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Persistent Myths about Planted Ripariums

36824 Views 46 Replies 15 Participants Last post by  mistergreen
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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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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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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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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Discussion Starter · #21 ·
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?
Well there are certain plants that seem to do better with the planter filled mostly with clay pebbles. These include Spathiphyllum, Anubias and Acorus. But those plants will do fine planted the regular way too. If you ever plant that way it is important to put a good 1" cap of the finer gravel on top of the clay pebbles. Otherwise the clay pebbles will float away and the plant will tip out of the planter.

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.
I don't know. Most of my tanks only have moderate flow and everything seems fine. I would probably set it up right for the fish and the plants will be fine.
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 :)
That sounds like it would probably work well. If you have a good fish load then you might not need to add much else, although it can be helpful to add extra iron. What kind of water are you using? Do you have hard tapwater?
 

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Discussion Starter · #25 ·
These read to me like mainly scientific distinctions, when aquarium-keeping is first and foremost a hobby. I don't know if hobbyists would want to fret so much over whether a plant is technically a marsh plant, technically a swamp plant or technically a riparian plant. I have read lots and lots about these plants, including journal articles, and for many of them I still have a less than clear understanding of what their actual habitats in nature are really like. When I am planning out a setup I try to first come up with something that will have aesthetic appeal and can function as a healthy model ecosystem. Then I might also try to make a general biotope theme with plants and animals from the same general area. (But that is just me.)

I think it is a lot to ask that a planted display be such an authentic reproduction of a natural habitat, and in turn, that the terminology be so faithful to the desriptions of the natural environments. The space is just a fish tank after all which is thousands or millions of times smaller than the real ecosystem.

Considering again the hobby perspective, it is useful to use the two different terms because the basic aspects that one has to consider for setup, especially livestock and plants, are distinct for ripariums and paludariums. By explaining the differences between the two ideas it is much easier to get somebody started with a setup that will have better chance as a healthy and aesthetically appealing display.

Ripariums and (what I am calling) paludariums really are different. If you try to use riparium planters in a paludarium it will start to get in the way of the built-up hardscape and vise versa. It is better to keep the two concepts seperate (while leaving room for hybrids of the two to suit the hobbyist) and it is better to retain the two terms as hooks to hang them on.

This did not answer the question.

What is a terrestrial area? What defines that?

I'm not sure how you plan to decouple the linkage between the water and the land.

I suppose one could use the definition of the wetland soil, one that is 100% lacking in air space. So any region that has air space in the soil + some submersed growth would be defined as a paludarium?
Anything with no terrestrial root area(100% saturated sediments, water column) but emergent leaf/stem/shoot growth, would be a riparium?

Thing that bugs me is the riparium definition since is means something very different than your definition here versus the Biological side of things:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riparian_zone

It includes both zones and the transition itself, not just one, in other words, riparium would be a better descriptor than paludarium.

"Marsh or swamp" is the descriptor for paludarium. Futhermore, "Marsh" and a "swamp" are very different to a wetlands ecologist.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paludarium

It would seem more appropriate to use the term riparium for a broader range and simply do away with the paludarium term altogether. Perhaps that should be argued for rather than changing the definitions of each around.

Riparian is a river bank/stream bank, marshes are very different, but many of the plants chosen are marsh, not river plants. A few are swamp plants. Hydrophilic plants characterize these zones and not the % saturation of the sediment or submergence.

I think it would lead to much less confusion to keep the term boarder and then do away with the paludarium term, since it is less board and misnamed in general. Marsh/swamp plants really do not define what has been often called a pauldarium.
 

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Discussion Starter · #29 ·
I got the next one in mind I will write it up tomorrow but now I am tired it's time for bed.

Myth #2 - Planted ripariums are perfect habitats for turtles, frogs, crabs and other amphibious animals.
 

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Discussion Starter · #31 ·
Interesting discussion guys!

Hydrophyte - No fish yet (not sure what might be a good fit yet and I only have about 5g of water to work with) I am using treated tap water for WC's that is somewhat hard water and top off with RO water during the week to keep the TDS in check. So I am just am dosing light ferts for now.

Maybe a small school of CPD's, or a Betta or a Dwarf puffer - decisions decisions...
Yep even with a small tank like that there are so many options.

Like I mentioned you don't have to worry too much about ferts until the plants really start to grow. Light ferts sounds great for now.
 

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Discussion Starter · #37 ·
Wood is the raft;)
Ever made a raft?
Ever walked down a stream or by a lake and seen plants growing on a log?

What is a raft?

I mean really, I see little difference between these so called DIFFERENT terms here. I like Riparium personally better, but simply doing away with paludarium all the way seems better.

