Q. I am thinking of changing my 90-gallon aquarium to a planted aquarium. Articles about Australian fish in previous issues have gotten me interested in rainbows again. I would like to keep an aquarium with rainbowfish and aquatic plants from Australia. Finding the fish is easy, but the plants are a different story. Are there plants in the hobby that come from Oz and do they require any extra care? I live in Ohio and the water is hard and generally neutral.
A. I applaud your interest in learning about the flora native to Australia. Remember, though, Australia is a huge place. Just as in the United States, there is a large range of biotopes and climatic zones. So, while it is fun to learn about a particular area and its aquatic plants and fish, I wouldn’t get overly hung up on the idea of matching nature. If you are seriously interested in a biotope aquarium, aesthetics must take a back seat. Many of the habitats where our aquarium fish are found are not the most beautiful. For most of us, our aquariums are only (I hope) a beautiful surrealistic representation of a general area.
There are, of course, many aquatic plants native to Australia. There are also many plants that grow worldwide. It would be challenging for a non-Aussie native to obtain many Australian plants, but there are some commercially available species that can be used. In addition, you may want to consider using a non-native species of a genus that is native to Australia to increase the variety of aquatic plants.
Some commercially available plants that are Aussie natives are Azolla, Bacopa monnieri, Ceratophyllum demersum (hornwort), Ceratopteris thalictroides (water sprite), Vallisneria gigantea, Vallisneria spiralis, Riccia fluitans, Lemna sp. (duckweed), Hygrophila salicifolia, Eleocharis sp. (hair grass), Fontinalis sp. (willow moss), Myriophyllum sp. and Glossostigma elatinoides.
Because red plants are missing from this list, and red plants are the “flowers” in the aquatic garden, I would be tempted to add commercially available species from the genera Ammannia and Ludwigia. Both of these genera are present in Australia, although the native species, A. bacifera and L. peploides, are not commercially available at this time.