I will start out by being totally honest here: I don't really know that much about aquatic plants. Sure, I can tell an Anubias barteri from an A. coffeefolia, or Water Sprite from Anacharis...I can even sort of ID a few Cryptocoryne species...
But that's really it.
Java Moss? Sure. All of those other fancy mosses? Um, no.
I mean, they're all moss, right?
(all moss enthusiasts are cringing now!)
And I'm okay with that.
That being said, I greatly admire those of you who DO understand and work with aquatic plants. I've had more and more contact with fellow vendors who specialize in the plant side of aquascaping, and I'm impressed by their ability to know exactly what type of plant to use in a specific situation.
Now, a lot of the questions I receive are stuff like, "What plants can I use in my blackwater aquarium?"
And of course, I can give you some "textbook-type" answers about which ones have worked for me.
That being said, there ARE some species which are known to come from the habitats and niches that we play with. And again, if you know me, you're also keenly aware by now that I have an annnoying tendency to scan various scientific papers in a sometimes future attempt to glean little kernels of knowledge about the natural world that we can utilize in our aquarium work...
Here's one for you:
Junk and Piedade (1993) identified 388 herbaceous species in the igapós of Rio Negro, notably species of Echinodorus, Nymphea, Cabomba, Utricularia, and Polygonum!
That's significant, because we're talking about plants found in blackwater habitats in the wild. Some are aquatics which we have regular access to in the hobby! In fact, some of which many of us have kept at one time or another, right? If you recall from our past discussions, a couple of years ago I very successfully kept a significant population of Polygonum in my office blackwater, botanical-style "leaf litter" tank!
IAs more and more hobbyists from diverse areas of specialization get into the blackwater/botanical-style aquarium game, we're seeing more and more experimentation with plants.
And I have a sort of theory that, while a lot of plants aren't found in blackwater habitats, many, many species are adaptable to this environment in the aquarium, especially if their lighting and nutrition requirements are met.
Now, if you're trying to replicate a specific environment, or create a highly accurate biotope aquarium, such "freelancing" is to be discouraged, I know. However, for most of us who are simply content with creating a great display, it's "game on!"
Many of us are at least semi-obsessed with replicating, to a certain extent, the flooded forest (iagpo) habitats of Brazil, which, as outlined above, contain, but are not generally known for a huge variety of true aquatic plants, there is another "frontier" to play with:
Terrestrial plants and grasses that can tolerate immersion for extended periods of time.
This is, as far as I know, and entirely new and different "playground" for aquarists, as we've typically concentrated on the true aquatic plants in our tanks. With a greater interest in these habitats, and the evolving techniques of the planted aquarium work- specifically the use and continued development of soils, the possibilities are expanding.
Plants like the semi-aquatic grass, Paspalum fasciculatum tend to be common and very hardy in these types of habitats, which flood regularly- often comprising the majority of the "plants" one sees in these aquatic environments.
Now, I don't even have any preconceptions as to how exactly you'd successfully incorporate such grasses (or species available to us as "analogs") to experiment, but I do at least have some ideas!
I mean, is it possible to dig up some of the grasses you intend to use (oh, FYI, there are a number of Paspalum species found in North America and other parts of the New World, and no doubt some analogous species of other genera in Europe), along with their substrate materials (ie; soil) and simply drop it into the substrate that you're using in the tank?
I think so, right?
And perhaps you'd slowly raise the water level I the aquarium, to give the plant a chance to adapt (or begin to die, as the case may be!) to the environment?
Yeah, okay, I'm scheming.
I suppose one could incorporate some riparian/marginal plants, such as Acorus, for this purpose- some of which look remarkably like the ones we are discussing. And since they seem to be rather adaptable to or tolerant of at least partial submersion, could form interesting subjects to play with! In fact, they frequently occur on shorelines and floodplains where water levels fluctuate seasonally...a pretty good match, huh?
FYI, A good source for the plants, inspiration, and gear to create riparian style displays is the AquaVerdi website of our friend, Devin Biggs- a hobbyist who has probably forgotten more about this stuff than I'll ever know! If you recall, we used to offer some of his riparian planters and such (back when we offered gear in our selection), and they were pretty popular. Check out his site!
And of course, there is no shortage of inspiration to replicate this type of igapo habitat on these pages, or throughout the web. We've featured a lot of our friend Mike Tuccinardi's pics and videos of these locales over the years, and looking carefully at them will give you a lot of ideas!
And of course, utilizing botanicals, leaves, and palm fronds in these types of tanks is perfectly suitable. If you're inspired enough, the possibilities are endless, as many of you have demonstrated with your cool setups!
Okay, so about all we did here this morning was touch on a few random ideas associated with plants in blackwater displays, but I'd like to believe that we might have given a few of you some inspiration to research and try something new!
As is so common in our hobby- sometimes simply looking at what we've seen before, but with a different focus- can yield all sorts of inspiring ideas which, if implemented, could lead to enjoyment, beauty...and even some breakthroughs in the way we keep aquariums.
Stay excited. Stay inspired. Stay creative. Stay innovative...
And Stay Wet.