I mean the type of planter is what makes it different?

Are these questions unreasonable that I am asking?
They seem pretty basic and simple and I'm not getting any real support for their differences in the prior post. I'm asking some rather basic questions and suggesting Riparium seems more reasonable once you get out of the water.

Emergenariums?

Paludarium's claim to have a component of each fails as well, since many riparian systems have all of these as well, and marsh/swamps might lack much submersed growth or terrestrial aerobic sediments.

I think the name chosen was poor for paludarium, and a wiser term "Riparium" is more applied to a wide range of tanks/set ups.
You guys keep trying to say it's just a hobby and that they are different, but I see little that supports this claim or view.

I can call something anything I want, say my tank "lake-arium" and then say that it applies to all aquatic systems, which clearly it does not. Aquarium simply applies to water, so it is a better description.

Where emergent growth occurs above water, and/or terrestrial systems are linked, this seems to best describe Riparium. These are not myths or arbitrary made up stuff cause I want it to be this way, these are definitions based on the root of the word.

That is why I do not like the paludarium term and why I prefer the term, Riparium.


It's pretty simple, there's no arbitrary issues with it, it describes a wider range of habitat, you/Hydrophte coined it etc.

Why even bother trying to make a big deal about paludariums at all?
Promote this and run with it. Suggest the paludarium is not a particularly descriptive word. Planters may make the hobby easier, but they do not define a habitat. Likewise, terrestrial planters still have some linkage with the water table. So the crown of the plant where the stem/root connect might help when it comes to the submersed, emergent etc.

The plants I have in my tank have roots way around the water, but are fed indirectly by the moss.

The wood acts as a natural raft.

This is something one might see along a creek which I would refer to as a riparian zone.
What do you really mean with all of this? Do you have some other agenda or motive in mind? How are you going to stop people from using the word paludarium? Who says that the elements and functioning of a model ecosystem display necessarily has to be so loyal to anything in nature? Hundreds of thousands of hobbyists who keep their dart frogs in planted enclosures refer their setups as "vivariums". Should this term be discarded because their is no such thing as a wild ecosystem called a "vive"? How would a change like that ever be enforced and why should it be changed if the description serves very well.

By the way, most of the dart frog vivariums that I have ever seen bear little resemblance to anything that I have seen in anture. Most of them have been filled mainly with plants that grow in treetops, but attached to a 3D background that is more like a rock wall, and with animals that in the wild live on the flat rainforest floor. They look plenty nice though and the plants and animals can be very happy inside.

It is good to have agreed-upon terms to distinguish between ripariums and what I am calling paludariums because the basic elements of setup are distinct and the kinds of living things that make the best inhabitants are distinct...

  • Ripariums are mainly for fish and plants.
  • Paludariums are mainly for amphibious animals and plants, and maybe also fish.
Swamps are wetlands with lots of trees. The setup that you linked the pictures for--which looks to me like a cross between what I am calling a riparium and what I am calling a paludarium--has plants growing adhered to the manzanita sticking out of the water. Of the places that I have been in nature the feature that I have seen that most resembled this kind of growth are floating logs in the backwater swamps along the Mississippi River that by the end of the summer are covered with thick growth of Eleocharis acicularis and other little plants. Assuming that my observation is representative--I'm not claiming that it is--and applying your reasoning then shouldn't you call that a paludarium? The logs growing along the edges of streams and rivers, the riparian zone, tend to grow less plants like that because the water level fluctuates more and because the flowing water tends to scour plants from hard surfaces
 

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Discussion Starter · #38 ·
OK I have some observations on this one...

Myth #2 - Planted ripariums are perfect habitats for turtles, frogs, crabs and other amphibious animals.

You could maybe keep fully aquatic herps OK in a riparium, but anything that might climb would not be good for the riparium plants. Most of those plants that grow on the rafts have fine, thin stems and it is easy to knock them over. A lot of the best plants to put in the planters are similarly flimsy. Crypts can grow into really impressive emersed riparium specimens, but the stems are so soft that any animal larger than a small insect would just flatten them out.

There is not any real land area in a riparium, so there is not good place for herps to bask. One could include a shelf or flaoting island or something like that, but those feaures would just get in the way of the riparium planters. To get a good-looking planting it is usually necessary to fill most of that whole real rear pane of glass with planters + plants.

There so-o-o-o-o-o-o many different options to explore for fish stocking. You can make a really engaging display with some nice active fish to go with the riparium plants. It appears to me that some hobbyists get really stuck on the idea of keeping herps in a riparium because their own frame of reference is mainly with the vivarium setups used with dart frogs and other herps, which might be the only similar kind of setup that they have seen. I once had a discussion with somebody who insisted that I should put some dart frogs into a large open-top riparium filled with plants, and robust cichlids and livebearers. Dart frogs would have just drowned in that tank. The fish probably would have eaten their legs off. I thought that the setup looked nice just the way it was, but that guy could not shake that idea.

