Helanthium tenellum 'Green' (Echinodorus tenellus 'Green', Pygmy Chain Sword, Green Pygmy Chain Sword)
Type: Rosette plant with stolons (runners)
Size: 1-7 cm in height
Position and Usage: Carpet, Lawn and Foreground
Growth rate: Fast
Lighting: 3/5 - 5/5
Temperature: 18 - 35°C
Water Conditions: pH between 5 to 7.5, Soft to medium soft water (0-14 dKH)
CO2: Not required but recommended
Propagation: Runners (Stolons)
Special Requirements: Nutrient rich substrate, Iron supplementation, Neutral to acidic pH (common in planted aquariums)
Emersed: Yes - will produce flowers.
Perhaps better known as Echinodorus tenellus, The "Pygmy Chain Sword" is a grass-like foreground and carpet plant that is Native to wide streches of the Americas and has been continuously popular in planted aquariums since they were "invented". It is found in two common varieties (see our Helanthium tenellum). This variety has wider leaves and a classic green color that stays green. It is believed to be hardier than the thinner leaf variety.
Both sub-types are relatively easy and adaptable plants suitable for very small or very large aquariums alike. It thrives best with medium to high light but does not require CO2. CO2 fertilization and good lighting however, does promotes the rapid growth of this plant into extremely dense 'turf' or 'lawns'. It is often planted in front of or between rocks and driftwood where it softens their appearance ties the whole aquarium together. It is also popularly used behind smaller carpeting plants such as HC Cuba, Monte Carlo, Glosso or UG to create a dramatic sense of depth and dimensionality. Additionally it is also an extremely popular plant for nano aquariums where it contributes to a striking perspective and illusion of scale. It is a beautiful plant that enhances virtually any aquascape and is simultaneously fairly undemanding.
Helanthium tenellum 'Green' (Echinodorus tenellus 'Green')
Known to most older aquarists as simply 'Echinodorus tennellus', this variety of the Pygmy Chain Sword is a fantastic carpeting plant that has a distinctly organic and "casual" grassy appearance. It can be used to great effect in the foreground or midground of your aquarium.
Considered the "Smallest sword plant", it is also one of the oldest and most popular plants in the hobby for its versatility, beauty and uniqueness that is at home in any aquascape from the smallest nano aquariums to massive display tanks. It is probably the most commonly used foreground and carpeting plant because of its long history in planted aquariums. It remains popular today due its captivating appearance and relatively undemanding requirements. It was officially moved into the genus Helanthium in 2007 along with some other smaller, thinner leaf "swords". It is a highly versatile plant that can be grown without CO2 in medium-low light but takes on a dramatic appearance and unique growth habit with high light and CO2.
This 'Green' variety is widely believed to be less demanding and more forgiving than the thinner leaf type (Helanthium tenellum).
H. tenellum is a classic rosette plant similar to Dwarf Sag (Sagittaria subulata) and Dwarf Hairgrass (Eleocharis acicularis). Its leaf blades are generally narrower than Sag but broader than Hairgrass. Under ideal conditions, it is a very fast growing plant that creates very dense lawns through a prolific system of "runners" (technically stolons). It is a low-growing plant that rarely exceeds 5 cm submerged and does well in medium light with no CO2.
In high light with CO2, H. tenellum 'Green' forms a dense turf on an extensive "cushion" of runners by which it spreads. While it can be grown beautifully in low-tech tanks, it certainly takes advantage of every bit of light and CO2 it gets. In lower light conditions, the plant will grow slightly taller but will very rarely exceeds 7cm in height.
This comparatively diminutive plant is similar in many ways to its cousins, the Amazon Sword Plants. It is hardy and adaptable with few specific requirements and tolerates a wide range of water conditions and temperatures. Helanthium tenellum 'Green', like all sword plants, is a prodigious root feeder and appreciates a nutrient-rich substrate (achieved with root tabs, specialty planted aquarium substrate or just detritus deposited by fish and other plants). Since the plants rely on a large network of ‘subterranean’ roots and stolons to grow and reproduce, a soft, fine grained substrate is best. Alternatively, a coarser but lightweight planted aquarium substrate is also suitable.
Though H. tenellum adapts easily to a wide range of conditions, it does prefer softer water that is slightly acidic. It can adapt to harder water, but pH should remain below 7.5 for best results. Luckily, this is the case for the vast majority of planted aquariums. The'Green' variety is a bit more forgiving.
As for aquascaping, Helanthium tenellum 'Green' is extremely versatile. In high tech tanks, it rapidly grows into large compact patches which can be quite dramatic. In low tech tanks, expect tamer growth, but it is a great addition to the foreground either way. H. tenellum is often planted in front of, or between rocks and driftwood where it creates a soft, natural effect as if a lush forest just grew around some boulders and fallen trees.
Placed slightly behind even shorter carpet plants such as Glosso, HC Cuba, ‘Monte Carlo’ or UG (1), a patch of Pygmy Chain Swords will add dramatic depth and dimension. H. tenellum is also incredibly useful in nano aquariums where its small size creates illusions of scale and perspective.
This very small, thickset, plant looks absolutely stunning with shrimp or colorful schools of fish. Dense stands of tenellum 'Green' quickly becomes a great micro-habitat for baby shrimp, fry or shy fish seeking shelter and protection.
Botanically, Helanthium tenellum is an astonishingly wide-ranging species native to freshwater bodies throughout the Americas. It can be found from Paraguay to the Amazon, all the way north to the Great Lakes and Canada. As of 2020, it is considered an endangered species in at least five northern US States in which it is native. Found in environments as different as Amazonian rivers and New England marshes H.tenellum has different varieties that differ in coloration, size, and leaf shape. At least two types are commonly available for planted aquariums, both of which we offer.
This variety (Tenellum 'Green') is likely endemic to northern habitats and features broader leaves and an emerald green color that does not fade or turn red in high light. It is also though to be more robust and forgiving than the more tropical variety (Helanthium tenellum) which has thinner leaves that are a bit darker and develops a reddish tint in high light conditions.
We wholeheartedly recommend both H. tenellum variants for anyone starting a planted aquarium or wanting an addition to an existing aquascape - with or without CO2.
This 'Green' variety of Helanthium tenellum was featured in some of earliest planted aquaria at the dawn of color photography and remains as popular as ever despite the plethora of new plants that have become available over those decades. While many other “pioneering plants” are rarely used today, the enduring popularity of the Pygmy Chain Sword is a testament to their value. Despite the name change, it is a real classic and almost a rite-of-passage for aquatic gardeners.
Like most aquarium plants, the Green Pygmy Chain Sword naturally grows on the margins of rivers, lakes, ponds, or marshes and, like virtually all aquarium plants, can be grown emersed in terrariums, paludariums or Wabi Kusa. Emersed parts of the plant will produce simple flowers on stalks. Out of the water, runners are rare and leaves will change shape slightly.
Like the most of our plants, ABC plants’ Helanthium tenellum 'Green' is cultured in the submerged form for increased survival and rapid growth after being planted in aquaria but our cultures also acclimate to emersed growth very easily.
(1) The full names of the plants referred to are: Glossostigma elatinoides, Hemianthus callitrichoides ‘Cuba’, Micranthemum ‘Monte Carlo’ and Utricularia graminifolia respectively.