Do Amazon swords come from the Amazon?

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They're the plant that nearly every fishkeeper puts in their tank to give it that "authentic" Amazon feel, but are Amazon swords actually from the Amazon?

None of the so-called Amazon swords exist in the Amazon. The average Amazon basin river changes in depth by 15m/49’ between the dry and rainy season and these plants would not survive at such depths. Some of the 60-plus Echinodorus species grow as high as 2m/6’6”, but even then would not get enough light when 13m/43’ down.

The closest Echinodorus to the Amazon basin was discovered by my family and is named Echinodorus bleherae in honour of my mother Amanda. It is found south-east of the city of Belém, Pará, Brazil, outside the Amazon basin, and now one of the world’s most popular aquarium plants.  

All Echinodorus species are found in and along rivers and creeks that differ in depth of around 3m/10’ between the dry and rainy season. None of them actually spend their entire life submerged. All can and do live out of the water for a certain period and most plant nurseries grow them emerse. 

Many of the Echinodorus species in the hobby were first collected and introduced by my family. Among the plants we have introduced are E. osiris, E. portoalegrenesis, E. latifolius, E. bolivianus, E. hormani, E. angustifolius, E. xinguensis, E. parviflorus and E. bleherae. Of these, the only ones I have seen living submerged almost all of the time are E. osiris, E. portoalegrensis, E. hormanii and E. heikobleheri.

This item was first published in the September 2009 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine. It may not be reproduced without written permission.