Aquascaping

Azolla Aquascape

When you are furnishing and planting an aquarium - a pursuit appropriately known as 'aquascaping' - yourfirst considerations must centre around the position of the tank in the room and its size and accessibility.

Viewpoint and site

Most aquariums are viewed from the front and sides only, with the back against a wall. As a variation on this theme, the tank can be let into a wall or partition, with only the front panel exposed. Alternatively, used as a room divider, an aquarium may have the two long sides and one end on show. And to take things to their logical conclusion, an aquarium may well occupy a central position and be viewed from all round. Remember

Below: This beautifully furnished freshwater tropical aquarium provides an excellent focal point in the room, a fitting reward for hard work.

that all these possibilities demand a different approach when it comes to aquascaping and you should tailor the general advice given here to fit your chosen site and position.

When selecting an aquarium, do bear in mind that it will prove difficult to plant up tanks over 60cm (24in) deep by hand.

Essential planning

Before doing anything else, draw up a plan of how you see the finished aquarium in your mind's eye. It is rather like planning a garden, only on a smaller scale. You do not need to be an artist to prepare a simple sketch -ideally in plan and front views. Look up the size and shape of the plants you consider suitable (see pages 59-113) and draw in the areas they will occupy in relation to the 'hard' furnishings in the aquarium.

To help you make a sensible choice, aquarium plants can be

Riccia Drawing Pictures With Markings

classified according to their form, size and growing characteristics into the following categories:

Floating plants: These, as their name suggests, float on or just below the water surface. Many contain spongy air-filled cells that provide the necessary buoyancy. Some have long roots that hang down in the water that serve as spawning sites for fishes and as refuges for the resulting fry. All floating plants afford shade to the other plants and fishes in the aquarium. The floating plants featured in this book are: Limnobium laevigatum, Pistia stratiotes, Riccia fluitans and Salvinia auriculata.

Bunch plants: So-called because they are best planted in 'bunches' of rootless top cuttings (see page 52), these plants root in the substrate and grow towards the surface without any definite limit to their spread. They consist of long stems with the leaves arranged in opposition, alternately or in whorls, and they are ideal for planting as a background in the aquarium. Typical bunch plants featured include: Ammannia senegalensis, Bacopa caroliniana, Cabombacaroliniana, Cardamine lyrata, Egeria densa, Gymnocoronis spilanthoides. Heteranthera zosterifolia, Hottoniainflata, Hygrophilapolysperma, Limnophila aquatica, Ludwigiamullertii, Myriophyllum hippuroides, Nomaphila stricta, Rotala macrandra, Synnema triflorum and Trichoronis rivularis.

Specimen plants: Normally large and imposing, these species are usually planted in the middleground of the aquarium to create a striking design feature. Most plants used as specimens produce leaves in a rosette formation. Typical examples featured in Part Two of the book include: Aponogeton crispus, A.madagascariensis. A.ulvaceus, Barclaya longifolia, Echinodorus cordifolius, Echinodorus major and Echinodorus paniculatus.

Deep marginal plants: These plants grow from bulbs, corms or tubers, and produce long stems bearing terminal leaves. Some leaves float on the surface; others are completely submerged. Use these plants in the middleground, background or in the back corners of the aquarium. The water lilies Nymphaea maculata and Nymphaea stellata, plus some of the Aponogetons, can be considered as deep marginal plants.

Middleground plants: Generally in the form of rosettes, these plants are similar to but smaller than specimen plants. Many Cryptocorynes fit into this category.

Right: A selection of simulated rocks and logs suitable for the aquarium.

1 Hollowed tree trunks for hiding heaters and filters in the corners.

2 Curved pieces for terracing.

3 A rock cluster with space for a plant pot. 4 A simulated cave, useful as a territorial or breeding refuge.

5 A twisted log with split for planting.

6 Small branches to fill odd spaces.

Below: A selection of natural furnishing materials for the aquarium. 1 Stratified rock. 2 Purple slate. 3 Cornish bogwood. 4 Brazilian bogwood. 5 Quartz-bearing rock. 6 Iron-bearing rock. 7 Pebbles of various size, shape and colour. 8 Baked clay aggregate. Be sure to wash bogwood thoroughly before use and do not introduce rocks that may upset the pH value and/or hardness of the water.

Foreground plants: These small plants for the front of the tank may be miniature rosette-forming species, such as Cryptocoryne nevilliiand dwarf varieties of Cryptocoryne wendtii or plants with creeping rootstocks such as Lilaeopsis novae-zelandiae and Marsilea crenata. Other foreground plants featured in the species section of the book include: Anubias nana, Armoracia aquatica, Blyxa japónica, Eleocharis acicularis, Hydrocotyle vulgaris and Samolus parviflorus.

