Aquascaping Staples

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Where do you start if you’re looking to get into a planted layout? Jordan Stirratt offers a handful of suggestions that can make any aquascape come alive.

Riccardia chamedryfolia 

Here is one of my favourite ‘moss like’ plants to use, and although it’s often labelled as moss it is in fact a type of liverwort. Also referred to as Jagged Germanderwort, Mini Pellia or Coral Moss, this plant is a staple in the home aquarium. But, while slow growing, it will form large bulbous clumps if not maintained.
Riccardia chamedryfolia is polymorphic, meaning that it will assume different forms dependent on its environment. If grown in lower lighting and with an absence of CO2, the plant will appear less compact, forming a loose structure featuring a lighter colour. When grown in high light and supplementary CO2 this plant will grow extremely compact and lush. 

A possible benefit over other commonly found mosses in the aquarium hobby is that Riccardia doesn’t usually to spread in the same manner due to its tendency to develop into a larger singular clump. 

Type: Liverwort (often referred to as a moss)

  Origin: Asia

  Growth rate and characteristic: Slow growing. Compact, firm and coral-like

  Light requirements: High

  CO2: Recommended

  Colour: Deep green

  Where to use: Attach to rocks and wood. Used in a wide variety of aquascaping styles.


Lobelia cardinalis ‘dwarf’

A highly underrated plant and a definite eye catcher due to its unique oval leaves. This stem plant branches out readily, and if trimmed frequently will become denser as the plant produces more side shoots. 

By creating a contrast to nearly all other common aquarium plants, Lobelia cardinalis ‘dwarf’ makes a perfect fit for Dutch style aquascapes. Providing this plant has access to shallow water it will grow into a similarly stunning emersed plant that I have personally utilised in some of my previous aquascapes. It’s also possible to keep Lobelia cardinalis as a house plant if placed into a container or pot filled with water, but keep a close eye on the water level!

Type: Stem

Origin: North America

Growth rate and characteristic: Medium and bushy round leaves

Light requirements: Low

CO2: Recommended but not required

Colour: Light green in immersed conditions. Emersed leaves are dark green with purple tones underneath the leaf

Where to use: Midground / background. Can be grown emersed in shallow water. Predominantly used in Dutch Style.


Nymphaea lotus 

Nymphaea lotus is a true aquatic plant that’s a herbaceous perennial in nature, meaning that it will grow and bloom over the warmer months, die back during winter, and then return in the spring. In the home aquarium it’s possible that this pattern of growth and dormancy may not occur if temperatures are continually stable. 

Similar to other water lilies in this genus, this plant forms stoloniferous tubers from which the roots and leaves develop. In my experience it’s best to trim the leaves before they hit the water’s surface as if one leaf reaches the surface the others will generally start to grow faster in the hope of doing the same. If you are looking for a perfect focal plant then this striking lotus might just be the plant for you!

Lobelia cardinalis ‘dwarf’

A highly underrated plant and a definite eye catcher due to its unique oval leaves. This stem plant branches out readily, and if trimmed frequently will become denser as the plant produces more side shoots. 

By creating a contrast to nearly all other common aquarium plants, Lobelia cardinalis ‘dwarf’ makes a perfect fit for Dutch style aquascapes. Providing this plant has access to shallow water it will grow into a similarly stunning emersed plant that I have personally utilised in some of my previous aquascapes. It’s also possible to keep Lobelia cardinalis as a house plant if placed into a container or pot filled with water, but keep a close eye on the water level!

Type: Stem

Origin: North America

 Growth rate and characteristic: Medium and bushy round leaves

Light requirements: Low

CO2: Recommended but not required

Colour: Light green in immersed conditions. Emersed leaves are dark green with purple tones underneath the leaf

Where to use: Midground / background. Can be grown emersed in shallow water. Predominantly used in Dutch Style.


Staurogyne repens 

A perfect beginner-friendly plant that provides vibrant greens, Staurogyne repens is ideal for transitional placement between carpeting plants and taller mid/background plants. I love how this plant can form dense compact and low growing bushes while also being great for creating accents around the hardscape. 

Stronger lighting and CO2 injection will help keep this plant low growing whereas vertical growing thin stalks are an indication of lower lighting conditions. After trimming simply replant the top portions back into the bush of S. repens to form a larger dense bush or alternatively use these trimmings to create a carpet!

Type: Stem

Origin: South America

Growth rate and characteristic: Medium and if trimmed regularly can grow compact.

Light requirements: Low

CO2: Not required but will benefit from CO2

Colour: Green

Where to use: Foreground or midground. Typically grown in soil while submerged but can grow emersed too. Extremely versatile and can be used in a wide range of aquascaping styles.


Utricularia graminifolia 

Notoriously known as a difficult plant to grow, Utricularia graminifolia (UG) has even some of the most experienced hobbyists asking themselves why they don’t have success with it. I believe that if a few key requirements are considered this plant can be grown like a weed. 

In my experience and research I have come to realise that this plant grows in both high and low nutrient environments which contradicts the common notion that UG will die if nutrient levels are high or if you dose nitrogen — higher nutrient levels tend to increase the speed of growth. In nature this carnivorous plant will catch micro-organisms to digest for nutrients, but don’t be afraid for your shrimplets or baby fish because the tiny bladder traps are too small. 

Often it is said that UG will only grow in soft water conditions and although in the wild it is found in such conditions many aquarists have had success growing it in moderately hard water. That being said, it may be advantageous to have soft water similar to growing many other aquatic plants. 

Nutrient rich aquasoil isn’t a requirement although it can provide a familiar and proven planting medium. It can be common to experience melting in fresh aquasoil but this can be mitigated by performing frequent (ideally daily) water changes in the first week followed by more frequent water changes than usual in the first month. Planting into established aquasoil might be the ideal solution. In addition, this plant can be grown floating, emersed or placed onto hardscape and doesn’t require to be planted into a substrate.

In order to achieve a dense, low growing and neat carpet, frequent trimming is required — once established UG can grow fast and can quickly become too thick. Trimming allows for a longer lasting carpet and avoids older growth from dying and getting choked out by the new growth on top.

 Type: Carpeting (carnivorous)

 Origin: Asia

 Growth rate and characteristic: Slow to become established but fast once established. Growth is extremely dense and compact. May produce flowers submerged and emersed.

 Light requirements: Medium

 CO2: Recommended but not required

 Colour: Bright green

 Where to use: Foreground. Can be planted into soil and attached to rooks or wood. Can also be grown emersed.