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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Persistent Myths about Planted Ripariums

This thread is for the discussion of several ideas about planted ripariums that aren't really representative of how they work or the best ways to plan, assemble and maintain them. I plan to raise a nuber of points and then update this first post with an index of each. Please post here if you have any questions or additional observations.

This list summarizes the main components of riparium setups and how they are put together:

  1. Taller emergent semi-aquatic plants are plented in riparium Hanging Planters, which are hung close together on the rear pane of aquarium glass.
  2. Shorter riparium midground plants are plant are planted onto riparium Trellis Rafts, which are snapped into place on the Hanging Planters
  3. As the riparium plants grow their foliage covers up the foam and plastic planters to create a natural scene.
  4. Aquarium fish with underwater plants and/or underwater hardscape complete the display for an authentic recreation of the vegetated shoreline environment.

That is beasically it. A really important idea to keep in mind about planted ripariums is that they are very simple systems. I have seen several cases where hobbyists had troubel growing their plants or making their setups look good because they were adding extra, unnecessary steps and components.



Here's the beginning of the index:

 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Myth #1 - You can put any kind of plant into a riparium with good results.

Not true! The best kinds of plants to keep in ripariums are those that are adapted to grow in the natural shoreline environment. While the banks or rivers, lakes and streams often have abundant water, sunlight and nutrients, they also pose speial problems for growing plants. A very important limiting factor for plants growing in this kind of habitat is oxygen availability around their roots. The amount of oxygen dissolved in water is limited to begin with, and where there is substantial bacterial activity (as there often is in nutrient-rich muddy sediments) it is further deprived. Plants that are evolved grow in wet marginal areas can thrive in these sorts of conditions, but most other plants will quickly suffer root death and perish if planted into a shoreline habitat, or a riparium planter.

Furthermore, plants that are evolved to grow in deserts, treetops, forests or vegetable gardens will also make a very poor representation of the riparian habitat. Don't you want your riparium to be realistic? There are hundreds of fascinating and beautiful plants that can grow in the shoreline environment--most of the underwater plants that we keep in aquariums can also grow as marginal emergent--so it is a much better idea to select among these when planning a riparium layout. You will have mcuh better results growing the plants and your setup will look much more like a real shoreline area in nature.
 

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A good analogy to that would be deep water culture hydroponics.

Actually, I take that back. Ripariums are deepwater culture hydroponics.

Herbaceous, leafy plants like lettuce usually do well in this type of system whereas tomatoes, squash, etc, will usually rot away, although they may seem to grow well initially. Sometimes "farmers" have been able to overcome this by agressively oxygenating their reservoirs via O2 injection or the addition of H2O2, but may plants just do not enjoy having "wet feet".
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
A good analogy to that would be deep water culture hydroponics.

Actually, I take that back. Ripariums are deepwater culture hydroponics.

Herbaceous, leafy plants like lettuce usually do well in this type of system whereas tomatoes, squash, etc, will usually rot away, although they may seem to grow well initially. Sometimes "farmers" have been able to overcome this by agressively oxygenating their reservoirs via O2 injection or the addition of H2O2, but may plants just do not enjoy having "wet feet".
Yep, it's definitely better to use plants that don't mind "wet feet". And those swamp/bog/riparian adapted plants will also make a much more realistic representation of that kind of habitat.

Somehow the idea got around that you can stick any kind of houseplant into a riparium planter and it will grow great. You can't!

However there are two kinds of houseplants that make especially good riparium plants:

  1. Spathiphyllum peace lilies
  2. various Pilea sp.

Both of these grow along streams in tropical forests and they prosper very well with their roots right in the water.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Quick recent picture link for a setup that is doing pretty well right now. This is the view down through the top of the 56G where I have these planted...

 

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I remember seeing a post of yours some time ago where you were growing an African mask plant in riparium. How did that ever turn out? I read up on them and saw several people advising not to over water them.
 

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Great info, as always thank you for putting this together! I am totally new to riparium's and I think what prompted me to try my hand at one is the simplicity of setting one up. It's a whole new realm for me of plant possibilities. I have been trolling pond sites to learn more about marginal plants. Where I seem to get lost is lighting and fertilizing...

Maybe it is super simple as well and I am over thinking it? What does not appear so readily is what are the lighting needs of the various plants that can be used? Along with root tabs in the hanging planters what other dosing is recommended?

