaea nouchali
  • Family: Nymphaeaceae
  • Order: Nymphaeales
  • Genus: Nymphaea
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Moderate
  • Size: Can grow massive up to 30”
  • Water Conditions: pH range of 5.5-7.5 and a warm temperature of 72°-82° F (22°-28° C) 
  • Lighting: Medium to high (PAR 50-80)
  • Tank Placement: Mid to background

Dwarf Aquarium Lily (Nymphaea stellata) Overview

Planted tank featured dwarf aquarium lily

The dwarf aquarium lily is an aquatic plant native to the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and even Australia, and is known scientifically as the nymphaea stellata and nymphaea nouchali because of some taxonomic confusion in the past.

Dwarf aquarium lily is a distinctive plant with its triangular leaves and the colors they develop as the plant grows, shifting between green, red, and pink. The plant has a rhizomatous root system that anchors into the substrate. These roots can spread horizontally and absorb nutrients from the aquarium substrate. 

It also shoots long stems with leaves to the surface of the water ranging from the size of your palm to a dinner plate. And when in optimal conditions, can flower.

But the plant isn’t just about appearance; it can also be home to some tiny aquarium animals like nano fish and dwarf shrimp! It also helps clean your tank by consuming organic waste.

Caring for Dwarf Aquarium Lily

Dwarf aquarium lily in planted angel fish tank

Tank Requirements

Having owned dwarf lilies in the past, I wouldn’t bother keeping them in anything under a 40 gallon tank.

Dwarf aquarium lilies may arrive small (only 4-6″). But when full grown they can vary in size so much. From just a few inches to over a foot in height. And the leaves on the surface can be anywhere from palm size to dinner plate size.

I have seen others recommend this plant for smaller tanks, but they can grow giant leaves and quickly take over your tank. Personally, I think the maintenance required to keep them in a small tank isn’t worth it.

Water Parameters

  • Temperature: 72°-82° F (22°-28° C)
  • pH: 5.5-7.5
  • dGH: 2-12

Lighting Conditions

Dwarf aquarium lilies are very forgiving when it comes to light. It’ll do fine with PAR readings as low as 20-30 and also at 80+.

Aim for a moderate amount of light intensity (PAR 50), for 8-12 hours a day and you’ll be fine growing dwarf lily. Any decent LED light for planted tanks will grow it just fine. You can read our LED light tests here.

Substrate & Fertilizer

Dwarf aquarium lily is a heavy root feeder, so you’ll get the best growth and health from a nutrient rich substrate.

This can be done by using either an aqua soil, dirted tank, or inert substrate with root tabs. All three ways work, you just need to make sure the roots have access to nutrients. You can also dose your water column with an all-in-one fertilizer like seachem flourish.

You don’t need to inject CO2 but of course, you’ll experience better growth with it. But, it’s unnecessary.

Maintenance & Trimming

If you don’t like the very long shoots with floating leaves or you’re finding they’re blocking too much light, you can cut the stems right at the base. The closer to the base the better.

Dormant Periods

Aquarium dwarf lily can periodically go through a dormant period where it sheds all its leaves. It’s going to look dead for a few weeks.

So if your lily has gone from being healthy, to suddenly dying, just let it be for a few weeks and see if it starts to bounce back before you do anything,

How to Plant Dwarf Aquarium Lily

Just set the bulb anywhere on the substrate . You can bury part of it (¼ of the bulb), but personally I recommend just setting it down on the substrate because then you don’t risk burying it too deep and having it rot.

Once the bulbs start sprouting, you can bury the leaves a third in the substrate so fish don’t move the bulb around. Eventually, the roots will grow into the ground, and the lily will anchor in its place. If you get no sprouts, it might simply be you’ve placed it upside down. So just turn it over and keep an eye on it.

Sometimes I see mold or mildew on the bulb, but tend to leave this. It’s a harmless natural layer of biofilm and my shrimp and other algae eaters eat it anyway.

How to Propagate Dwarf Aquarium Lily

After your lily has grown for a while, it’ll start sending offshoots with baby plants attached. To propagate, simply cut off these shoots and plant them where you want the offspring to grow.

If your lily isn’t sending off these shoots, it’s a sign of malnourishment, so you’ll need to consider checking your water parameters and dosing with an all-in-one fertilizer.

Tank Mates for Dwarf Aquarium Lily

As previously mentioned, a layer of biofilm naturally develops on the dwarf aquarium lily’s bulb. Some organisms like shrimps, algae eaters, and snails actually eat this layer for food, so having them in your tank is definitely complementary with a dwarf aquarium lily.

How to Use Dwarf Aquarium Lily in Aquarium

Dwarf aquarium lily in planted angel fish aquarium

You can plant your dwarf aquarium lily wherever you want. However, we recommend planting it in a central spot in your aquarium so that it can contribute to the nitrogen cycle by consuming organic waste and turning it into nutrients for its neighbors.

Even though the plant starts small, it’ll eventually grow to cover a significant view of your aquarium, so as long as you’re not planting it on the rim, it should mostly achieve the same results.

Is Dwarf Aquarium Lily Right For You?

If you got the space and want to add a splash of red to your aquarium, I highly recommend the dwarf aquarium lily.

It’s easy to plant and get established, and can survived a wide range of wanter parameters. They work great for providing fish with natural shade and cover, as well as consuming nutrients from your water and help maintaining stable parameters.

Christopher Adams
Christopher Adams

Hey there, my name is Christopher, and I've successfully ran freshwater aquariums for the past few decades. The mission of this site is to make it simple for anyone to run their own freshwater aquarium.

One comment

  1. Very informative article I enjoyed reading about my lily and have great success with mine I keep one in the front of my 55 and two offshoots mid tank it’s about a year old now the only issue I have is when it shoots pads to the top it looses a bunch of leaves other than that it’s a beautiful plant and a wonderful addition to any tank

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