50G Aquascape: 3 Weeks In

November 29th, 2008

It’s been about 3 weeks since I first planted my new 50G aquarium. Since then, I got my 4x39W T5 lights from Catalina Aquarium, which are fantastic, and have tweaked a number of things in the tank. The biggest thing so far is that I removed a few pieces of the manzanita wood, which I decided were breaking up the flow of the aquascape from the left to right. As you can tell, the plants are all growing, but unfortunately, you can also see that I have a fair amount of algae. Part of the reason for this is that until this weekend, I didn’t have an extra timer to run the lights separately, so all four bulbs were going for 10 hours straight.

50G - 3 Weeks In

Now, only two are running, with the other two coming on for a mid-day burst of light. Hopefully that will clear things up after a bit. Despite the algae, the plants are growing well, and there’s lots of pearling going on. I changed up a few of the plants, taking out the Echinodorus sp. ‘Vesuvius’ , replacing it with Limnophila sp. ‘Mini’, and in the center mid-ground, I added Najas grass. All of the plants need a good trimming, but at this point, I’m still trying to propagate the stems a little bit more so that I can replant them. After that, I’ll start bushing them out via trimming.

Blyxa japonica

In addition to the plants, I also added a group of some fantastic Black Morpho Tetras, or Poecilocharax weitzmani. They’re still young, and quite skittish, so it’ll probably be awhile before I can get a decent picture of them, but there’s a fantastic photo of one on Aquahobby.com. They also seem to be growing, and I’m sure they love the acidic nature of the Aquasoil at this point, since they originate from blackwater streams. So, right now, it’s still just waiting game before I can really start fine runing the plants. Comments welcome!

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Rotala verticillaris

November 24th, 2008

Rotala verticillaris is one of the newer Rotala species entering the hobby from Asia, which coincidentally is also one of the prettiest plants coming in as of late. Believe it or not, but Rotala verticillaris is actually the reference species for the Rotala genus. It’s amazing how diverse this particular group of plants can be when compared to the more common Rotala rotundifolia or some of the other more delicate species. Rotala verticillaris has a thicker stem and branches very tightly, but unlike some others it grows nearly vertical, which make stands of the plant extremely orderly and well positioned.

Rotala verticillaris

Also different about Rotala verticillaris is its flower, which resembles something more of a Pogostemon species, than some of the other Rotalas. The flower is, however, quite beautiful exhibiting a striking purple with featherly fronds coming off. Below is a picture of my friend Cavan’s flowering plant.

Rotala verticillaris Flower

In the aquarium, Rotala verticillaris is not as undemanding as Rotala rotundifolia, as it should require medium/high light plus CO2 injection. Of course, like all plants, it will benefit greatly from a rich substrate and addition fertilization. It is also not as fast a grower as other Rotala species, which in my opinion is a positive thing. I highly recommend this plant for use in any style of aquascape, but it is more perfectly suited to aquascapes with fine leafed and well manicured background stem plants.

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AGA 2008: Georgia Aquarium Field Trip

November 23rd, 2008

The 2008 Aquatic Gardener’s Association Convention started with a field trip to the Georgia Aquarium, which was conveniently just a few blocks away from the convention hotel. We all assembled in the lobby of the hotel, and created a mob of people filling the street toward the aquarium. It was a great way to meet up with folks that you haven’t seen since the last convention.

George Aquarium

The aquarium is rather new in Georgia, and that shows through in the cleanliness and general niceness of the tanks and facilities. The building has a central cafe/atrium area with wings heading off in different directions. We were first guided into their river wing because they had the planted aquarium staff there to answer any questions we had about those tanks.


The planted tanks that they had were nice tanks. They wouldn’t place highly in an aquascaping contest, but they’re well designed, and accomplish feats that most of us don’t usually attempt. By that, I mean that some of these tanks must have been 5-6 feet tall, and yet they still managed to adequately light them to the floor.

Planted Tank

In addition, I asked one of the staff how they trimmed their plants in such a deep tank, and they said that they literally put on a wetsuit, and dive into the tank. If it was such a rigmarole for me to trim my tanks, I don’t think they’d ever get attention!

Planted Tank

In addition to the planted tanks, they had a fair number of other freshwater tanks, including a large river tank with huge catfish, an African rift lake tank, a piranha tank, and several others. I would have liked to see more freshwater stuff at the aquarium, in comparison to the marine sections, but the things they had were nicely done.


