plants benefit your aquariums and
dwarf cichlids in many ways.
They improve your
water quality by providing excellent
surfaces that can be colonized by beneficial nitrifying bacteria.
They directly remove some compounds from the water.
types can act as efficient particulate filters that help keep water
crystal clear. Besides water quality live plants can be a great help in
providing quality habitat. Plants can be used to provide the
complexity that dwarf cichlids need to feel secure. They also
provide a rich environment for the microorganisms that young fish feed
upon. Many plants are eaten by fish either intentionally
or incidentally as they sift through the substrate looking for food.
They also provide the overhead cover that makes dwarfs feel
secure. In the wild many dangers come at the fish from
so they are especially attuned to threats from above. Good
planting will provide a sense of security from any real or imagined
overhead threats. Besides providing overhead cover the plants
will cut the amount of light that penetrates and most dwarfs prefer
Despite all of these great benefits many
keep live plants in their tanks. Although some have
reasons for not using live plants, it is my experience that most
people just don't think they can keep plants alive in their
Of course, I disagree. The conditions we create
fish are great conditions for many different plants and I believe that
any successful dwarf cichlid keeper can succeed with at least some
plants can be very
simple or very complex. From simply sticking some plants in
tank to setting up elaborate systems with CO2 injection and high output
lights there is a level of keeping plants that will appeal to every
fish keeper. I always tell people that the reason we keep
fish is to find some satisfaction for ourselves so we each need to find
what gives us the most enjoyment and pursue it. I
have the same philosophy about growing plants and, although I love a
beautifully landscaped show tank, I much prefer to keep a tank thick
with easy to grow plants.
Basically I am a lazy plant tender and I want
that I don't have to pay much special attention to. I will
never try to change my water for the plants so they must thrive or at
least tolerate soft
fairly acid water. They must be adaptable to fairly
light levels and must do well in the upper 70F degree range
Fortunately there are lots of plants that will so well in
conditions. I have usually have six or seven different types
of plants growing in my tanks. I have a simple method for
selecting the species I keep. I buy different kinds and try
to grow them. If they grow and reproduce I keep growing them and if
they die then I don't. While this might sound obvious, I have
found it works very well for me as I now have a number of reliable
plants that always produce a surplus. Here are a few of my
Water Sprite Ceratopteris
I could only have one plant for my tanks it would be
water sprite. This is an amazingly versatile plant that can
grown as a floating or rooted plant. It has a delightful
light green color and thrives in soft acid water. It does
well in varying light conditions. In low light it generally does quite
well but growth can slow. Under bright lighting water sprite
can grow very rapidly. Water sprite reproduces by budding
smaller plants from its leaf margins. These tiny plants will
continue to grow until the mature leaf dies and disintegrates.
A single plant can produce hundreds of smaller plants and it is
possible to cultivate a lot of water sprite in a short time. However,
as with most fast growing plants, water sprite is short lived and the
soft leaves gradually die off.
I use water sprite as both a floating and a rooted plant.
Since it grows quickly I use it a lot to create dense plantings in
newly set up tanks. Typically every tank in my fish room will
have a covering layer of water sprite. In some tanks the plants will be
lightly distributed while in others there will be a layer of plants
that is several inches thick. The floating water sprite
develops an extensive root system that hangs below and provides great
benefits to the tank and its inhabitants. Individual water
sprite plants can grow very large. I have often had single
floating plants with leaves touching each end of a 4ft tank.
Given ideal conditions I have no idea how large they could
get but in every aquarium they are always growing and each new leaf is
larger and stronger than the previous.
The floating water sprite with their
large flowing roots are perfect for anchoring to the bottom of the
tank. You can plant them directly in the substrate but if you
do so be very careful not to bury the crown of the roots.
They will do best if they have at least an inch of their
roots exposed. Water sprite roots do not do very well buried
in the substrate and often they will very slowly rot away.
However, often a few roots will continue to hold the plant in
place. I think it is better to anchor the plants down with
rocks placed on their roots. I take the plant and wrap the
roots around a small rock and carefully place it on the tank bottom.
The plants thrive this way and by leaving the roots exposed
I gain all of the benefits they provide. It is easy to move
these types of anchored plants and they will work great in a bare
bottom tank or one with little substrate.
Java Moss Vesicularia dubyana
Java Moss is the second most valuable
plant for me.
