Anubias & Emerse Culture

•November 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Whether you’re aquascaping or vivarium planting, I can’t recommend Anubias enough. Although I have little experience with other species, I currently grow three varieties of Anubias barteri, namely the miniature ‘nana petite’, slightly larger ‘nana’, and much larger ‘caladifolia’. At first I familiarised myself with the former varieties, acknowledging their notoriously slow growth in my 2ft aquarium; before planting out my new vivarium, however, I decided to do a bit of experimenting.

After an almost continuous flow of failure in keeping aquatic stem plants healthy, I looked into a cultivation method known as emerse culture. This is where a plants roots are submersed while the leaves and new shoots have access above the waterline. This way the specimen not only benefits from a continuous supply of liquid nutrients, but also a direct exposure to light and air.

I took out all my melting stem plants and placed some of them in pots with soil, I then put these in saucers half-full of water on my windowsill. I found that over time the leaves that previously grew underwater can’t cope with the sudden change in environment, so these fall off, but not before sending out new shoots. The new leaves tend to be a lot more compact, quicker to produce, and generally more robust. It was nice to finally have some success.

This then begs the question, if these plants really are aquatic then why do they thrive much better out of water?  A recent issue of Practical Fishkeeping Magazine actually answers this in an article entitled ‘The Shady Side of Houseplants’. The simple truth is, none but a few of them sold in the shops actually are fully aquatic! Even in nurseries, all, apart from the true floating plants are cultivated by means of emerse culture. The reason people manage to grow them well, submerged in aquascapes, is all down to a high-tech setup large on lighting and CO2 injection.

I don’t have this.

And neither do I particularly want it, but how am I going to have success with plants in my aquarium if most of them won’t grow without it?


Focus on plants suitable for low-tech setups, such as the trusty Anubias, Cryptocoryne, or Microsorum. There are loads of plants that will readily thrive in setups of low-mid level lighting and without the need for expensive pressurised canisters of CO2, just look online.

Failing that, change a factor in the setup itself. Some of the most difficult of plants grown submersed in high-tech setups will flourish above the waterline in a low-tech enclosure – literally think outside of the box and design a riparium, paludarium, or vivarium.

Anubias barteri emerse

In my case, I went for both. I currently have an aquarium full of Cryptocoryne and Microsorum, topped with floating (and nitrate consuming) Salvinia natans, and of course, my recently constructed vivarium – which leads me back to my original point about Anubias.

Instead of only cultivating Anubias submersed as I did before, these too now grow above the waterline, not only around the margins, but halfway up the background as well! The plant in the image above (top left) sits in line with a drip wall, its epiphytic roots are constantly wet and slowly creep outwards along the cork bark. This particular ‘nana’ seems to enjoy the spot so much that it has grown twice the size of the others lower down in the tank. I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw flowers anytime soon, as the production rate of new leaves is incredible compared to that experienced underwater. This isn’t to say that I have abandoned submerse culture altogether, though, as I have a handful of plants towards the foreground wherein slow growth is actually appreciated.

Providing a humid environment is maintained, Anubias itself is a very hardy plant; portions of one rhizome can even be seperated into many pieces and grown on to develop as individual plants. Their ease of keeping is exemplified by minimal lighting demands and no need for a substrate, while their visual appeal speaks for itself.



•November 1, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It seems as though WordPress are allowing some (hopefully temporary) advertisements on my newer posts, apparently they do this occasionally to help run the site and keep certain features free for all users. Anyway, I hope they go soon.

Get Excited and Make Something

•November 1, 2011 • 1 Comment

I stumbled upon a thread over at UK Aquatic Plant Society, and haven’t stopped reading it since. One of the forum users has taken it upon themselves to “post something inspirational or inspirational to me at least every day”, resulting in a personal selection of awesome vivaria, photography, and aquascapes that covers 42 pages.

Here’s the link: Get Excited and Make Something

Vivarium (update #1)

•October 13, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I hadn’t anticipated posting much more about my vivarium since it was recently set up, but the amount of growth it seems to have catalysed is something worth documenting.

Ficus sp. ‘Panama’ has started spreading across the top, and even sent out aerial roots – a portion of this was cut and placed elsewhere in the enclosure.

Pellionia repens has taken on vibrant colours, and continues to grow straight upwards, pressed along the cork bark background. I hope to take some cuttings of this sometime soon too.

Begonia schulzei is sending out new leaves along with tiny 5mm flowers.