One of the cooler attractions at the aquarium was their beluga whale pool. I counted four whales playfully swimming back and forth, clearly recognizing the humans on the other side of the glass. It’s always amazing to watch humongous creatures maneuver so gracefully and with such ease underwater.

Beluga Whale

And of course, they had a sea dragon exhibit. These odd-ball creatures don’t seem to move around much, but they’re fun to watch just due to their unique appearance.

Sea Dragon

I would be completely negligent if I didn’t show a picture of a guitarfish (below), for which this blog is *not* named after, but a coincidence that was nice to discover. Although they kind of look like a shark, they’re actually in the ray family, and cruise along the bottom searching for small crustaceans to eat.


The most impressive display at the Georgia Aquarium is their huge tank, which I believe is the largest aquarium in the world. They had large informational cards that you could take listing most of the species in the aquarium, so that you could find and identify the various fish in the tank. I could have sat in front of this glass all day long.

Huge Tank!

In fact, I believe that they several events in this room with the aquarium as a backdrop, and they even allow you to sleep over in some cases, where you can fall asleep watching the fishes. Obviously, there were countless other exhibits throughout the aquarium, but two of my favorites, which most public aquariums seem to have these days, were the eels/worms, and then the jellyfish below.


It’s just so neat to watch both of these creatures flow in the current, just waiting for food to come their way. The jellyfish, especially, are beautiful with the blue backdrop, and their orange and reddish colors.


I would recommend the Georgia Aquarium to anyone who’s in Atlanta and needs something to see. It’s definitely got a lot of offer, and is worth the price of admission. That huge tank is worth it by itself.

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AGA 2008: Banquet & Auction

November 20th, 2008

The informational part of 2008 Aquatic Gardener’s Association Convention wrapped up on Saturday evening with Karen Randall talking about her collecting trip to Thailand with aquatic plant author and expert, Christel Kasselman.

Bangkok Aquarium Market

When they first got to Thailand, they wanted to experience the huge market in Bangkok. They had heard stories about the size and quality of the aquarium-related stands setup there. After much walking, they finally came to some of the dealers, finding rack after rack of aquariums filled with aquatic plants. Karen said that they could pretty much locate any aquarium plant known to the hobby in that market, in addition to some new ones.

Exotic Java Fern (maybe)

Take for example this variegated fern shown above, which was purportedly a form of Java Fern. Unfortunately, with several weeks ahead of them, they weren’t confident they any plants bought in the market would survive to make it back to their homes. In addition to the plants, the markets had an amazing selection of other materials including rocks, wood, equipment, and even an insane variety of gravel. (shown below)

Gravel in Bangkok Market

I can only imagine what it must be like to walk through so many shops who really get it in terms of aquatic plants. From there, Karen and Christel traveled throughout the country, collecting various crypts and other plants trying and find something new. They did find some interesting stuff, which she promised we’ll hear more about soon.

2008 AGA Auction

The next day, Sunday, was an all-day auction. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a thousand bags of plants spread across 4-5 rows of tables. I took 30 bags of plants myself to sell, but only came home with four. There was pretty good variety present in the auction, and prices were all over the map. In the beginning, prices tend to be a little bit inflated, but as the day wore on, several folks got some really good deals. It’s interesting to see relatively well-known plants, such as Anubias barteri var. nana, go for high prices while lesser known new plants go for less than they’d sell for online. Every auction is different, however, and I had a great time chatting with folks, while occasionally placing a bid. After 4-5 hours, I was off to the airport, after enjoying a fantastic convention. I highly recommend that every aquatic plant enthusiast try to attend at least one of these conventions in the future.

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AGA 2008: Takashi Amano: Aquascaping Demo

November 19th, 2008

Saturday afternoon at the 2008 Aquatic Gardener’s Association Convention, Takashi Amano setup a beautiful ADA 90P aquarium from start to finish to demonstrate how to properly design an aquascape. With many helpers at hand, and tables full of rocks, wood, substrate, and plants, he began by segmenting with poster-board the floor of the aquarium into bright sand and aquasoil sections.

