Since we can’t all budget a trip to Niigata, Japan to visit Takashi Amano’s Nature Aquarium Gallery, most of us will have to settle with the next best thing: A video. Enjoy!
Online forums and chat rooms are great, but after some time one needs to drop the mouse, turn of the computer and meet fellow aquarium hobbyists face to face! One of the best ways to do this, is via aquarium clubs. Aquariums clubs take on many forms, but all have one thing in common: They’re filled with fellow hobbyists. Being able to interact and learn directly from the many, usually more experienced hobbyists that populate these aquarium groups is greatly beneficial. The benefits of aquarium societies also extends beyond the mental. In my local club especially (See above), there are many fish breeders who are more than generous enough to share their finned wealth (often for free or a very cheap). Add to this the timely field trips to far away aquarium shops, public aquariums or lakes for driftwood collecting, and you’ve got yourself a very fun and beneficial way of getting to learn about this fantastic past time, in a much more hands on way. I highly encourage you to look into joining your local aquarium club of society, whether online or through your near by fish shop. You won’t regret it!
When I came into the hobby, I was all about finding plants that would tolerate my black thumb. Over the years, I have compiled a list of some of the easiest aquatic plants to be kept in a planted aquarium. This post is me putting those plants into a list with a few pointers about growing them. Hopefully this will help you make good decisions when it comes to selecting and growing your first aquatic plants!
Java Fern (Microsourum Pteropus)
Microsorum pteropus (commonly referred to as java fern) is arguably one of the hardiest aquatic plants in the hobby. The leaves of java fern grow off a rhizome, which is sort of horizontal tuber. It is very important to not bury the rhizome when planting java fern. Burying it will cause it to rot, killing the plant. Java fern does best when it’s roots are attached to driftwood, rocks or lightly placed above the substrate of the aquarium. It is a relatively undemanding plant, requiring very low amounts of light to thrive and no CO2. Although high intensities of light, fertilization and CO2 injection is preferably, it is not necessary.
Java fern makes a perfect plant for decorating setups that have destructive fish or burrowing fish. This is because it is often not planted in the substrate, burrowing fish do not affect it. They are also very resistant to the herbivorous fish that tend to turn aquatic plants into snacks. This is partly due to the leathery and tough texture of this fern’s leaves. Another factor could be that the taste of the plant wards of adventurous snackers. I have heard rumors that chemicals in java fern keep hungry fish at bay, but this may be more skepticism than anything.
I will note that there are a couple different variants and species that fall under the term “java fern.” These include Microsorum pteropus ‘windelov,’ ‘narrow leaf’ and ‘trident.’ Each of these have a different leaf shape than normal java fern, and are great plants to aquascape with.
Anubias is just about as hardy as java fern. Like java fern, Anubias grow via a rhizome, which means that it does best when attached to driftwood and rock-work. The leaves of the this plant are very rough and leathery, which allows it to, with some luck, be kept with certain herbivorous or boisterous fishes. Anubias barteri requires low intensity levels of lighting, no CO2 injection and little fertilization (though the addition of those things will increase its growth speed).
Anubias barteri is native to rivers and streams in Africa. Even so, it is often wrongly used in African Cichlid (Malawi, Tanganyika, etc) biotopes. There are many, many different variations of this plant. Though they all have the same basic needs, they very greatly when it comes to the size and shape of their leaves. A few examples of pretty common Anubias barteri varieties include: Anubias barteri, Anubias barteri ‘nana’ (or simply Anubias nana), Anubias barteri ‘coffeefolia’ and Anbuias barteri ‘petite.’
Anubias barteri ‘nana’ and ‘petite’ are very common in aquascapes (nano especially), and are usually found surrounding rock and driftwood outcroppings. This is mostly due to their small size, and ability to grow in the shade of larger plant specimens.
Cryptocoryne wendetii, although not as hardy and forgiving as the above two specimens, still easily makes this list. This Cryptocoryne (mercifully abbreviated “crypt”), is an example of a rosette plant as its leaves grow out from one central root crown. This plant requires l0w levels and lighting, no CO2 injection and little fertilization (though the addition of those things will increase it’s growth speed).
Wendetii is great for adding color and texture to an aquascape. Although this crypt is endemic to Sri Lanka, it often finds its way into many an “Asian” biotope. Like most common aquarium plants, there are many different varieties of Cryptocoryne wendtii, including: ‘green gecko,’ ‘brown’ and ‘tropica.’
Just a small warning: As with all Crypts, Wendtii suffers from what some refer to as “crypt melt.” This is a small window of time when a newly planted or moved crypt will melt back. Often losing it’s leaves. Do not worry if this happens to your new plant. As long as the root system remain healthy, you are golden!
Amazon Sword (Echinodorus amazonicus)
Amazon swords are the monsters of the aquatic plant trade. Their large size makes them really only suitable for 20+ gallon tanks. Amazon swords require low levels of lighting and no CO2 injection. They do require however a good root fertilizer, as they are heavy root feeders. Amazon swords are also often prone to iron deficiencies, so the addition of an iron rich fertilizer is commendable.
These swords are also a type of rosette plant, and have two leaf forms: ovular and elliptical. The ovular leaf shape can really only be obtained when the plant is grown emersed (out of water) or in an aquarium with high levels of lighting and CO2 injection. The elliptical leaf shape is often achieved when a sword is grown in low lighting conditions.
Rotala Indica (or Rotala rotundifolia)
Rotala Indica is often mistakenly named Rotala rotundifolia, even though these two are different species. The differences between indica and rotundifolia are very few, with the only really noticeable alteration being their flowering pattern. With that in mind, I will be talking about both plants synonymously from here on out, due to their great similarity.