The Bulbophyllum auratum I receieved in the post a couple months ago didn’t seem to enjoy the journey overseas, most of the pseudobulbs lost their leaves and shrivelled up, so I only managed to keep one of them anywhere near healthy. Since placing it in the vivarium, however, the plant seems to have benefited greatly from a better medium and higher humidity level.  It is already halfway there in production of two more plantlets (A).

Here’s a closeup of the newest development on the right:

Bulbophyllum saurocephalum (sauros = lizard, cephalos = head; lizard head Bulbophyllum – in reference to the flowers) is another orchid which seems to appreciate the warm conditions. It too is sending out a new plantlet, as pictured below:

I was looking at this in detail today, and realised the orchid wasn’t the only thing to enjoy the location. You may be able to spot it in the next picture, but the successive image shows it in further detail.

This hitchhiker measures little over 1mm, and grows from within the moss that cushions the orchid. I hope it’s something tropical!

The mounted spread of Bulbophyllum moniliforme that I bought was divided into various groups and placed within the vivarium at different locations. I did this because of the limited success some people have had with it, but at least this way I can experiment to see what suits it best. Using my lens-modification, I took a picture of a typical 4mm pseudobulb.

Other than established growth, new developments within the vivarium have included additional plants. I have added cuttings of Rotala rotundifolia from my aquarium, more offsets of Anubias barteri, and a species of Polygonum which was delivered to me in submersed form. I divided it and planted pieces above the waterline, hoping that soon it will take on a slightly more pleasant appearance through emerse culture.

The rain system and drip wall seems to be working smoothly. I had one small problem with the rain pump in that sometimes it failed to push all the water up, this was caused by trapped air within the tubing and was easily corrected by drilling a hole just after the filter output. I am regularly performing water changes to rid the pool of tannins, but this may go on for longer than expected as all of the wood is not fully submerged. Some of the colouring will be washed out via the rain system and relative humidity over a longer period of time. Oh well, I’m particularly fond of the blackwater effect for now anyway, the only problem with it will come in due course when I decide to aquascape and add inhabitants.

Vivarium (Construction)

•October 4, 2011 • 2 Comments

At the beginning of the year I decided to build (from scratch) my own vivarium. The idea was inspired largely by a number of online sources, including dendroworld, dendroboards, various vivarium sites, orchid forums, practical fishkeeping, and countless other images around the web. Although I have some experience in maintaining vivaria; a colossal amount of research went (and continues) into a variety of flora, fauna, materials, styles, and approaches to create an environment not only aesthetically pleasing but relatively simple and inexpensive to maintain.

Construction was first initiated by buying an old 2ft aquarium for £5. After thorough cleaning, the tank was rotated upright 90 degrees so that the base then forms the back of a vertical enclosure. This gave me a good view of what I could potentially do with it, maximising both height and depth. It was around this point I decided to create a paludarium.

A paludarium is an enclosure consisting of both terrestrial and aquatic elements, but more specifically, one replicating a marsh or marshland. Strictly speaking, this was not going to be the case for my creation, which is why I have decided simply to refer to it as a vivarium, literally translating as a ‘place of life’. Technically, my theory was to include various simulations of nature which, in turn, could individually qualify for different forms of enclosure classification, e.g. vivarium, aquarium, paludarium, orchidarium, and possibly even riparium. Terminology aside, my plan was to fill the bottom third of the tank with water, leaving semi terrestrial and arboreal space above, serving host to a number of plants and possibly animals.

More research, planning, and careful measurements later, it was clear that parts of the tank itself would have to be modified to accomodate my concept. Imagining the aquarium still stood vertically, the pane of glass at the top had to be removed. For ease and safety, this was carried out with the tank in its original position, and I proceeded with a scalpel blade to slice through the silicone holding the glass panes together. This had to be done very carefully, as too much pressure can fracture the glass, rendering the whole conversion useless.  Luckily, (after having to re-buy a second £5 aquarium), this wasn’t the case, and I tidied up the edges to get rid of any leftover silicone.

I then turned to a glass company who cut out a selection of specifically sized pieces for me. These were modestly priced, and made to measure the exact same thickness as the existing panes on the tank itself. These components created the lower-front section, left and right sliding doors, 3 thin semi-structural pieces, and a lid. The image below displays where some of these pieces were then positioned, using an aquarium-safe silicone to secure them. (Note: The cat was not secured in this way.)

