Below we have compiled a top 10 list of fantastic plants to add to an aquascaped planted aquarium.
Firstly, we have some good carpeting plants, followed by background species, and lastly, species that can be attached to wood and rock. The species in this list should be readily available in your local aquatic store. Many may even be available in tissue culture pots. Tissue culture plants, although more expensive to purchase, are often regarded the better choice. They are guaranteed pest and algae free and often begin to show new growth sooner compared to bunched or potted plants. It is thought this is because plants grown in-vitro develop immersed leaves that do not need to adapt to underwater growth. Many bunched and potted plants are grown hydroponically in nurseries out of water, growing emerged leaves. When plants are placed underwater, many need to adapt to underwater life and will first shed emerged leaves to grow new, softer, submerged leaves. This process takes time and energy, which is why there is often a delay to growth in newly purchased aquarium plants.
Although technically two separate plant species, these deserve to be described together. They are both small-leaved carpeting plants which do better in an aquarium with high light intensity and CO2, but can survive without. HC ‘Cuba’ is a variant subspecies of Hemianthuscallitrichoides that grows much smaller leaves.
Micranthemumtweediei ‘Monte Carlo’ is very similar in appearance to HC ‘Cuba’ but has slightly larger leaves. Both species are native to the Americas and should be treated similarly. Growth is rapid under ideal conditions and regular pruning will ensure healthy growth. The plants produce new leaves and roots on runners, so can survive even after heavy pruning. If left untouched, the plants will grow on top of themselves, smothering the older plants underneath. This leads to a die off layer between the substrate and the healthy plants. This will cause the entire carpet to lift and float to the surface. Given regular attention, a lush green carpet of HC or Monte Carlo is a hard aquascape look to beat!
This plant is wonderfully adaptive and a member of the pennywort family. It originates from Asia and is happy growing underwater as well as emersed, unlike many other pennywort species. If pruned regularly, it can be a fantastic foreground plant and an alternative to the commonly seen carpeting species. If left unchecked, it will continue to grow towards the light and produce small lily-pad leaves on long stems. These can then be pruned ‘topiary style’ into any shape desired. It prefers medium to high light intensity and CO2 for optimum growth.
Commonly described as ‘grassworts’, these similar species can be treated similarly. Their scientific names give an indication to where they are natively found (Brazil and New Zealand, respectively).
They are short growing, grass like plants that produce new leaves on runners. They can grow immersed or emersed, and unless given ample light and CO2, prefer the latter. Underwater, they usually grow rather spread out, unless given optimal conditions. As the leaves usually only grow to 5cm tall, they do not need pruning. Only prune the runners if wishing to contain the spread of the plant. Lilaeopsis are salt tolerant species, so can be grown in brackish conditions too.
Eleocharisacicularis / Eleocharisparvula
Popular foreground plants commonly known as ‘dwarf hairgrasses’. They are found widespread throughout most of the world, generally preferring emersed growth. When planted underwater as a foreground plant, it is slower growing but still prefers unshaded light and CO2. Leaves can grow to 15cm tall, so if desired as a carpet, the leaves can be pruned to the desired length. It can look particularly effective in an aquarium when planted interspersed with another carpeting species (such as HC) so the spiky leaves grow amongst the teardrop carpet.
In the UK, it is a very popular pond plant that can be grown emersed in shallow water or underwater. Like the grassworts, they are salt tolerant, but would be an unusual addition to a brackish tank.
Echinodorus spp ‘Amazon Swords’
A classic plant for many aquarists, amazon swords make fantastic additions to the aquarium. They are mostly found in South America although a few are found in North America too. They are classed as rosette plants, whereby new leaves emerge from the centre of the plant. Amazon swords can vary hugely in size. Echinodorus argentinensis can grow in excess of 150cm, whilst Helanthium tenellum grows only 3-5cm tall. Their size will determine where in the aquarium they should be planted.
Echinodorusbleheri is most common species labelled as Amazon Sword. It can grow up to 50cm in the aquarium and produces beautiful bright green leaves that stretch towards the light. This species is therefore best placed in the background of the aquarium. They are undemanding and do not need high light or CO2 for healthy growth. Prune older leaves from the outer edge when they begin to die back or get overtaken by algae. Pruning will encourage new leaves to grow from the centre. Like many plant species grown for the aquarium market, these are grown in nurseries out of water. When planted underwater, often the plant will shed their leaves and grow new, softer leaves more adapted for underwater growth.
H. tenellum is commonly described as the pygmy chain sword. It is one of the smallest species and was originally placed in the Echinodorus genus before being placed in its own family. It is a great foreground plant that looks similar in appearance to the grassworts. As with most foreground plants, they prefer higher light than most plants and benefit from CO2.
Ludwigia sp ‘Mini Super Red’
This beautiful plant is related to Ludwigiapalustris but grows smaller, more intense red leaves. For the deep cherry red colour to develop, it needs strong lighting, CO2 and iron supplements. Many red plants will only thrive when given these conditions.
