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hydrophyte 09-05-2010 01:28 AM

Riparium How-to: High-Humidity Setups
Riparium How-to: High-Humidity Setups

I am starting this thread with a semi-orgainzed description of considerations and methods to have in mind when assembling a [B]high-humidity riparium setup[/B]. This kind of tank is best for growing certain emersed aquatic plants that require very humid air. It is important to note that not all emersed aquatics need to grow in such conditions. Emersed Echinodorus swordplants, for example, are best grown with plenty of air circulation and somewhat drier air. The following lists the main groups of emersed aquarium plants that do require high-humidity:
  • Cryptocoryne--all crypts that I have grown, with the exception of C. ciliata, require very moist air
  • Microsorum (Java fern)
  • Anubias--especially A. barteri varieties. Some of the larger Anubias, such as A. hastifolia, may be less demanding of high-humidity.

There are certain other groups of plants that can grow and look right in a high-humidity setup, but these are the most useful ones that I have applied. These groups of plants are of special interest to aquarium hobbyists because they are readily available.

High-humidity ripariums displays can have a lot of visual appeal. The combination of the above water and below water areas in the same frame offers unique design opportunities. The next shot shows the best riparium of this kind that I have put together so far, a setu pthat I had going last year in a 55-gallon tank.

In addition to the enjoyment of the whole planted layout, a high-humidity riparium can be appealing in several other ways. It is intriguing to grow the emersed forms of aquatic plants and compare them with the underwater growth habits, which are often distinct. High-humidity ripariums can be used for a particular hobby area that has been gaining in popularity in recent years, the culture of emersed Cryptocoryne for the sake of encouraging the development of spathes, their unique floral structures. The following picture shows a fresh spathe produced by the C. usteriana that I currently have growing in a 20-gallon high-humidity riparium.

The especially compelling feature of growing emersed crypts in a high-humidity ripairum setup is that it allows the enjoyment of the emersed growth of the plants and their spathes within a full planted layout including fish and other features.

This post will quickly become too long with much additional explanation, so I intend to break up the narrative into several posts to follow. Here is the general organization that I have in mind.
  1. Aquarium setup and life support.
  2. Plant selection.
  3. Riparium planters and planting methods.
  4. Adapting aquatic plants to emersed growth and growing in the riparium.
  5. Livestock
  6. Additional specific observations and tips.

With the next organized post that I write I'll start with considerations to have in mind while planning the aquarium enclosure for a high-humidity riparium.

Tigerfish 09-05-2010 02:05 AM

Thanks for posting this, I will be following this thread!

hydrophyte 09-05-2010 02:08 AM

Hey you bet. Please just chime in if you have any questions. I got the idea to start this thread because I get so many questions about humidity in planted ripariums. Really there are just a few groups of plants that need to grow in a closed-top, high-humidity setup, but there are some specific things to have in mind for good growing.

jreich 09-05-2010 11:48 AM

i cant wait to read the rest of the article! thanks for taking the time to do this!

Diana 09-05-2010 03:36 PM

I am very interested in this, also.
What sort of filter and water circulation are you using?
Is there any accommodation for aerating the soil deep at the bottom of the tank?

hydrophyte 09-05-2010 04:51 PM

I am working on the next entry here and I'll have it up pretty soon.

For most of these riparium setups I like to use a regular canister filter. IF the water level is lowered then it can become necessary to do some plumbing retro-fit so that the intake and return can reach down to the water.

These things work pretty much like regular planted tanks. You don't have to do anything special to aerate the substrate. I generally use a pretty shallow (1 1/2") gravel substrate, so I don't get any trouble with anoxia or anything like that.

Hoppy 09-05-2010 06:54 PM

This will be a very interesting thread to follow! Obviously, to get high humidity you can't have the plants growing way above the top of the tank, so high water ripariums are out, and low height tanks are out, right?

hydrophyte 09-05-2010 08:08 PM

Hoppy, Yep, the proportions of a setup like this are such that it is probably better to use a tank that is somewhat taller than deep.

hydrophyte 09-05-2010 08:59 PM

Here is the first section.

1. Aquarium Setup and Life Support.

Aquarium Selection The most important thing to have in mind while starting with a high-humidity riparium setup is that you should plan for the tank to be nearly completely covered with a canopy. The top covering will retain the moisture that evaporates from the water's surface and maintain proper humidity levels inside. Since the tank will have a canopy, you can just place a strip light right on top, thus avoiding having to hang up a pendant light fixture, as is necessary for some other kinds of riparium setups.

Since you will need to lower the water level and still accommodate the emersed plant growth it is best to use a tank that is somewhat taller than it is deep (front-to-back). You might already have a tank setup on hand that will work very well for a high humidity setup. Here are several real good choices.
  • 20 high (24 X 12 X 16)
  • 25 gallon (24 X 12 X 20)
  • 29 gallon (30 X 12 X 18)
  • 38 gallon (36 X 12 X 20)
  • 55 gallon (48 X 13 X 20)
  • 65 gallon (36 X 18 X 24)

Notice that all of these save the 65 are 12" in the depth (front-to-back) dimension. These are very nice for crypts because most species/varieties will be able to fill into that space pretty well. You can also consider a tank 18" or more deep, but you will want to select the larger growing Cryptocoryne and Anubias to fill the background. If you wish to grow the larger Microsorum Java ferns then it would be best to use a larger tank because they can grow to a pretty massive size rather fast.

The taller 12" deep tanks (such as the 55) can be difficult to work in because there is relatively little depth to work in. However, they will function just fine with some experimentation and careful training/pruning of plants.

Aquarium Setup: The important point to have in mind while setting up the tank is that you will want to have some measure of control of ventilation, that is, the degree to which the canopy covers the top of the tank. The surest way to create a very humid environment inside of the tank is to maintain a completely covered top. However, if you do this you can expect the glass to be foggy much of the time.

