5 Best Aquarium Plants for High Tech Planted Tanks with CO2
Ever heard of “low tech” or “high tech” when talking about a planted aquarium? Have you ever wondered what the difference is? The more energy used to create an aquarium setup, then the better. A high tech planted tank may use intensely bright lighting, a pressurized carbon dioxide (CO2) gas system, and large amounts of fertilizer. High tech tanks require more maintenance and are therefore more expensive because they consume a lot of energy. Low tech planted tanks might require minimal lighting, little CO2 and only one fertilization per week. Low-light setups can be more affordable and are easier to maintain over the long term.
With the exception of a few species, almost any aquarium plant has the ability to thrive in a high tech tank because all of its needs (e.g., nutrients, light, and CO2) are being met in abundance. There are however many aquarium plants that cannot survive in these conditions. These plants can thrive in both low-tech and high-tech environments. What you may not realize is that a plant grown in a low-tech aquarium can turn out to be completely different in high-tech aquariums.
1. Scarlet Temple
Alternanthera reineckii (also known as scarlet temple or “AR”) is a naturally pink-colored plant even in an aquarium without bright lights and added CO2. The undersides of the leaves will remain vibrant pink while the surface of the leaves appear more golden brown. It is possible to get a deep reddish-red or magenta color throughout the plant if you grow this plant in medium to high light.
Alternanthera reineckii and Scarlet temple
2. Hydrocotyle tripartita ‘Japan’
Hydrocotyle Tripartita Japan’s unique leaves look just like miniature shamrock and clover leaves. This plant is small and delicate, making it ideal for aquascaping. The plant may grow tall stems that are slightly higher than the substrate or crawl along the substrate. 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. However, it can be grown to its full potential in a low tech tank with adequate light, nutrients, and sufficient 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 tears is a unique plant with some of the tiniest leaves of any aquatic plant in the trade, and it is truly enjoyable to watch it grow and fill in.
Dwarf baby tears or Hemianthus callitrichoides ‘Cuba’
4. Monte Carlo
Micranthemum “Monte Carlo” or Micranthemum “tweediei” is a good alternative to the dwarf baby tears. This plant is easier to care for and will grow faster in low tech environments. However, if you give it at least medium light and plenty of essential nutrients, monte carlo can really take off and form a cascading river of green leaves along the substrate of your tank.
Monte carlo or Micranthemum tweediei
5. Ammannia gracilis
Ammannia gracilis is quite a beautiful plant. This stem plant, like the ever-changing colors of autumn leaves, can take on a variety of shades depending on its growing conditions. Ammanniagracilis specimens will show greenish-yellow to light brown color in low tech tanks with moderate lighting. 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.
Bonus: Christmas Moss
This is the unexpected twist. Christmas moss, or Vesicularia montei, can thrive in high-tech environments with high levels of light. You can observe a more compact pattern of growth if you provide lots of light and extra CO2, as well as a heavy fertilizer application schedule. As the moss matures, the new leaves, or fronds, become more compact and tightly layered. In a high-tech tank, they are also more horizontal. 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 montagnei
Why do plants turn red in high tech aquariums?
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. The pigment chlorophyll is what makes a green plant appear green to our eyes. Intense light can cause chlorophyll to become damaged. 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 (the red color we see) act as a “sunscreen” that protects the plant cells from sunburn.
Our LED Aquarium Lighting Guide offers recommendations for lighting that is best for high-light tanks versus low-light tanks.