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Related Articles: Stocking a Business, Open Letter to the Trade re Quarantining Livestock, Growing Reef Corals For Profit, Pond Service Business, Don't Sell Non-Aquatic Plants!, Live Plants & Macro-Algae (IZOO 98 Report), Marine Macro-Algae, Ornamental Marine Algae/How to Raise & Market It, Compatible Marine SpeciesMarine Fishes, Selection, Display in the Industry, Damsels, Clownfishes, Hawkfishes

/Go Rin No Sho of Business

Live Plants and Marine Macro-Algae

 ( Report from IZOO '98)

Bob Fenner  

The definite strongest trend in the aquatic part of the pet industry's largest and best trade show (Germanys every other year Interzoo) is obvious; live freshwater plants and their marine equivalent, large or macro-algae are all the rage'¦ along with the gear and products to culture them. Have you waited as I have for the U.S. to finally have real freshwater tanks, i.e. ones with a compliment of live greenery? Well, wait no longer. Like the start-up of the reef craze of the eighties, live plants and accompaniments are coming down the pipe, and fast. Not only were the "plant" companies exhibits a good twice in number and size, but there are American counterparts and erstwhile importer/distributors set to make significant entries into this very undeveloped part of your future business.

The best and brightest I'd like to mention is an associate (and friend) Pablo Tepoot's latest self-published effort: Aquarium Plants; The Practical Guide (New Life Publications, Homestead, FL), a great new reference for retailers and their wet-green-thumb customers. Also on the publishing front, Aqua Design Amano (yes the same Takashi Amano as featured in TFH books and magazine) is bringing their publication to the English speaking world. Starting with the current issue, #33, AQUAJOURNAL, The Art & Science of Aquatic Gardening in being published in linqua angles. ADA entire product line is soon to be distributed here as well; see the website at http://www.vectrapoint.com for more detail.

But before I run out of space for this feature, let's get on to some of the why and how of your involvement in this aspect of aquarium retail.

What's In It For Your Customers & Their Fishes, Invertebrates, And YOU:

The overall benefits of utilizing live plants for freshwater and macro-algae for marine systems are undisputed. Overall their presence serves to optimize and stabilize the entire captive environment, taking up nutrients and blocking light (hence competing with undesirable algal growth), taking up carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen by day, providing food on the fly, and breaking up the physical habitat, thereby reducing aggression and bringing out less-stressed behavior. Oh, and let's not forget, they're gorgeous to look at!

For your store(s) in addition to the above positives, there's the enhanced appearance of complete displays, reduced livestock losses and boosted sales of all.

Selection and Display:

Stocking appropriate species of live greenery need not be costly or difficult. The easiest plants and macro-algae can most likely be stocked in some of your store resale "fish or invertebrate display" tanks. Alternatively separate rows of plants can be established in their own retail fixtures. Some Europeans even sell specimens in tall sealed "olive" jars, right off the shelf. (photo). However the most effective displays are ones showcasing the plants with some small, appropriate number of fish-life as a "you could have this at your home or office" set-up that you don't sell from.

A standard stocking list would have to include some of the favored "bunch plants": anacharis (Egeria densa), milfoil or Myriophyllum, hornwort (Ceratophyllum), and possibly Ludwigia, Hygrophila, Rotala, Cardamine and Cabomba. Rooted varieties that are "must haves" are various "val.s" (Vallisneria), tall and short species of "sag.s" (Sagittaria), and a sprinkling of the more showy crypts (Cryptocoryne), anubias, swords (Echinodorus) and easy to grow aponogetons. I would be remiss to leave out mentions of a few other plant stocks. Ferns like water sprite (Ceratopteris) and java moss (Vesicularia) should be carried by all retailers.

There are many, many more bare root, potted and free floating species and cultivars to choose from. The ones mentioned above are the best to consider for a "bare-bones" assortment, as they are generally available, in demand by aquarists, easy to keep and grow, and most often cited in small printed survey works in aquarium literature.

For marine macro-algae, the "usual suspects" involve wild collected varieties from the Caribbean, Udotea, Penicillus (Merman's shaving brushes), Halimeda, Caulerpa of different species, Rhipocephalus. These and other imported algae from elsewhere as well as cultured forms can generally be acquired through marine fish livestock dealers, particularly those who specialize in reef organisms.

The Real Money; Supplies and Equipment:

Books large and small and even magazines on aquarium gardening are easy sellers. In addition to the two mentioned here, both Tetra/Secondnature and T.F.H. Publications produce titles for beginners to advanced.

Specialized lighting, meters, dosers and carbon dioxide infusion systems, identical for the reef part of the aquatic trade, are also de riguer for high-end aquarium plant usage. Your technical marine and aquarium gardening sections should be cross-merchandised, or at least situated proximally.

Different grades of natural and coated gravels that you already stock will work okay with live plants that grow rooted. Additionally you should stock and recommend substrate additives that come as loose material, preparations of various configurations and natural products like laterite, as well as peat moss and other mixtures to mix in your customers gravel. For ongoing regular use fertilizers of solid and liquid formats sell very well.

Pruning gear, though sometimes shockingly expensive will sell to your true aquatic plant aficionado, as will upper-end biological cleaner-uppers like the true SAE (Siamese Algae Eater, Crossocheilus siamensis), Otocinclus catfishes and the "Amano" shrimp, Candina japonica.

What About Plastic?

