Aquatic Gardner - May 2004
Tentative Listing of All Cryptocorynes
Introduction to codes
This turns out to have quite a few advantages, not really having anything to do with how you think about or talk about various species, but certainly when ever the name needs to take physical form: it's much easier to write three letters than to spell out the entire Latin name, and it uses less resources. It's not a big deal to use a bit more ink when writing labels on bags, but this begins having a profound effect once computers are involved in the equation, the codes make excellent directory names and efficiencies of the mnemonic become readily apparent. The scientific name can change as many times as it likes, it may even be moved to a different genus, but as the old computer science maxim goes "there's no problem that cannot be solved by adding another later of indirection" and these codes end up isolating you somewhat from the taxonomic hat dances our finny and flowering charges seem subject to: I know that I have a directory called "SJO" and don't care if sjoestedti is this week in genus "Fundulopanchax" or perhaps is "Aphyosemion" fashionable again ?
Scheel didn't talk about his system of codes at all; he never told us how he resolved the obvious collisions that occur when reducing hundreds of Latin names down to 3 letter codes, or what breadth of scope he was considering: he only published codes for a subset of African killies... the Rivulins... did he mean to expand this one day to include all other killies as well?
The collision issue is easily solved and any number of arbitrary solutions is acceptable. It's been shown fairly recently that words can be horribly misspelled but the reader can usually discern the misspelled word at a glance if the right letters are mostly there even if they are not in the correct order, so as long as the three letters ipckerd give a general feeling of the name it usually works. Similarly so, once you spend a bit of time using these codes instead of the much longer scientific name they come to be an effective shorthand that becomes almost second nature when put to use. I'll think nothing, now, of writing "SJO" or "AUS" or "RAC" (for Aphy. sjoestedti, A. australe and Nothobranchius rachovii respectively) on a tank, or on a bag of fish or eggs or even in written correspondence and note-keeping. Never have I seen or heard of them being used in oral conversation though, and there really is no point as they have no advantage in oral communication, the species name itself is just fine in most cases.
Now Scheel did this in the early 60's and I can't say the idea ever caught on in a big way, at least I never saw such a system used again on some form group of species, nor had I seen this used before this - it may well have - but I've never seen it. In fact the only other instances I've seen of this was its use on Costa's book on South American killifish (and sadly some of the codes conflict with Scheel's dashing any hopes that Scheel's original work would be amended not displaced) and again, and my memory of this is vague, but I rather recall seeing it on a web page that had a species list, of, I think Echinodorus, or perhaps Aponogeton, or perhaps I'm mistaken altogether.
At this point I need to credit Jan D. Bastmeijer for the taxonomy used here. Jan's "Crypts Pages" website is the most comprehensive online resource on this family of plants. The taxonomy used on this site is "result of discussions in the forum with Niels Jacobsen and Josef Bogner". Jan's site is at http://users.bart.nl/~crypts/Intro/Intro.html but just in case it's moved away from bart.nl for whatever reason in the future, I've set up a redirection from http://crypts.aquaria.net as a more permanent URL. Try this one if the first does not work. Jan has been hanging out on the Crypts mailing list I run (http://lists.aquaria.net/plants/crypts/) for a few years and sent me plants once a few years back. The other good online community for aquaria plants is the Aquatic Plants Digest (or "APD") and information about that can be found at http://lists.aquaria.net/plants/aquaplant/ .
At any rate, I've put together such a list of codes for genus Cryptocoryne, and have used Bestemeijer's Crypts taxonomy. This list is more or less up to date as of the printing date of this magazine and includes all known Cryptocoryne species. It would be great to include a photo (or many photos actually) of each species but that is beyond the constraints posed by a monthly column.
There are as of this writing 69 valid species and varieties of Cryptocoryne (and 108 described species in total) and as the joke goes "60 of them are wendtii" and while that is not even close to being true it sometimes seems this way when all you ever see is wendtii or things that look like wendtii. There's a reason for this though, this is not a plant this is some kind of aquatic weed. Recipe for a thickly panted tank: take one empty tank, some sand, a light bulb and 6 wendtii plants. In a year the tank will be overgrown and you'll have to dispose of about 60 adult plants just to stop the others from suffering. Also more crypts have leaves that look at wendtii that any other shape. The next most common leaf shape in Crypts is strap-like or grassy and the crispulata species group is perhaps the most common type - thin and looking a bit like val or sag. BAL is a bit wider and APO wider yet and the largest of the bunch. The next major leaf shape is cordate and in general this can be heart shaped as in PON or some variation on the theme of a big leaf on the end of a stalk. The fourth kind is "other" and represents the remaining leaf shapes but there really aren't that many different ones. WIL, for example has narrow leaves on the end of a long stem.
