It was only a short time ago we would not give artificial house plants house room, sorry for the pun. But now, how many times whether in a friend's house or a restaurant have we seen plants and flowers that we just have to feel or touch, to see if they are real, they look that good?

Well, this is now the case with aquatic plants that are used in tropical and coldwater aquarium conditions. Hagen, manufactures of pet products worldwide, say that both silk and plastic plants for the aquarium have become their top-selling products. This runs into thousands of plants being used in all types of aquarium set ups. Aquarist realise the value of these plants when keeping those plant-eating Characins, large Cichlids that can not resist digging up natural plants and not forgetting our Goldfish that also like to nibble.

However many of us like to have natural plants in our community aquarium set ups, furnishing a three foot tank with them can be quite daunting as well as costly, more so if we would like to use rooted plants such as those within the plant families Aponogeton, Cryptocoryne or Echinodorus.

Too often we purchase so called "bunch plants" like Cabomba and Hygrophila species, as they are more cost effective. These species require plenty of strong light, often in excess of twelve hours a day. When they do not receive these conditions, they grow stringy in their fight to reach the water surface for more and better light. There they grow across the surface blocking out whatever remaining light there might be, to eventually die back altogether.

With this in mind, why do we not take advantage of what can be achieved with quality artificial plants, and what will be even more beneficial, a mixture of both artificial and natural plants? Both artificial and natural plants require anchoring in gravel, either by roots or mounting blocks (in the case of artificial plants).

Gravel is sold in a strong plastic bags making it easy (although still heavy!) to transport to the car. It's normally marked "washed gravel" don't take that for granted, washed it might be, but clean enough for your aquarium it certainly isn't.
Wash your gravel under running water, a small quantity at a time, whilst in a bucket, continuously turning over the gravel till the water eventually runs clear.

Place the gravel in your aquarium building up these small quantities until they reach the desired amount. Gently push and sweep the gravel so it remains higher at the rear of the tank, a gentle rise from a layer of 20mm at the front glass.
A slight sweep upwards at both outer corners of the aquarium gives a desired affect of focusing one's eyes centrally into the furnished tank when complete.

These days it is not regarded as being environmentally friendly to bring home natural rock or slate from the countryside, even though there may have been mountains of the stuff where you were! So, in our set up, I have used 'rock' made of a ceramic-like substance which passes well for Cornish Slate.

Because I was restricted to one design, I placed four pieces in an "S" formation midway horizontally across the gravel clustering three of them together, with the remaining piece somewhat isolated. Placing the three pieces in close proximity and digging them into the rising sweep of the gravel gained an illusion of height.

When planting up furnished aquaria I always start with the foreground planting first, this is often the most difficult and critical part of your set up - the part of the aquarium that the eyes notice first.

Key to Plants (natural species in green, otherwise artificial)

 1  Echinodorus major (Amazon Sword)
 2  Echinodorus cordifolius (Radicans Sword)
 3  Nymphaea stellata (Lily)
 4  Synnema triflorum (Water Wistaria)

 5  Vallisneria spiralis (Twisted Vallis)
 6  Echinodorus tenellus (Dwarf Swordplant)
 7  Ludwigia mullertii (Red Ludwigia)
 8  Anubias nana (Dwarf Anubias)
 9  Eleocharis acicularia (Hairgrass)
10  Lobelia siphilitica (Green Lobelia)

Natural plants for the foreground are often hard to choose from or obtain, in either quality or, more importantly, size. So it was time to put artificial plants to the test, right in this most critical part of our set up.

I used three boxed quantities of the Dwarf Amazon Sword Plant, Echinodorus tenellus .These are mounted on a plastic grating that can be divided into three smaller amounts so you don't have to use the whole plant in one area.
You will find these really easy to work with, you can shape them, divide them up, and when you are satisfied with their position you just cover the grating with gravel using one or two planting sticks or your fingers.
To encourage the eye to drift towards the background of the set up I planted a natural plant, Water Wisteria, Synnema triflorum, (a 'cutting' type of plant that looks like the Rocket Lettuce that we add to a salad).

By cutting the plant to the desired height, starting with the shortest pieces and increasing their height as we plant in a backwards fashion, we are now landscaping our plants in a natural effect.

To the left-hand side of the aquarium at the rear we have placed an internal filter and this we really would like to hide; here also is a good place to position the heater/thermostat unit. I selected a natural plant in the form of Amazon Sword Plant, Echinodorus major, although one of the many forms of Vallisneria could have been used, but the larger Amazon Sword Plant has more impact and gives better cover of the filter and heater.

To balance the set up I complemented these with more Amazon Plants to the right-hand side of the aquarium. Next to these, and to the left, I planted two magnificent examples of the Radican Sword Plant, Echinodorus cordifolius, with its broad leaves, a contrasting plant against the much narrower leaves of the normal Amazon Sword Plant.

We still have a gap in the middle to left of our background plants, so let's put the artificial plants really to the test by using artificial Amazon Sword Plants. In they went (don't forget to cover the mounting blocks of these type of plants with the gravel), step back, take a look, can you tell the difference?
I will leave that decision up to you.

We now have vacant areas just to the front of the Amazon Sword plants, both to the left, and to the right-hand sides of the set up, directly behind the rocks. Here once again is our chance to use artificial plants, with no chance of them growing and cutting out the view of those plants that form our background.

To the left I have used Red Ludwigia, Ludwigia mullertii, giving both contrast in their leaves and colour, to the right Green Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica.
Shame on me! I am sure you all recognise more as a summer-time bog plant that we grow round our outdoor ponds.

This is a classic type set up for a community aquarium in our home, so why not "picture frame" it, with both artificial Dwarf Hairgrass, Eleocharis acicularis, to the right at the front and Dwarf Anubias, Anubias nana, to the left at the front?

Finally our "pièce-de-resistance" two growing corms (bulbs) of the Water Lily, Nymphaea stellata, placed just in the front of the middle to left rock, and just starting to show new leaves.

As these plants grow they will give you many months of pleasure combining the non-maintenance of the artificial plants with the low maintenance of the natural ones. What fish shall we have?
I don't want to spoil all your fun, I will leave that up to you.

All inquires about these plants and silk plants contact:

Customer Services.
Rolf C. Hagen(UK)Ltd. California Drive
Whitwood Ind. Est. Castleford
West Yorkshire WF1 0 SQH

Last updated March 2005

                  TOP OF PAGE