In the previous article in the Planted Aquarium Care series, I discussed lighting. Indeed, most aquarium plants will require the addition of high quality light bulbs (I recommended T5 fluorescent lights) and the appropriate fixtures to support those bulbs.
A quality lighting solution is needed because plants require light for the production of food and, without adequate illumination, they won’t be able to sustain normal growth. In other words, insufficient lighting results in malnourishment. Most aquarium plants shed old leaves on a regular basis, and malnourished plants are simpley not able to replace leaves lost with new foliage, resulting in an assortment of ever shrinking plants.
Generally, the more light your plants receive, the better they’ll do under your care. That said, there are a few aquarium plants that will do well under less than optimum lighting solutions. In fact, the ever growing multitude of aquarium plant species available to the hobby require varying amounts of light. Below, I will discuss some plant options for low light, medium light, and high light aquarium plants.
The most attractive and notable low light plants are the many Java Fern, Cryptocoryne (often called “Crypts”), and Anubias varieties and species. All three of these plants are a mainstay in the aquarium hobby, and all three are highly recommended for beginners. Anubias, in particular, is a very hardy and will do well under normal output fluorescent bulbs. Though Anubias grows slower than most other plant species, large specimens with broad leaves are readily available at most aquarium shops.
Medium light plants will need compact fluorescent or, better yet, T5 fluorescent lights to do well in the home aquarium. Most Sword Plants (Including the popular Amazon Sword), Banana Plants, Wisteria, and Water Sprite are among the more popular medium light specimens available. All tend to grow to a larg size, and serve as excellent mid-ground to background plants.
Surprisingly, many, if not most of the plants you’ll find at your local aquarium shop require a large amount of light supplied by multiple T5 bulbs or metal halide lights (for very tall aquariums).
Most of the plants sold as bunches (often tied by a rubber band and/or led weight) require an ample amount of light. In particular, Four Leaf Clover Plants, Dwarf Tears, Ludwiga, Moneywort, Myrio, and Rotala all need high light. Madagascar Lace and the Chain and Red Sword Plants will also do best under ample illumination.
Unfortunately, aquarium shops often keep high light plants under low light. As a result, many costumers either assume that these are low light plants, or are misinformed by ignorant sellers into believing that these plants will do well under normal output fluorescent bulbs. Just a week after taking home some Myrio or Rotala for example, misinformed customers are left with a fish tank full of withered plants, with Myrio that lacks its feathery foliage, and specimens of stemmy Rotala with heaps of decomposing leaves beneath their emaciated bodies.
My aim is not to terrify readers with images of doom. Instead, I am merely illustrating my point: keeping high light plants under normal output fluorescent bulbs is a recipe for failure. It is therefore essential to determine whether your aquarium setup will accommodate the needs of the plants you plan to keep.
Simply doing a little research prior to purchasing aquarium plants will go a long way. If your aquarium is illuminated by normal output fluorescent bulbs, some Anubias and Java Fern is a good choice. If, however, you’d like to add a Madagascar Lace accented by a carpet of Chain Swords in the foreground, you will have to invest in a more powerful lighting system (there is no way around it). And believe me, you won’t regret making the small investment in a T5 lighting fixture!
Also, keep in mind that adequate lighting is just a part of the equation. Clean water and the presence of CO2 and nutrients, including iron, are also essential for success with aquarium plants. I’ll discuss these issues in future Planted Aquarium Care 101 articles.