Red plants have become very popular as accent plants in Aquascapes. These days we have access to a large variety of aquatic plants, including the striking red or reddish colored plants. Most people, however, find it somewhat challenging to obtain the bright, intense colors that are often seen on the pages of aquascaping websites. Although there is no ‘One fits all’ solution, there are a few steps you can take to make the reds more colorful and intense. It must be stressed that very few of the true red plants are really easy, and that it usually takes quite a bit of dedication to achieve and maintain that beautiful red color.
Let us look at a few general guidelines for growing red aquatic plants successfully.
The most basic requirement to grow red plants successfully, must be decent (high) lighting. Red plants usually need higher lighting than your normal green types, but increasing your lighting usually comes at a price. When lighting increase, all your plants will generally speed up their growth. This will effectively mean that they will need more nutrients, more CO2 and more maintenance. Of course it will also increase the chances of algae appearing, especially in a new setup or one that has not been cycled properly yet.
Red plants also need a decent and balanced fertilizing regime. This include macro and trace elements. A lot of aquascapers maintain that red plants need more iron than other plants. Although we can all agree that they do need iron, it remains doubtful that it needs it in excessive amounts. Dosing too much iron can actually have more negative effects, in particular for your livestock like shrimp. Reducing your nitrates also usually assist in obtaining a deeper red color, but care should be taken that you do not starve your plants of nitrates. Regular water changes should keep nitrates fairly low but still within acceptable limits. So will decent filtration and an established bacterial colony. A good, general and all-inclusive fertilizer should be more than adequate. One additive that has proven to be effective in my own experience, is ECA from ADA.
Of course the easiest way to obtain the red in your aquascapes, is to start off by choosing the right or best suited red plants. The following plants, in no particular order, vary between fairly demanding to relatively easy to grow and maintain, and usually produce a decent red color under optimal conditions.
Alternanhera reineckii is one of the most popular red plants in the aquarium hobby due to being relatively easy to maintain in its red form. It is also available in many varieties of which the ‘rosaefolia’ and ‘mini’ version must be the most popular ones. These plants are generally slow growers and as such also very prone to algae.
One of the requirements for these plants are stability and they really do not like being transplanted often. They have a strong root system and also do much better in a nutrient rich substrate.
The ‘mini’ version with its smaller leaves and more compact growth pattern, is perfectly suited for foreground to midground planting and really have a stunning effect if properly maintained. Regular trimming will result in more compact growth, as will decent lighting. Propagation is easy by cutting off the longer shoots and replanting them. Most stem plants require the addition of CO2 to reach and maintain peak condition and A. reineckii is no exception. Good maintenance, nutrients and lighting will ensure success with this stunning plant.
The various Ludwigia species are fairly easy and popular red stem plants. Most of the varieties have a reddish color, some of which are strikingly and intense red. One such species is L. palustris.
L. palustris is a relatively small Ludwigia that assumes a decent red colour even under medium light. It ramifies well and is rather undemanding. The best way to propagate this plant is to take cuttings from the top of the stems and remove the bottom leaves. The cuttings can now be placed carefully into the substrate ensuring that the bare stem does not get crushed. The cuttings will develop a new root system and it is best to plant a few cuttings together in a bunch. The stems on the original plant that were cut back will develop a lot of side shoots which will make the original plant bushier and stronger.
The plant becomes intensely red and grows better, when placed under high light and with added CO2. Add some decent nutrients to that and you have a winning recipe.
Rotala wallichii may be demanding to maintain, but this should not stop you from adding it to your planted tank. Given the right conditions, the plant will reward you with bright pink or deep red stems that will eventually rise to the water’s surface. The parts of the plant that are closest to the water surface, will likely develop the most intense colour. This is due to being closer to the light source. This plant is added to the list because of its fine, needle like leaves. It is often used to create a contrast in shape to other plants.
The plants also regularly produce many lateral shoots. Eventually the plant will probably grow too high for your tank, but you can, and should, cut off its uppermost parts and replant these in the substrate. The lateral shoots of R. wallichii grow new roots fast once re-planted.
