I haven’t had much luck growing plants on the Shrimphaus river. Mostly they dry out either immediately or eventually, or sometimes they rot away. This roots and bottom bits wet all the time but leaves out in the air niche is pretty challenging. Some internet digging revealed plants that thrive in this setting are called marginal plants: those growing on the margins of bodies of water, and they are popular for people with ponds. Ok, so that’s the right setting, but outdoor ponds are much larger than the Shrimphaus so only the smallest marginal plants might work. Some shopping around led me to try Bog Arum (Calla palustris), Golden Buttons (Cotula coronopifolia) and Golden Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’). All of these are listed as growing to a maximum height of about 6 inches.
Golden Creeping Jenny
Golden Creeping Jenny
The plants arrived well-packed in wet newspaper and the first surprise was how big they all were. The pond world operates on a much larger scale than the aquarium world!
The ‘Windelov’ arrived totally overgrown and just a touch ratty on the ends in places as if it had been waiting for a sale for a long time. I don’t mind actually, and the pot separated out into a nice variety of sizes and forms of plantets. Java fern is a rhizomatous plant where a thick lateral ‘stem’ sprouts leaves growing upwards and roots growing downwards. Although there are many terrestrial plants that grow with rhizomes underground, the conventional wisdom in the aquarium trade is that rhizomes must never be buried in substrate or they will rot and kill the plant. Accordingly, best practice is to attach the rhizome to a component of hardscape, usually rock or driftwood, either by tying it on with thread/line, or more simply by ‘supergluing’ it on using a cyanoacrylate-based adhesive. It is also possible to wedge the rhizome into a convenient crack in the hardscape where eventually the roots will naturally bind the plant on.
After an unsuccessful go with Alternanthera reineckii (didn’t thrive) and another with Alternanthera reineckii ‘Rosanervig’ (eaten by Amano shrimp), I’m giving it try with Alternanthera reineckii ‘Mini’. This AR ‘Mini’ came from Pro Shrimp, and was grown by Tropica. I have had mixed results purchasing aquatic plant tissue culture cups before, but this AR ‘Mini’ cup is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The plants arrived in superb condition, with a huge number of goodly sized, mostly correctly structured plantlets. Sometimes tissue culture plants can have a confused growth structure where it seems the plant doesn’t really have a good sense of top (leaves) from bottom (roots) and in some quarters tissue culture plants have a reputation for being more fragile than their potted counterparts, but I’m really optimistic about this latest batch.
As an experiment, I have shielded the top of one of the Alternanthera stems inside a mesh bag. The aquarium denisens haven’t particularly noticed, although I did see a cheeky amano shrimp sitting on the bag – it scampered when I tried to take its picture. We’ll do an updated report after a while to see how the bagged plant compares to its non-bagged counterparts.
Two week update: shrimp-proof bag fail
Well… it seemed like a good idea anyway. Whilst the shrimp-proof bag did keep the shrimp away from the alternanthera, the bag became a major breeding substrate for black beard algae and the plant inside the bag with no meaningful flow and no access to a cleaning crew did not thrive. Not only that, but I couldn’t get the bag off and wound up tearing the head off the plant in the process! Looking at it after the fact showed a few new leaves had sprouted so the plant was giving it a try.
bagged plant top
not from inside the bag
That being said, in the ensuing carnage I did notice there was an alternanthera plant not in the bag that seems to be doing reasonably well, so I moved that over to the front of the aquarium and we’ll see how that does.
Ephiphytes on the mountain before and after trimming
The bucephalandra and anubias have both done really well, overachieved in a some ways in fact. The caterina at the top of the mountain in particular is close to the light and grew across to make an impressive sombrero hat that did a nice job of shading most of the aquarium below. This shading has been a challenge in particular for the new cryptocorynes on the right, nevelli at the back and wendtii ‘Flamingo’ in the front, but also I suspect for the Alternanthera reineckii ‘Rosanervig’ over on the left side.
After repeated struggles to grow emersed plants on the Shrimphaus river using a variety of substrate set-ups, I’ve switched over to actual LECA – lightweight expanded clay aggregate. For this experiment, I’m going with two reputedly robust to low(er) humidity emersed growth anubias: Anubias coffeefolia, and Anubias gracilis. This is the second attempt with Anubias coffeefolia, but the previous go seemed encouraging, with some new leaves forming before ultimately the plant was done in by rhizome rot.