If you want to keep amphibious animals with plants, then something more like a regular paludarium setup with a built-up hardscape would be a better idea. However, as mentioned earlier something like a hybrid setup with the right riparium plants might also work OK for amphibious animals. I have pondered setting up the mangrove planting that I have going in a 65 for mudskippers, but I decided to use other fish instead. Most of the plants in there are are upright and sturdy, and it wouldn't be hard to make some good areas for the mudskippers to climb around by adding some more big manzanita stumps to the water. You could also probably make a nice hybrid setup for turtles if you were to forego the trellis raft and just select some really big and sturdy peace lilies in planters to put on one side of the tank, then positioned a floating basking platform on the other side. It might be hard to get a layout like that to look totally natureal, but the plants would add some nice greenery and help to keep the water clean.
 

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Discussion Starter · #39 ·
Just for reference, here are some water-associated herps that somebody listed in response to my post on another forum, from member Groundhog...

--Small pipids, e,g. Hymenochirus
--Reed frogs
--Theloderma sp.
--Bombina sp.
--Floating frogs
--Certain newts
--Dwarf sirens
--Water skinks

Etc?!?
A lot of these get pretty big and as described above they probably wouldn't be so compatible with riparium plants. I have wondered about reed frogs (Hyperolius sp.). Most of them are very small and some are supposedly almost entirely arboreal, so they might stay up in the foliage more and not really require a basking area.
 

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Discussion Starter · #41 ·
Myth #3 - Riparium plants require CO2 injection for vigorous growth.

The emersed aquatic plants in a riparium will be able to uptake more than enough carbon dioxide from the air, where it is normally many times more available than in water. There is no need to inject extra CO2 for riparium plants. I have seen a couple of riparium setups that used CO2 injection for underwater foreground plants. However, I have never tried this and I would be disinclined to do it. For the setups where I have used underwater plants I have included low tech selections (swords, crypts, Anubias, Java fern) that grew very well without any extra carbon dioxide. By installing a CO2 system one would be losing out in part on the beneficial low input and cost-saving features of planted riparium.

Another tack that one could apply for the underwater area would be to use no plants there at all and instead develop a compelling underwater layout with a well-rendered hardscape, high-quality natural gravel and active fish display.

A related idea is the use of high-nutrient substrates for the underwater plants in a riparium, such as mineralized topsoil mixes with top dressings of other gravel substrates. I think that this would also be overkill in most cases. Topsoil plant substrates might be best used where underwater plant nutrient demands are very high, as with the use of bright lighting and CO2 injection. If planted into a riparium the underwater plants will usually be less demanding. The emersed riparium plants can throw a lot of shade on the underwater area and in a fully-planted riparium there will only be spaceand light for underwater plants up in the front 1/2 or 1/3 of tank depth. It is usually a better idea to select low tech underwater plants and feed them with some water column dosing or tablet or capsules fertilizers, rather than setting up a more complicated layered substrate.

Check out RootMedic.com for excellent aquarium plant fert products at great prices.
 

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Discussion Starter · #43 ·
KISS - Keep It Simple Silly... I have to admit that this is the part I like the best about Ripariums - all my other tanks need so much love compared to my little riparium
Yep riparium setups are ideally nice and simple.
As usual, I have a somewhat off-this-topic questions, For plants on rafts and in planters:

1) do the roots need to be trimmed? How often? Beneficial/Harmful?
Sometimes the roots will grow from the bottoms of the planters and get pretty long, but it is fine to trim them.
2) In doing so, is the effect like bonsai - resulting in smaller growth/ controlled growth?
Shorter roots might slow the plant down a bit, but not too much.
3) Is replanting of the planters suggested after a period of time, say in a year or more? (add root tabs - trim roots etc?)
That depends. Most kinds of riparium plants can stay in the planters for a quite a long time...a whole year or more. If you have a clumping or rhizomatous plant you might however want to knock it out of the planter to divide so that you can have more. I often do this with crypts because they can grow into really dense clumps with lots of shoots in the planter. Some plants will get to be very root-bound in the planters, but most do not seem bothered by this at all. There is however one kind of plant that grows such dense roots that it can start to bend the sindes of the planter. The Cyperus that I use a lot grows a lot of hairy roots and it might be a good idea to repot it before it gets really big. Otherwise it is just hard to get it our of the planter.
Thank you Hydrophyte, as always for the great information!

Duff
You bet!
 
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