5 Best Aquarium Plants for High Tech Planted Tanks with CO2
You may have heard the terms “low tech” (or “high tech”) used to refer to a planted tank. Have you ever wondered what the difference was? The more energy used to create an aquarium setup, then the better. High-tech planted tanks might have intensely bright lighting, high levels of fertilizer, and pressurized carbon dioxide gas (CO2) gas. Because a lot of energy is going into the system, high tech setups are often very costly and need more maintenance than a low tech tank. Low tech plants tanks may require low lighting and no extra CO2 as well as minimal fertilization once per week. Low light systems are generally less costly and more cost-effective over the long-term.
With the exception of some species, virtually every aquarium plant can thrive in a high-tech tank. It is being provided with all its basic needs (e.g. nutrients, light, CO2) in an abundance. There are however many aquarium plants that cannot survive in these conditions. The plants discussed in this article have been carefully selected because they can grow in both low tech and high tech environments. You might not be aware that the same plant can look completely different when it is grown in a low tech aquarium.
1. Scarlet Temple
Alternanthera reineckii is also known as scarlet temple, or “AR” and can be kept in an aquarium with no bright lights. It has a naturally pink color. The undersides of the leaves will remain vibrant pink while the surface of the leaves appear more golden brown. This plant can be grown with moderate to high levels of light and additional nutrients (especially CO2) to produce deep red to magenta colors throughout the entire plant.
Scarlet temple or Alternanthera reineckii
2. Hydrocotyle tripartita ‘Japan’
Hydrocotyle Tripartita Japan’s unique leaves look just like miniature shamrock and clover leaves. It is a small and delicate plant, which makes it perfect for aquascaping. This plant can grow tall stems with a slight upward growth pattern in low-tech tanks or creep along the substrate’s surface. However, when given a high tech environment and regular pruning, this plant can become quite dense, bushy, and low-growing with many leaves, forming a lush pillow of clovers.
Hydrocotyle tripartita ‘Japan’
3. Dwarf Baby Tears
Although it is possible, it can be challenging for some to grow a dense, thick carpet of dwarf baby tear (Hemianthus Callitrichoides “Cuba”) without high-light and pressurized CO2. It can, however, be grown successfully in a lower tech tank provided it has adequate light, nutrients and time. Those who do not want to wait many months for a mature carpet to form can opt to add this plant to a high tech tank where it will grow at a much, much faster rate. Dwarf baby tear is an uncommon aquatic plant. It has some of the most tiny leaves in the trade. It is really fun to watch it grow and fill up.
Dwarf baby tears or Hemianthus callitrichoides ‘Cuba’
4. Monte Carlo
Micranthemum tweediei or Micranthemum ‘Monte Carlo’ is an excellent alternative to those with little luck growing the aforementioned dwarf baby tears. This plant does not require as much care, and can grow at a faster rate even in low-tech environments. Monte carlo will thrive if given adequate light and nutrients. It can form a river of green leaves that runs along the tank’s substrate.
Monte carlo or Micranthemum tweediei
5. Ammannia gracilis
Ammannia gracilis is quite a beautiful plant. Like the colors of our ever-changing autumn leaves, this stem plant can take on various shades of yellow, orange, and red, depending on the conditions in which it is growing. A low tech tank with medium lighting will bring out a greenish-yellow to light orange color in Ammannia gracilis specimens. A high-tech tank with lots of nutrients, CO2, high lighting and high light will enable this plant to show bright red to almost maroon-pink colors throughout the plant.
This is the unexpected twist. Christmas moss, or Vesicularia montei, can thrive in high-tech environments with high levels of light. A lot of light, extra CO2 and a strict fertilizer schedule can result in a more compact growth pattern. As the moss grows, the fronds or new “leaves” remain closer together, tightly layered, and more horizontal in a high tech tank. As the new fronds absorb as much light as they can, the growth pattern in a low tech tank is less compacted and more vertical.
Christmas moss or Vesicularia mountaini
Why Do Plants Turn Red in a High Tech Aquarium?
The simple answer lies in light and an important chemical called anthocyanin. It is the same chemical that gives fall red leaves and purple-colored vegetables and fruits. A green plant contains a pigment called chlorophyll, which makes it appear green to our eyes. But intense light can damage chlorophyll. To fight this, the plant produces a different red pigment called anthocyanin. This pigment can withstand extremely bright lighting better and can absorb excess light energy in a way that is safe for the plant. Anthocyanins, or the red color that we see, act as a sunscreen to protect the plant cells against being burned.
Check out our LED Aquarium Lighting Guide for recommendations on the best lighting for your tank.