Ferns, arrowhead, iris, lilies, and similar plants can grow large and
spread very wide, and tall plants, including rushes, large Acorus spp.,
Dracaena spp., papyrus, and especially palms, can quickly reach for
the ceiling and eventually need to be removed. Essentially, any plant
intended for pond or bog use is likely to grow or spread to a large
size, though many can be easily trimmed or divided.
Some plants with very large, mature root systems should not
be directly planted in the aquarium substrate, as they will rapidly
overtake any aquarium, requiring the breakdown of the entire
aquascape so they can be taken out and replanted. Of course, those
with roots limited to containers are much easier to manage or remove
if needed, so it is a good idea to keep large plants pot-bound and
concealed in a planter or with hardscape if they are placed directly
in the aquarium.
A display of pots is another alternative if a safe material is used,
such as terracotta, high-fired, inert or food-safe ceramic, or tough
plastic, though I don’t like to use plastic with plants if I can avoid it.
Ceramics and stoneware can also provide a great place for nitrifying
bacteria to colonize. Alternatively, pots can be hidden by crafty
hardscaping, and a rocky or driftwood corner (possibly colonized
with mosses or epiphytes above and below) can be very effective as
a submerged outcrop or false riverbank hosting taller aerial plants.
Don’t forget about hardscaping in a riparian aquarium, as it can be
used to tremendous effect. In the riverbank style, branches can be
placed so that they are reaching down from above the surface to the
substrate, like mangrove roots, with the upper ends of the branches
concealed by aerial plant growth—perfect for brackish biotopes.
Alternatively, rather than reaching down, branches and stones can
look striking reaching up and out, like partially sunken driftwood
or rock piles at an embankment. Both options draw the eye into and
out of the tank, and provide contrast with the greenery and softness
of the foliage.
Another benefit of a well-planned hardscape is the ability to
use it as an anchor point for epiphytes, which is a terrific way to
showcase these plants and create a vibrant feature. They can be
attached on hardscape points either above the surface for orchids,
ferns, and air plants, for example, or just below the waterline in
the case of aquatic-grown epiphytes, which can then grow up and
out, where they often develop new, tougher, and larger leaves and
provide interest across the barrier where the water meets the air.
Hardscape for ripariums can also include tall rear backings to
contrast aerial plant growth and for attaching small rooted or
epiphytic plants. These can be found made of carved, sturdy foam
or plastic molding, or they can be made at home with items like
wire, wood, or bark. They may begin at or below the waterline,
rising as just a small panel or extending
right up to or incorporating a lighting
housing as part of a complete unit.
Prebuilt units are often available from
aquarium or reptile and amphibian
specialty stores. Glass doors can be
added to retain humidity and moisture
(or to keep frogs, water lizards, or other
amphibians contained), so, depending on
the environment of the room and plant
choices, this may be an option to explore
for your setup.
By embracing the aerial-seeking nature
of some aquatic plants, selecting good
moisture-loving bog or marginal plants,
and being creative (even crafty) with
layouts, hobbyists can break the confines
of the underwater garden and re-create a
fully realized slice of a river system. It’s
easier than you might think to have life
bursting up and out from your planted
tank—and possibly down the sides,
across the floor…
Happy planting! D
Epiphytic plants like Anubias spp. don’t compete for soil space, as they
grow attached to hardscape items such as rocks or driftwood.
Spathiphyllum peace lilies are a good choice for eye-catching aerial plants above the waterline.