Except for the photosynthetic aspects, artificial (polyethylene and more) plants offer the same advantages as live, and are a staple in our trade'¦ what's more, they don't require much care or die! One of my favorite anecdotes concerning the value of faux plants I got from Alan Willinger way back in the sixties (Willinger Brothers/Second Nature is now a part of the fine Tetra/Second nature corporation). Alan was the driving force behind many innovations in our aquaristic interests, here responsible for the Living World "¢ and Plantastics "¢ lines of superbly crafted polyethylene plants. He impressed upon me the value of selling "used" plastic plants to customers setting up new aquariums. Such "cultured" culture material serves to initiate nutrient cycling, short circuiting the still-deadly ammonia poisoning syndrome of new systems. We would explain all this and bag up the "established" plastic plant sold to the customer, replacing it with a shiny new one. Try it out. Yes, the slimy feeling coating on the plastic plant is a mix of beneficial (and innocuous) microbes; just the thing to ensure your customers success with their tank.

Of course there is no reason why real and faux plants can't be used together; the best of the latter are indistinguishable from living specimens.

Concerning House, Bog, Not-True Aquatic Plants:

An unfortunate legacy of the pet trade is the sale on inappropriate livestock, in this case plants for underwater use that just don't/won't live there. A short list of these non-aquarium plants includes:

Sanderianas: corn plants

Dracenas: light, dark, variegated and compacta forms

Spathophyllums: phony "Brazilian" swords

"Underwater Palms" (e.g. Chamaeforea elegans)

Mondo Grass

Purple and silver "waffle"

White and pink "lace"

Aluminum plants

Black pagoda

Dragon tongue

So called "hedges"

Baby doll

Umbrella pines

Princess pines (actually mosswort cuttings!)

Pongal "swords"

Prayer plants (that don't have a prayer submersed)

Pothos'¦. And more.

No, these plants will not survive underwater for long, and yes, they are in large part responsible for the disinterest in real plants and planted aquaria'¦ and loss of growth in your business! Don't make yourself look like a sucker or treat the public as same. Do look into at least the best, basic true underwater plants and stock and sell the ones most likely to do well for you and your customers. Not the bog and house plants that die and fall apart.

How Best To Educate Yourself:

Secondary to all other means, verbal, even reading published tomes on the subject, is regular perusing of The Aquatic Gardeners association listserv on the internet. The twice daily automatic downloads of common and esoteric concerns of earnest hobbyists and professionals here, and their numerous "jump" listings to other sites will help bring you up to speed, aquatic plant-wise in short time. To subscribe to the aquatic-plants listserv, send the command: subscribe aquatic-plants in the body of a message to "Majordomo@ActWin.com". Archives are available on the web at http://www.actwin.com/fish/aquatic-plants or via FTP to ftp.actwin.com in /pub/aquaria/aquatic-plants.


Live plants and macro-algae should be an important part of your business. They're great add-on sales and good as central features of fresh and marine set-ups. The collateral health benefits to other livestock should not be understated either; particularly by you and your staff to your customers.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Coletti, Ted. 1996. Aquarium Geographic: Yes'¦ You can have plastic plants. FAMA 6/96.

Fenner, Bob & John G. Pitcairn. 1987. Caveat emptor! Don't buy non-aquatic plants for aquaria! FAMA 11/87.

Fenner, Bob & John G. Pitcairn. 1988. Retailing aquatic plants. Rationale, buying, keeping; Maintenance &

Merchandising; A good selection: pts. 1-3, Pet Dealer 8,9,10/88.

Fenner, Robert. 1990. Macroalgae for marine aquaria. Pet Dealer, 2/90.

Fenner, Robert. 1990. Ornamental marine algae; how to raise and market it. Pet Dealer, 10/90.

Fenner, Robert. Caribbean (or tropical West Atlantic) macro-algae use in marine aquariums. TFH 2/98.

Fenner, Robert. 1998. Marine Algae, chapter 7 of The Conscientious Marine Aquarist. Microcosm, VT. 432 pp.

James, Barry. 1986. A Fishkeeper's Guide to Aquarium Plants. Tetra Press, Salamander Books, London-New

York. 117 pp.

Osborne, Kevin. Spathiphyllum. FAMA 9/93.

Wexler, Annette. 1988. Plastic and living plants- Their joys and sorrows. The Pet Dealer/Dec.88.

Graphics, Notes:

1,2) Plastic plants can be used effectively for both real (1) and fantastic (2) displays. Here two winning entries in last years San Diego Tropical Fish Society's annual show.

3-5) Some Dracenas and "waffle" plant pix'¦ Are these aquatic plants! Nein!

6-10) A few of the principal species of macro-algae most often sold in the trade: Halimeda, Udotea, Acetabularia, Caulerpa racemosa, and Penicillus.

11-13) Some shots of pretty aquatic plant tanks. As you might guess, I have a bizillion of these and wish I had the time to really put into this project so one could be featured on PDs cover. Arghhh, if only I had a grand around to put into a spiffy at home slide duping/cropping set-up!!!

The rest an assortment of common, hardy true live plants for retailers:

14) The best all around, down and dirty live plant, the lowly anacharis. Just letting a few sprigs of this bunch plant float in a system does about all that live plants can do. Every goldfish and beginning aquarist should be set-up with this plant with their initial livestock.

15) European milfoil or "foxtail", one of the Myriophyllums, M. spicatum.

16) A lovely top view of the bunch plant (take off those weights and rubber bands!) Cabomba.

17) My vote for best all around tropical aquarium plant, floating or planted, the durable watersprite, Ceratopteris thalictroides. I raised and sold enough of these as a high-schooler, I supported my fish-habit!

18) The crystalwort, Riccia, a favorite around the world.

19-21) Three of my best-liked crypts, Cryptocoryne crispatula, C. wendtii, C. balansae.

22, 23) Two of the most popular true sword plants, the ruffled and pygmy or chain sword, Echinodorus tenellus.

24, 25) So tough, even African cichlids can't chem them up, it's the genus Anubias!

26,27) Two pix of the arrowheads, genus Sagittaria.

28,29) And two of the similar appearing genus Vallisneria.


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