Adapting plants to grow in LECA
Anubias gracilis in rockwool
Anubias gracilis in LECA
enhanced humidity chamber
old A. coffeefolia – A. gracilis – new A. coffeefolia
Although aquarium plants are generally grown in emersed form in the nursery, they are typically potted in rockwool in a near 100% humidity hydroponic ebb and flow environment. Transitioning terrestrial plants to LECA can be challenging and there are a lot of helpful resources with great tips available including to make sure every last bit of non-LECA substrate has been removed from the roots before planting in LECA. The process seemed straightforward but the plants started wilting almost immediately. It’s pretty well established that misting plants directly doesn’t meaningfully raise humidity so I did an improvisation with the conical plastic sleaves the plants shipped in. Cutting off the bottom of the cone to fit snugly halfway up the pot gave a large surface area on top that could be misted to both keep a lot of water droplets around for a reasonable length of time close to the leaves and to provide a locally semi-isolated environment. I kept the plants in the enriched humidity setup for three weeks, misting a couple times a day. That seemed to mostly do the trick to give the plants enough time to adapt to being rooted in LECA; the gracilis didn’t really lose any leaves to wilting, and although the new coffeefolia did lose half its leaves it seems to have stabilised (hopefully).
Repotting to get rhizomes out of substrate
Five weeks after planting, it was time to take the plants out of the LECA to see how the roots were doing and repot if necessary. Pretty much things were looking good, with healthy looking whitish roots with good structure. There were however some brown rotted aspects in places, in particular where the rhizomes had been embedded in the substrate. I used pinsettes to trim off those portions and gave the root systems a good rinse. Then I replanted taking care to have the entirety of the rhizomes out of the LECA. This meant essentially having the plants growing on the side relative to how they arrived in rockwool. Possibly an ebb and flow hydroponics system in the nursery is more permissive since plants can dry out during the ebb phase, compared to the steady-state semi-hydroponics method of sitting LECA embedded plants in the Shrimphaus river. The repotting process was easy and the repotted plants look good so far, but the real test will be whether the rotting stops and we start to get some new growth.
I’ve been looking for a red plant to replace the Ludwigia palustris mini ‘Super Red’ which is an awesome stem plant, but which comfortably exceeds 50 cm in length and so is really too large for the Fireplace Aquarium – keeping it trimmed was just too much hassle. Previously, I had a go with Alternanthera reineckii ‘Rot’ which started out promisingly, but then never really made a recovery after the usual ‘cut off and replant the tops‘ process. Further reading suggests that may have been where I went wrong – leaving the rooted bottom section to resprout new growth after trimming may have been a better approach with alternanthera, in contrast to approaches with many other aquarium plants. I’ll keep that in mind for the ‘Rosanervig’. Rosanervig is supposed to be an intermediate sized alternanthera growing to 20 cm or a little larger.
Adapting Alternanthera reineckii ‘Rosanervig’ to submersed growth
pot from the nursery
in the Fireplace Aquarium
I received in from Pro Shrimp a quite large portion of Tropica-grown Alternanthera reineckii ‘Rosanervig’ potted in rockwool. Removing the rockwool carefully with pinsettes gave six healthy-looking emersed-form plants. I planted the Rosanervig in the middle left of the Fireplace Aquarium, in front of a developing back curtain of Vallisneria asiatica, and behind a foreground patch of Cryptocoryne parva. The emersed form leaves really aren’t very happy when fully submersed and several were shed straight away, or started developing some rattiness. Some of the amano shrimp may even have had a bit of a go at nibbling the straggly looking leaves.
Submersed form leaves start to look good after two weeks
submersed growth after two weeks
new submersed growth detail
After a couple of weeks, it’s clear that new submersed form leaves are developing nicely on the Rosanervig. Emersed form leaves are a blotchy light green with hints of red undertones on the top surface with pale pink/green undersides. In contrast, the submersed form leaves are deep red with bright pink veining structures on top and bright red/pink underneath. Previously the slow growing alternanthera had issues with algae collecting on the upper surfaces. Algae hasn’t been a problem since the revised estimative index dosing scheme was implemented in the Fireplace Aquarium so I’m optimistic for the Rosanervig’s prospects.
It’s been difficult with the emersed plants on the Shrimphaus shelf. Some descriptions of the tribulations below.
Growing on the slate surface directly (doesn’t work)
First I tried simply tying Chirstmas moss down in the flow on the riverbed to see if they would grab onto the river bottom, but that didn’t really work – it seems they need something for the roots to hang onto. Even though Christmas moss roots can grab onto surfaces, they didn’t do that in this context and the green parts didn’t really thrive either. I’m now growing Christmas moss completely submersed in the Shrimphaus and it seems to be doing reasonably well.