Sorry if this is off of your original intent of this thread but I am curious as to your thoughts on these two topics.

Duff
 

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Myth #1 - You can put any kind of plant into a riparium with good results.

Not true! The best kinds of plants to keep in ripariums are those that are adapted to grow in the natural shoreline environment. While the banks or rivers, lakes and streams often have abundant water, sunlight and nutrients, they also pose speial problems for growing plants. A very important limiting factor for plants growing in this kind of habitat is oxygen availability around their roots. The amount of oxygen dissolved in water is limited to begin with, and where there is substantial bacterial activity (as there often is in nutrient-rich muddy sediments) it is further deprived. Plants that are evolved grow in wet marginal areas can thrive in these sorts of conditions, but most other plants will quickly suffer root death and perish if planted into a shoreline habitat, or a riparium planter.

Furthermore, plants that are evolved to grow in deserts, treetops, forests or vegetable gardens will also make a very poor representation of the riparian habitat. Don't you want your riparium to be realistic? There are hundreds of fascinating and beautiful plants that can grow in the shoreline environment--most of the underwater plants that we keep in aquariums can also grow as marginal emergent--so it is a much better idea to select among these when planning a riparium layout. You will have mcuh better results growing the plants and your setup will look much more like a real shoreline area in nature.
Would this myth depend on WHERE the plant was located?

Eg, in many paludariums, there are upland regions where non submersed tolerant plants can be placed in soil. Tillandsia species are intolerant, but are often planted. It does not imply that the plants cannot be used at all.

Only "where".
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I remember seeing a post of yours some time ago where you were growing an African mask plant in riparium. How did that ever turn out? I read up on them and saw several people advising not to over water them.
African mask plant will grow well in the water for a while, but it has an obligatory
dry dormancy period. You could use it for a period of time, but it would be important to pull it out if it starts going dormant. That plant of mine started to turn yellow and I left it in the water too long, and then the whole thing just started to rot.

There are better choices for showy riparium centerpiece plants. Cyrtosperma johnstonii is my favorite all-time riparium centerpiece and it has these amazing leaves, and it thrives in a riparium...

 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Great info, as always thank you for putting this together! I am totally new to riparium's and I think what prompted me to try my hand at one is the simplicity of setting one up. It's a whole new realm for me of plant possibilities. I have been trolling pond sites to learn more about marginal plants. Where I seem to get lost is lighting and fertilizing...

Maybe it is super simple as well and I am over thinking it? What does not appear so readily is what are the lighting needs of the various plants that can be used? Along with root tabs in the hanging planters what other dosing is recommended?

Sorry if this is off of your original intent of this thread but I am curious as to your thoughts on these two topics.

Duff
Hey you bet Duff. Please feel free to post any questions at all into this thread. Ripariums really are pretty easy to put together and manage.

There are a few different variables involved in lighting and individual situations might require a certain amount of experimentation, However I would say that it is pretty easy to illuminate a riparium setup for good plant growth and the plants might also require less intense lighting than underwater plants; since the plants are growing right in the air the light does not have to penetrate through water where it loses intensity more quickly across the depth of the setup.

For many of my setups I use 6700K HO T5 lamps in good aluminum reflectors. This is a very efficient way to light. Here is a good general idea of how many tubes will light up ripariums of various dimensions for good plant growth...

  • Aquarium 12" deep (front-to-back) e.g., 15G, 29G, 55G - ONE HO T5
  • Aquarium 18" deep (front-to-back) e.g., 40B, 50G, 75G, 90G - TWO HO T5
  • Aquarium 24" deep (front-to-back) e.g., 120G - TWO + HO T5

In regards to fertilization it is my impression that ripariums are less demanding in this regard too. It seems as though the riparium plants are less susceptible to nutrient deficiencies than underwater plants. Riparium plants tend to grow more slowly than underwater plants and I think that their tissues also have a lot more cellulose. I usually only use very casual fertilization and the plants get most of what they need from the fish waste products. However in a few cases I have observed good responses to iron dosing. Whether other nutrients would be limiting would also depend on the kind of water used in the setup. Here we have very hard tapwater with lots of minerals and I ususlaly just use straight conditioned tap. For setups with very soft water it might be necessary to add extra hardness minerals.

