The essence of incorporating plants in aquascapes cannot be overemphasized. Aquarists tend to go for plants because of the various benefits they provide.
Aquarium plants go a long way in decorating aquariums; by introducing a variety of colors, forms, shapes, and dimensions hence making the tanks aesthetically pleasing and giving off a long-lasting impression.
In the same vein, aquarium plants aid in making the aquatic environment more habitable and pleasant for fish and invertebrates. They also provide cover and hiding places for fish fry and inverts, as well as breeding grounds for fish to lay their eggs.
Now, the topic of discussion is about the choice of aquarium plants, there seems to be an overbearing discrepancy when it comes to this— with many opting for natural or live plants to add to their aquariums while others have a fondness for fake plants due to a number of justifiable reasons.
Whether it’s live plants or fake plants, one can’t simply point at any of these as the best option for fish tanks, so it all boils down to the discretion of the aquascaper/hobbyist.
In this article, we will be exploring the features of live plants and fake plants, in addition to their pros and cons to allow aquarists to choose which is best for them without contemplation. Let’s get right to it!
Live Plants in Aquariums
Advantages of Having Live Plants in Aquariums
Natural Feel and Aura
A great percentage of hobbyists have a thing for natural (live) plants. Of course, nothing beats the natural feel and aura created by the presence of a variety of healthy, vivid live plants. Without a doubt, live plants are certain to help aquarists recreate the natural home of fish better than fake plants.
Live plants synergize with other elements to provide an ideal environment for aquarium fish and inverts which is typical of their natural habitats. Additionally, they offer many roles that fake plants cannot match, however, keep in mind that some live plants are not beginner-friendly and require more care.
Biological Aspect. Aeration
Looking at the biological aspect, live plants are living things. Thus they will actively grow and respire in the aquarium. During the daytime, healthy live plants will absorb CO2 and give off oxygen in large amounts, thereby aiding in the maintenance of a healthy environment for the inhabitants.
Also, this process reverses at night when plants use up oxygen and release CO2, and this may create a problem in heavily planted tanks if the CO2 levels become too high whereas the oxygen levels decrease greatly.
Furthermore, they aid in the filtration of toxins in the aquarium water. Healthy live plants absorb nitrates and phosphates in the tank water, hence making it safer for fish and other tank inhabitants.
You can read more about it in the article “Everything about Nitrates in Planted Tanks”.
Similarly, they may hold beneficial bacteria that facilitate the breakdown of waste and nitrogenous compounds.
Live plants can play a fundamental role in reducing aquarium maintenance. In certain setups, they will allow aquarists to even avoid water changes.
For more information, check my article “No Water Change Tank?! Top Offs vs Water Change.”.
Plants and algae always compete for the nutrients in the water. However, because plants are considered to be a “higher life-form” compared to algae, they usually out-compete the algae for the same nutrients reducing the algae growth.
In addition, through different mechanisms, such as root secretion, leaching, volatilization, plants release allelopathic chemicals. These chemicals affect algae as well.
Read more about it in my article “Allelopathy or Warfare in Aquarium Plants”.
Prevent Anaerobic pockets (Hydrogen Sulfide)
Although only plants with well-developed root systems can help us out here, I still need to mention it.
Note: This does not apply to Floating plants, or plants that do not use roots to anchor in the substrate.
The roots of plants will help to break up anaerobic pockets in the substrate.
If your substrate is deep enough, there will be Hydrogen sulfide pockets (H2S, it smells like rotten eggs) in the tank. This gas is dangerous and can kill your fish or shrimp.
Downsides of Having Live Plants in Aquariums
Pollute the Tank
On the contrary, live plants can equally make the tank unclean when their leaves die off and decay in the aquarium thereby creating waste, hence their dead/decaying leaves should be removed immediately to avoid pollution of the tank water.
Transfer Pest, Algae, and Parasites
Moreover, live plants are known to bring in harmful pests such as snails (Bladder snails, Ponds snails, etc.), dangerous insects (Dragonfly nymphs, Waterbugs, etc.), as well as algae and parasites into the aquarium, and these things are capable of wreaking havoc therein.
Actually, live plants are the main culprits here! It is very easy to accidentally introduce all this nasty stuff into the tank.
This is the reason why it is very important to disinfect live plants thoroughly before planting them in the tank, or else you at risk of having disease-causing organisms in your aquarium.
For more information, read the article “How to Quarantine and Disinfect Aquarium Plants”.
