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From: booth-at-hplvec.LVLD.HP.COM (George Booth)
Newsgroups: alt.aquaria
Subject: Super Show Tank Update
Date: 2 Dec 91 17:10:32 GMT

Planting Update for the Super Show Tank

Initial Planting

Deciding on the plant selection for a densely planted tank is, at least for us, the most difficult and frustrating part of the whole process. We are not so naive to think that when European aquarists set up a new tank, they just draw out a pleasing "plant diagram", run down to the "plant store" and buy what they need. But surely they must have an easier time of it than North American enthusiasts. We have learned that we must buy what plants we can when they are available and then, over time, adjust the planting until it reaches a pleasing state.

Aquascaping the SST was no exception to this rule. We used a combination of mail order sources, local stores and cuttings from our other tanks to provide plant stock for the initial planting. We ordered some exotic new plants we had not tried before and we found some large specimen plants to act as center pieces. We ordered what seemed like far too many fast growing bunch plants. We selected some good looking cuttings from our other tanks to ensure there was strong plant growth from the start.

After all of our high expectations, planning and anticipation, the final result of the initial planting was very disappointing. With the exception of the cuttings from our own tanks, the new plants were pathetic. The bunch plants were barely alive, the "show" plants were bent and twisted from shipping and the tank looked almost empty! To top it off, the water was cloudy (like all new tanks) which was made worse by the metal halide lights.

The following is a list of the plants in the initial planting:

  1 large  Anubias kumbaensis          16 Alternanthera sessilis
  1 large  A. barcon                    4 Armoracea aquatica
  1 large  A coffeeafolia               9 Bacopa caroliniana
  1 medium A. afzelli                   6 B. monniera
  1 large  A. afzelli                  30 Didiplis diandra
  5 small  A. nana                     20 Heteranthera zosterifolia
  2 medium Echinodorus osiris           3 Hydrocotyle verticillata
  3 large  E. cordifolius               8 Hygrophila sp. ("Sunset Hygro")
  1 small  E. cordifolius              12 Ludwigia sp. ("green ludwigia")
  1 large  E. rosaefolius              12 L. repens
 12 small  E. tenellus                  6 Rotala sp. ("Magenta Rotala")
  2 Nymphaea lotus (Red Tiger Lotus)   10 R. macrantha
  8 Nomaphila siamensis                12 "foxtail"
  6 N. salicifolia 

Progress at Three Weeks

For the first three weeks, we watched for signs of growth, did a little pruning and removed any plants that died from the shock of shipping or transplanting. We were still disappointed at the appearance of the tank, thinking that the plants weren't growing as well as they should. Only after comparing photos of the initial planting to the three week's growth did we realize that, indeed, the plants were growing at a fabulous rate. Monitoring the tank growth day by day did not provide us with a frame of reference for how well it was doing. "A watched tank never grows"!

After four weeks, we were able to gauge how the plants would grow and were able to rearrange the plants to better provide for the lighting requirements of the various species. As we moved the plants, we noted surprising root growth. More importantly, we noticed that the roots has developed extremely fine root hairs which we have not seen to any great degree in our other tanks. This would seem to indicate that the laterite and heating coils are making more nutrients available to the roots. The proliferation of the root hairs is the plant's method for optimizing these conditions.

This tank is our tallest so far. We have had more trouble than expected in reaching our goals of having a densely planted aquarium and having tall plants growing out of the water. The two main reasons for this trouble are the physical size of the roots of some tall plants and problems with tall plants shading low growing plants requiring lots of light.

We initially selected some tall growing Anubias (barcon, afzelli, kumbaensis) to satisfy our desire for tall, elegant plants. They serve this purpose, but they also have huge rhizomes with lots of wiry roots. These have proven difficult to integrate into the dense planting scheme because of the large root mass.

Our fastest growing plant is Ludwigia repens. We gave this plant a dominant position in the tank based on our experience with it in the AOA. It quickly grows to the surface and produces a very striking effect. The problem in the SST is that this plant also tends to grow in the shape of an inverted pyramid. Thus, when it reaches the top of a tall tank, it also has a pretty good "wing spread" and tends to shade all of the lower growing plants.

