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hydrophyte 09-11-2010 05:24 PM

Proven Riparium Plant Combinations
Proven Riparium Plant Combinations: 3 Winning Layout Ideas

I have heard lots and lots of questions about which kinds of plants to grow in ripariums. Naturally, plant selection is an important first step in planning and developing a healthy and attractive riparium layout. The following list offers three important features of useful above water riparium plants:
  1. Adaptability to riparium conditions
  2. Appropriate size and shape for aquarium enclosures
  3. Visual appeal in combination with other plants.

Point #1 is the most important to consider when choosing a plant. The best riparium plants are those that grow in very moist or wet conditions out in their natural habitats. These might include the edges of streams or rivers, marshy edges of lakes or swampy locations in the forest. Since their roots will be underwater in the riparium display, they must be able to tolerate the much-reduced oxygen levels and other special conditions of saturated soils in the root zone. Succulents and cactuses, which grow in arid environments, and epiphytes (including most kinds of orchids), which grow in the tops of trees, are two large groups that need a well-oxygenated and are poor choices for ripariums. If planted in the water these kinds of plants will probably suffer root death very quickly and expire soon thereafter.

With this important limitation in mind, you can expect to find many suitable riparium candidates among aquarium plants that can grow well in emersed conditions. These include most Cryptocoryne, Anubias, Echinodorus, Microsorum and many kinds of aquarium stem plants, among others. Plants grown in garden ponds include many other promising choices, but as indicated in point #2 above, it is important to keep the proportions of these selections in mind. Many pond plants, such as canna lilies (Canna) and pickerel rush (Pontederia) grow too large to keep in most aquariums aquarium and are much better for growing outside. There are also a number of common houseplants that originate from wet places in tropical forests and are useful riparium choices. These include peace lilies (Spathiphyllum), dumb cane (Dieffenbachia) and pilea (Pilea), along with several others.

Choose a Theme

With so many potential plants to use in a planted riparium layout it can become overwhelming to select a group of plants that will look good together, the point presented as #3 in the list above. I have planned and put together a number of riparium layouts and the strategy that I have found to work best is to choose a theme that combines just a few plants having proportions, colors, textures and shapes that work well to gether for visual appeal. A much less successful kind of planting is one that uses a different kind of plant in every riparium planter. A layout with too many different kinds of plants will just present a confusing display to the viewer--it will not make a visual impact.

Having this important idea in mind, I plan to fill the rest of this thread with descriptions and discussion on three especially successful riparium plant combinations that I have discovered along with other hobbyists:
  1. A layout with Cyperus umbrella sedges and carpeting stem plants
  2. A layout with Spathiphyllum peace lilies, Pilea and other tropical forest plants
  3. A layout with Acorus sweetflag along with other selections as visual accents

For each of these suggested combinations, the first plant mentioned is planted in several riparium planters, fills much of the above water part of the layout and functions as the dominant kind of background foliage. I intend to discuss each layout idea with one or two posts. Please post into this thread if you have any questions or comments.

Naturally, some mention should also be made of underwater plant selections. In general, the underwater plants, hardscape and fish selections should also function in a visually harmonious manner with the above water riparium layout.

Hoppy 09-11-2010 08:52 PM

I think the day may come when I try to design my riparium layout, instead of just putting some interesting plants together until they look good to me. Unfortunately I'm not at all sure I have the talent to do that - I also can't sing.

hydrophyte 09-11-2010 08:56 PM

Well a wild jungle of plants can look pretty good too, but it seems to me that it is harder to pull off than a layout with a pretty strong theme and a few dominant plants.

hydrophyte 09-14-2010 04:00 PM

1. A layout with Cyperus umbrella sedges and carpeting stem plants

Cyperus plants: Plants in the genus Cyperus are known as papyruses or umbrella sedges. Most grow in moist marsh or shoreline situations and the several hundred different species are distributed all over the world. Thus, they can be used to recreate the look of many kinds of riparian habitats in a planted riparium. Although grass-like in appearance, they belong to the sedge family (Cyperaceae). An aquarium Cyperus, C. helferi is one of the few fully aquatic members of the genus. For such a large group fo plants there seem to be relatively few in use in horticulture. Here are the three different ones that I have tried in planted ripariums:
  • Cyperus alternifolius var. gracilis
  • C. involucratus 'Baby Tut'
  • C. albostriatus