Live plants also serve as an alternative food source for certain species of aquarium fish since they consider it highly palatable. So it is not unusual to see your fish moving to the soft, green foliage of live plants in your tank and making a snack out of them to satisfy their cravings.
In addition, most types of crayfish or freshwater crabs are not a good combination as well. These animals will cut, eat, and uproot everything in the tank. So, keep it in mind.
Require Specific Growth Requirements
Notably, live aquarium plants require specific growth requirements to thrive. They need a sufficient amount of light and food in the form of nutrients obtained from the substrate and aquarium water.
The problem is that all plant species are different.
Some plants require ample lighting, CO2, and good plant fertilizers (rich in macro and micronutrients) to sustain their healthy growth habits. While others prefer low light tank setup and can grow without fertilizers pretty well.
Therefore, you will have to find the balance for your tank.
In addition, the choice of fertilizers can be limited because of the livestock you have in the tank. The point is that a high level of CO2 and Copper (most fertilizers contain copper) is extremely dangerous to the shrimp.
Important: If you keep dwarf shrimp and decorative snails in the tank, I would highly recommend reading my articles:
CO2 in a Planted Tank Guide
CO2 in a Shrimp Tank
How Copper Affects Dwarf Shrimp
Shrimp Safe Plant Fertilizers
Lastly, pruning is required to keep live plants in good condition. When plants grow too large they tend to look less appealing thereby hampering on the aesthetics of the aquarium.
Therefore, live plants need to be regularly pruned in order to maintain a nice layout and promote the growth of side shoots.
Although some varieties of the plants are small and can be kept in small tanks, there are plants that will require bigger tanks to adequately accommodate their needs.
All these factors are not needed by fake plants since they are artificial.
Pros of Live Aquarium Plants
Cons of Live Aquarium Plants
Fake Plants in Aquariums
Advantages of Having Fake Plants in Aquariums
Fake plants may not appear as real as live plants but that doesn’t take away its part in beautifying the aquarium in addition to other roles.
Like live plants, fake or artificial plants offer a lush appearance to aquascapes and provide lots of hiding places for small fish and inverts to explore, yet this type of plant clearly has no biological value.
Easy to Care
On the bright side, they do not grow and become tattered like live plants, neither do they die off or decay in the aquarium.
Fake plants are easier to rearrange or relocate in the tank, and they can be easily taken out of the tank for proper cleaning if at all they get attached with algae films or dirt. Also, replacing them is easy, just take out the old plant and place the newly acquired one in the aquarium.
It is worth mentioning that fake plants have no need for ample lighting, plant fertilizers, enriched substrate, and CO2 supplementation.
Easy to Keep
Fake aquarium plants do not have any special tank requirements— they can be kept in any range of temperature, pH, kH, GH, and lighting conditions without encountering any problem.
Another good thing is that fake plants require less maintenance— you don’t have to prune the shoots because they are static; not capable of increasing in size or propagating too, and they are quite easy to care for.
No Pests and Parasites
In most cases, they will not introduce pests and parasites into your aquarium. Anyway, that shouldn’t halt you from disinfecting them with a cleaning agent e.g. bleach to make sure that are completely free of unwanted pests and parasites.
Fake plants are made of plastic or silk, and they come in a variety of sizes, forms, and colors. In addition, they are inexpensive when compared to live plants.
Note: People may say that some fake plants may cost just as much if not more! Well, this is true but …these plants will be with you for at least several years. Well, how much money will you spend on lighting, fertilizers, substrate, CO2, maintenance tools (like tweezers, pincers, etc.) in 2 or 3 years? Now, you see the logic.
|Fake aquatic plants – check the price on Amazon.|
Downsides of Having Fake Plants in Aquariums
Fake plants do not offer water filtration benefits provided by healthy live plants. They are not capable of impeding the growth of algae and they cannot absorb CO2 to give off oxygen in considerable amounts, hence why they are said to have no biological value.
Unlike live plants that serve as a food source, fake plants are made of plastic/silk, thus aquarium fish cannot nibble on it.
The downside of fake plants is that the ones made of plastic can cause actual harm to sensitive fish species, thus silk variants are recommended in such cases.
Pros of Fake Plants
Pros of Fake Aquarium Plants
Cons of Fake Aquarium Plants
Having looked at the pros and cons of live and fake plants, one can decide to aquascape this tank with either live or fake plants or even both.
To cap it all, both are great options and it is up to the preference of the aquarium owner.