1- Front glass section 2- Semi-structural glass length

Also pictured at the top of the tank are two lengths of black PVC runners bought via eBay, these were siliconed into place in line with the rim of the glass. Their purpose will become clearer in the next image, suffice to say, they do play an important role in customisation of the enclosures lid. After a further pair were secured to enable the use of sliding glass doors (+ handles), I added various widths of black PVC cornering bought from B&Q to dress up the edges.

 1- Front glass section 2- Semi-structural glass length 3- Sliding glass door
4- Sliding glass lid A- Sliding acrylic ventilation & wire outlet lid

Designs were prepared for a sliding acrylic lid that would allow for adequate ventilation, grooves for potential wiring, and (as seen in the second illustration) a circular entry point for an external mist system. Composed of two sheets of selectively cut acrylic, the lid is built up in two levels; the lower (and larger) portion slides along those previously mentioned PVC runners, while the upper half runs in between them, holding a fine mesh in place by means of shallow computer screws.

4- Sliding glass lid A- Sliding acrylic ventilation & wire outlet lid B– Sliding acrylic buffer lid

The latter design is closer to the final outcome, although the circular entry point (on the left) was never drilled due to a change in plan. The layout for ventilation, however, remains very much the same (as seen in image 2).

Lid(s) completed and a further addition of more PVC cornering, I then made sure that the inside of the tank was watertight by resealing the joins with silicone. Doing this now was vital, as the next stage literally involved covering the interior with cork bark and sumatran driftwood.  If you proceeded with this, and then found out you had an inaccessible leak, you would have to cut out everything just to get to it and start again. I made sure this was not going to happen.

As mentioned, the interior was fitted with chunks of cork bark (- collected from pet shops), and Sumatran driftwood, which is a relatively new import for aquascaping (- I bought branches of this through eBay). Cork bark is easy to manage, as you can get quite a lot of it fairly cheaply, it’s lightweight, and very easy to cut. I did this mostly with a scalpel blade, chopping it into specific bits and siliconing them into place wherever I wanted. The Sumatran driftwood, on the other hand, is an incredibly hard wood, which is great for resistance in humid conditions, but rediculous to cut so you can actually get them in there! It’s also comparatively expensive, so I made the most of what pieces I had.

I positioned the cork bark primarily to create a background with pockets in for planting – circular pieces are ideal for this. The Sumatran driftwood is angled to poke outwards, almost like a permeable midground, accentuating depth in the process; these areas are better suited as mounts for orchids. I had planned on using part of the background as a drip-wall, so it made even more sense to create different surfaces on levels that would allow for a variety of ecological niches. As well as a drip wall, I also developed the idea for a simple internal rain system, this would prove much more efficient than the external misting envision for a number of reasons, but primarily the ease of having a self-contained water supply.

Two lengths of clear tubing were fitted behind the background, one for the drip wall, and the other for the rain system. Originally, each of these were going to connect to Fluval Mini filter pumps because of their reputably silent nature, but they just couldn’t handle the pressure needed to push water 2ft up. Instead, I reluctantly plugged one into a spare Interpet PF Mini – previously I had used this as an aquarium pump and found it far too noisy, now however, I couldn’t have been happier! The filter not only managed to deal with pushing up the water perfectly, but it seems the pressure actually made it quieter in the process.  I instantly went out and bought another for the rain maker.

Water was syphoned out after testing the pumps, and once dry again, I continued to complete the background. I applied cork bark to the background, including the submerged area at the bottom, a piece was also fitted to conceal the filters. Any gaps between the wood were filled with pieces of garden basket liner – a fibrous material with a wooly texture, these made the background look better completed and serve as ideal media for the roots of certain plants.

When I was happy with the background I began constructing the light canopy. Using scrap wood, I first built what was essentially a wooden frame that sits on the perimeter of the glass rim, other pieces were then structured to aid the housing of various components. I painted this black using a satin wood paint. Wider lengths of PVC cornering were then screwed onto the underside of the wooden frame, giving the canopy a secure fit around the vivarium.

The question of how to light the vivarium took a lot of research before I came to any clear answer. The two biggest problems were deciding what form of lighting I was going to use and whether it would produce enough light for the inhabitants. In the end I settled on compact fluorescents (CFL). Although they do produce some heat, it is minimal compared to that of incandescents, they’re cheaper to run, and come in a selection of colour ranges. What I hadn’t quite anticipated was that the larger the wattage, the bigger the bulb, so I was quite surprised when my 45w arrived in the post.

