So you've decided you want fish. You want the fish to feel at home in the aquarium, so you're going to add some decoration. A bit of rock, maybe a cool piece of wood, and some plants! Nothing screams nature like a riot of green foliage, right? But wait - There's a decision to be made! Should you go with replica plastic or silk plants, or plow full steam ahead au naturel and purchase some live plants? Let's discuss!
Fake Plants / Replica Plants / Plastic Plants / Silk Plants
They may be marketed under many names, but in short, fake plants are replicas of plants found in nature, or some artist's interpretation thereof. Recently, many new brands of fake plants have become available that are convincingly realistic in the home aquaria. They may not be 100% identical to the real thing, but they're close, and I'm sure the fish don't know the difference. Fake plants do have several benefits going for them.
Fake Plant Pros:
- They don't grow! No need to worry about specialized substrates to keep them healthy, fertilizers or CO2 injection to make sure they flourish, or bright lighting to let them photosynthesize to their heart's content.
- They do not need any specialized knowledge to keep them looking good. Simply clean them with a good scrubbing or soak when cleaning out the tank, rinse them well, then stick them back in the aquarium.
- Price. Fake plants tend to be cheaper than live plants. This isn't always the case, but seems to be true at most major pet stores. You'll also spend more money on live plant upkeep for fertilizers, specialized substrates, lighting, etc.
- Artistic expression, for when realistic isn't enough. Sometimes you may just want to have an aquarium with neon colored plants, or mix in fantastical floral species that mother nature never invented. It's not my cup of tea, but I won't judge! As long as the fish are happy, decorate your tank to make you happy.
Fake Plant Cons:
- Fake Plants don't help keep proper water quality in the aquarium.
- Fake Plants do not produce beneficial O2.
- Fake Plants continue to look more convincing, but they have yet to hit a level of realism where they are indistinguishable from live plants. Many still look unnatural.
Real Plants / Live Plants
They're green, they grow, and they're great for many aquaria! Live plants bring a breath of the wild into any home aquaria that's set up to handle them. Successfully growing live plants does take a bit of know-how and prep work, as well as some specialized equipment. That being said, there are plenty of benefits to choosing live plants for your tank.
Live Plant Pros:
- Live Plants uptake nutrients as they grow. All that fish poop and uneaten food is broken down into chemical compounds by bacteria living in your aquarium. Those compounds can be hazardous to your fish, but live plants love to suck them up and use them to fuel new growth. These chemical compounds are locked away inside the plant where they do not pose a danger to your fish, and are then removed from the aquarium during pruning. These low nutrient levels also help prevent algae problems.
- Live Plants suck up CO2 and add oxygen to the water. Oxygen is needed by your fish to breath, so it's safe to say they get the better deal in this transaction.
- THEY'RE ALIVE! It's hard to make an aquarium seem like a slice of nature without incorporating live plants. They'll make your fish feel at home, and make your fish's home look like a slice of their native habitat.
- Live Plants create a dynamic environment. They're constantly growing, changing shape and the appearance of the aquarium. Some fish may eat them, lay eggs on them, or utilize them as a place to hide or as a visual barrier from other tank inhabitants. Live plants help an aquarium always feel new - something's always different!
Live Plant Cons:
- Live Plants cost more initially than fake plants. They'll also cost more in the long run, as many species of plants require specialized lighting, substrates, or fertilizers to keep them happy.
- Live Plants grow, and in turn need trimming to keep them looking good. Some species, such as Anubias or Java Fern, grow slowly, while others grow like weeds and need to be trimmed almost weekly.
- Live Plants look natural, because they are! If you're trying to make a day-glo or otherwise funky aquarium, live plants may not be the best fit.
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