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How to set up a high-humidity planted riparium

Discussion in 'General Aquascaping and Planted Tank Discussions' started by hydrophyte, Sep 4, 2010.

  1. hydrophyte

    hydrophyte Moderator Staff Member

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    Riparium How-To: High-Humidity Setups

    I am starting this thread with a semi-organized description of considerations and methods to have in mind when assembling a high-humidity riparium setup. This kind of tank is best for growing certain emersed aquatic plants that require very humid air. It is important to note that not all emersed aquatics need to grow in such conditions. Emersed Echinodorus swordplants, for example, are best grown with plenty of air circulation and somewhat drier air. The following lists the main groups of emersed aquarium plants that do require high-humidity:

    • Cryptocoryne--all crypts that I have grown, with the exception of C. ciliata, require very moist air
    • Anubias--especially A. barteri varieties. Some of the larger species, such as A. hastifolia, might be less demanding of high-humidity.
    • Microsorum (Java fern)

    There are certain other groups of plants that can grow and look right in a high-humidity riparium, but these are the most useful ones that I have applied. These groups of plants are of special interest to aquarium hobbyists because they are readily available.

    High-humidity ripariums display can have a lot of visual appeal. The combination of the above water and below water areas in the same frame offers unique design opportunities. The next shot shows the best riparium of this kind that I have put together so far, a setup that I had going last year in a 55-gallon tank.

    [​IMG]

    In addition to the enjoyment of the whole planted layout, a high-humidity riparium can be appealing in several other ways. It is intriguing to grow the emersed forms of aquatic plants and compare them with the underwater growth habits, which are often distinct. High-humidity ripariums can be used for a particular hobby area that has been gaining in popularity in recent years, the culture of emersed Cryptocoryne for the sake of encouraging the development of spathes, their unique floral structures. The following picture shows a fresh spathe produced by the C. usteriana that I currently have growing in a 20-gallon high-humidity riparium.

    [​IMG]

    This post will quickly become too long with much additional explanation, so I intend to break up the narrative into several posts to follow. Here is the general organization that I have in mind.

    1. Aquarium setup and life support.
    2. Plant selection.
    3. Riparium planters and planting methods.
    4. Adapting aquatic plants to emersed growth and growing in the riparium.
    5. Livestock
    6. Additional specific observations and tips.

    With the next organized post that I write I'll start with topic #1, considerations to have in mind while planning out the aquarium enclosure for a high-humidity riparium.
     
  2. hydrophyte

    hydrophyte Moderator Staff Member

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    Here is the first section.

    1. Aquarium Setup and Life Support.

    Aquarium Selection The most important thing to have in mind while starting with a high-humidity riparium setup is that you should plan for the tank to be nearly completely covered with a canopy. The top covering will retain the moisture that evaporates from the water's surface and maintain proper humidity levels inside. Since the tank will have a canopy, you can just place a strip light right on top, thus avoiding having to hang up a pendant light fixture, as is necessary for some other kinds of riparium setups.

    Since you will need to lower the water level and still accommodate the emersed plant growth it is best to use a tank that is somewhat taller than it is deep (front-to-back). You might already have a tank setup on hand that will work very well for a high humidity setup. Here are several real good choices.

    • 20 high (24 X 12 X 16)
    • 25 gallon (24 X 12 X 20)
    • 29 gallon (30 X 12 X 18]
    • 38 gallon (36 X 12 X 20)
    • 55 gallon (48 X 13 X 20)
    • 65 gallon (36 X 18 X 24)

    These are popular aquarium sizes/shapes in the United States. Just do the liters/gallons, centimeters/inches conversions and compare with models available in your area.

    Notice that all of these save the 65 are 12" in the depth (front-to-back) dimension. These are very nice for crypts because most species/varieties will be able to fill into that space pretty well. You can also consider a tank 18" or more deep, but you will want to select the larger growing Cryptocoryne and Anubias to fill the background. If you wish to grow the larger Microsorum Java ferns then it would be best to use a larger tank because they can grow to a pretty massive size rather fast.