The reflector was cut from an aluminium sheet bought at B&Q, with a bit of effort this was made possible by steel ruler, scalpel blade, and goggles. The sheet was simply angled across various points to maximise light refraction and drilled to accomodate an Arcadia ceramic lamp holder each side, the result was then fitted within the canopy itself. Lamp holders were positioned specifically to make efficient use of the DIY reflector, allow for enough space between bulbs, and optimimise light coverage below.

Where the ventilation lid comes into contact with the back of the vivarium, I have incorporated a fan that sits above it behind the lighting canopy. I rewired a 12v computer fan to a multi-voltage AC/DC transformer, this acts as a potentiometer for different speed settings and allows me to plug it into a timer for automated air exchange. I also used some leftover PVC cornering turned upright as tracks, enabling the fan to be maneuvered where I need ventilation the most. The other two wires in the image below belong to the lamp holders, they alternate either side to best avoid overheating.

What has so far felt like a year-long project, turns out to be closer to around 6 months. Either way, I was glad to have finished construction of the vivarium and get started on the planting! After turning on the lights and testing the pumps, I began to fill up pockets with composted substrate and orchid bark – it was apparent from the drip wall where particular plants needed to go in order to cope with certain conditions. I tied orchids to branches using cotton thread cushioned by moss, aquatic plants climb the wetter areas, and the terrestrial climbers are establishing themselves towards the top.

At the moment the vivarium undergoes close analysis while I try and figure out how often the rain system and ventilation come on, but the lighting remains a constant. A 15w 2700k CFL comes on at 8:00, followed by the 45w 6400k CFL at 8:30, this transition is much less sudden (especially for potential inhabitants) than if they were to come on together. The same happens in the evening, but reversed.

I haven’t finished planting yet, but the essentials are in, and any future addition will see itself tailored to a particular poistion once i’m more familiar with the environmental niches.

The plant list is currently as follows:

-Bulbophyllum ambrosia
-Bulbophyllum lasiochilum
-Bulbophyllum auratum
-Bulbophyllum saurocephalum
-Bulbophyllum moniliforme
-Sophronitis cernua
-Trias nasuta

-Tradescantia sp. ‘Dark green’
-Ficus sp. ‘Panama’
-Begonia schulzei
-Pellionia repens
Tropical Pillow Moss
Sphagnum Moss

-Lilaeopsis sp.
-Helxine soleirolii
-Glossostigma elatinoides
-Hemianthus callitrichoides
-Anubias barteri var. nana
-Anubias barteri var. nana ‘Petite’
-Anubias barteri var. caladiifolia
-Vesicularia montagnei ‘Christmas Moss’
-‘Java Moss’

Apart from a handful of Anubias, I have delayed aquascaping until all the tannins release from the background. From previous experience with wood in the aquarium, this should take just over a month (with water changes) to clear. I can’t wait until everything grows out, concealing the wiring and most of the background. This is going to take some time, however, but differences between monthly photographs should be apparent. I have already noticed prominent growth in some of the plants, so i’ll just have to be patient. When cycled, I plan on stocking the vivarium with cherry shrimp, I have wanted these for a while now, but refrained from getting any for my aquarium until that grows out too. My theory is as follows:

The pool at the bottom of the vivarium will be inhabited by Neocaridina heteropoda, which feed on algae and the detritus fallen from the planted canopy above. They are effective scavengers, requiring minimal maintenance but the need for clean aquarium contiditions. The little waste they do produce will be broken down not only by an internal canister filter, but the plants themselves, both below and above the waterline.

Obviously this theory is going to need some testing, but that’s all part of the fun.

Dragonfly Drum

•August 3, 2011 • 1 Comment

About a week ago my Dad asked me to paint a drum he’d made. All he asked for was a dragonfly, and despite further questioning, he said, “I’ll leave it up to you”. The finished piece is going to a friend of his, so hopefully they’ll enjoy it:

I haven’t used acrylics (or painted for that matter) in years, so i’m fairly pleased with it.

Astrophytum asterias

•June 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Bloom! The first flower for this plant so far, and its massive! Of the two asterias I managed to raise from my first cactus seed batch a few years ago, this is the one I grafted. Although the plant is growing on its own roots now, the difference in size is spectacular, with the other little bigger than a 5 pence piece. I’m tempted to grow more Astrophytum but the general growth rate is painfully slow, I might just stick to my Gymnocalycia for now.

Astrophytum asterias