This is a moss and not a plant and it grows in stingy stands of finely
leaved stems that grow together into a mass of vegetation. This is a
wonderful plant to have in every tank as it provides great browsing
surfaces for fry and small fish as well as providing additional
complexity and filtration. Java moss grows in most water conditions and
once established will need regular trimming to insure that it does not
get too thick.
is found throughout Southeast Asia and there are more than a hundred
and twenty five species in the genus but only a couple are aquatic.
Java Moss reproduces easily as any small piece will gradually begin to
grow. It can be easily torn apart or trimmed with scissors. I use this
in every tank in some fashion. It is great to use to reinforce line of
sight barriers in the tank. I rarely see Java Moss offered for sale in
shops but it is easily available on the Web.
Java Fern Microsorium pteropus
The Java Fern is a great plant for dwarf
tanks. It is incredibly hardy and will do well in any water that is
wet. They are slow growing but require very little light. They do not
need to be planted and I don't know of any fish that will eat them.
This is a true fern that grows from a rhizome that creeps along the
bottom as new leaves grow from its end. Individual leaves can get quite
large measuring up to 15 inches or more in length. However leaves of
this size are generally found only on old plants that have been
undisturbed for some time.
Java Fern is very easy to reproduce. Older leaves will spontaneously
generate adventitious plantlets from the ends of the leaves. These tiny
plants will slowly grow to be recognizable small plants and can be
removed and attached elsewhere to grow into full sized plants. Another
method of reproduction is to divide the rhizome into segments. This
will result in a number of plants from one and all should thrive.
Many of the different species of Cryptocoryne
make great additions to a dwarf cichlid tank. I have a couple of
different species that thrive for me. Over the years these particular
forms seems to do well in my conditions and I have tanks that are
chocked with them. Crypts have extensive root systems and need a decent
substrate to root in. I have kept them in some marginal conditions over
the years, including in bare bottom tanks, and they have always
survived but they will certainly do best if provided a decent substrate.
I grow my Crypts in two way; planted
directly in the
substrate and planted in containers. When I plant them in the substrate
I generally like to have at least and inch and a half of substrate and
preferably more. As I only keep a few tanks with that much gravel I
mostly plant in containers. I use all kinds of different containers for
them. Regular clay flower pots work great and the plants love them. My
problem is that putting them in a pot of that shape raise them up 4 -6
inches and most of my tanks are shallow making this impractical.
Instead I use shallow containers that will hold about 2
gravel. My best source for these containers is the bakery section of
the grocery store where there are a myriad of different products
offered in clear plastic containers.
reproduce by sending out shoots from their roots. these shoots are
quite aggressive and I have often had them grow out of the hole in the
bottom of a clay pot. Normally they will form a mass of intertwined
roots and shoots in the container. The plants do great in these
conditions but when you finally try to separate them it can be very
hard. A couple of general "rules" about Crypts are that they don't do
well with a lot of disturbance. I believe this is true but not
absolute. A second "rule" is that at some point you will experience
situations where all of their leaves will just seem to melt away. I
have had this happen but it is very rare for me. However, the
literature is full of warnings about this.
Pygmy Chain Sword Echinodorus tenellus
I usually have this plant growing in a
tanks that are set up for long term use. It takes a bit to get going
but once it starts sending out runners the entire bottom of the tank
can quickly be covered by a mat of swords. This makes an almost
impossible labyrinth from which to net an elusive Apisto so you want to
avoid this plant in a set up where you will need to frequently remove
just plant the roots into any decent substrate and give them enough
light. These do need a little more light than some of the
plants I have featured but the are not a high light demanding plant.
Rather, they prefer a moderate light and will survive but not thrive if
in low light situations like a tank that has a heavy cover of water
sprite. As mentioned, they reproduce by sending out runners. Once a
plant has a couple of sets of leaves it can be separated from the
Just a few of the great plants you can use in your dwarf cichlid
aquarium. I have had good experiences with several of the different
Anubias species as well as with Wisteria, Riccia,
and several swords. Of course, duck weed is an option if you don't have
anything else. It will quickly cover the top of the tank providing
shade and water filtration. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to
get rid of once it is established so be sure you want it before you get
it. Be careful if you shop is a store that has it floating in their
tanks as it can easily come home with a fish purchase.
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