Cheating? Or simply working with what you've got?

With more and more hobbyists thinking further outside the proverbial "box" than ever before when planning aquariums, we're starting to see more functionally aesthetic representations of all sorts of aquatic habitats as never before.

We've talked a lot about flooded forest floors and inundated meadows in the tropical regions of the world, specifically South America and Southeast Asia. Being terrestrial habitats, these forest floors are often covered with shrubs and grasses, many of which are not typically available in the aquarium hobby.

Grasses, such as Paspalum repens, a common species found in South America, and several other grasses, are quite abundant in these habitats, and are most resistant to prolonged submersion.

Now, there are species of Paspalum which are available as seed in many parts f the world, particularly North America and Europe. You absolutely can grow these and utilize them for the "role" of  ("generic") "Panatanal grasses" or "forest grasse"s in your displays. Many of them are remarkably tolerant of submersion for brief periods of time! 

Now, my other "challenge' to plant lovers in general: Let's figure out which terrestrial plants can tolerate/grow/thrive under submerged or partially submerged (blackwater) conditions. Perhaps a more "realistic" (not in the hardcore "biotope aquarium contest" context, of course) avenue to explore in this regard?

I've got one tree for you to research...the dominant terrestrial plant in the South American flooded forests is Eugenia inundata... Don't think I'm not well underway in my (somewhat futile) efforts to see if we can secure fallen leaves of THIS plant! You'll also find Iriartea setigera, Socratea exorrhiza, Mauritiella aculeata palms in these areas..

(Mauritiella aculeata - Image by pixel too used under CC BY 2.0)

Like so many things from the Amazon, it's not easy (read that, damn near impossible) to secure botanical material from this region, so the proverbial "Don't hold your breath waiting for this" comes to mind! Oh, and the submerged grasses we see and drool over in those underwater pics from Mike Tucc and Ivan Mikolji of these habitats?

They're typically Paspalum repens and Oryza perennis.

And we DO have access to some species, such as Sedges and other riparian or semi-aquatic/bog plants from genera that are found in these regions, such as Papyrus (Cyperus), Acorus, Orzyas, etc. These are surprisingly popular plants I the hobby, and for the purpose of recreating one of these seasonally-inundated habitats, they're near perfect! 

Since many of these plants tolerate submersion for extended periods of time, they are of great interest to many of us for use in our aquariums. Of course, part of what interests me is that these are generally very hardy plants.

 There are numerous species more commonly available from commercial nurseries in North American and European nations, so creating realistic representations of these habitats in our aquariums is more attainable than ever!

Now, with this in mind, there are also lots and lots of possibilities for creating unique aquatic displays with what I would call "aquatic analogs" of these grasses and shrubs. In other words, incorporating some true aquatics to replicate the "look" of the flooded forests using representative species.

I freely admit that this is a total "cheat"- but when you think about it, it's a pretty good method that can be employed if you want to represent the inundation period for the theme of your aquarium, and aren't able to secure or grow the terrestrial/semi-aquatic analogs to the species found in these habitats.

So, I'm thinking about plants like Echinodorus tenellus, the "Pygmy Chain Sword", which grows in a most "grasslike" state, and certainly is representative of the grasses one might find on a flooded Panatanal or forest floor habitat in South America.

It's not hard to cultivate a little section of these plants in your representation of a flooded forest, and drop in a few leaves and botanicals, and achieve a relatively realistic-looking facsimile!

Another great candidate that has a sort of "generic tropical terrestrial grasslike" appearance would be Cryptocoryne parva. This diminutive plant actually can be grown emerged, so for "semi-flooded" igapo or varzea biotope aquariums, it would be really adaptable! And when submerged, it bears strong resemblance to Paspalum or other tropical, submersion-resistant grasses. (It's the plant in the foreground in the below pic, BTW)

I suppose the old fave, Sagittaria, could also be employed for this purpose, but some species can achieve a larger size and perhaps ultimately be not as realistic, so you'd need to choose carefully. More exotic, but readily available as tissue-cultured, would be the beautiful Lilaeopsis mauritiana, a beautiful  species often called "Micro Sword" for its appearance and size.

And of course, since we're representing a flooded forest floor or meadow, with patchy growth over rich soil and leaves, you likely don't need to have the full-on green lawn that planted aquarists strive for so ardently! A little bit of "open space" and some twigs, roots,  bark pieces, a few seed pods, and exposed substrate and you're well on your way to creating a remarkably cool tank!

Just plant some of it here and there in such a tank, and....well, yeah, you get the idea, right? 😆

Again, since the intense growth of aquatic plants isn't the primary focus of such a display, you have a tremendous amount of "latitude" over their care when working with them in this manner! You don't need to go nuts with CO2 or massive and complicated fertilizer regimens. A good aquatic soil, sand, and or other media, accompanied by good lighting is all you need.

Employing a good cover of leaf litter, along with selected botanicals, you could create a very realistic representation of these habitats in your aquarium! 

I think that despite the fact that this is sort of "cheat" (and yeah, it most definitely IS! ), you could certainly create a pretty faithful representation of these unique habitats, and inspire further research into them.

You need not be "hamstrung" by not being able to source or obtain the actual terrestrial plants found in these could always turn to "aquatic analogs" for a good start!

Work with what you've got!

Stay innovative. Stay creative. Stay studious. Stay diligent. Stay resourceful...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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