Furnishing the tank

Once you are satisfied with the design of your aquascape and have chosen the plants to be included, the next stage is to assemble all the furnishing materials you will need, such as gravel, rocks, bogwood plus any artificial equivalents. It is also advisable to have some suitable adhesive available, such as silicone aquarium sealant, in order to anchor items firmly in place or build up structures from smaller pieces.

First, clean the glass thoroughly both inside and out, taking particular care to remove finger marks, dust and stray fragments of silicone sealant remaining after manufacture. Next, blank out the non-viewing sides with

custom-made backing panels or by applying several coats of a suitable emulsion paint to the outside of the tank. In the sequence of four photographs shown on this page the back of the tank has been left uncovered to show up the plants more clearly.

Before adding the gravel, always wash it in running water. Place a quantity of gravel in a bowl and run in water from a hose until the batch is clean. Repeat the process with further batches until all the gravel has been washed. It is surprising how much gravel you need to provide a respectable looking layer. For the minimum ideal depth of 7,5cm (3in) at the back sloping to 5cm (2in) at the front, you will need 6.4 kilos (14lb) of gravel per 900 cm3 (1 ft2) of floor area.

Before putting the gravel in the tank, you may wish to incorporate a suitable growing medium (see page 28). Also consider the installation of any filtration and/or heating systems (see pages 18-20). Once these arrangements are complete, add the washed gravel carefully to the tank, sloping it as desired.

Planted and left like this, the action of gravity and rooting fishes would soon reduce such a carefully

Below: This is the first photograph in a sequence that demonstrates the usual stages in planting up an aquarium. Here the tank is dry, with the gravel sloped towards the front and terracing built up with simulated furnishings curved for the purpose. The tank used is 75cm (30in) long.

constructed slope into a uniform plain. To prevent this happening, construct a series of terraces to hold the gravel in position. Fix suitable pieces of rockwork, bogwood or simulated furnishings end to end to create the terrace boundaries. You may need to glue small stones or pebbles into any gaps between odd-shaped pieces.

Once the terracing is complete, install custom-made synthetic pieces to hide filters and heaters, and then add other furnishings to complete the 'artistic' elements of your design. Fill the tank three-quarters full (to prevent spillage when planting) and check that all the electrical apparatus is working. This will include checking that the heater raises the water temperature to the correct level to prevent any thermal shock to tropical plants. The tank is now ready for planting. For safety's sake, always disconnect the electricity supply while you are planting the aquarium.

Planting the aquarium

Check new plants carefully for signs of damage, dying back and unwanted visitors, such as beetles and snails. Rinse the plants in clean water, trim back old brown roots to healthy white tissue using a sharp knife and remove any decaying or yellowing leaves.

Start planting the aquarium at the front, gently pushing rootstocks into the gravel with your fingers and firming the gravel around them. Wrap several rootless cuttings together to form natural looking clumps and

Above: Synthetic tree trunks hide the tank equipment. The foreground plants includeCryptocoryne nevillii (left) and Dwarf Sagittaria (right).

Below: Middlegroundplants include reddish Rotala macrandra (centre), Echinodorus paniculatus (left centre) and Aponogeton rigidifolius (right).

Echinodorus Paniculatus

Below: The background now begins Cabomba caroliniana and Synnema to take shape, with (left to right) , triflorum adding variety of shape to Vallisneria asiatica, Ludwigia mullertil, the overall planting in the aquarium.

Aquarium Plant Anchors

insert them into the gravel, having first stripped the lower leaves from the stems. Place pebbles around the base to anchor the cuttings and prevent fishes disturbing them. Plant tubers at an angle of 45°, ensuring that the growing tip is just exposed above the gravel.

Bear in mind that in nature most normally rooted aquatic plants are perennial, but in the aquarium they behave as annuals. After a few months they lose their vitality and become stringy, even when regularly pruned. This is because they are denied the low-water conditions they experience during the dry season in the wild. At this time, most aquatic plants enter their sexual reproductive cycle, producing flowers and then seeds above the water surface. Denied these conditions in the aquarium, they weaken. Tuberous-rooted plants, such as Aponogetons, also need a resting phase in order to retain their vitality. Many plants, however, will grow permanently submerged year after year, increasing by runners and other vegetative means (see page 49). These species include Cryptocoryne, Echinodorus, Sagittaria and Vallisneria.

Below: Simply push rooted plants gently into the aquarium gravel. This technique is demonstrated using an Echinodorus paniculatus.

Above: With a printed backdrop behind the tank, the hood fitted and the lights turned on, the planting shapes up as an 'underwaterscene'.

Below: Insert tubers at an angle of 45°, and leave the growing tip just exposed above the surface. This tuber is Aponogeton undulatus.