I have been able to maintain high humidities inside of the riparium while also preventing glass fogging by creating a narrow gap in front of the canopy and along the front of the tank--the warm air rising slowly along the front pane of glass is usually enough to prevent fogging. I don't have a great picture to illustrate this, but you can see it pretty well in this shot...

Keep in mind that you will likely have to do some adjustment and experimentation to find the right amount of canopy cover. If you have your display in a room that has very dry air because of air conditioning, central heating or your local climate then that 1" gap shown above might be too large and cause dry conditions inside of the tank.

I have not done any careful measurements, but I get the impression that most crypts and Anubias plants require a relative humidity of about 80% or higher to grow very well in the emersed condition. To review and add a few additional points, here are several factors that I have found to be important influences on the riparium enclosure humidity and glass fogging:
  • Degree of tank canopy coverage--tighter canopy = higher humidity
  • Water temperature--warmer water = more evaporation = higher humidity
  • Air temperature inside riparium and difference with room temperature--cooler air relative to inside of tank = more glass fogging

Like I said above, you will probably need to do some experimentation and readjustment to get the correct relative humidity inside of the riparium. The best way to assess conditions is with careful observation of your plants. If there is adequate humidity in the air your emersed crypts will have attractive, erect foliage and bright colors. If the air becomes too dry, on the other hand, they will begin to loose their colors, droop and suffer burned leaf tips. Here are a couple of pictures of pretty happy emersed crypt plants from my collection...

As a final not, you might also find it useful to acquire a hygrometer with a remote sensor to place inside your riparium for accurate measurement of air relative humidity. With careful observation of your emersed plants this won't really be necessary, but it could be another fun gadget to add to your setup. :icon_wink

This post has also run long, so I will divide this topic in half and return with some ideas about Life Support. This will include a discussion about misters, a continuation of the humidity topic, as well as water filtration and water heating.

thrak76 09-05-2010 09:06 PM

This is a great resource you've started here, Hydrophyte. Thanks!

It may now be the time for me to start a riparium, as i just picked up 20H at the petco sale!

hydrophyte 09-06-2010 01:21 AM

A 20H is a real nice shape. You can get a nice little collection of crypts and other stuff going in there.

hydrophyte 09-07-2010 01:04 AM

(continued) 1. Aquarium Setup and Life Support.

(continued) Aquarium Setup:

There is one last observation that I have on tank setup. As explained above, with some adjustment and observation you can set up a high-humidity tank with minimal fogging on the front pane of glass by leaving a narrow gap in the front of the top canopy covering. The hinged glass "versa top" type canopies can be set up wit this gap very easily through simple removal of the plastic strip along the back edge. By sliding a versa top canopy with the plastic stripped removed to the back of the aquarium top, you will leave 1" or so gap there along that top front edge.

Lighting: Crypts, Anubias, Java fern and the other plants that I have grown in high-humidity ripariums all grow well with moderate light intensity. By keeping lighting brightness at a moderate level you can prevent excessive algae growth in the underwater area of your display. I have generally found a single T5 strip light with reflector to be more than adequate for this kind of riparium. Here is a picture of the display in my 55-gallon tank with one 48", 54-watt T5 strip hung as a pendant above.

I actually found this light to be a bit too bright, so I positioned it higher above the tank to slow the growth of the plants and prevent the algae growth that developed in the forn of the underwater area.

In summary, plants growing in a high-humidity setup will require only moderately bright light. While choosing a fluorescent lamp to light your tank you will do best to select one with a full-spectrum, "daylight" color temperature approximating natural sunlight. Many crypts in particular have beautifully subtle combinations of green, red, brown and metallic colors. Full-spectrum lighting will offer the best color rendering and
best display of these hues.

Filtration & water circulation: A point that I have not raised yet is that you will probably find it best to fill the tank holding your high-humidity riparium display to somewhat less than 1/2 full. A tallish aquarium filled to about 30% or 40% of total depth will still have plenty of abovewater space for the emersed plant growth. I do not recommend reversing these proportions--that is, filling to more than 1/2 full--as a tank with that much water will not have much room for the emersed plants and would probably also have less appealing proportions overall.

Canister filters are the preferred method of filtration for riapriums and other kinds of planted tanks. They are relatively unobstrusive in the display, with only the intake and return pipes in the water, can filter for long periods between cleanings, and do not cause excessive surface filtration. If you use a canister filter in a high-humidity riparium the intake and return will have to reach 10" or more to reach the water level. Depending on the make and model of your filter, you may find it necessary to retrofit the plumbing assembly. The next picture shows a simple modification that I applied to a Filstar system so that it could filter the 55-gallon setup.

I put this together with the filter's existing plumbing hardware, some 1/2" plastic irrigation pipe, flexible vinyl hose (as sleeves joining the pipes) and nylon hose clamps.

If you do not have a canister filter available you might also consider a submersible power filter or air-driven sponge filter. It might be difficult squeeze a power filter into the underwater space, but most models should fit if positioned horizontally. If you use an air-driven filter be aware that the surface agitation will cause most of the CO2 in the water column to outgas and escape, so it will not be available to underwater plants. It is generally best to use some underwater plants because their foliage will brighten the underwater area, which tends to be shaded by the emersed plant growth.

hydrophyte 09-07-2010 04:27 AM

Tomorrow I will start with the "Plant Selection" section--this will be interesting!--so watch out for that.

jreich 09-09-2010 03:31 PM

more more more please :)

Hoppy 09-09-2010 05:09 PM


Originally Posted by jreich (Post 1150465)
more more more please :)

Yes, tomorrow came and went, and is now not even still yesterday.:hihi:

I hope we can store this thread some way so it is easy to find later.

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