Indica is a stem plant, meaning that the leaves, root system and flowers grow off of a single, main stem. Like most other stem plants, this Rotala can be propagated via cuttings. This plant requires low to medium levels of lighting, no CO2 injection and little fertilization. To bring the leaves of this plant from the normal green to a beautiful red, it is necessary to grow Indica in an aquarium with high levels of lighting, CO2 injection and a decent amount of fertilization (especially potassium).
Many of the decisions you make concerning your planted riparium will be influenced by what style of riparium you plan to emulate.
Overall, (or a more proper term would be “so far”) there are three riparium styles:
The Three Riparium Styles
- Low water level, high humidity
- Low water level, low humidity
- High water level
We will cover each style individually.
The low water level, high humidity type setup is great for people with “collectoris” (a horrible disease caused by excessive plant collection). This is because the high humidity levels, usually caused by the use of a glass top or hood, make this type of setup perfect for growing emersed aquatic plants: Cryptocorynes, Anubias, Limnophilia, Bacopa and Alternethera are a just a few examples. Adventurous hobbyists can also fore into the world of misters and automated rain systems with this setup.
Low water level, low humidity ripariums are one of the more popular types of setup. Large riparium plant specimens are well suited to this type of setup. There are, in reality, two ways you could go with this breed of composition. One is confined to the inside of the aquarium, this setup has a boxed feel. The other grows up and out of the tank, and has a much more open feel.
An example of a rimless aquarium from GLA. If you cannot invest in a rimless tank, look into “derimming” aquariums.
The water levels in the above two styles tend to be around 1/3rd of the tank’s total height.
There happens to be an interesting concept often used by artists that lets one find a good ratio of water to air in a planted riparium. The Golden Section is a line which separates two sides of an object. What determines the size of the sides is the Golden Ratio (1.618033…). It has been proven that objects (the riparium plants) placed along this line (or water line) are much more aesthetically pleasing than if they were placed differently.
To find the Golden Section, simple multiply the overall height of the tank by the conjugate of the Golden Ratio, which is .62. The product of the said equation is equivalent to the height airspace found in a riparium. So, a tank that is 10 inches high should be filled to about 3.8 inches, as 10 x .62 = 6.2, and 10 – 6.2 = 3.8. Remember, the product of finding the Golden Section is the height of the airspace. So to find the height we need to fill the tank too, we must subtract the height of the tank by the result of the airspace.
The last system has a high water level and low humidity. This style also looks best when planted in a rimless aquarium with pendant light fixtures (which become somewhat of a necessity with the increased amount of water). These setups tend to use the box shape of the aquarium to characterize the aquatic section of the display, giving the tank the least box-like feel of all three styles.
Remember, these are just guidelines and ideas. You don’t have to emulate the outlined styles to have a succesful and good-looking riparium!
Please stay tuned for more posts in our “Setting Up a Planted Riparium” series of articles.
It is a well-known fact among aquarists that aquascaping and planted aquariums in general are relatively unpopular in the United States. This might not be strange to us, but to the rest of the world, it really is. Aquatic plants, although they have grown by leaps and bounds for us in the last couple of years, the plant hobby is still relatively small when compared to other countries.
This slowness in the aquascaping and aquatic plant trades can be attributed to many things: the economy, the American mind-set, our culture, etc. But through all the lack of interest, there has been one U.S. based company that has been making a difference: Aquarium Design Group.
Aquarium Design Group (or ADG) is a Houston based professional aquarium installation service. It was founded by two brothers, Jeff and Mike Senske. Ever since the company has been on the cutting edge and a source of inspiration for all hobbyists. They also are the main distributor of Aqua Design Amano goods in the States.
Their love for the hobby, especially aquascaping is apparent in all of their work. ADG’s newest push, has been ADG Vibe. ADG Vibe is Aquarium Design Group’s attempt to spread their information and passion for aquascaping and plants via online networking and social media. The ultimate goal of Vibe however is to expand the hobby.
I have one message for ADG: More biotopes, please! (Because we all know how much of a sucker I am for biotopes).
Take a look at this! My setup and blog are featured in this Tropical Fish Hobbyist blog post, as an article I wrote was featured in the TFH December 2011 issue (An Introduction to Planted Ripariums by Jacob Jung). Check it out!
I have used several powerheads over the course of the last two years. When I upgraded a 20 gallon fish tank of mine to a 40 gallon breeder, it became apparent to me that the current, rather small powerhead I had in use wouldn’t cut it. While reading reviews and looking at price tags of different powerheads, I stumbled across the Hydor’s Koralia line of powerheads.
Hydro Koralia powerheads are a little bit different compared to conventional powerheads, as they use a propeller to push water, not the usual impeller. This design gives off more of an indirect flow of water, instead of the normal direct stream given off by usual powerheads.
The Koralia Nano line (Hydor Koralia powerheads, only “nano”) has models with flow rates of either 240GPH or 425GPH and range in price from $20-28 a pop.
For my 40 gallon breeder, I purchased the 425GPH model. Like all other Koralias, the powerhead uses a combination of vibration cancelling suction cups and in/out of tank sandwich magnets to attach to the glass of a fish tank. Because of this, I have heard very little noise out of my Nano, which is virtually silent overall.
The flow rate of the Koralia is great, and has stayed consistent throughout its use. So far the only problem I have had has to do with the small ball found at the end of the powerhead. This ball is inserted into the a small hole found in the in-tank sandwich magnet/suction cup. This little ball n’ cup joint is what allows one to easily adjust the position of the powerhead. Over time however, the little ball has bent considerably, and has threatened to break on me. As long as I do not take the powerhead and magnet apart however, it should stay intact.
All in all, Hydor Koralia Nano powerheads are a great buy, due to their cheap pricing, overall quality and indirect flow.