These varieties/species are most commonly used as pond marginals, although they also perform well as houseplants in sunny windows and as annual bedding plants in sites with plenty of moisture. This rather dark picture shows C. alternifolius var. gracilis. Notice that the stems are leafless around the base and with a whorl or leaves at the top. This kind of foliage is typical for most kinds of Cyperus.

Aside from being more or less representative of many kinds of water-associated habitats, Cyperus plants have a number of other compelling features. The ones that I have tried have all grown very well under fluorescent lighting and they do not seem to demand careful fertilization. They grow into nice, sturdy plants that add vertical dimension to the riparium layout. Significantly, a mature Cyperus has many fine grass-like leaves, so it will fill a good deal of space without throwing a lot shade. An especially appealing way to use these plants is in combination with sprawling emersed aquatic stem plants--even with the Cyperus growing as tall background subjects there can still be plenty of light left over to support a dense "lawn" of stem plants. This picture shows C. involucratus 'Baby Tut" along with a few other tall plants in a 120-gallon riparium and with a dense growth of Bacopa sp. covering much of the water's surface.

Here you can see a similar effect in a 50-gallon riparium layout with Cyperus alternifolius var. gracilis and various stems growing beneath.

Cyperus have extensive root systems and are best planted into a riaprium hanging planter with a fine clay gravel substrate. They will really appreciate root feeding with a root tab fertilizer, such as the RootMedic Complete-Original capsule.

The only major drawback of using umbrella sedges in ripariums is that there is a limited availability of shorter-statured varieties. Of the ones that I listed above, the shortest is C. albostriatus, which grows to about 14" tall. Cyperus alternifolius var. gracilis can reach to 30" tall, a height that requires hanging the aquarium lighting pretty high above the tank. When I have seen it growing outdoors C. involucratus 'Baby Tut' develops as a compact plants about 20" tall, but under fluorescent lights it eventually grows to more than 36". It only looked very good in the 120-gallon setup shown above because the water level in that tank is lowered to about 40% of the total depth.

Cyperus albostriatus is apparently less tolerant of fully-saturated soils than mainy of its relatives. I have had the best luck growing this plant in ripariums by raising the planter cup up so that its top rim is about 1" above the water's surface. Here is a picture of this plant used pretty well in a 15-gallon riparium.

Carpeting emersed aquatic stem plants: Here is a preferred way to plant carpeting stem plants for this kind of layout. These Bacopa sp. stems are planted into a hanging planter and will be trained to grow across the attached ripariumtrellis raft.

As they begin growth the stems will quickly start to grow across the foam trellis raft. You can encourage a dense, thick carpet that will hide the foam and plastic parts be pruning the growing tips of the stems as they reach beyond the raft. This next shot shows that same kind of Bacopa after it has grown into a dense carpeting lawn of foliage.

All of the emersed aquarium stem plants that I have tried have also done best with a rich, fine clay gravel substrate.

I occurs to me that I have not mentioned specific ideas for stem plants to use with this kind of layout. This post has run long, so I will return with another shorter entry and some additional notes one stems.

snausage 09-15-2010 12:29 AM

Very intelligent and constructive post.

I don't want to sidetrack the post, but I've been meaning to ask you if you know of any really good books about raising regular terrestrial houseplants that doesn't focus on hydroponics. I have a volume of the "House Plant Expert," but it's more of a small sized coffee table book; it contains lots of beautiful photos but not much practical pith. I borrowed a book from the library published by Ortho and it was far better, but still not what I'm really looking for.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated

hydrophyte 09-15-2010 01:54 AM

I have looked around, but never seen any really great recent books about houseplants. I bet that you could find better stuff with older books and out of print stuff. It seems that houseplants aren't so popular like they used to be. People are just as happy to have plastic plants anymore.

