"Cichlid" plants

"Cichlid" plants

Plants for tanks with fish that are hard on plants: cichlids, goldfish and others

A planted Mbuna tank

Aquatic plants may not be the first thing that leaps into your mind when you hear "cichlid", but heart dear reader, you as a proud cichlid owner are not relegated to the horrors of using silicone cement to glue plastic plants in a dry aquarium in hopes of finding something that can hold up to your cichlids.

But let me be clear. If you're trying to breed, say, Oscars or some other large and aggressive cichlid, then you'd better get two tubes of silicone and even then the fish may still shred your "plants" if they're in a breeding mood.

Modulo the vary large, earth moving and aggressive cichlids there's no reason you can't keep growing and thriving aquatic plants in a tank with cichlids. Obviously the smallest and most docile cichlids - and these would have to be the dwarf cichlids of the genus Apistogramma - can be kept in even the most delicate planted tank, but if we consider what's in the middle of the two extremes defines by Oscars on the one and dwarf cichlids on the other, there are two genera of aquatic plants that stand out: Anubias and Crinum.

Crinum natans

A large decorative form of Anubias barteri

Anubias barteri augusifolia - incorrectly "A. lanceolata"

Crinum calamistratum

These are about the toughest plants you'll find in an aquarium that aren't actually made from plastic, although you might think that's what the leaves are made from as both Anubias and Crinum have tough leathery leaves. What happens if you, ir say, one of your fishes takes a bite out of a Cryptocoryne? The leaf will usually die and in the worst case that in turn causes a "melt down". But what happens if a fish tries to take a bit out of an Anubias or Crinum? Well, it probably won't break its teeth, but it's also not likely to find it very tasty. And the leaf will survive just fine with a small chunk taken out of it.

Anubias in flower


In fact, these plants will survive just fine under as long as they're moist. Stories are told of bags of Anubias, packed carefully, lots of air, just a little water, falling down behind something or other and being discovered much later on. My record is 18mos and while I can't claim it survived just fine - it didn't, it died - that's because it dried out. If he'd been kept moist it would have lasted longer, possibly years longer in that bag.

Sticking an Anubias in a plastic bag with lots of air and just a little water then putting it in a DARK place is a time honored tradition of killing algae that may have grown on the plant. Give them about 30 days in solitary and they'll come out perfectly clean.

Various species of Anubias

Anubias don't take root in the substrate like almost all other plants do. Instead their thick and tough roots grab on to rocks or driftwood and they attach themselves to anything but fish or gravel. Traditionally a starter culture of Anubias is attached with a rubber band or sometimes some of that hobby "hot glue" to something. Hmm, rocks, wood, hot glue, leather green plant leaves... does that sound like hot cichlid love or what?

Anubias will grow from the growing tip, and while it can survive very low light it's growth will be very slow. Undaunted, it will flower in your tank, even in dim light. In a decently lit tank it can not be considered a fast grower, it's a steady grower; it will grow faster the more light it gets. Because it grows as a creeping rhizome with leaves sticking out every now and again it needs to be trimmed from time to time. These cuttings can be reattached near the origin of the mother plant to make it denser and more bush-like.

Planted Mbuna tanks

There are a number of species of Anubias: most common is A. barteri which comes in a number of different forms: pygmy, small, medium, large, huge, some with red stems. Another one you see a lot is coffeefolia with, you guessed it, leaves that resembler coffee leaves. A very expensive plant when it first came out it's fairly reasonable these days. The third most common Anubias would have to be A. lanceolata with it's lance shaped leaves.

"Pygmy" Anubias barteri nana

A large decorative form of Anubias barteri barteri

Anubias gracilis

Anubias coffeefolia

Some of the more exotic Anubias are not true aquatics and get fairly immense. They're better suited to growing out of large tanks under suspended lights. The crinums also get large, but they're slender plants that look like eel grass growing from an onion. Undemanding as to it's requirements, this genus does well even in the near saline mbuna tanks.

rinum and anubias both come from Africa - most of our aquarium plants come from South America or Asia. While Anubias has a large number of suitable aquarium species, crinum is mostly a terrestrial genus with a couple of aquatic species. (see - in a nutshell, "the flat one" and "the crinkly one".

Crinum thainanum