Many of us growing up, unfortunately, kept goldfish in a small bowl, usually with garishly coloured red and purple plastic plants. Still, in recent years we have all become much better informed. Goldfish bowls are now rarely sold, and plastic plants are unpopular; instead, the health and well-being of the fish we keep are paramount. Aquariums with good filtration and live plants are now widespread, even for goldfish.
As the hobby has grown, interest in planted aquariums has grown in popularity. Creating a little piece of nature at home, with plants and animals living in balance, is a rewarding and fun hobby that brings joy to many people. Learning to keep animals and plants together successfully in a small space takes time and experience, but the rewards are enormous.
Keeping plants in aquariums is not new - the Victorians would keep goldfish and other cold water-loving fish like the paradise fish in rudimentary glass boxes with noisy mechanical air pumps oxygenating the water. The plants were usually sourced from local ponds and rivers.
As technology improved in the 1960s, heaters became available to home hobbyists, and filters improved, allowing a greater range of delicate tropical fishes and plants to be kept successfully. The early aquarists experimented with garden and houseplant soils. Natural light and fluorescent bulbs helped the plants grow underwater. As technology improved, interest in aquarium plants became known as Aquascaping and created a new hobby.
The Aquascape hobby at the beginning followed similar rules to traditional European gardening; design concepts were formal, and planting in clumps became known as the Dutch style. The aquariums were arranged to show the plants, with little regard for natural planting. While undoubtedly beautiful, the dutch plating style bore little resemblance to natural biotopes. In the last 1970 and early 80s, this changed with the advent of a new natural movement led by the late great Takashi Amano. In 1977, Amano made a breakthrough in aquarium plant keeping. He experimented with carbon dioxide injection and stronger lighting, which helped the plants photosynthesise. Plants grew better than ever underwater, leading to beautiful naturalistic aquascapes that mimicked the best of nature.
Amano's artistic flair combined with Wabi-Sabi (a Japanese art style that seeks beauty in imperfection) with the traditional Japanese zen art combined with his talent for photography was the perfect match to create a new hobby, the 'Nature Aquarium'.
Terrariums, Orchidarium and Mossariums
Terrariums are glass boxes containing just soil and plants. They were initially called Wardian cases and invented by English botanist Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward in 1842 by accident. Originally his glass boxes were designed to keep moths, but Dr Bagshaw noticed his delicate ferns and mosses were thriving in the enclosed humid environment of the glass cases. Ward wrote a book about his discovery and displayed his Wardian cases at the great exhibition, where his plant boxes became a sensation, creating a new hobby still thriving today.
The Wardian case eventually evolved into a terrarium – derived from land (terra) and aquarium (arium) – that became very popular in the 1970s and is experiencing a massive resurgence of interest in the 2020s with millions of people sharing and creating new terrariums on social media.
Terrariums help keep delicate plants that can't be kept in centrally heated homes that are too warm and dry for humidity-loving tropical plants. Closed terrariums can maintain a stable environment throughout the year, similar to the tropics. Sometimes, only one plant species is kept in a Terrarium, like an Orchidarium, explicitly made for the cultivation of orchids. Mossariums are also becoming more popular, with different types of moss used to create beautiful miniature landscapes.
Vivariums and Paludarium
Vivariums (Latin for "place of life") are glass boxes similar to terrariums, except they contain living animals, such as amphibians and reptiles. Vivariums come in many shapes and sizes, but new trends lean towards creating the exact conditions in the animal's natural habitat, including mimicking the temperature, humidity and lighting.
Different terrariums include Paludarium, a terrarium with a body of water. In a Paludarium, you can have all kinds of plants, including submerged and floating plants in the water and houseplants.
Terrarium, Vivarium, and Paludarium plants are semi-aquatic, terrestrial and epiphytic plants suitable for growing in vivariums, terrariums etc., because of their smaller size and love of humidity. Natural plants in a Terrarium, Vivarium, and Paludarium not only look good but also help create a natural and healthy environments for aquatic life. Many aquarists use pothos and other plants that readily root in water in open-topped aquariums to create beautiful and naturalistic shrimp and fish habitats effortlessly. The plants will also remove nitrates through the roots in the water. Check out our full range of plants here