Aponogeton Madagascariensis Emersed

Ecological aquascapes

Attempting to simulate the natural environment of various tropical areas by setting up so-called 'ecological aquascapes' is an increasingly popular pursuit. The characteristics of a tropical rain forest pool, for example, quite clearly differ from those of a rice paddy. It is a question of reproducing the water conditions, temperature, topography, light intensity, plants and fishes of the real situation as closely as possible.

The following areas are ideal environments for such simulations:

Stagnant lowland waters of

Southeast Asia Lowland streams of Southeast Asia Mountain streams of Southeast Asia Rain forests of South America Lowland swamps of West Africa

The following descriptions form 'word pictures' of typical situations in these environments (the majority based on the author's experience) and four of them are shown as aquascapes.

Stagnant lowland waters of Southeast Asia

An irrigation canal supplying old overgrown rice paddies near Malacca in western Malaya provides a typical example of this type of environment. The author's observations provide useful insights on which to base an aquarium simulation. 'The water was crystal clear and thickly matted with great clumps of Giant Hygrophila {Nomaphila stricta), Nitella, Hydrilla and water lilies. In the shallows, Cryptocoryne ciliata and Limnocharis grew in profusion and water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) spread across the surface. The banks were heavily overgrown with palms, bushes and climbers, which cast a dense shade across the surface on one side of the canal. The water temperature was 29°C (84°F); the air temperature 32°C (90°F). Analysis of the water showed a general hardness of 2.4°dH and a pH value of 6.5. The muddy soil was soft and reddish in colour, showing the abundance of iron. Shoals of Pangasiuscatfish could be seen, plus many other fishes, including Striped Barbs and Gouramis.'

The lowland streams of Southeast Asia

Here, the author examined a small tributary of a river system near Kuantan in eastern Malaya. 'Here again the water was crystal clear, but free of all surface vegetation. Eleocharis, Limnophila, Blyxa, Cryptocoryne nurri, C. minima and Nitella formed the principal vegetation. The river, its bed strewn with well-rounded pebbles and rocks of reddish hue, was bordered by banks of fine white silver sand on which most of the plants grew. The water hardness was 1 °dH and the pH value 5.9. At 11.00am the water temperature was 28°C (82°F). A wealth of fishes swarmed in these waters: Pipefishes, Bumblebee Gobies, Striped Barbs, Coolie Loaches and Red-striped Rasboras were just a few of the species netted in a very short space of time.'

Above: The rain forest bordering a river tributary in Kuantan, eastern Malaya. Here, marginal plants of many species growemersed in the dry season and adapt to growing submersed when the river floods.

Southeast Asian Aquarium Plants

Above: A commercial plant collector at work in Southeast Asia, source of many familiar aquarium plants.

.Cryptocoryne balansae

Build up a realistic looking bank of gravel using large

Armoracia Aquatica

(or support.

stratiotes

To simulate the dense reeds that grow in lowland waters, plant-

bamboo shoots (.Arundinariasp.) in the aquarium.

Above: This aquascape simulates the stagnant lowland waters of Southeast Asia, although in many ways it also represents the slower moving streams.

Cryptocoryne nevillii_

stratiotes

.Cryptocoryne balansae

To simulate the dense reeds that grow in lowland waters, plant-

bamboo shoots (.Arundinariasp.) in the aquarium.

Build up a realistic looking bank of gravel using large

(or support.

Above: This aquascape simulates the stagnant lowland waters of Southeast Asia, although in many ways it also represents the slower moving streams.

Cryptocoryne nevillii_

The mountain streams of Southeast Asia

In the Cameron Highlands the author looked at some fast-moving mountain torrents. The bed of the stream was composed of jumbled pieces of splintered rock lying between huge rounded boulders. Vegetation was sparse underwater, with just a few unidentified Cryptocoryne speaes managing to maintain a foothold. The water, free of turbulence, was 24°C (75°F) at 9.00am, with a pH value of 5.3 and a general hardness of 2°dH. The banks were heavily clothed with wild bananas, tree ferns and mosses, particularly club mosses and Selaginellas. Loaches darted from rock to rock and large Tinfoil Barbs flashed beneath the surface of the larger pools.'

Use pieces of slate or non-calcareous rock to simulate the rugged -

terrain.

Below left and right: Two mountain Pjeces of bogwood a|S0

streams in Southeast Asia. In fast- have a place in this moving streams, the bed is scoured aquascape. Use a single clean by the oxygenated water. bold branch.

Below: This aquascape recreates the bed of a mountain stream in S.E. Asia, its sparseness reflecting the 'purging' effects of moving water.

Cryptocoryne affmis -

Rock And Roots Aquascape
Vesicularia dubyana

Below: This aquascape recreates the bed of a mountain stream in S.E. Asia, its sparseness reflecting the 'purging' effects of moving water.

Cryptocoryne affmis -

Below: The rich environment of the Amazon Basin comes alive in this aquascape. There is no shortage of plants to include in this simulation.