Clay balls roll away (doesn’t work)
So, this could have been obvious, but nearly perfectly spherical clay balls won’t say put in a swift-flowing water current. They all immediately washed away into the tank. Also, although these are sold as ‘hydroponic grow media’ what I was hoping for was LECA – lightweight expanded clay aggregate – which is frothed up with air holes and texture to retain water, but these clay spheres are smooth and solid and don’t seem to hold much moisture.
Lava rocks don’t stack and stay too wet (doesn’t work)
The next attempt was small pieces of irregularly shaped lava rock. The lava rock doesn’t just instantly roll away and can be successfully piled up. The odd piece does come lose and escape, but at least you can make a pile of lava rock in the current. The issue with these is that unlike the clay spheres, the lava rock stays really wet. I made as high a pile of these as I could without them falling over into the tank and the top of the pile was still completely saturated with water. I tried growing both Echinodorus grisebachii ‘Tropica’ and Anubias coffeefolia sitting on top of the lava rocks, but the wetness was rotting both of these plants and I suspect also drowning the roots. This was at least partially successful for a while as both the echinodorus and the anubias put out a few new leaves (before the rot set it) so at least there is some potential promise. I think the top of the plant needs to kept drier as do the upper parts of the roots for this to work.
Combining an aquarium type system with a hydroponics set-up is termed ‘aquaponics‘. Since it is the emersed plant part that has been problematic I’ve been browsing literture on how to have a successful hydroponics part. There are a number of proven techniques, none of which resemble the setup on the shelf of the Shrimphaus, naturally. I’m giving a go to passive wick-system hydroponics, where inert media, in this case the clay spheres, is kept moist by the proximity of a wick that can carry water from the base of the container to the top. The wicks used here are cut up strips of an automobile synthetic chamois cloth – this part seems to be working really well. Three wicks seem to be needed to keep the clay balls reasonably moist/damp without being altogether wet. The echinodorus and anubias look pretty sad in these pots so far, but they might rally…
I’m becoming more fond of Cryptocoryne as submersed aquatic plants. They come in a wide variety of colours, sizes and textures, tolerate low light and are pretty much maintenance free. I always plant these after cutting off the emersed leaves to promote faster Cryptocoryne adaptation to submersed form growth whilst avoiding ‘crypt melt’.
Cryptocoryne walkeri in a low tech aquarium
C. walkeri raised by Aquadip was sourced from Pro Shrimp and has been thriving in the Shrimphaus for a little over three months now. As usual with potted Cryptocoryne, you tend to get many individual plantets in a single pot.
ready to plant
I may have shaved these down a little close to the crown. Going forward I’m going to leave a small amount of the emersed form stems on to avoid scalping the new plants.
Aquadip says C. walkeri is ‘easy’ and that has certainly been my experience. The submersed form has attractive medium-dark green leaves. Walkeri and most other crypts are generally considered to be slow growing, but I have found the growth rate to be pretty reasonable even without injected CO2 gas in the ‘low tech’ Shrimphaus.
‘Pangolino’ from Dennerle is thought to be the anubias with the smallest leaves and thereby very suitable for nanotanks. I’ve been looking for this plant for a long time but it has been consistently unavailable until very recently when I noticed some in stock at Horizon Aquatics. As a bonus Horizon is also a sponsor of the UK Aquatic Plant Society so I was happy to be able to pick up some Pangolino and support the society at the same time. The pots arrived promptly and in great condition.
In vitro Anubias barteri nana ‘Pangolino’
tissue culture debris
Preparing tissue culture plants for the aquarium
As usual, tissue culture plants arrive in sealed pots suspended in a nutrient jelly. You rinse off the jelly, separate out the individual plantlets, cutting them apart if necessary and trimming off any debris, then you’re ready to plant. I have noticed that it’s not unusual to get some strange growth patterns included in amongst normal growth form plants with tissue culture pots, presumably because the plants don’t always grow completely correctly in culture. There was a pretty good mass of this material to be removed with the Pangolino, but not to worry, there were still a lot of quality individual plantets to be had.
Planting emersed and submersed
My main goal with the Pangolino is to try to grow it emersed in the river run of the Shrimphaus, where the hope is the small compact leaves will keep it from drying out and will also maintain a reasonable size anubias for the space. Eight of the pangolino plantets are planted emersed in lava rock on the shelf of the river run. With so many nice plantlets I couldn’t resist also planting some submersed – these are the five circled in cyan in the picture. Tissue culture plants are something of a hybrid situation between emersed and submersed growth so we’ll see how those compare as the plants develop.