We have learned how to deal with these problems and now have enough experience with the plants we have selected to design a final plant arrangement for the Super Show Tank.

Final Planting

After six weeks, the tank has stabilized and we have recognized which plants will do well in this tank and which plants should be kept elsewhere. We have been able to locate other plant species that are of interest to us and developed a "final" planting scheme. This is final only in the sense that it is a longer term arrangement and will still change over time as we see other plants we like or realize that moving one plant or rearranging others will provide a more harmonious appearance.

We still haven't found any Barclaya longifolia. When we do finally locate some, we will use it as a centerpiece, perhaps replacing the E. osiris.

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               Plant List for the 90 gallon Super Show Tank
               --------------------------------------------

    1. Anubias barcon                    13. Rotala macrantha  
    2. Anubias kumbaensis                14. Ammannia senegalensis 
    3. Anubias lanceolata                15. Ludwigia sp.    
    4. Ludwigia repens                   16. Armoracea aquatica 
    5. Crytocoryne affinis               17. Anubias kumbaensis
    6. Nymphea stellata                  18. Anubia coffeeafolia
    7. Echinodorus cordifolius           19. Bacopa monniera 
    8. Echinodorus osiris                20. Cryptocoryne wendtii
    9. Anubias nana                      21. Nomaphila siamensis
   10. Heteranthera zosterifolia         22. Cryptocoryne walkeri
   11. Lilaeopsis                        23. Hygrophila salicifolia
   12. Hygrophila polysperma      (floating) Hydrocotyle verticillata

In developing the final plan, we needed to balance the location of low growing plants and their requirements for varying degrees of light against the locations of the taller or faster growing plants. Even with this careful design, regular pruning is needed to keep the faster growing plants under control.

The tall Anubias (barcon, kumbaensis), the Nomaphila siamensis and Hygrophila salicifolia were placed in rear corners and along the sides of the tank. This keeps them from shading the lower plants in the front and provides some relatively open areas in the rear of the tank for fish to hide in if they get nervous. By not densely planting the corners, it also makes it easier to siphon up any detritus that collects in these areas. These plants have their leaves mostly towards the surface so they are not blocked from view by the plants in front.

Visual strong points are the thick clusters of Ludwigia repens, Heteranthera zosterifolia and Hygrophila polysperma. All three of these grow very quickly and provide the major textures of the aquascape. The H. zosterifolia is an especially striking plant with its bright green rosettes. A tall Echinodorus cordifolius visually separates it from the Ludwigia.

To fill in the shaded areas in front of the larger plants, low growing Cryptocoryne and Anubias plants are used. The C. affinis is positioned along the path of the lower water return on the left side and nicely defines the current flow. The A. lanceolata and A. coffeeafolia add interesting color and texture highlights in there areas of the tank.

A major focal point is the vertical color splash of the Rotala macrantha and Ammannia senegalensis. This offers a dramatic contrast to the plants around them and serves to divide the tank into two separate visual spaces. A lesser counterpoint to this is the small bunch of Bacopa monniera tucked in by the A. coffeeafolia. This and the R. macrantha forms a frame around the highly textured Anubias, providing a perfect setting for photographing fish.

The focal point of the left side of the tank is the Echinodorus osiris. Its large dark red leaves contrast nicely with the H. zosterifolia behind it and the A. nana in front of it. A large Thai lotus (Nymphea stellata) provides a horizontal accent to the vertical orientation of the sword plant.

A group of bright green Armoracea aquatica provides a detail point in the right front of the tank. To provide a dynamic feeling to the tank, a small clump of fine-leaved Ludwigia is used to move the observer's eye toward a line of Lilaeopsis oriented back towards the H. zosterifolia.

A final accent is a section of Hydrocotyle verticillata floating on the top. We tried to plant one end of it, but it kept pulling itself out of the gravel. It has large water roots and lily-pad like leaves and seems perfectly happy just floating over the left side of the tank. It is a lovely green and looks very appealing from above. It is a fast grower that we keep under control by mearly cutting a few inches off the end every few days.

We are quite happy with the overall appearance of the Super Show Tank at this point. The first three weeks were agony, but the results were well worth the wait. Once the smaller foreground plants begin to spread and fill in around the bottom, the aquarium will truly be a thing of beauty.

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