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|Riccia fluitans (Crystalwort)|
One of the groups of aquatic plants which is frequently overlooked and under-rated are the floating plants. There are a surprising number from which to choose, with a variety of shapes and sizes as well. The fact that a plant is referred to most commonly as “floating” doesn’t automatically mean that it must remain forever on the water surface, or that it will necessarily thrive best there. This fact alone has been more than amply demonstrated by renowned aquarium photographer, Takashi Amano, who has created and photographed his carefully crafted “aquascapes” and he has shown the world with his resulting books just how lush, vivid and heart-stoppingly beautiful a well-planted aquarium can be. One of Amano’s favorite tools for perfecting these aquascapes is a floating plant called Riccia fluitans, more commonly known as Crystalwort. Please note that Amano’s use of this plant is almost NEVER as a floating mass at the water surface.
Riccia fluitans is an enticingly versatile water plant, and joy of joys, it is not usually labor intensive in terms of care and maintenance. Generally, this plant can be found almost worldwide in the wild. When being kept in an aquarium, it is considered very easy to maintain and is very suitable for beginners to the hobby of keeping aquatic plants. It has a very wide tolerance to water conditions, doing well in medium soft to very hard water, at a pH from 6.0 to 8.0. The temperature can vary between 15 degrees C to 30 degrees C. These factors make the plant almost invaluable in that it can be kept together with almost any variety of freshwater fish that a hobbyist chooses.
This plant looks like clusters of thick, bright green threads, all of which are quite short. They appear to be clumped together and when left to grow naturally, and unimpeded by any training or pruning, they will form a roughly spherical (ball-like) shape which has been very slightly flattened.
Riccia fluitans does not develop a root structure, but it is capable of anchoring itself over time to a surface. When a clump is small and thin, it will float just below the surface of the water, barring any current which would push it around, but as the mass thickens and grows, it will tend to sink. When it comes into contact with a surface for an extended time period, (days or weeks), new growth may anchor it there. This particular trait can be used to good advantage by placing a mass of Riccia fluitans against the chosen surface such as driftwood, or rock and then fastening the Riccia to the surface by wrapping repeatedly with thin thread. After a surprisingly short time,(as little as two weeks), the thread will no longer be visible, having been grown over with new growth from the plant. The resulting effect is much like a beautifully cultured lawn or a rich bed of luxuriant moss on a rock. If desired, the thread can then be cut away, leaving the Riccia firmly anchored to the item.
As a medium for raising very small fry, it is difficult to choose a better floating plant than Riccia fluitans. It seems less likely to trap both small and large fishes, probably because each thready portion is quite short by itself. The result seems to be less inclination to form a tightly tangled mass which may become impenetrable to fish, unlike Java Moss for example. Riccia fluitans is more easily “shouldered aside” and a fish can make its way in or out relatively easily, but the mass still provides enough cover and camouflage that small fry can evade predators. A small portion of Riccia fluitans could be anchored to a tall piece of driftwood with a small portion of it teased out so that a loosely trailing mass results. This forms a perfect refuge for small fry that might otherwise be eaten by larger fish. It might be worth trying especially in a tank where breeding fish tend to be unrepentant cannibals to their own fry when the fry become free-swimming.
It should be noted that although this plant is easy to grow and propagate, and that even if it tolerates an enormous range of water, light and temperature requirements, Riccia fluitans is not to be mistaken as a TOUGH plant - it is still fairly tender. Should one try to grow a beautiful mass in a tank filled with fish that love vegetable matter, whether it be algae or plants, Riccia fluitans is in NO way resistant!! It may well be the first item chosen to be eaten. Therefore, do not try to cultivate it in quantities in a tank filled with plecostomus and then wonder why the growth rate is non-existent.
All in all, this plant has been sadly overlooked, especially considering its many wonderful qualities and uses. A plant that can be so beautiful in so many different ways, with so few disadvantages (all of which can be easily controlled), should receive more attention and be more common in planted aquariums than it is.
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