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Adding live plants will always be one of the smartest strategies you can apply to your fish keeping experience. You’ll never go wrong with a planted habitat, and one of the reasons for this recommended practice is related to the ability of aquatic plants to absorb ammonia from the water. As all aquarists know, keeping ammonia levels down to zero is crucial to the survival of fish and invertebrates, so this is a key advantage to keeping freshwater planted aquariums. Here are a few things you should know about this biochemical process.
Understanding Plants and the Nitrogen Cycle
When you establish a tank before stocking it with fish, you’re in fact completing the nitrogen cycle in which ammonia will be broken down into nitrite and nitrate ions by Nitrobacter colonies. Aquatic plants contribute to the nitrogen cycle through the absorption of ammonia particles because they’re part of the plants’ nutrients. A similar biochemical process is conducted by terrestrial plants in relation to the natural nitrogen process that keeps our atmosphere healthy.
Plant Metabolism and Nitrogen
Ammonia is generated through fish waste and dissolved in the water. This nitrogen compound, which we know is highly toxic to fish, is a food source for all aquatic plants. While beneficial bacteria break ammonia particles down, plants consume the particles whole for the purpose of converting the ammonia into endogenous nitrogen compounds. Plant metabolism is very slow when compared to the metabolic rate of tropical fish. For this reason, plants by themselves will never be able to consume all the ammonia in a tank. Even if you keep a lush aquascape with just a handful of neon tetras, you still need a have a filtration system with biological filter media as well as do regular water changes to maintain water quality.
The Aquatic Plant and Ammonia Paradox
Ammonia is beneficial to aquatic plants but toxic to fish and invertebrates. Since the nitrogen cycle aims to completely remove ammonia, this presents somewhat of a contradiction, but it’s not something to worry about as long as the plants are properly cared for. By maintaining the nitrogen cycle, you’ll be depriving plants from one of their nutrients, but this deficiency can be overcome with proper lighting, carbon dioxide, and fertilizer. But even a trace amount of ammonia the plants utilize is a real bonus in that there will be little or zero free ammonia in contact with your fish.
Best Freshwater Plants for Ammonia Absorption
All aquatic plant species absorb ammonia. Some do it through their leaves while others do so through their roots. In general, rooted plants require more nutrients, thus making them more efficient in terms of ammonia consumption. Amazon swords and hornwort are the among the best plant species you can get for a freshwater tank. Java moss and other resilient plants that don’t require special lighting are also pretty good with absorption. Preparing your tank for these plant species requires placing a layer of planted aquarium soil on the substrate.
Maintaining the water quality is just one of the many important tasks when caring for an aquarium. There are several supplies you’ll need to have on hand to ensure your plants and fish remain healthy. You can find everything you need at Aquatic Warehouse, a leading provider of supplies for freshwater and saltwater aquariums as well as koi pond supplies. Come visit us at our store in Kearny Mesa, or order whatever you need from our website and have it shipped to you. If you have any questions, please give us a call at 858-467-9297.