Ludwigia are stem plants that if left unchecked, will grow to the surface and continue emersed. Once they reach the surface, they tend to shed their underwater leaves. Regular pruning is therefore important to prevent growth out of water. It is worth noting how stem plants grow;unlike hair, where new growth is at the base, stem plant's fresh tissue growth is at the tip. Pruning therefore just removes the freshest part of the plant. Sometimes it is recommended to replant the pruned stems to maintain fresh plant. As long as the pruned stem has begun to grow roots, it will take in the substrate. It is suitable for either mid-ground (if regularly trimmed), or background if wishing to let it grow taller.
Another relatively recent addition to the aquarium scene, Hygrophilapinnatifida is quite an oddball within its genus. Found across Asia, most Hygrophila are stem plants, but this particularly ‘hygro’ has behaviour similar to an epiphyte. An epiphytic plant is defined as one that grows on another plant in a non-parasitic way. Many aquarium plants grow in this way, but more commonly on wood or stone, rather than always on another plant. Officially, H. pinnatifida isn’t classed as an epiphyte, but aquascapers find it grows much better on a surface rather than the substrate. The plant also produces different leaf structures depending whether they grow above or below the water. When emersed, it grows more green leaves in a structure almost resembling a Christmas tree. Once planted underwater, the plant produces irony red leaves in a horizontal pattern and is almost unrecognisable. Strong lighting and CO2 will allow the plant to look its best and grow in a more compact style. Positioned more towards the background attached to rock or wood, this plant really stands out amongst the crowds!
Java ferns are a fantastic group of adaptable plants that come in a variety of shapes (normal, narrow, trident and ‘Windeløv’). Of all the varieties, Windeløv sits as many aquascapers favourite. Its defining characteristic is the branching tips at the end of the leaves, giving it a bushy appearance. As an epiphyte plant, it grows better when attached to wood or stone. Given structure, it provides a fantastic backdrop in a planted tank. Easy to grow, undemanding for light or CO2, it is suitable species for everyone. Java ferns can be found for sale either in plastic pots or already attached to pieces of driftwood.
Java ferns are salt tolerant and are rarely eaten by fish, making them a good addition for aquariums containing herbivorous fish. It is widely considered fish rarely eat java fern because it has a bitter taste, not that we can ask them how it tastes!
Anubiasbarteri var. nana
Anubias plants are named after the Egyptian god Anubis - the god of the afterlife. This is because they were first discovered in underground caves in Africa - where very little light reaches the plants. Their ability to grow practically in the dark also means they are very undemanding in regards to light and CO2. The most commonly seen species for sale is Anubiasbarteri, but there are many varieties with differing colours and sizes. Of these, var. nana is arguably the most popular variety for its perfect size and shape. All Anubias species are similar in their care and requirements, preferably growing on a piece of wood or rock in an area away from intense light. If the lighting is too strong, algae tends to overtake the leaves. If this happens, remove the leaf by cutting the stem all the way to the rhizome. Anubias grow at such a slow rate, their average growth is only one leaf per month. Anubias are one of a few water plants that will flower underwater.
Taxiphyllum sp - Java moss
The group of aquatic mosses in the genus Taxiphyllum make up the last of our top 10 aquarium plants list. Like terrestrial mosses, they prefer to grow attached to a surface (such as wood or rock) and will need anchoring with plant glue or string at first. It is easy to grow, does not need strong light or CO2, and can be left to grow unkempt or regularly trimmed for neatness. The Taxiphyllum genus includes popular species such as java moss, flame moss, spikey moss and Christmas moss. Their common names give an indication as to their growth pattern and style, with each one giving different results. Java mosses are found throughout Asia.
We hope this top 10 list helps gather some inspiration to recreate some of the award winning aquascapes in your own home. As mentioned, many of the plants used in high-end aquascaped aquariums need CO2 injection and intense lighting. If a CO2 system is out of your budget, NT Labs have formulated an alternative carbon source product called Liquid CO2 Boost. If used daily or every other day, it provides plants with a great liquid-based source of carbon. It is designed to be used in conjunction with NT Labs Plant Boost, a comprehensive liquid plant fertiliser that provides plants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth.
Lastly, it is always good to “Be Plant Wise” (http://www.nonnativespecies.org//beplantwise/index.cfm?). As nearly all aquarium plants are not native to the UK (much like tropical fish!) care and attention should be given to their disposal. If we all think responsibly and dispose of plants in ways that can prevent their spread into the wild, it will not only help our native fauna and flora, but also hopefully stop popular species from potentially being banned. Pond keepers will be familiar with this scenario, as popular plants such as Eichhornia crassipes (water hyacinth) and Lysichiton americanus (Skunk Cabbage) have been banned in the last 10 years due to their impact on the environment.
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