Dwarf Aquarium Lily Care: How To Plant, Grow, And Propagate

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
  • Maximum Size: 31”
  • Water Conditions: pH range of 5.5-7.5 and a warm temperature of 72°-82° F (22°-28° C) 
  • Lighting: Medium to high
  • Propagation: Sexual and asexual
  • Tank Placement: Near a lit window or under a fluorescent lamp

Dwarf Aquarium Lily

The dwarf aquarium lily, an aquatic plant native to the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and even Australia, 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. And although the plant is only around 5” (12 cm) when it’s young, it can grow up to 31” (80 cm) later on.

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

The best thing about this sturdy plant is that it’ll fit in pretty much any tank so long as it’s getting adequate light.

However, if you want the lily to grow naturally without trimming, then a 10-gallon tank might be too small and you’ll want to go for 20+ gallons. Otherwise, it’ll be fine in a smaller tank with regular trimming.

Water Parameters

  • Temperature: 72°-82° F (22°-28° C)
  • pH: 5.5-7.5
  • dGH: 2-12 (33.3-200 ppm)

Lighting Conditions

Although dwarf aquarium lilies are generally forgiving with their care, it’s better to keep them in an area well-lit by the sun. If you’re unable to provide sunlight, then you’ll need artificial lighting above them. We recommend fluorescent light for 10-12 hours a day.


Dwarf aquarium lily maintenance is relatively easy, but there are some things to look out for.

Again, if using artificial lighting, fluorescent is best. Cool white LEDs, in particular, are somewhat inexpensive yet very efficient. But if you can keep the lily by a well-lit window instead, you can do that. Once the plant starts sending lily pads to the top of the tank, you may need to take a few of them away so that they’re not blocking the light.

First, don’t bury the bulb base entirely in the substrate –  burying only a third is enough. Also, make sure the temperature is at least 72° F (22° C), or the plant will deteriorate.

Second, you don’t need to inject CO2 into a dwarf aquarium lily. Yet, once it starts growing at a rapid rate, you may need to increase its nutrient intake yourself using root tabs, liquid fertilizers, or other plant supplements.

How to Plant Dwarf Aquarium Lily

Place the plant’s bulb on your aquarium’s substrate and bury only a third of it at most. You can even not bury it at all since the bulb will eventually be soaked enough to sink. If you bury it too much, the plant may rot since it won’t be getting enough nutrients, so avoid that.

Once the bulbs start sprouting, you can bury the leaves a third in the substrate so that the fish don’t move the bulb around. Eventually, the roots will grow into the ground, and the lily will anchor in its place.

If the dwarf aquarium lily just won’t sprout, then, unfortunately, your plant is likely fake or dead. This sham is quite rare, but the best thing to do here is to have it replaced.

If you notice some mold or mildew growing on the bulb, don’t worry because this is a natural layer of biofilm that grows out of harmless microorganisms, and some of the lily’s neighbors like shrimp and algae eaters will eat this growth off the bulb 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 enhance the plant’s nutrition in that case.

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.

Key Takeaway

Now that you’ve planted your dwarf aquarium lily, remember to take proper care of it! Here are some quick tips for reference:

  • Don’t let the temperature dip below 72° F (22° C)
  • Keep the plant well-lit; either sunlight or fluorescent light for 10-12 hours
  • Once lily pads form at the top, remove the ones that block sunlight (if any)
  • If the lily isn’t sending offshoots in its adulthood, it’s probably malnourished
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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