Editorial: Why do aquarium shops sell non-aquatic plants?
By Neale Monks
One issue that comes up again and again in the Daily FAQs, is the trade in non-aquatic plants. These are plants that have no chance of surviving underwater, but are sold to inexperienced aquarists as aquarium plants. Common examples are things like Dracaena deremensis (Green Dracaena) and Selaginella willdenovii (Umbrella Fern), but there are lots of others. Some are marsh plants, and might be used with success in bog gardens or even indoors for things like amphibian habitats. But when placed in an aquarium, they inevitably die.
So why sell them? What's in it for the retailer?
Part of the explanation is sheer ignorance. Most retailers have been very slow to develop what might be called the "underwater gardening" part of the hobby, though the recent craze for Amano-style aquaria has gone a long way towards changing this. Still, for those aquarium shops still behind the curve, ordering new aquarium plants is often limited to choosing a selection of whatever sells easily.
This is the other part of the problem: non-aquatic plants sell. There are a lot of fishkeepers out there who know very little about growing aquatic plants. Indeed, they treat plants as disposable items, and simply replace them as often as required. Since non-aquatic plants are often cheap, that's no big deal.
In a perfect world, retailers would only stock true aquatic plants. Better still, they'd make an effort to choose some hardy species alongside the more delicate ones. While things like Rotala indica and Echinodorus tenellus are lovely plants in the right tank, for many aquarists, a clump of floating Indian fern or a a few potted Cryptocoryne wendtii would be more appropriate choices.
Even if retailers want to sell non-aquatics, they should be clearly marked as such. They should make it obvious to shoppers that these plants have a finite lifespan underwater, often just a few weeks, but maybe a couple of months at most.