Amano Aquascaping at AGA 2008

He then added the substrate, and positioned moss-covered-rocks along the line between the two types of substrate. After positioning the driftwood, he began positioning ferns and Anubias into the hardscape. One thing with Mr. Amano, is that he plants incredibly densely, so that when he’s done, it looks like a near finished aquascape. (Often times hobbyists don’t have the luxury of having that many plants available to scape with, and have to grow them out within the aquascape.)

Amano Aquascaping at AGA 2008

Once the more static plants were in place, Amano partially filled up the tank with water, and began planting the stem and other background plants. Again, he planted very densely, so that it would only require a couple trims before the aquascape was completely full and lush.

Amano Aquascaping at AGA 2008

After filling up the tank, and allowing the water to clear, below is his finished scape. It’s amazing what he was able to pull off in just about an hour. Beautiful!

Finished AmanoScape at AGA 2008

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AGA 2008: Jeff Senske: Effective Design

November 19th, 2008

Jeff SenskeJeff Senske, of Aquarium Design Group, spoke at the 2008 Aquatic Gardener’s Association Convention about using Effective Design in your aquascapes. Basically, he like most of us, started trying to aquascape by throwing a lot of different plants together in a tank. Eventually, he learned how to grow the plants properly, but the tank was still a mishmash of healthy plants. He said that at an AGA Convention in the early 2000’s, he brought a picture of his tank to show to Mr. Amano, who was presenting at the time. Mr. Amano looked at the picture, complemented the healthy looking plants, but said that his aquascape lacked philosophy. Ever since then, Jeff has kept that in mind prior to designing any aquarium, whether it’s freshwater planted, reef, or plastic plants, he deploys design principles to his work.

Jeff Senske Design

Running an aquarium service company, Jeff often has to harmonize the aquarium equipment and aquascape with the rest of the room. Above, you can see how Jeff matched the style of the aquarium stand and wood type with the rest of the room. The aquascape itself, is also an open-style scape, just like the open floorplan of the room. Jeff also stressed that design should not have to suffer due to maintenance issues. In his experience, aquariums require water changes regardless of whether they’re high tech or low tech, full of plants, or not. He doesn’t see trimming as a barrier to upkeeping a design. That said, he’s not afraid to use a beautiful ADA setup with zero plants, such as the tank below.

Jeff Senske Barewood Tank

In fact, this tank might be more like the angelfish’s natural habitat in the Amazon River, minus the tannin-stained-water, than a heavily planted tank would be. Still, the wood makes it an interesting tank to look at, as does the top-end equipment. All-in-all, Jeff Senske just wants all of us to design our aquariums with purpose.

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AGA 2008: Takashi Amano: His Tanks

November 18th, 2008

Takashi AmanoAfter critiquing the ADA entrant tanks during his presentation at the 2008 Aquatic Gardener’s Association Convention, Takashi Amano proceeded to discuss some tanks of his own. He spent a long time showing the exact progression several of his tanks have gone through from empty tank to finished aquascape. Afterward, he did show a number of pictures of his finished layouts.

He started by showing a picture which was featured on the cover of Tropical Fish Hobbyist and given the title “Amano Magic!” He stated that it they called it magic because to the human eye it’s believable that this could be a natural habitat for those angelfish. He then said that this was incorrect.

Amano Tank

He stated that it’s easy to fool a human eye, but the true test of an aquascape is whether or not the aquascaper has fooled the fish inhabitants that this is a natural environment. This could be discerned by looking at the coloration and interaction of the fish in the tank.

Amano Tank

He showed a number of his tanks, such as my favorite one above, which are truly extraordinary, both in aquascape and photography. He flipped through a number of aquariums, demonstrating different types of aquascapes.

Amano Tank

Some were more heavily planted, with moss covered wood as the focal point. He didn’t spend any time talking about the photography side of his aquarium pictures, but clearly he knows what he’s doing. I’ve read elsewhere that the ripple effect on the water’s surface was created using a hairdryer.

Amano Tank

Amano also described how to create an iwagumi aquarium layout, such as in picture above. This is a more traditional iwagumi scape, utilizing only one or two types of plants, allowing the rocks to be the focal point.

Amano Tank

He also showed that it was possible to create a nice iwagumi with more plants in more of a hybrid way, utililizing background and accent plants. Of course, the rocks are still the primary focus of the scape. Rock positioning and selection either make or break this type of scape.

