5 Best Aquarium Plants for High Tech Planted Tanks with CO2
Have you ever heard the words “low tech” and “high tech” being used when referring to a planted aquarium and wondered what the difference was? To put it simply, the more energy that goes into an aquarium setup, the “higher tech” it is. High-tech planted tanks might have intensely bright lighting, high levels of fertilizer, and pressurized carbon dioxide gas (CO2) gas. High tech tanks require more maintenance and are therefore more expensive because they consume a lot of energy. A low tech planted tank may use low lighting, no additional CO2, and minimal fertilizing once per week. Low-light setups can be more affordable and are easier to maintain 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. The plants discussed in this article have been carefully selected because they can grow in both low tech 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 (also known as scarlet temple or “AR”) is a naturally pink-colored plant even in an aquarium without bright lights and added CO2. The leaves’ undersides will be vibrant pink, while the outer leaves will turn a golden brown. However, when growing this plant with medium to high light and added nutrients (especially CO2), it is possible to achieve deep red to pinkish-red, magenta coloration throughout the entire plant.
Scarlet temple or Alternanthera reineckii
2. Tripartita Hydrocotyle ‘Japan’
Hydrocotyle tripartita “Japan” is unique because the leaves look exactly like miniature clover or shamrock leaves. It is a small and delicate plant, which makes it perfect for aquascaping. This plant can grow tall stems with a slight upward growth pattern in low-tech tanks or creep along the substrate’s surface. This plant can grow densely, bushy and low-growing in a high tech environment with regular pruning. It will form a lush, pillow of clovers.
Hydrocotyle tripartita ‘Japan’
3. Baby Tears For Dwarfs
Although it is possible, it can be challenging for some to grow a dense, thick carpet of dwarf baby tear (Hemianthus Callitrichoides “Cuba”) without high-light and pressurized CO2. On the other hand, it can be successfully grown to its fullest potential in a “lower tech” tank if given at least medium light, plenty of nutrients, and enough time – with the last part being the most important. People who don’t want to wait several months for a mature carpet form can choose to place this plant in a high tech tank, where it will grow at an even faster rate. Dwarf baby tear is an uncommon aquatic plant. It has some of the most tiny leaves in the trade. It is really fun to watch it grow and fill up.
Dwarf child tears or Hemianthus callitrichoides Cuba
4. Monte Carlo
Micranthemum “Monte Carlo” or Micranthemum “tweediei” is a good alternative to the dwarf baby tears. This plant doesn’t require quite as much care and grows at a slightly faster rate, even in a low tech environment. 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.
Although you may not have anticipated this, Christmas moss (or Vesicularia mountaini) is a moss that thrives in high-tech environments under bright light conditions. 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. In a low tech setup, the growth pattern is slightly less compact and more vertical in position as the new fronds reach to absorb as much light as possible.
Christmas moss or Vesicularia montei
Why Do Plants Turn Red in a High Tech Aquarium?
The simplest answer is light and an important pigment called anthocyanin – the same chemical that gives us red leaves in the fall and some vegetables and fruits their red or purple color. The pigment chlorophyll is what makes a green plant appear green to our eyes. However, chlorophyll can be easily damaged by intense levels of light. 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. Essentially, anthocyanins or the red color we see is acting as a “sunscreen” to shield the plant cells from being burned.
For recommendations on which lighting to get for a high light versus low light tank, check out our LED Aquarium Lighting Guide.