Were that all Crypts were as easy as WEN! Some, for example C. nurii, are frustratinginly difficult and any discussion among Crypt enthusiasts where somebody reports success with this plant is a rare occasion. Even when success is reported there is no magic formula that explains why this person is successful while everybody else isn't. Could there be a mould or bacteria that grows around the roots in the wild and the plant must be cultured with this in order to be cultivated artificially?
Worse, besides the fact some species are very difficult is the problem of the extreme rarity of certain species in the wild exacerbated by the ever increasing loss of habitat due to human expansion the outlook can at times seem pretty grim.
But, enough of the species are easily grown by aquarist and non-aquarist plant fancier alike (the latter usually growing them emerse) that some of the plants have been popular in the aquarium hobby going back well before the the 1930s. There were spikes in popularity in the 30's, 40's and 70's although there was a more or less steady and regular introduction of new species of crypts from 1830. By 1980's and 1990's the Internet was beginning to enter the picture so by the mid to late 1990s a pretty good picture emerges as to what species are in cultivation world wide; what ones are rare and what are ones we can only dream about. So, in chart #1 you'll find a table of all the Cryptocoryne species we think exist today, along with a unique 3 letter code and some notes on availability, ease of cultivation and propogation and so forth. The invalid species name are included too with a note as to what species they really represent, that is these are junior synonyms of other species. A note about the date here: it represents the point at which the plant was brought to the attention of science and may not represent the actual date of description of the species. In cases where a new name is erected for a plant long known, the date indicated listed as the older one, but, in most cases the date is the year the species was described.
One way to look at crypts is by leaf shape and we get 4 major categories here. First we get the grass-like leaved species that can give any val or sag a run for their money. TON, CRI, SPI, RET are all good examples of this are among the easiest and most prolific crypts there are. These all have fairly narrow leaves and I wasn't kidding about the val or sag comparison. BAL as a wider leaf that can not pass for val or sag, and APO has an ever winder leaf and with it's bullate leaves is true to it's name - aponogetifolia strongly resembles an Aponogeton as far as the appearance of the leaves goes anyway, they're quite dissimilar plants otherwise.
Next we get the cordate leaved species. These are showy plants with oval or heart-shaped leaves ranging from light green with a pink cast to dark green with a purple underside. Some of these plants can get quite large if tank space and time allow - up to well over a foot tall. Some are and remain small though. This group includes such forms as PON, MOE, COR, PUR.
Then we have the wendtii forms. It could be argued that more crypts look like WEN in it's many forms and hybrids than any other type of Crypt leaf. Combined with how staggeringly easy WEN is to grow (place in bare tank with no other plants, wait a year, poof, you have 100) it's not surprising that this is the plant many people think of when they hear "crypt".
Last we have the "misc" leaved ones left over because they don't fit in any of the above classifications. Other than BEK I'm not sure what else goes here. You could argue PYG I suppose as it looks more like a tiny tiny COR than WEN but this is cutting it pretty fine.
Crypts can be broken down as groups arbitrarily and in a few ways in addition to being grouped by leaf shape. There's the species group, such as the COR group or aligned species and the CRI group although most crypts are not part of a clustering of similar species although the case could probably be made for a WEN or BUL group. We can also break the species down by the more useful categorization of a) old standbys b) new and promising introductions, c) rarities and d) extreme rarities.
New and Promising introductions
So, we see that Crypts have quite a broad range of commercial availability and vary from easy to impossible to grow.
Again, cursed by limitations of ink and paper it is beyond the scope of this article to delve into a more in depth look at the history of the genus in cultivation and out goal here is to really just list all the names and propose a reasonably effective shorthand.
The list of synonyms (table 2) is important also because just like with other families of fish and plants in the hobby, there has been a lot of confusion with regard to the names of the various species in our keep and enough have changed that it can be at times frustrating to figure out what's what, and you should be able to see from this table exactly how the names have migrated over the years.
In summary, few species really have the same names they did in our fathers and grandfathers time:
To add to the confusion of the past, many plants previously regarded as species are in fact naturally occurring hybrids (PUR, WIL), more so, some plants look different depending on how they are grown. In WEN, for example, plants may have short dark brown leaves or they may have long green leaves. AFF can be emerald green and smooth or it can be bullate and some populations can have very dark very bullate leaves. It's no wonder seeing these side by side with an smooth emerald green form would cause some confusion. UST may have emerald green leaves or it may have a dark olive upper and purple-magenta lower side to its leaf Leaf shape itself may vary depending on whether it's grown submersed or emersed, in low light or bright light.
So, that's it in a proverbial nutshell, that's what I think the state of the Crypt hobby is and will I hope provoke some discussion and raise some interest in these fabulously exotic plants.
From Bastmeijer, after Jacobsen