For many of today’s aquascapers, Takashi Amano was their inspiration.
“I’ve always had fish, but I also loved being out in nature, around rivers and lakes,” said George Lo, CEO of Aqua Forest Aquarium in San Francisco, California. “So when I saw a book by Takashi Amano on nature aquariums while I was in college, I fell in love immediately.”
Thanks to Amano, George and his brother Steven have gone on to create a successful retail and wholesale business. Aqua Forest Aquarium is a retail store that provides plants and equipment to hobbyists in San Francisco. It is also an exclusive distributor of Aqua Design Amano (ADA), Amano’s own line of products designed specifically for planted aquariums.
Lo wasn’t the only person inspired by Amano. The Japanese photographer and aquarium designer has been credited with introducing the idea of nature aquariums to the world, putting the focus on plants as opposed to fish as the primary inhabitants of the aquarium. In 1982, after establishing his own unique style of design, Amano founded ADA in Japan to sell equipment and products to others interested in aquascaping. In 1992, when Amano published a photo book of nature aquariums that was translated into seven different languages, the beauty and awe of aquascaping began to catch on in other countries, including the United States.
Although Amano passed away in 2016, the interest in aquascaping continues to grow, thanks in part to LED lights, new filters and better products that help people create an environment within an aquarium that allows both plants and fish to thrive.
The Natural Element
Aquascaping can be approached in two different ways. Some people prefer to build an exact replica of an aquatic landscape, such as an Australian reef or the Amazon River. Others mix and match fish and plants, just looking to create something pretty.
“Whatever technique that’s used, live plants enhance the natural colors of the fish, improve disease resistance, and for many species improve the chances of spawning,” said Scott Rabe, director of marketing at Central Aquatics.
It’s important to have a good variety of plants available for customers looking to build or add to a planted aquarium, from groundcovers to accent plants. Groundcover plants help fill an aquarium and provide the carpet-like texture. Japanese dwarf hairgrass is a good plant that grows quickly because it is propagated by runners. Micranthemum “Monte Carlo” is another popular groundcover, according to Lo.
Color and texture are also important when choosing plants for the aquarium.
“Red plants are popular now for their striking color,” said Lo, adding that Alternanthera reineckii is popular, as is Florida Aquatics Nurseries’ “Red Mini,” a new variety of the popular Bucephalandra species that adds a splash of color. Collectors will also be excited for the new Anubius Nana Petite White, available in a limited supply, which has variegated leaves that are heavily white, providing a bright contrast to the greens and other colors of the aquarium plants.
In addition to the new species, plants such as sword plants, anubias, ludwigia and bacopa stem plants and the grass- like Vallisneria, or eelgrass, remain popular for their hardiness and beauty.
“Every retail store should be fully stocked with a good variety of popular, easy-to-grow plants to help establish new aquariums and fill in spots in established ones,” said Brandon McLane, vice president of Florida Aquatics Nursery.
Rocks and wood elements help complete the natural environment. ZooMed, Penn Plax and Elive Pet all offer driftwood in various shapes and sizes to provide shelter and interest for the fish in the aquarium. Penn Plax has also introduced a line of resin kits in three different themes—Tropical, Nautical and Zen—to add more options for the aquascaping customer.
“Customers are always on the lookout for all-in-one buying opportunities, and with our kits they can buy all the décor they need to fulfill a complete theme,” said Marissa Kactioglu of Penn Plax, Inc.
The Right Equipment
Creating a beautiful aquarium takes much more than placing a few plants in among the fish. Thanks to advances in lighting, filters and even cleaning accessories, it’s easier than ever for today’s hobbyists to build and maintain an environment where plants and fish can thrive. Most aquatic plants require relatively high intensity light with a specific color spectrum, as well as a consistent day/night cycle. Aqueon’s OptiBright MAX and OptiBright+ LED fixtures with white, red and blue moon-glow LEDs are good for plants that require low to medium light levels. And recently, Aqueon Clip-On LED lights were launched with a Planted Aquarium option that comes with 60 bright LEDs to support lush plant growth.
“The clip-on feature makes them adaptable to virtually any aquarium,” Rabe said.
Maintaining the aquarium with very little disturbance is key to keeping plants and root systems in place and healthy. That’s where adjustable flow filters such as the Penn Plax line of Cascade canister filters can come in handy.
“We recommend using a spray bar in conjunction with the filter to disrupt the water as little as possible,” Kactioglu said.
Even with a filter and the added benefits of plants improving the water quality, regular water changes are important. Python Products saw the increasing popularity of planted tanks and introduced the Small Tall hose, an attachment with a one-inch wide nozzle that can get in and around areas of the tank without disturbing the soil and dispersing it all over the place.
Shrimp and Plants
Aquascaping and nano tanks are two areas growing in popularity for aquarium enthusiasts, so it only seems natural that people would bring the two together, creating tiny little environments teeming with plants, fish and shrimp for the desktop or other small spaces. One of the newest products from Aqueon, the Designer LED Shrimp Aquarium Kit, makes it easy to marry aquascaping with the nano trend. The aquarium kit comes with the 60-bright Clip-On LED lights, 10 pounds of Plant and Shrimp Substrate, and a QuietFlow Internal Shrimp filter.
“A major concern in planted shrimp aquariums is preventing the shrimp, especially young ones, from being drawn into the filter intake,” Rabe said. “Aqueon has eliminated this concern with the pre-filter sponge that prevents shrimp from entering the filter housing.”
Whether customers are interested in nano aquariums or large displays, are just beginning in aquariums or are long-time hobbyists, the options of adding more living things to the aquarium continues to grow.
“More than ever, people are viewing aquariums as more than just a ‘fish tank,’ but as living art,” Rabe said. “They’re cherished for their beauty and serenity, and aquascaping offers another way for people to indulge their passions.”