Today, I will be talking about the diverse types of plants suited for paludariums, but first off—what is a paludarium?
The term “Paludarium” stems from the Latin words ‘palus’ which means swamp or mash and ‘–arium’ which refers to an enclosed container. Having said that, paludarium is a type of vivarium that involves a mix of land and water area within an enclosure. In other words, a fusion of terrestrial features (terrarium), and aquatic features — as seen in an aquarium or riparium.
Now that you have an idea of what a paludarium entails, let’s explore the various kinds of plants that paludarium owners use to decorate their setups.
Types of Paludarium Plants
Paludarium plants consist of a broad array of vivarium flora that can be incorporated in a paludarium for aesthetics, filtration, and other beneficial purposes. The plants must be able to tolerate the temperature, humidity, and lighting levels in the enclosure. And they should equally support the life activities of the tank inhabitants.
These can be broadly classified into three main categories and several subcategories. This classification is based on usage, and it includes:
From these categories, one can make great selections based on factors such as the type of biotope, as well as the form, function, and availability of the plant species.
That’s not all, you also need to consider how much time you can dedicate to your tank and how much maintenance you intend to carry out on a regular basis. This will allow you to make good choices that you won’t regret later.
The plants come in a variety of colors, forms, and capabilities, so be sure to choose the best ones that possess the right qualities you desire. Apart from the varying care difficulty, some paludarium plants are slow-growing whereas others are fast-growing, and that will decide how frequently you would need to prune the shoots.
In addition, plants possess varying functions— filtering/oxygenating the water, providing shade and foraging ground, and even a curtain or backdrop for increased aesthetics. Hobbyists should have all these in mind while choosing plants for their paludarium setups.
Meanwhile, before making choices; it’s is essential to understand the different plant groups, so let’s proceed:
1) Aquatic Plants
Aquatic plants are confined to the water section of the paludarium, and they get to benefit from sufficient lighting levels in the enclosure. There are numerous species of aquatic plants available in the hobby, but those that make great paludarium plants encompass the following:
Fully submersed plants:
- Anubias spp.,
- Bacopa caroliniana,
- Cabomba sp.,
- Cryptocoryne sp.,
- Guppy grass (Najas guadalupensis),
- Monte Carlo (Micranthemum Tweediei),
- Rotala rotundifolia,
- Rotala Indica,
- Staurogyne repens,
- Vallisneria and lots more.
These plants are well-adapted to growing on the surface of the water; they are equipped with specialized cells that aid in buoyancy.
These aquatic plants can thrive in the water area of a paludarium—so far they can tolerate the humidity and lighting level. Floating plants consist of species such as:
- Amazon frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum),
- Duckweed (Lemna minor),
- Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum),
- Dwarf Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes),
- Water Sprit (Hygrophila difformis),
- Guppy grass (Najas guadalupensis),
- Red root floater (Phyllantus fluitans),
- Salvinia auriculata,
- Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephala),
- Cabomba sp.,
- Mosquito Fern (Azolla filiculoides),
- Water Spangles (Salvinia minima),
- Hydrocotyle leucocephala,
- Water hyacinth (Eichhórnia crássipes),
- Fairy moss (Salviniaceae spp.), etc.
2) Semi-aquatic Plants
Semi-aquatic plants are plants that can grow partially submersed in water. A semi-aquatic plant stays rooted in shallow water while the upper parts grow emergent (above the waterline). Take for instance, the plants you see along the edge or margins of ponds, bogs, and marshes in your locality.
These plants can also be great for dry start method (read more about it here).
Note: Keep in mind that some fully submersed plants can also thrive as partially submersed. Therefore, don’t be surprised to see the same plant species in different categories.
Semi-aquatic plants can be grouped into the following subcategories:
Diverse aquarium plant species can be cultivated as semi-aquatic plants in paludariums. These plants are usually sold in a bunch containing multiple stems. Stem plants are available in an array of colors, patterns, and growth forms—certain to improve the aesthetics of your paludarium.
The emersed growing foliage can be used to accent the border between the two areas of a paludarium or even the tank corners.
