of the month
HOOK. F. 1982
photograph by Jeff Ucciardo
Division: Magnoliophyta Class: Magnoliopsida Order: Lamiales Family: Lamiaceae Native Distribution: Western Thailand, Burma, India Aquarium Placement: Midground to foreground Requirements: Soft to medium-hard water, plentiful nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, ample micronutrients
Description: Relatively new to the United States aquarium hobby,
Pogostemon helferi has an unmistakable and unique appearance.
With wavy leaf margins and compact bushy growth, it stands out not
only in its genus but among all aquarium plants.
Often known by its common name downoi (“little star”), P. helferi
is found at the edges of streams in Asia. During the wet season, it
grows submerged and creates dense mats. In the dry season the
plants are exposed, and in the emergent form the internodes will
lengthen. Attractive but small (less than an inch) purple flowers will
form on a terminal spike.
P. helferi is not particularly difficult to grow if its needs are met.
Soft to medium-hard water with a nutritious substrate can be
helpful, but available water column nutrients are required to reach
the full potential of this species. Ample nitrogen will result in wider,
darker green leaves, and along with higher lighting, encourage
Other macronutrients such as phosphorous and potassium are
necessary but not required in great amounts. Micronutrients should
be abundant for the best results. If lighting is too dim, the internodes
may lengthen and leaf shape will be less appealing. Additional CO2
injected into the water will aid in healthy growth and is recommended.
Use in Aquascaping: The unusual appearance of P. helferi
may seem to present a challenge, but it makes an attractive mid- to
foreground plant in the appropriate layout. An irregularly shaped
planting of it in the midground with low-growing carpet plants like
Hemianthus callitrichoides in the foreground works well. Carefully
placed rocks will complement the layout without drawing too much
attention from the plants. Growth rate is not particularly rapid, so
it is possible to maintain a consistent appearance without frequent
trimming. P. helferi is unlikely to reach the surface in all but the most
Propagation: Sideshoots will develop as the plants mature,
creating a bushy appearance. Roots will soon form on the sideshoots,
and you can snip them off and replant to begin a new cluster. It is
also possible to snip off the tops of the older and taller stems, leaving
the base and sideshoots intact, and replant the clippings in front of
As they grow out, you will achieve an attractive, staggered
appearance and the illusion of more plants in a smaller space. P.
helferi is sold by a few commercial nurseries in the United States and
can usually be obtained easily from fellow hobbyists.