The riparium planter gravel helps with the plant nutrition a great deal. It is made from a baked clay, and clays have the important cation exchange capacity; they can chemically sequester nutrient ions from the water, then make them available to plant roots.

The plants that grow well on the trellis rafts (Anubias, Pilea, Fittonia, Alternanthera, Microsorum) are plants that seem to be less demanding of nutrients, so they grow very well with their roots suspended directly in the water even if the aquarium does not have careful dosing.

There are a few riparium plants that seem to respond well to some extra fertilizer buried in the planter cup. Here is a quick list...

  • Cryptocoryne
  • Echinodorus
  • mangrove trees (Avicennia, Langucularia)
  • flowering bulbs (Hymenocallis, Zephyranthes)

Extra ferts are important for getting good flowering from the bulbs. All of these plants will respond especially well with a bit of real topsoil buried in the planter cup. Here is a Crypt. wendtii 'Mi Oya'. That really went crazy in a 55G high-humidity riparium that I set up...



If you look closely you can see that there is a layer of black topsoil in the planter cup. If you use topsoil or fert pellets or tablets it is important to bury them down in the planter cup so that there is planter gravel both above and below; this will prevent the ferts from washing into the aquarium water.

Here is a capsule fert that people have used with great results...

RootMedicTM: Complete+

FOr your setup Duff I wouldn't worry too much about extra ferts right now. I would just concentrate on getting them established. The plants will actually root better if they are slightly nutrient-deprived. If later on it looks like they are limited by nutrients we should discuss that some more.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Would this myth depend on WHERE the plant was located?

Eg, in many paludariums, there are upland regions where non submersed tolerant plants can be placed in soil. Tillandsia species are intolerant, but are often planted. It does not imply that the plants cannot be used at all.

Only "where".
Ripariums and paludairums are not the same thing.

Unlike many paludarium setups, ripariums do not have any real terrestrial area, so there isn't any place to plant upland plants. You could try to squeeze in some epiphytic plants (by hanging them from something?) but it is much easier and more effective to just use the marginal aquatic plants in a riparium. There are so many choices for plants to use with the planters and you can develop a ful layout with them very well. Trying to add other elements will just complicate the effort.

With a few considerations in mind, ripariums are easy, easy, easy, easy.

Ripariums and paludariums are often conflated and I plan to treat that issue in this thread as another myth post.
 

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Myth two: Paludariums are not a type of riparium/vise versa. Enough said.


But, good thread as usual Hydrophyte. I was in the middle of writing a short article about stuff like this myself, but I see that you beat me to it!
 

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Hydrophyte - thanks! very helpful. I see you mentioned in a couple of places (possibly here or your blog - that some plants like more "root aeration" then other. It seems this would mean adding more of the clay balls and less of the gravel? What plants benefit from this - if my understanding is correct?

Also, do you find low flow or higher flow in the water area is better? I added a few floaties to my tank to see what the flow underneath is and it looks to pretty slow, turns about 3 times the volume an hour.

Do you think adding ferts once a week on a light dose would be sufficient or too much. (I do EI on my planted tanks for a 20g and thought I would do 1/4 that dose but only add it once a week, with little extra iron)

Thanks as always! At this rate I see a small pond in my back yard by next year :)
 

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Myth two: Paludariums are not a type of riparium/vise versa. Enough said.


But, good thread as usual Hydrophyte. I was in the middle of writing a short article about stuff like this myself, but I see that you beat me to it!
Okay, then how are they different again? What defines a paludarium?
You cannot define one without defining the other specifically.

A Pal has/can have some elements of a Rip and vice versa.
There is going to be dogged overlap here and this is going to get worse.

Is my tank a riparium or paludarium?



Anything above the water is terrestrial, the tank above has both of these elements. Below and above.
 

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I believe a paludarium has a portion of its footprint dedicated to land all the way to the bottom, while a riparium has water with no solid land areas that extend to the bottom...
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Sure you can have something that is a hybrid form of a riparium and a paludarium, but for the purpose of discussion it is useful to make a distinction between the two kinds of setups.

It will generally be easier to design and set up an appealing riparium if done in the standard way and without a built-up abovewater hardscape. With a built-up abovewater hardscape a riparium will lose some of the important advantageous features, especially modularity.

Without modifications a riparium will generally be best as a habitat for fish and plants. A paludarium, on the other hand, can be very good for amphibious animals if it is put together in the right way.
 
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