Species of stem plants that are well-suited for paludariums include:
- Staurogyne Repens,
- Ludwigia repens,
- Ludwigia Arcuata,
- Bacopa Caroliniana,
- Anubias spp.,
- Anacharis (Egeria densa),
- Rotala Indica,
- Marsilea Hirsuta,
- Monte Carlo (Micranthemum Tweediei),
- Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitriodes),
- Rotala Macrandra,
- Crystalwort (Riccia fluitans),
- Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis),
- Glosso (Glossostigma Elatinoides), and lots more.
Marginal Pond Plants
Many varieties of pond plants will fit perfectly into the paludarium. They require wet substrates, high humidity levels, and ample lighting to thrive.
Ideal marginal plants for paludariums include species such as:
- Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis),
- Lobelia spp. (Lobelia kalmii & Lobelia siphilitica),
- Dwarf Sagittaria (Sagittaria subulata),
- Pondweed (Potamogeton Spp.),
- Cryptocoryne spp.,
- Sword plants (Echinodorus),
- Needle spike rush (Dwarf Hairgrass (Eleocharis Parvula)),
- Lilaeopsis brasiliensis.
While various aquatic and marginal plants are great choices for paludariums, indoor plants or simply—houseplants are not left out. Houseplants are ideal for this kind of vivarium since they can survive in the conditions provided.
Plants in this category involve:
- Croton spp.,
- Dracaena spp.,
- Lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana),
- Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum),
- Peace lily or Brazilian sword (Spathiphyllum spp.),
- Prayer plants (Maranta leuconeura),
- Purple waffle plant (Hemigraphis alternata), etc.
Carnivorous plants are quite large in number but few species like:
- Butterworts (Pinguicula),
- Sundews (Drosera spp.),
- bladderworts (Utricularia)
actually make interesting additions to paludariums.
These plants derive nourishment by trapping prey through special adaptations— Butterworts are able to capture small insects by means of their sticky leaves whereas Bladderworts tend to engulf small organisms through suction traps.
Carnivorous plants will thrive in tanks with adequate moisture and moderate illumination.
Ferns are also among the popular and commercially available plant choices used in aquascaping aquariums, paludariums, and terrariums. They are commonly used in filling empty spaces in the tank; especially between hardscapes, and a good number of them are epiphytic.
Ferns are quite hardy, fast-growing, and adaptable, and they can thrive in moist soil in conjunction with low – moderate lighting conditions.
Good examples of ferns for paludarium are:
- African water fern (Bolbitis Heudelotii),
- Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata),
- Lemon button fern (Nephrolepis cardifolia),
- Holly fern (Arachniodes arista),
- Java fern (Microsorum Pteropus),
- Water sprite (Ceratopteris thalictroides).
Creeping plants and Vines
Vines and creeping plants are equally good additions to paludarium setups. Plants in this category usually root in the water and then form a backdrop or curtain which covers the walls in the tank.
Most creepers grow fairly fast—thereby needing constant pruning to keep things in shape. Also, they are easy to grow, cheap and widely available in gardens, nurseries and local stores for hobbyists that want to grab some for their paludariums. From the vast semi-aquatic vines available in the hobby, here are some of my favorites.
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) is a popular houseplant or indoor plant in most parts of the world. It is a leafy, fast-growing evergreen vine that can attain maximum lengths up to 20 m (66 ft) with stems up to 4 cm (2 inches) in diameter, so its growth should be kept in check by means of regular pruning when planted in a paludarium.
This vine requires minimal care, and it can be planted in shallow water— this allows the plant to grow roots in the water while it sheds its attractive, heart-shaped, variegated aerial leaves all over the enclosure.
A versatile ornamental plant species often touted as an excellent groundcover. Creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) puts out small, orbicular, glossy green foliage that creeps along the bottom and spreads densely to fill the empty spaces in the tank.
Philodendron hederaceum is characterized by its heart-shaped foliage, trailing vines, and great air filtering ability. This evergreen perennial vine will thrive under medium indirect lighting, room temperature, and moderate to high humidity levels.
3) Terrestrial Plants
Here, plants regarded as “terrestrial plants” consist of flora that can be planted on the land section of a paludarium without reach to the aquatic area. Essentially, plants in this category comprise vines or creeping plants, bromeliads, orchids, and land moss.