    The taller 12" deep tanks (such as the 55) can be difficult to work in because there is relatively little depth to work in. However, they will function just fine with some experimentation and careful training/pruning of plants.

    Aquarium Setup: The important point to have in mind while setting up the tank is that you will want to have some measure of control of ventilation, that is, the degree to which the canopy covers the top of the tank. The surest way to create a very humid environment inside of the tank is to maintain a completely covered top. However, if you do this you can expect the glass to be foggy much of the time.

    I have been able to maintain high humidities inside of the riparium while also preventing glass fogging by creating a narrow gap in front of the canopy and along the front of the tank--the warm air rising slowly along the front pane of glass is usually enough to prevent fogging. I don't have a great picture to illustrate this, but you can see it pretty well in this shot...

    [​IMG]

    Keep in mind that you will likely have to do some adjustment and experimentation to find the right amount of canopy cover. If you have your display in a room that has very dry air because of air conditioning, central heating or your local climate then that 1" gap shown above might be too large and cause dry conditions inside of the tank.

    I have not done any careful measurements, but I get the impression that most crypts and Anubias plants require a relative humidity of about 80% or higher to grow very well in the emersed condition. To review and add a few additional points, here are several factors that I have found to be important influences on the riparium enclosure humidity and glass fogging:

    • Degree of tank canopy coverage--tighter canopy = higher humidity
    • Water temperature--warmer water = more evaporation = higher humidity
    • Air temperature inside riparium and difference with room temperature--cooler air relative to inside of tank = more glass fogging

    Like I said above, you will probably need to do some experimentation and readjustment to get the correct relative humidity inside of the riparium. The best way to assess conditions is with careful observation of your plants. If there is adequate humidity in the air your emersed crypts will have attractive, erect foliage and bright colors. If the air becomes too dry, on the other hand, they will begin to loose their colors, droop and suffer burned leaf tips. Here are a couple of pictures of pretty happy emersed crypt plants from my collection...

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    As a final not, you might also find it useful to acquire a hygrometer with a remote sensor to place inside your riparium for accurate measurement of air relative humidity. With careful observation of your emersed plants this won't really be necessary, but it could be another fun gadget to add to your setup.

    This post has also run long, so I will divide this topic in half and return with some ideas about Life Support. This will include a discussion about misters, a continuation of the humidity topic, as well as water filtration and water heating.
     
  3. hydrophyte

    hydrophyte Moderator Staff Member

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    (continued) 1. Aquarium Setup and Life Support.

    (continued) Aquarium Setup:

    There is one last observation that I have on tank setup. As explained above, with some adjustment and observation you can set up a high-humidity tank with minimal fogging on the front pane of glass by leaving a narrow gap in the front of the top canopy covering. The hinged glass "versa top" type canopies can be set up wit this gap very easily through simple removal of the plastic strip along the back edge. By sliding a versa top canopy with the plastic stripped removed to the back of the aquarium top, you will leave 1" or so gap there along that top front edge.

    Lighting: Crypts, Anubias, Java fern and the other plants that I have grown in high-humidity ripariums all grow well with moderate light intensity. By keeping lighting brightness at a moderate level you can prevent excessive algae growth in the underwater area of your display. I have generally found a single T5 strip light with reflector to be more than adequate for this kind of riparium. Here is a picture of the display in my 55-gallon tank with one 48", 54-watt T5 strip hung as a pendant above.

    [​IMG]

    I actually found this light to be a bit too bright, so I positioned it higher above the tank to slow the growth of the plants and prevent the algae growth that developed in the forn of the underwater area.

    In summary, plants growing in a high-humidity setup will require only moderately bright light. While choosing a fluorescent lamp to light your tank you will do best to select one with a full-spectrum, "daylight" color temperature approximating natural sunlight. Many crypts in particular have beautifully subtle combinations of green, red, brown and metallic colors. Full-spectrum lighting will offer the best color rendering and
    best display of these hues.