However, there is a blog mainly about houseplants that gets frequent updates and has a mountain of detailed practical information. Here is the link to Plants are the Strangest People.


hydrophyte 09-19-2010 02:51 AM

(continued) 1. A layout with Cyperus umbrella sedges and carpeting stem plants)

(continued) Carpeting emersed aquatic stem plants: To summarize what I have observed for potential carpeting emersed stems in a riparium I would just say that there are many possibilities. It seems that there are constantly new stem plant species and varieties becoming available in the hobby and most of them can be grown emersed. Of the ones that I have tried the Bacopa shown above has performed the best. It develops a strong root system in the planter cup and with some pruning and fertilization it quickly covers the riparium trellis rafts and planters with a dense carpet of foliage. I still don't know which species it is(?). It looks a lot like like Bacopa monnieri, but the leaves are a lighter green color and about twice as large. B. monnieri also works well as a carpeting stem, but this other NOID Bacopa grows about twice as fast.

There are a few additional specific plant selections that I should mention. I had very good luck with the Limnophila aromatica that I grew in a 50-gallon riparium layout. This plant was rather slow-growing as emersed foliage, but had such a nice effect.

It also bloomed for me.

In addition to Bacopa and Limnophila, other kinds of aquarium plants that you might try growing as carpeting emersed riparium stem include the following:
  • Alternanthera
  • Ammania
  • Hemianthus
  • Hygrophila
  • Hydrocotyle
  • Ludwigia
  • Lysimachia
  • Proserpinaca

Some of these groups include sizable numbers of species and varieties. There are doubtless a number of other groups with selections that will work with this kind of riparium culture.

It 's not actually an emersed aquatic--it can't grow underwater--but Wedelia trilobata is another plant that I have grown rooted in a riparium hanging planter, and trained to grow across a trellis raft. In nature it inhabits wet areas such as swamps and riverbanks where it grows as a sprawling vine covering the moist ground. It will bloom in a riparium with these bright yellow sunflowers.

Wedelia trilobata is a large, coarse plant that should be planted in a roomy riparium. I had some going in a 120-gallon riparium some time ago.

A few additional cultural notes on growing emersed riparium stems come to mind. It is my impression that they are best grown in open-top ripariums with pretty good air circulation, rather than high-humidity setups. Once adapted to emersed growth most stem plants should grow well in moderate air humidities. I suspect that if grown in a high-humidity setup many stems would just become too leggy and flimsy to create a good effect. As mentioned earlier, carpeting riparium stems also need to have pretty bright light. If shaded too much from above they will just reach out into the tank midground and have a thin, spindly appearance. For this reason again they are excellent matches for Cyperus umbrella sedges because the open foliage of those plants allows plenty of light to penetrate.

Remember also the importance of pruning the growing tips of the plant stems. I try to prune stems when they grow to beyond about 1" from the edge of the trellis raft. This encourages stem branching and the development of a dense green carpet very similar to the kind of streamside vegetation often seen in the wild. The next picture shows some Bacopa stems shortly after planting. The leaves of this plant shoudl eventually form a dense carpet that will completely hide the trellis raft and hanging planter from view.

To wrap up this thread I include a shot here that shows some more of the variety of stem plants that can potentially grow in a riparium. I had these little arrangent growing in a 15-gallon riparium setup.

hydrophyte 09-21-2010 05:41 PM

A lot of these aquarium stem plants are pretty easy to bloom in a riparium. Here is the flower of Hygrophila corymbosa 'Siamensis'.

This one flowers non-stop in my 50-gallon setup.

snausage 09-23-2010 06:52 PM

Wow, I never knew Hygro's could flower.

Thanks a lot for recommending plantsarethestrangestpeople. That's a great site for info and entertainment.

Da Plant Man 09-23-2010 10:36 PM


Originally Posted by PATSP
I remind the reader also that Aloe vera will be useful during the zombie apocalypse, mostly for those whose zombie-proofing includes flamethrowers. And even without zombies, any apocalypse is going to be hell on the skin. Can't hurt to have a couple Aloe veras around.


hydrophyte 09-23-2010 10:50 PM

Yeah he has cheeky remarks all over the place.