Amano Aquascape Progression

This final aquascape was one of the ones that he showed from start to finish. As you can kind of see above, he started with a bare tank, and used poster board to keep the Aquasoil and Bright Sand separate. The two substrates were further separated by moss covered stones, and accented by driftwood. The tank is then planted, and allowed to grow in. After a rather harsh trimming, the plants grow back more bushy, and a few months later, you have your final aquascape below.

Amano Tank

Mr. Amano ended his presentation talking about some non-aquarium-related work that he has been doing, nature photography. As you may know from his beautiful picture-books of the Amazon and Rio Negro, Amano is an expert photographer. He had two of his works displayed at the G8 Summit recently held in Japan with many world leaders.

G8 Summit with Amano Photo in Background

The particular photograph displayed in the background above is of a huge tree in one of Japan’s ancient forests. He then answered a number of questions from convention attendees, and finished his presentation. Overall, it was a very insightful presentation, which some beautiful aquascapes on display.

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AGA 2008: Takashi Amano: ADA Tank Critique

November 18th, 2008

Takashi Amano

The obvious headlining speaker at the Aquatic Gardener’s 2008 Convention was Takashi Amano. Aided by his translator, Mr. Amano gave a very insightful view into the mind of a judge for his ADA Aquascaping Contest. As someone who has entered these competitions before, this information is very helpful for when I design my future aquascapes. Therefore, I wanted to share a number of slides from his presentation, as well as, his comments for what the entrant could have done better to receive a higher placing.

ADA Entrant Tank

#31: The driftwood is too centered. If moved to the right a little bit, it would be been more balanced.

ADA Entrant Tank

#32: The large rock is too far to the left, throwing off the balance of the aquascape.

ADA Entrant Tank

#43: The wood is too centered, and too close together. Spacing the wood further apart would have helped.

ADA Entrant Tank

#44: Not enough negative space in this aquascape. It looks too cramped.

ADA Entrant Tank

#48: There are too many stem plants around this tree stump.

ADA Entrant Tank

#49: The photographer used a wide angle lens when shooting this tank, making the driftwood appear distorted.

ADA Entrant Tank

#61: The rock on the right is laying down too much. It should be pointing up at more of an angle to be balanced with the other rocks.

ADA Entrant Tank

#63: The rocks are too much in a line. They should be staggered a little bit to look natural.

ADA Entrant Tank

#69: The plant selection in the foreground and background are too different, making it look like the two don’t go together.

ADA Entrant Tank

#72: The plants on the left don’t match the plants on the right. While both look very nice, they don’t go together.

ADA Entrant Tank

#75: Nice scape, but the two pieces of driftwood nearly touch, which is distracting and unnatural looking.

ADA Entrant Tank

#79: The left side is too heavy, and not following the principles of the golden ratio. Also, the slope of the trimmed plants on the right and left don’t match. The right slope is too steep.

ADA Entrant Tank

#81: The moss is overgrown, and needs to be trimmed.

ADA Entrant Tank

#85: This scape would be better if the skinny piece of driftwood just left of center was removed entirely. Lots of entrants used too much hardscape to their detriment.

ADA Entrant Tank

#87: The mossy rock on the left is too close to the front of the glass creating a dark area.

ADA Entrant Tank

#94: The driftwood is unnatural and doesn’t match. The left pieces are skinnier than the right — they should be the same size.

ADA Entrant Tank

#98: Nice pieces of wood, but the whole scape should be shifted, as the wood is too centered.

ADA Entrant Tank

#106: The left side is too heavy, too oppressive.

ADA Entrant Tank

#110: Very progressive layout, but it’s lacking much open space.

ADA Entrant Tank

#117: Too much rock was used in this aquascape.

ADA Entrant Tank

#122: Lacks focus, with no particular place being the focal point. Plus, the rocks are misplaced.

ADA Entrant Tank

#123: The driftwood is far to large for this aquascape.

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AGA 2008: Benito Tan: Aquatic Mosses

November 17th, 2008

Benito TanBenito Tan gave a fascinating talk at the 2008 AGA Convention about aquatic mosses. One of the really nice things about Dr. Tan, is that he seemed to be somewhat familiar with both the scientific side of mosses, as well as, their application in the aquarium hobby. This allowed him to tailor the talk to exactly what a room full of 200 hobbyists wanted to hear.

