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Non Aquatic Aquarium Plants

Land Plants Sold For Aquariums

As you become a more experienced aquarist and have kept a variety of plants in the community aquarium you become aware of what plants will, and what plants will not grow in aquarium conditions. There are two main factors when a plant is submerged that need consideration, first is the ability of the plant to obtain gases ie: oxygen for respiration, and carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. The second issue is one of lighting, as light does not penetrate far below the waters surface and some lighting options ie: metal halide lamps, provide solutions to these problems

There are however some plants which have evolved to survive in these lower light, lower carbon dioxide/oxygen systems. These true aquatic plants, such as Elodea sp. or Vallisneria sp. are sold commonly in the aquarium industry. A second group of plants that grow in bogs that flood regularly eg: sword plants, can grow underwater albeit slowly, Anubias sp. Java fern (Microsorium pteropus) are excellent slow growing aquarium species that can easily tolerate the attentions of bristlenose-catfish and other suckermouth catfish.

However, a third group of plants sold by aquariums as “aquatic” are not even remotely so. Many aquariums use strange “trade-names” for these species eg: Pongol swords, Borneo swords, water palms, dragon flame etc. These trade names are a confusing issue for the novice aquarist and it is far better to learn the actual latin name of the species you’re interested in. To give a common example, a plant sold by many aquariums as “Pongol Reed” is really Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus), you can also buy (at the more lavish aquarium) the “Dwarf Pongol Reed”, (Ophiopogon japonicus var nana) which is simply a dwarf form of Mondo Grass. Some aquariums also sell what they call Spaths or Spath Swords, this is in reality a common indoor plant species, Spathiphyllum wallisii the peace lily.

Some of these false aquatic species do have several advantages over more delicate true aquatic species. For example Spathiphyllum does not grow submerged but will survive a significant time emersed and is distasteful to most plant eating species. Many of the species involved in this practice are also brightly coloured and can add colour effects to aquaria (albeit only for a few weeks).

My greatest trouble with this practice is that the choice, of whether to buy true aquatic or terrestrial species for the aquarium has been taken from the consumer. If in doubt (and if the plant involved is brightly coloured you probably should be), don’t buy it.

Here’s a list of some of the usual suspects (names in “inverted commas” are the deceitful names used by some in the aquarium industry:

  • Chamaedorea elegans (Parlour/”Water” Palm)
    Water Palm
     

  • Spider or Ribbon plant aka “Pongol Sword”
    Pongol Sword
     

  • Hemigraphis exotica “Purple Waffle”
    Purple Waffle
     

  • Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) “Pongol Reed”
    Pongol Reed
     

  • Syngonium sp. or Arrowhead (Sold under various “sword” names)
    Borneo Sword

  • Pilea sp. or Aluminium plant
    Auminium plant
     

  • Spathiphyllum-wallisii - Madonna lillies (”Spaths/Spath Swords”)
    Madonna Lily
     

  • Lycopodium sp. (”Borneo Fern”)
    clubmoss

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