    Filtration & water circulation: A point that I have not raised yet is that you will probably find it best to fill the tank holding your high-humidity riparium display to somewhat less than 1/2 full. A tallish aquarium filled to about 30% or 40% of total depth will still have plenty of abovewater space for the emersed plant growth. I do not recommend reversing these proportions--that is, filling to more than 1/2 full--as a tank with that much water will not have much room for the emersed plants and would probably also have less appealing proportions overall.

    Canister filters are the preferred method of filtration for riapriums and other kinds of planted tanks. They are relatively unobstrusive in the display, with only the intake and return pipes in the water, can filter for long periods between cleanings, and do not cause excessive surface filtration. If you use a canister filter in a high-humidity riparium the intake and return will have to reach 10" or more to reach the water level. Depending on the make and model of your filter, you may find it necessary to retrofit the plumbing assembly. The next picture shows a simple modification that I applied to a Filstar system so that it could filter the 55-gallon setup.

    [​IMG]

    I put this together with the filter's existing plumbing hardware, some 1/2" plastic irrigation pipe, flexible vinyl hose (as sleeves joining the pipes) and nylon hose clamps.

    If you do not have a canister filter available you might also consider a submersible power filter or air-driven sponge filter. It might be difficult squeeze a power filter into the underwater space, but most models should fit if positioned horizontally. If you use an air-driven filter be aware that the surface agitation will cause most of the CO2 in the water column to outgas and escape, so it will not be available to underwater plants. It is generally best to use some underwater plants because their foliage will brighten the underwater area, which tends to be shaded by the emersed plant growth.
     
  4. Chazzam

    Chazzam New Member

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    This is a very interesting and informative thread, i will keep an eye on this one, as it looks like a very good setup to keep fish and reptiles/amphibians
     
  5. hydrophyte

    hydrophyte Moderator Staff Member

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    I'll have another section put together soon.

    Really ripariums are not suitable for frogs and other herps--there is no real land area in a riparium. They are best for displaying fish and plants. However, there are many different kinds of plants that you can keep in a riparium and many options for aquascape design.
     
  6. Chazzam

    Chazzam New Member

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    Yeah i understood this, however a modified version of this would suit some water loving herps....
     
  7. hydrophyte

    hydrophyte Moderator Staff Member

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    Yes with some modification a ripairum could work for certain herps, but probably not dart frogs.

    There was somebody a while back who had a nice riaprium setup with firebelly newts.
     
  8. hydrophyte

    hydrophyte Moderator Staff Member

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    2. Plant Selection

    There are three main groups of plants, classified by position and planting method, to consider in the high-humidity riparium layout:

    1. Emersed Background Plants
    2. Emersed Midground Plants
    3. Underwater Foreground Plants

    Emersed Background Plants: This category includes a large number of possibilities. The broadest ranges of shapes and foliage colors are to be found among the crypts (Cryptocoryne), most of which can be adapted to grow emersed and thrive in a riparium display. many very good riparium crypt choices are easy to find in the aquarium hobby. It is generally best to select the larger-growing species and varieties. Very short crypts (such as C. parva) may grow well enough in the riparium, but will tend to get lost in the whole planting. Among the crypts that I have tried, the following have performed the best as riparium plants:

    • Cryptocoryne wendtii (any of various varieties)
    • C. pontederiifolia
    • C. lutea
    • C. moehlmannii
    • C. ciliata
    • C. cordata (certain varities)
    • one that I think might be C. undulata (?)

    Aside from being good-sized, these crypts are also relativelly sturdy and stand up well in the emersed state. There are a few others (e.g., C. balansae) that are very soft and flaccid when grown emersed and better kept as underwater plants.

