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Severals weeks ago I wrote about a 10 gallon tank with a large population
of pale, short val and a hideous hair algae problem. The plants spread
out all over the substrate of the tank, but only grew about 3 inches tall.
Very briefly, when I pulled out all of the val and replanted only about 6
plants, the hair algae (nearly) disappeared.
After replanting, I waited a few weeks to see if the replanting would
change the color or growth habit of the plants. It did not. Then I
placed a crumb of iron gluconate tablet at the base of 4 plants. The
other two plants about 2 inches away got no treatment. I waited. I don't
use CO2 in this tank, so things don't happen real fast.
About 2 weeks after adding the iron gluconate all 4 of the treated plants
were growing new, bright green leaves. The two untreated plants had no
new green growth. Now, two more weeks into the experiment, new leaves
from the treated plants have reached the surface - the plants are no
longer stunted. The untreated plants still have not shown a new green
leaf, and appear to be dying.
So I have two tentative conclusions (gasp!). First, the symptoms (pale,
narrow and short leaves on plants that continued to spread, but with very
short runners) can be caused by iron deficiency, and might be cured by
adding iron gluconate to the substrate. Second, the iron added to the
substrate this way tends to stay where it's put; it didn't "escape" from
the substrate to a degree sufficient to also relieve the deficiency
symptoms of other plants just a couple inches away.
I am not concluding that these symptoms are diagnostic of iron deficiency.
Stunting can occur under other conditions, and pale leaves can be caused
by a number of things. But in some cases this may be the cause and cure
for a problem.