Since the peak popularity of aquariums during the 1950s, the science behind the understanding of aquarium husbandry has changed dramatically. After all, it wasn't until the 1950s that the first tank heaters and filtration systems were crafted and put on the market. Since then, humans have figured out how to keep fish living longer and healthier lives, occasionally better than the lives they would've lived in the wild.
With all the progression aquarium husbandry and technology have made, where should hobbyists turn to next to further enrich their pets' lives? According to some, the answer lies in the plants that grow in your fish tanks. Live plants can be the best way to emulate the ecosystem your fish originated in.
So, if you're on the fence about getting live aquatic plants, or want to understand more about their advantages, here are seven benefits of live aquatic plants for your aquarium.
Reduces Nitrites and Ammonia
Fish produce excrement that contains ammonia and releases it into their aquarium, raising nitrite levels in their tank as ammonia-eating bacteria grow and turn into nitrite. Good bacteria in the tank will turn nitrite into nitrate, and nitrates, a much less toxic form of nitrite, are removed during water changes. This is a basic definition of the nitrogen cycle you want your tank to emulate.
In the wild, aquatic plants assist in this nitrogen cycle by absorbing some of these harmful products and carbon dioxide and decaying material into their root system. The plants will use these materials as nutrients to continue growing and, subsequently, filtering. So while you'll still need water changes in a tank, live plants will vastly reduce how often you need to change your water due to the extra filtration.
While this method makes it possible to get rid of your filtration system altogether, this is not recommended for beginners. Advanced hobbyists with a better understanding of natural aqua scaping and plant husbandry know more about aquarium requirements and choose this more sustainable option only after years of experience.
Safer Than Fake Plants
Unfortunately, fake aquatic plants are not always made with a fish's health in mind. Some fake plants, and even décor, can contain and emit harmful chemicals and dyes into the water, making your fish sick. And depending on the size of your fish, your fish can bite and break off pieces of their décor. If they eat them, this can cause an intestinal blockage and quickly kill them, or these pieces can get stuck in your filtration system and go unnoticed until algae skyrockets.
Plants create their own food by growing through photosynthesis by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. This is how the air you breathe remains clean and filtered, and the same goes for the oxygen in a fish tank. The fish breathe in the oxygen in the water, release CO2, and the CO2 is absorbed through the plants to be turned back into oxygen.
However, this ideal cycle must be managed by providing the plants with at least seven hours of light a day. Too much light can kill your plants and stress out your fish, so it's best to have your aquarium lights on a timer when working with live aquatic plants. In addition, you must provide the correct ratio of plant life, water, and fish. Too many fish and not enough plant life will deprive your tank of much-needed oxygen. Again, if you are not an advanced hobbyist, it's best to use this in tandem with an additional oxygenation system.
However, even if you're not an advanced hobbyist, plants reduce the need to manage your tank's oxygen levels excessively. In addition, plants are helpful in case of power outages. If your power does go out, along with your filtration system, you can be sure that your tank won't fall quickly into disarray, making it a good option for people who frequently experience power outages.
While you may have fish that eat algae, that's often not enough to keep the overgrowth at bay, even if you clean your tank frequently. This is where plants come in. Aquatic plants and algae feed on the same nutrients (nitrate and phosphate), leaving the algae starving for food. Helper plants like Amazon sword and Hornwort are great for keeping algae at bay. However, you're not limited to just these two plants. If you plant heavily, your aquatic plants can still starve out the algae with little to no problems.
However, while the plants can take most of the food source from the algae, algae feed on dead and decaying plants. So, if you notice a plant beginning to die or decay, take it out immediately if you don't think it can be revived.
This will greatly reduce how often you need to clean your tank and disturb your fish in the long run. Oftentimes, especially if your fish are a more sensitive breed, water changes and cleaning can greatly stress them out. In addition, it reduces the chance of introducing harmful bacteria due to cross-contamination or poor tool cleaning.
An Additional Food Source
Most fish are omnivorous to a degree, which means that occasionally they will want greens to snack on. Plants will give your fish the agency they need to snack when hungry rather than get aggressive and fight for a perceived limited food source.
However, you don't have to worry about your fish eating up all your plants. If you keep up with your feeding schedule and keep your plants healthy, your fish won't feel the need to overeat, and a healthy plant will grow back.
Simulates Their Natural Ecosystem
Usually, the most common type of pet fishes are prey and are often very skittish. Therefore, their natural instinct is to hide, and a lack of places to do so can significantly stress out your fish and lead to illness. While rocks and hidey-hole are great, plants also serve the same purpose. In addition, by simulating a more natural ecosystem, you can watch your fishes' personalities come to life, as they will be more relaxed and more likely to display behaviors only seen in their natural habitats.
Plus, your fish will ovulate, whether there is external insemination or not. A fish's natural instinct is to place their eggs in a safe space, usually in leaves or by the roots of plants. So, while you may not be into breeding your fish, it's helpful to replicate their environment to the best of your ability for them to thrive properly.
Also, if your fish aren't suited for the heat, the shade that plants provide can help reduce the temperature of your tank while also allowing fish to escape any unwanted light.
If you have deep substrate, anaerobic pockets can form and create anaerobic bacteria. These bacteria can produce hydrogen sulfide gas which is toxic to fish. Plant root systems break up these anaerobic pockets making sure that harmful bacteria can't grow.
In addition, plants keep the substrate in place, subsequently keeping your tank cleaner. As fish dig and hide, plants will prevent them from kicking dirt all over the tank. Your filter can create an outflow that can disturb your substrate as well, so if you want your water to look clear, plants will make sure your substrate doesn't move.
Now that you know the seven benefits of live aquatic plants for your aquarium, you can add plants to your aquarium and make an underwater paradise in your very own home. Luckily, you don't ever have to scout for the best aquatic plants, as you can buy freshwater aquarium plants online that are just as gorgeous and healthy as you would get in any pet store. Get started on your dream aquarium today!