The alluring case for Cryptocoryne...

I think I've always had this "romanticized" view of the aquarium hobby. I'm not sure what the exact reason for this is, but I think that there are a number of possibilities.

Maybe it's because I grew up in a household where my dad was a fish geek, and when most kids were perusing comic books, I was reading some of my Dad's fish book collection, which included what are now classics, like  Innes' "Exotic Aquarium Fishes" and Axelrod's "Atlas of Tropical Fish", and host of guppy books from the "Golden Age" of aquarium keeping (the 1960's).

Perhaps it's because there was something enigmatic that the aquarium hobby represented...A window into an exotic and fascinating world unlike any other. Maybe it was because the fish names, the stories, and the habitats from which they hailed...

Regardless, I was hooked at an early age, and aquatic plants were- and are- a part of this romantic allure. I remember the first truly "exotic" aquarium plant I ever had was Cryptocoryne. It was the ultimate "cool plant"- something that grew in those earthy, tinted habitats that I find so irresistible. There are so many reasons why Crypts are the ultimate plant that the natural-style, blackwater aquarium enthusiast should be into! Oh, and they are under-appreciated in many instances, too...yet another reason to love them!

Now, to give a little context, I know that lot of you ask why I don't go on and on and on about aquarium plants in general. I mean, they're the darlings of the aquascaping world and are perhaps the ultimate "functionally aesthetic" aquarium accent. They not only enhance the aquarium environment- they help create it. 

Now, I guess I like taking a sort of "outsider" view of plants. I have to admit, I sort of "hate" on the way they are elevated like "set pieces" in the frothy competition aquascaping world; sort of turned into the freshwater equivalent of coral frags. You know, "named cultivars", specific "roles" for plants, weird "fanboy" adulation for bizarre reasons, etc. 

Don't get me wrong- aquatic plants are cool. I really like them, and I'm starting to use them more and more in my own aquariums. Now, unlike a lot of "scapers" out there, I'm not into selecting a plant to represent those found in a specific habitat. Rather, I look at them as a means to represent a specific habitat. A more literal interpretation, I suppose. Specifically, I like plants which come from rich, earthy, moderately-illuminated blackwater habitats.

And that's where "Crypts" really shine.

Hailing from India, New Guinea, and other parts of Southeast Asia, these plants tend to grow in areas of rich soil, moderate to minimal water movement, and seasonally inundated pools and marginal stream areas. Some are even found in brackish habitats! Oh, and they flower. Ever seen that? I mean, this is cool, right?

And the habitats that Cryptocoryne are found! Those habitats are exactly in our "wheelhouse", as the expression goes. I suppose the reef hobbyist in me likes them because they remind me a lot of corals, in terms of variety, range, and hardiness.

There are many unique growth forms and variations in this family, all of which have their place in the aquarium.

Crypts are well known for thriving in lower light, richer substrates, and emersed conditions. They like being placed...and left the hell alone. How can I not respect that? They can survive under acidic or alkaline pH levels, depending upon the origin of the species you're playing with. And you don't have to use CO2 to make 'em thrive, although it can help. Iron-rich and nutritive  substrates are ideal for them.They tend to grow slowly. Now, they also have a reputation for being somewhat temperamental!

Yes, as we all have likely heard, they can be surprisingly sensitive to environmental changes, such as water temperatures and nutrient levels. They will often fall to what is known commonly as "Cryptocoryne melt"- essentially a series of maladies such as holes in their leaves, disintegrating stems, and just turning to mush...Sort of the freshwater aquarium equivalent of the coral horror known as "RTN" (rapid tissue necrosis).

Now, the cool thing about this malady is that it responds welt two of my favorite aquarium hobby "constants"- time and patience. A little patience with affected plants will be rewarded by allowing them to simply regenerate new leaves from the roots, which are typically unharmed. It's really easy to panic and pull the plants when this happens. I'm a big fan of letting them be and seeing how they come back. 

So, yeah, these cool plants play right into all of the elements which I truly love.

And of course, this little piece is absolutely not intended to be an authoritative guide to the Cryptocoryne. I admit that when it comes to aquatic plants, my knowledge is pretty...shitty, really. Now, although my knowledge of these plants- and aquatic plants in general- may not be vast, it is based on personal experiences- not "regurgitated" hobby info- and shows you that even a person who "dabbles" in plants can enjoy them and have success with them.

My earnest hope is that hobbyists in our "sector" will continue to experiment with plants, and especially make use of some of the species that are known to do well in blackwater conditions. I'm excited about simply inspiring you to take another look- perhaps a closer look- at the idea of incorporating speciality plants in our natural, botanical-style systems.

So yeah, whatever it is that motivates you to look into some plants for our style of aquariums is the goal here. Let's see some interesting work with plants, for the benefit of all who play in this tinted, somewhat dirty world we play in. Crypts, in particular, are plants which cans be alternately touchy, hardy, challenging to our patience, and altogether interesting...That's my case for Cryptocoryne.

Stay inquisitive. Stay experimental. Stay excited. Stay diligent. Stay patient. Stay open-minded...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


2 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

December 26, 2020

Love it! And so true, right? The shittier-looking the better, lol Why is that? 😆


Maureen Light
Maureen Light

December 25, 2020

Absolutely love crypts..I keep buying them mainly because the shittier your tank looks, the better they grow. Like a manicured tank? Don’t look at mine. I grab good rocks from the yard, age some oak, and throw it in. Rough and ready are my tanks, but my livestock and plants seem to thrive.

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