    Cryptocoryne ciliata is an unusual case. Unlike the other crypts that I have tried, C. ciliata does not require very humid air and will grow just fine in an open-top riparium setup. It will also thrive in a high-humidity riparium, but the tank should be relatively tall (preferably >24") because it is a fast grower and reaches a large size. This plant is also unusual in that it will grow in brackish water; in the wild it uses river estuaries and mangrove swamps as habitats. I have heard that because of its differences plant taxonomists have actually considered splitting C. ciliata off into its own genus, but as far as I know it is still considered to be a Cryptocoryne. I highly recommend growing it if you have a largish tank. When grown emersed it blooms readily with these fantastic spathes.

    [​IMG]

    When I had these plants I noticed that the spathe had a strong pumpkin odor while open.

    The easiest way to grow crypts in a riparium is to pot them up in a riparium hanging planter. This picture shows a very robust C. wendtii (maybe var. 'Red' (?)) rooted in a hanging planter.

    [​IMG]

    It is generally best to hang a number of these planters + plants on the rear pane of glass in the riparium in order to make a nice, full planted layout. To reiterate an earlier point, an especially appealing bonus of growing crypts in a riparium is that their spathes, their unusual floral structures, can be enjoyed along with the rest of the planted layout. The next picture shows the spathe of C. pontederiifolia. This species is easy to bloom in a riparium.

    [​IMG]

    In addition to crypts, another popular group of aquarium plants, the Anubias species, can also function well as emersed riparium background plants. The several varieties of A. barteri are not so suitable for the riparium background because they grow in a horizontal manner with creeping rhizomes. Much better options for the background are larger, more erect Anubias such as A. hastifolia.

    [​IMG]

    That particular specimen is also rooted in a hanging planter. This and other tall Anubias, such as A. frazeri, A. gigantea and A. afzelli, also grow from rhizomes, but their rhizomes are tighter and do not "run" as fast as those of A. barteri, so they can grow well in a hanging planter for some time. Emersed riparium Anubias will also reward you with spathes. The spathes of these plants are less pretty than those of crypts, but interesting nonetheless. Here is the spathe of A. hastifolia.

    [​IMG]

    There are several other groups of plants that deserve mention as high-humidity riparium background subjects. Most others that I have tried in these setups are used most often as houseplants, but grow very well in high-humidity and "look right" planted among crypts. Here is one that I have used because of its unusual pink coloration, a Syngonium hybrid cultivar.

    [​IMG]

    There are many other possibilities among Syngonium with variations in leaf pattern and color. Many (but not all) will grow well in a riparium.

    One of the most useful groups of riparium plants are the Spathiphyllum peace lilies. In the wild, most Spathiphyllum grow in very moist soil, such as along the edges of rainforest streams and the margins of swamps, so they are preadapted for riparium conditions. Peace lilies are sold very often as houseplants and they are easy to find. They will also bloom in the riparium with bright white spathes.

    [​IMG]

    One last kind of plant that deserves mention as a companion for crypts in a high-humidity riparium is Dieffenbachia. Some varieties of Dieffenbachia will grow well in riparium culture and most offer the unusual option of white-variegated leaves. The best cultivar that I have tried so far is 'Camille'. This one grows well in ripariums and stays relatively small.

    [​IMG]

    If you do try growing Dieffenbachia in your riparium be aware that it has highly toxic sap. It can cause serious damage including chemical burns if ingested or if it contacts the skin. I have never had any trouble with toxicity to fish, but do not use this plant if you have children or plants that might be able to reach it. Be very careful with the cut tissue while repotting or pruning your Dieffenbachia plant.

    This post has run long. I will finish this section with the discussion of emersed midground and underwater foreground plants in another entry.

    (to be continued)
     
  9. hydrophyte

    hydrophyte Moderator Staff Member

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    I have gotten a couple of inquiries about this thread and I might try to finish it if I can find time.

    I might also just turn it into a magazine article.

    I do have an article on another theme coming out in a print publication in a couple of months. I'll post a link with details when it is published.
     
  10. hydrophyte

    hydrophyte Moderator Staff Member

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    I have another new high-humidity setup on the way here. Last night I finally got back to work on the riparium project in my 56 column tank. I have some really cool plants to put in here, so stay tuned!

    [​IMG]
     

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