He started his presentation detailing why it’s so difficult to identify mosses, and aquatic mosses in particular. Most aquatic mosses only grow their sexual growth under water. This means that your best guess at identifying them is by placing them under a light microscope so that you can look at cell structure, leaf shape, and branching patterns. Still, many times you still can’t be sure without the non-sexual growth of the moss.

Dr. Tan then described how Java Moss has been called many things in the hobby since it was introduced. Again, many of these problems stem from the inability of hobbyists to correctly identify mosses, especially when they can look different under different growing conditions. He also talked about a number of mosses currently being sold in Singapore.

Mosses Sold in Singapore

He’s just recently started using DNA to try to identify various mosses, but described how even DNA presents its challenges. He said that DNA can almost always help you figure out an unknown moss’ genus, but you may still have to rely on more traditional methods to then determine the species. The reason for this, is that there are not enough known indicators for moss DNA to key on to find exact matches.

Other Mosses Sold in Singapore

Dr. Tan also talked about a liverwort, Subwassertang, that’s been making its way throughout the hobby. What was most surprising is that despite its resemblance to Pellia, it is actually not a liverwort at all. In fact, Subwassertang is really a fern gametophyte that’s missing the female sex organs so it never matures to become an actual fern.

Life Cycle of a Fern

He’s done some research on the gametophyte, and believes that it is a fern from the Lomariopsis genus. What’s most peculiar, however, is that this type of fern is actually a branch climber, that lives entirely in trees. He doesn’t know why that type of fern would have an aquatic gametophyte for reproduction. Below is a picture of what the terrestial fern would likely look like.

Lomariopsis Fern Frond

Dr. Tan ended his presentation with a rather enticing slide with two aquatic mosses that he believes would make great additions to the hobby. Privately, when I asked him if he thinks they will actually make it into the hobby, he said that it’s only a matter of time.

Possible Canidate Mosses for the Hobby

Another one of my most anticipated talks, Dr. Benito Tan gave an excellent and informational presentation. In addition, he also had a sharp sense of humor, which aided him during his talk. And for everyone that see’s terrestial mosses on the forest floor, and tries to put them in the aquarium, Dr. Tan urges you to stop drowning mosses, for he’s in favor of a “Cruelity to Mosses” society to champion their right to live undisturbed. A great speaker, and a great talk.

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AGA 2008: Michael Kane: Tissue Culture for Aquarists

November 17th, 2008

The second presentation at the 2008 AGA was Dr. Michael Kane of the University of Florida, who spoke about Tissue Culture for Aquarists. Tissue culturing is the rapid clonal propagation of plants. This is an extremely beneficial way of propagating plants because every plant produced is guaranteed to be identical genetically to the original plant. In addition, the plants can be disease free, produced in high volume, and can be grown in very little space.

Dr. Michael Kane

Dr. Kane then proceeded to discuss in more detail how to propagate aquatic plants, specifically Cryptocoryne. One of the challenges of aquatic plants is obtaining a sterile source plant from which to work. For this reason, if it’s possible to do so, you ought to first convert your plant to emersed form, growing in a soiless potting mix. When the plant is ready, you need to further sterilize it by rinsing in water, soaking in 50% ethanol, and for 12 minutes in 20% bleach. Once complete, isolate the growing tip of the plant, and put it in your culture medium. This is a gelatinous substance containing nutrients, which will be placed in a sterile container. From here, they need to be grown out, and further split many times to ultimately end up with hundreds of individual plants. This is, of course, a gross simplification of the process.

Microprogation Stages

Dr. Kane also detailed a number of ways that hobbyists could do tissue culturing in their own homes, using easily obtainable materials. In addition, he mentioned the he expects to be teaching a short 2-3 day course sometime next spring specifically on how to propagate aquatic plants. I would love to attend that course!

Inexpensive Transfer Hood

Throughout the talk, he offered a number of other useful tidbits. For instance, he mentioned that you can spray a Cryptocoryne with gibberellic acid to induce it to flower. He also stated the tissue culturing does not work for every plant, and even for some that do, it is incredibly slow (Anubias). Water lillies, for instance, are quite difficult to culture, as are true aquatic plants, which have no emersed form. This was one of the talks I was most looking forward to at this convention, and Dr. Michael Kane delivered.

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