Cabomba piauhyensis

Sagittaria _ platyphylla

Tree Trunk Aquascape

The standard grade of aquarium gravef is fine forall these ecological aquascapes. Increase the depth from the 7.5cm (3in) minimum to support large, deep-rooted plants.

Hide heaters, filters and other aquarium equipment behind suitable tree roots or simulated furnishings.

vulgaris

Below: The rich environment of the Amazon Basin comes alive in this aquascape. There is no shortage of plants to include in this simulation.

The standard grade of aquarium gravef is fine forall these ecological aquascapes. Increase the depth from the 7.5cm (3in) minimum to support large, deep-rooted plants.

Echinodorus tenellus

Cabomba piauhyensis

Hide heaters, filters and other aquarium equipment behind suitable tree roots or simulated furnishings.

Sagittaria _ platyphylla vulgaris

The rain forests of South America

With such diverse conditions prevailing over this vast area, it is difficult to generalise. However, in the region of the Amazon and its massive forests the shoreline is submerged during the greater part of the year, the trees standing with their lower trunks and roots beneath the surface. Often, the roots are exposed by the scouring action of the water. The aerial roots of epiphytes trail into the water and produce fine root hairs where they become submerged. The floor consists of debris from the forest above, with rotting logs and a thick layer of decaying leaves overlying the substrate. Echinodorus species, both large and small, Cabomba,

Myriophylium, Sagittaria, Bacopaand floating species such as Salvinia are typical plants found in this habitat. Fishes such as Angelfishes, Corydoras, Ancistrus and Pimelodella catfishes, Hatchetfishes, Cardinal and Neon Tetras abound. If Discus Fishes are kept in an ecological aquarium, pairs of dwarf cichlids plus Corydoras catfishes could act as companions. A temperature of 27°C (81 °F) and a pH value of about 7 should keep both the fishes and plants in good condition.

Right: In its natural habitat in Peru, Echinodorus parviflorus grows both submerged and emersed, an adaptation to changing water levels.

Ceratopteris Submerged

caroliniana

Use logs to divide the aquarium floor into distinct planting areas and to provide support forthe gravel slope

Echinodorus cordifolius

Sagittaria platyphylla

Echinodorus tenellus caroliniana

Include some substantial bog wood pieces or their synthetic equivalents to simulate the flooded tree roots of the natural environment

Echinodorus cordifolius

Use logs to divide the aquarium floor into distinct planting areas and to provide support forthe gravel slope

African Swamp Biotope Aquarium

Lowland swamps of West Africa

The author visited the tiny state of The Gambia on the West coast of Africa, where the rain forests are being destroyed and plants and fishes are adapting to decreasing tree cover. 'One pool was slightly brackish due to the influence of the nearby tidal river. The sandy bottom was thick with debris in the form of rotten logs and the seedpods of various broadleaved evergreen trees that overhung the pool. The water was clear and there were huge clumps of miniature viviparous Blue Water Lilies, Giant Hairgrass (Eleocharis sp.), Marsilea, Lagarosiphon and Ammannia species. In a nearby backwater the ground was carpeted with Anubias species, with heart-shaped leaves. Small killifishes, Ctenopoma, cichlids of the genera Tilapia and

Hemichromis, plus Synodontis and other catfishes were the most common species of fish. In the shallows, huge examples of Ceratopteriswere growing emersed and Azolla seemed the most common floating plant. Water temperature was high due to its shallowness, reaching 29°C (84°F) at 8.00am. The pH value was 7.2. The water, slightly brackish to the taste, showed a decidedly brown tinge caused by the presence of humic and tannic acids leaching from falling vegetation.'

Right: A slow-moving stream in The Gambia in West Africa abounds with aquatic plants, including the floating species Salvinia and Azolla, plus Ceratopteris, growing emersed at the top right-hand comer.

Below: The plants and furnishings in this aquarium are intended to simulate a lowland swamp in West Africa, a rich tropical environment.

Anubias lanceolata

Anubias Lanceolata

To encourage sturdy root growth, incorporate a suitable clay-based — additive to the gravel substrate.

Anubias nana.

Nymphaea maculata_

Anubias lanceolata

Below: The plants and furnishings in this aquarium are intended to simulate a lowland swamp in West Africa, a rich tropical environment.

_Ceratopteris thalictroides

To encourage sturdy root growth, incorporate a suitable clay-based — additive to the gravel substrate.

Anubias nana.

Nymphaea maculata_

Nymphaea MaculataFlowers Grown West Africa

Most of the plants in this collection are adaptable to a wide range of water conditions.

. Nymphaea maculata

This split log not only forms a natural terrace but also acts as a convenient attachment point for Bolbitis heudelotii, which does not grow rooted in the substrate.

Ceratopteris thalictroides

Ammannia senegalensis

Most of the plants in this collection are adaptable to a wide range of water conditions.

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