Guide to non-aquatic plants

Many fishkeeping beginners struggle to keep their aquarium plants alive when just starting out. One reason for this is that the aquatic industry often supplies them with unsuitable species which will never survive once submersed underwater in your aquarium because they are not true aquatic plants. Our article lists a few species which are great for your terrarium, but should be avoided like the plague when it comes to stocking your aquarium.

Fish shops are often stocked with attractive bog plants that although will survive in marshy areas in the wild, will often die if kept permanently under water. Many of these plants have been incorrectly sold as aquarium plants for at least the last thirty years, so this problem is unlikely to go away any time soon. Most aquarium plants are produced by large outdoor nurseries in the Far East as well as a few other enterprises in mainland Europe. These companies produce both aquarium and house plants on a huge commercial scale supplying garden centres and aquatic outlets around the globe.

These house plants are often kept by reptile and amphibian keepers in their terrariums, vivariums and ripariums. Since 2013 there has been a huge increase in bioactive, naturalistic terrariums and vivariums as people seek to keep their pet frogs, lizards and snakes in a more natural setting. Some of the major players in the global pet keeping industry design and manufacture both aquariums and terrariums. Many large fish importers sell both fish and amphibian species and so the industries are now intertwined more than ever before, which almost allows cross contamination of plant species between these hobbies.

Whilst your local aquatics store may be well clued up about fish, not all are as well clued up about aquatic plants. Their supplier’s stock lists often don’t help as they do not tend to clearly differentiate between aquarium and terrarium plants. Compounding the problem is the fact that it is usually cheaper for the shops to order ‘mixed bunched plants’ rather than specify individual species. This allows the large foreign nurseries to sell them the species they want to get rid of at any particular time and so the discount obviously makes them attractive to shops. This can result in many shops being blissfully unaware of what they are actually ordering.

Some shops may be aware that the plants they are selling you will not survive in your tank, however, as with fish species you are the one doing the buying so do make sure you are fully informed on the species you want before you go shopping.  The retailer may not actually ask you where you will be putting the plants you are buying and may happily assume that someone buying terrarium plants will not be intending to put them in an aquarium. Should you find an informed and helpful supplier, stick with them. If you find a store that appears to be selling non-aquatic plants as aquatic plants challenge the management and ask them if they know that the plants they are selling are not at all suitable for aquaria and ask them to google their names, just in case the staff are genuinely unaware of the problem.

Adding to the problem is the appearance of these non-aquatic plants, many are very attractive man-made cultivars with variegated foliage. Some species of Dracaena, Hemigraphis or Cordyline are often more attractive to many than genuine aquatic plants, so tend to be purchased readily by unsuspecting customers.

Telling the difference between house plants and aquatic plants is not always easy for the beginner. Lifting the plant out of water may help though if you are unsure, if it droops when you hold it up it will most likely be aquatic. House plants will usually stand bolt upright when held. House plant leaves will usually also have a waxy feel to them, aquatic plants will not. Appearance can also play a part, if the colouration looks man made and the plant appears to be a cultivar due to striped variegated leaves then it probably is a house plant as there are very few variegated aquarium plants with just a few Echinodorus and Anubias cultivars being the exception to the rule.

If in any doubt, leave it in the shop and get its name from the staff. You can then either walk if they can’t tell you or check online when back at home. Don’t take the risk of allowing it to rot and pollute your aquarium though.

Although suitable for terrariums, we do not recommend the following species for an aquarium, they will usually die and they will then pollute your aquarium water:

  • Acorus gramineus var. Ogon
  • Acorus gramineus var. variegatus.
  • Acorus gramineus var. pusillus
  • Aglaonema ‘Silver Queen’
  • Aglaonema simplex
  • Alternanthera ficoida ‘Bettzickiana Aures’
  • Alternanthera ficoida ‘Bettzickiana Green’
  • Alternanthera ficoida ‘Bettzickiana Red’
  • Alternanthera species ‘Red Round’
  • Bacopa langiera
  • Caladium bicolor var ‘Frieda Hemple’
  • Caladium humboldtii
  • Calamus sp ‘Bamboo Plant’
  • Chamaedorea elegans
  • Chlorophytum bichetti
  • Cordyline sp.
  • Cordyline ‘Red edge special’
  • Cordyline species ‘Compacta’
  • Cyperus alternifolius
  • Cyperus haspens
  • Dieffenbachia bausei
  • Dieffenbachia exotica ‘Variegata’
  • Dieffenbachia Marianne
  • Dieffenbachia picta
  • Dracaena deremensis
  • Dracaena deramensis var.
  • Dracaena godseffiana
  • Dracaena sanderiana
  • Fittonia argyonanta
  • Hemigraphis colorata
  • Hemigraphis repanda
  • Ophiopogon japonica
  • Ophiopogon jubaran
  • Selaginella wildenowii
  • Syngonium podophyllum
  • Syngonium podophyllum ‘Red Knight’
  • Spathiphyllum wallisii
  • Trichomanes javanicum

Author: Jared Cave

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