English Ivy: English Ivy or Hedera helix is a versatile, fast-growing, and evergreen perennial plant.
Hedera helix features thick green leaves and long tendrils with a great climbing ability to cover the ground or back wall in a paludarium. This plant does not appreciate wet soil, just moist. It grows well in well-drained soil— preferably a loose potting mix, under bright indirect lighting and medium–high humidity levels.
Yet another popular green houseplant or indoor plant that is ideal for decorating paludariums and terrariums. Creeping fig (Ficus pumila) is a species of flowering plant in the mudberry family—native to Asia.
When planted, Creeping fig grows slowly and gradually increases the pace as it matures, ultimately reaching up to 15 feet in length. For best results, grow the vine in a well-defined potting soil and endeavor to keep it moist from time to time.
Peperomia spp. or Radiator plants are grown as ornamentals in most homes and offices, and they are also fit for cultivation in paludariums. Radiator plants are known for their beautiful foliage with glossy leaves that assume different colors, patterns, and sizes.
Notably, there is varied appearance amongst species, many possess lanceolate/oval fleshy leaves while others possess heart-shaped leaves with or without variegation.
Some species are quite small and compact, whereas there are those with trailing stems and bright, succulent leaves that form an excellent backdrop in paludariums. These plants are best grown in well-drained soil, with medium indirect lighting and good humidity present.
Bromeliads & Orchids:
Bromeliads expressly refer to species of flowering plants in the family bromeliaceae. The species are terrestrial—growing in moist soil or epiphytic (air plant)—attached to rocks or woods with glue.
Bromeliads require a good potting mix or fast-draining potting soil (a mix of peat-based soil and sand) and medium indirect lighting. They prefer temperatures between mid 60’s and 80 °F, and moderate humidity to thrive, and they are more tolerant of variations in conditions than orchids.
Notable species of bromeliads grown in paludariums include:
- Neoregelia spp.,
- Tillandsia stricta,
- Billbergia spp., and
- Vriesea spp.
Additionally, dart frogs love bromeliads; so if you have this reptile; make sure to keep the plants in your paludarium.
On the other hand, orchids (orchidaceae) are a diverse and widespread family of flowering plants; with flowers that are often colorful and aromatic. Orchidaceae comprise about 28,000 species in over 750+ genera. Out of these large genera, only about 20 or slightly more are used as houseplants.
Orchids are best grown epiphytically in paludariums—affixed on wood or crevices of rocks situated in the land section. Anyway, make sure to opt for smaller species as they are suited to the enclosure. Unlike bromeliads, orchids are harder to maintain since they have a limited tolerance for temperature variations and drought. These plants do not appreciate water splashes and high lighting levels; medium lighting should suffice.
Common varieties of orchids for paludarium use include:
- Phalaenopsis fasciata,
- Dendrobium spp.,
- Masdevallia spp.,
- Oncidium spp.,
- Laelia spp., and
- Lockhartia oerstedii.
Here, we are talking about terrestrial mosses that can thrive in the land area of an established paludarium.
Do not confuse these with aquatic mosses (those that are planted in the water section) which include species such as Java moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri), Christmas moss (Vesicularia Montagnei), and Phoenix moss (Fissidens fontanus).
Rather, these are land mosses of which:
- Club moss (Selaginella kraussiana),
- Sheet moss (Hypnum cupresiforme),
- Sphagnum moss,
- Mood moss (Dicranum Scoparium) and
- Star moss (Tortula ruralis) are prime examples.
Land moss can be grown on rocks and wood, and they can make do with a moist environment and any lighting condition (even low lighting).
Essentially, your choice of paludarium plants should center on the type of biotype you want to replicate, in addition to the care requirements, and other personal preferences such as the color or shape of the flora and its growth habits.
While making your pick; choose a variety of plants which you can put together to form an impressive display without compromising on any standard.
Some animals have a fondness for certain species of plants, so keep that in mind when shopping. Lastly, take adequate care of your paludarium plants and they will remain healthy and lush all year round.