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 plants tanks may require low lighting and no extra CO2 as well as minimal fertilization once per week. Low light systems are generally less costly and more cost-effective 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. This article has been carefully chosen because they are able to grow in both low and high tech environments. You might not be aware that the same plant can look completely different when it is grown in a low tech aquarium.
1. Scarlet Temple
Alternanthera reineckii is also known as scarlet temple, or “AR” and can be kept in an aquarium with no bright lights. It has a naturally pink color. The leaves’ undersides will still be bright pink, but the leaves’ surface will become 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 or Scarlet temple
2. Hydrocotyle tripartita ‘Japan’
Hydrocotyle tripartita “Japan” is unique because the leaves look exactly like miniature clover or shamrock 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. Baby Tears For Dwarfs
While certainly not impossible, it can be difficult for many to achieve a thick, dense carpet of dwarf baby tears (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 great alternative for those who have had little success growing dwarf baby tears. This plant does not require as much care, and can grow at a faster rate even 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. Like the colors of our ever-changing autumn leaves, this stem plant can take on various shades of yellow, orange, and red, depending on the conditions in which it is growing. A low tech tank with medium lighting will bring out a greenish-yellow to light orange color in Ammannia gracilis specimens. High tech tanks with CO2 and lots of nutrients will give this plant the best chance to bloom and display bright red to almost maroon pink colors.
This is the unexpected twist. Christmas moss, or Vesicularia montei, can thrive in high-tech environments with high levels of light. A lot of light, extra CO2 and a strict fertilizer schedule can result in a more compact growth pattern. As the moss grows, the fronds or new “leaves” remain closer together, tightly layered, and more horizontal in a high tech tank. The growth pattern of moss in low-tech setups is more compact and vertical as the new leaves reach for as much light as possible.
Christmas moss or Vesicularia mountaini
Why Do Plants Turn Red in a High Tech Aquarium?
The simple answer is light and an important pigment, called anthocyanin. This chemical gives red leaves in fall and certain vegetables and fruits their purple or red color. A green plant contains a pigment called chlorophyll, which makes it appear green to our eyes. But intense light can damage chlorophyll. Anthocyanin is a red pigment that the plant uses to fight this problem. 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.
For recommendations on which lighting to get for a high light versus low light tank, check out our LED Aquarium Lighting Guide.