But I guess that the plant information is more or less factual.

problemman 09-23-2010 11:19 PM

Re: Proven Riparium Plant Combinations
I love that u did this for people like me just starting too think of anew tank idea. If you could add more plants to help is pic more out this would be great

Sent from my DROIDX using Tapatalk

hydrophyte 09-24-2010 03:46 AM

OK I hope to pretty put together the post about using Spathiphyllum and other tropical-looking plants. I'll list additional suggestions there.

For the above idea the best ones that I have tried are those Cyperus that I list and various stems, especially that Bacopa.. There are various others that you can add as accents, but those ones work the best for the foundation of the whole layout.

hydrophyte 09-25-2010 02:11 AM

I should have #2 ready here in an hour or so.

hydrophyte 09-25-2010 03:44 AM

2. A layout with Spathiphyllum peace lilies, Pilea and other tropical forest plants

Spathiphyllum peace lilies: Peace lilies are a group of plants from tropical Central America and South America plants that are widely used as houseplants. The genus Spathiphyllum includes 40+ species, but most peace lilies used as houseplants are hybrids (crosses between two or more different species) are selected for large and long-lasting blooms. The peace lily flower is comprised of a large white spathe and other floral parts. Most peace lilies have attractive, if rather plain, dark green foliage of sturdy, oval leaves. Most or all of the wild species plants live in areas with moist to wet soil, so they are preadapted to riparium conditions. Some wild Spathiphyllum live right in swamps or along the edges of streams.

The picture here shows a slice of a riparium planting (just two plants) in a 20-gallon tank. The larger green background plant is a Spathiphyllum peace lily.

Peace lilies are especially useful in ripariums for developing most of the above water background area. Their dark green foliage is a neutral base against which plants of other colors are accented very well. They are overall quite hardy in riparium conditions and easy to adapt and establish in riparium planters. One could even argue that a riparium is a superior kind of way to enjoy peace lilies. When grown as houseplants in regular potting media peace lilies must be kept slightly moist at all times or they will quickly decline, but if kept too wet they can often develop root rot. I have observed no such trouble with peace lilies in ripariums, and my plants have been willing re-bloomers too. The abundant light, water and nutrients in a planted riparium encourages good growth and flowering.

The picture below shows the best method that I have found for planting peace lilies in riparium planters. Despite their origins as plants growing in areas with wet soil, most peace lilies seem to do best with good water diffusion (and presumably good aeration) around their roots. Thus, it is preferred to fill most of the planter cup with hydroton clay pebbles, which have sizable voids between their large round grains. The roots of this plant were first washed clean, then trimmed to about 1 1/2" inches long. Holding the plant in place with one hand, I filled around the roots with hydroton to about 3/4" from the top of the cup, then filled the rest of the way with a finer clay gravel. This clay gravel cap is important as it hides the rather unnatural looking hydroton from view and prevents it from floating out of the planter, secures the plant in place and provides some nutrients to the plant via its cation exchange capacity. Notice that I filled with the clay gravel all the way to the top of the planter in order to better obscure the plastic planter rim and maximize the space inside of the planter cup.

Peace lilies are generally easy find in any kind of store that sells houseplants or flowers and they are usually affordably priced. A pot with peace lilies can contain numerous divisions, so after washing away the existing potting media and pulling the individual plantlets apart you might have enough from a single purchase to plant up your whole riparium background. When shopping for peace lilies I would suggest careful comparison and selection of plants for their foliage characteristics. Some varieties can grow quite large (to >36" tall) while others stay much smaller. Semi-dwarf varieties that can work especially well for medium to small ripariums include 'Allison' and 'Petite'. A white-variegated cultivar, 'Domino', will contrast nicely if planted among other plain green peace lilies, as will the yellow-green 'Golden Glow', shown below.

I will cover additional points related to this layout type in one or two additional posts.

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