R. wallichii needs lots of light, CO2 fertilisation and a well-balanced supply of nutrients to grow well. R. wallichii grows best if the nitrate level never falls to zero but does not exceed 10 to 15 mg per litre either. A high phosphate content of 1-2 mg per litre is preferred, as well as a good supply of iron and micronutrients. It also prefers soft, slightly acidic water. It is an elegant stem plant originating from the soft and slightly acidic waters of South-Eastern Asia.
Colourful R. wallichii is used in Nature Aquaria and in Dutch-style tanks. It is a great red accent plant for the middle- or background of an aquarium. In order to get the best effect, three to five stems should be planted at a time so they grow to form beautifully dense groups.
It is a rather challenging plant to maintain in peak form, but most rewarding.
The beautiful Rotala macrandra has a well-deserved reputation as a favourite in the aquarium hobby. It is a long-known beautifully coloured stem plant from the south of India. It has undulate soft longish ovoid leaves.
When we talk about coloration, it has very few equals and is often referred to as the “king of the reds.” It has an absolutely stunning appearance when grown under ideal conditions.
For a Rotala, macrandra is rather demanding in its requirements. It is best suited to aquariums with high-intensity lighting and will not tolerate shading. Individual stems should be planted far enough apart to ensure that lower regions get adequate light. If not, lower portions of the primary stem can waste away, leaving the top to break free. CO2 supplementation is not compulsory, but it will definitely make it a lot easier to keep and grow this species into all its splendour.
Despite its demanding nature, once established Rotala macrandra can grow rather quickly. In ideal conditions growth can be up to 3 or 4 inches per week. Proper nutrient levels are important to keep it in top form. An intense deep-red coloration is often achieved by keeping phosphate levels relatively high (1.5 to 2.0 ppm) while keeping nitrates on the low side (10 ppm or less). Higher nitrate levels will result in light orange growth. Stunting of the growing tips often indicates a lack of micronutrients. Insufficient nitrate levels can also mimic insufficient light, causing lower portions of the plant to waste away.
As for propagation, simple trimming of the upper portions as one would do for other stem plant species can be done, but it is often better to allow it to grow to the top of the aquarium, uproot it, and replant only the younger upper portions.
Nymphaea Zenkeri (Red Tiger Lotus)
A very interesting (and very striking) pop of red colour can be added to your aquarium by ‘planting’ a Tiger Lotus bulb.
The Red Tiger Lotus (Nymphaea Zenkeri) is an African stagnant water plant that is easy to keep and is widely used in aquariums. It has a medium growth speed in medium to strong light and can easily reach the water surface if allowed to.
It can be surprising to some that the Zenkeri is actually a lily pad, as the red tiger has arrow-shaped leaves instead of round ones.
When buying the bulb, it’s very important to know what you have because many people can try to sell dead bulbs. A good, living bulb has to feel firm, while a dead one is quite soft and mushy.
You can drop the bulb on top of the substrate and it’s very important to leave it on the surface and have only the roots underneath.
The Zenkeri needs a lot of space and takes in much of the nutrients in the water, so you have to keep in mind not to plant it near sensitive plants, as the red tiger lotus produces a dangerous chemical that inhibits the growth of other plants.
This is why it’s very important to keep your plants well fertilized and to carefully monitor the level of nutrients in the water.
Red tiger lotus is not a difficult plant and not too demanding when it comes to light. However, like most plants it will lose its compact shape and slow down its growth in low-light conditions, so if that’s a problem be sure to go for medium to high light. The same goes for Co2 and added nutrients: although red tiger lotus can go without it, it won’t be at its best. For a large, fast-growing and lush plant you might want to consider Co2 injection.
Pruning is the key to a beautiful red tiger lotus. As with all lotus plants, red tiger lotus leaves are constantly trying to locate the top of the tank and create surface leaves. These can be very decorative and can even result in a beautiful flower but do change the look of the plant. If you want to prevent the formation of surface leaves, be sure to prune any leaf that comes too close to the top of the tank.
To conclude; There are many aquatic plant species with a large variety of colours available to aquarists these days. Some are easy to grow, some are challenging and some are just downright ‘impossible’. As long as we treat our plants as the living organisms that they are and supply them in their needs, we can continue to be amazed by their beauty, with red plants rating high up on this scale