According to the British Bryological Society (naturally), Riccardia chamedryfolia, also known as ‘Jagged Germanderwort’ is a liverwort with a thalloid growth form and is naturally occurring in most parts of the world including commonly in the UK. There is a lot more biology-talk about liverworts vs. mosses vs. hornworts that I don’t understand, but I did manage to pick up an in vitro pot grown by Dennerle from Aquarium Gardens and thought I’d give it a try growing on hardscape. The secret hope is always to find something that will be able to grow in the Shrimphaus river even though many, many plants have failed there. It turns out that always wet with flowing water slate chippings exposed to typically low humidity indoor air is a quite austere environment. Still, hope springs eternal and I thought I could try out both the Shrimphaus river and also that wedged into cracks of the Fireplace Aquarium mountain would make a nice effect.
Two months after the massive pruning of the Bucephalandra caterina and the Anubias nana ‘Pinto’ in an effort to control the black beard algae (BBA) that was colonising them, the battle is lost. Further, inspection showed the BBA had thoroughly colonised the Cryptocoryne parva as well.
I have come around to thinking of BBA as a symptom rather than a problem – in other words the BBA indicates something is wrong that needs to be addressed. In this case I believe it is a build-up of organic waste in the aquarium, and also perhaps the natural life cycle of some of the plants. The caterina was planted 2.5 years ago and the parva 2 years ago where a gradual loss of fitness means they have a hard time fighting off algae.
The last massive epiphyte trim was nearly 10 months ago, so time to go at it again. I didn’t actually mind the overgrown appearance and the fish seemed to like hanging out under the middle layer of Anubias nana ‘Pinto’. There was considerable shading of the bottom of the Fireplace Aquarium but I didn’t notice that particularly being a problem for either the Cryptocoryne petchii pink or the Microsorum pteropus ‘Windelov’ so that was ok. What finally pushed me to get the scissors out was the increasing amount of black beard algae that was growing on the leaves of the Bucephalandra caterina at the top of mountain on the side in the middle that gets the most light. BBA that gets established is notoriously difficult to get back under control so I figured the best way was to remove it physically altogether.
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.
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!
Microsorum pteropus ‘Windelov’ also known as Leptochilus pteropus is one of the many varieties of Java fern. I picked up a pot from Pro Shrimp in an order that also included Alternanthera reineckii ‘Mini’. Developed by Tropica, the ‘Windelov’ version I received was grown by Aquadip.
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.
It’s been more than four months since the Alternanthera reineckii ‘Rosanervig’ got planted in the Fireplace Aquarium, and whilst it seemed to be doing well initially, after 11 weeks things weren’t looking so great. I thought lack of light from overgrowing Bucephalandra caterina might have been contributory, so I did a massive epiphyte trim to restore light to most of the tank. That had very positive effects on the Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘Flamingo’ but didn’t really improve the alternanthera. There were floating fragments of what looked like otherwise healthy Rosanervig leaves and I have from time to time noticed some suspicious interest in the alternanthera from the amano shrimp. Some surveys of the interwebs suggests that amano shrimp eating alternanthera species is a known thing which could explain the observed damage.
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.
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
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
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
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.