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Old 10-13-2016, 03:08 AM
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Default Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

Welcome to this bank of plant information, my hope is that it offers some perspective that helps improve the hobby. If you are going to contribute, please read the text carefully. If this endeavor is successful, vol 2 will be forthcoming, since the primary reason for vol 1 is to set the stage for further discussions. Although plant selection seems like a backwards presentation with regards to designing a vivarium, I think that its importance as a pivotal design aspect cannot be discounted. Put simply, no matter what the rest of your vivarium looks like, the plants will make it sing and highlight it or run it over like roadkill - only two things will make the difference, your choices early on and a good pair of scissors.

This is not meant to overturn anyone's idea of what makes a vivarium look great, and this thread is not a search for the one and only way to skin this cat. This is just an effort to help those who are striving for something they can be proud of and enjoy, and would like to talk about, or read about, how to get there. Give me one good reason why a vivarium shouldn't be awesome.

Since vivarium design is really a vast subject that can go all sorts of places, I was thinking it would be nice to get a discussion going regarding planting. There are tons of plants and plenty of vivarium styles. We've all seen the variability in different types of newly planted and long term vivariums, and there have been discussions about which specific plants to use and how to care for them. But what is the purpose in planting a vivarium? Some logical answers: with respect to the mission of most members here, to provide habitat for poison dart frogs, some are 'necessary' for reproduction (bromeliads and broadleaved plants), some for visual barriers to provide the inhabitants relief from the potential stresses caused by permanent cohabitation with tankmates. But all of those needs can be met with manufactured items, wood, and some leaf litter - no plants necessary. Then there are the aesthetics of the plants selected, on their own merit and in concert with each other, the sum of which can generate a naturalistic display that is also a functional playground for the inhabitants.

The big question is, how does plant selection relate to vivarium design? Well, when you chose your building materials and envision the finished product, you are making choices that will hopefully meet your goals. When you are selecting plants, the principle is the same, but it is actually, in my opinion, vastly more important. First, you will want to make the selections suitable for the inhabitants. Second, you may have a grand background or buttress or rock wall, etc. in mind and the last thing you imagine is seeing that good work swallowed up by creeping fig and 10 bromeliads. So, there is the long term affect of the plant choices to bare in mind. Third, you want to be able to understand how the overall appearance will take shape, from the beginning through months or years after planting. Fourth, maintenance is fun for some and a chore for others, so knowing how much trimming, if any, is involved in keeping your vivarium in order (if you desire it) will save you some trouble down the road. The last three points are all related, with the general idea being that anticipating the growth of plants you select beforehand will better enable you to execute your idea.

Let's assume that the plant's needs can be met and their usefulness to pdfs is understood, and we'll move on to talk about: 1) growth habits of various plant types and the maintenance required, if any, 2) which plants to use for desired features from beauty to function, and 3) where to plant them for best use of their growth habits and to meet their basic needs.

So, feel free to add categories (regarding terrarium plants in context) that need to be here. And to keep the introduction more brief, we can start with a couple simple graphics that name some general plant parts, then list and describe growth habits and the types of plants that fit the descriptions. I'd like it if this could this be done simply with generalizations used as a necessity, rather than splitting the groups down into overly complicated subgroups. This could become a useful guide for how to view the tiny cutting or potted plant you intend to purchase, but an in depth biology lesson should be dealt with in another thread geared towards that level of interest. But as I mentioned, please add any related categories that are missing and please use plenty of graphics to keep it interesting, informative, and approachable. General discussion and positive thoughts on the subject are also welcome - we all stand to gain by sharing our experiences.







Want to add some info?
For the types of growth habits listed (feel free to fill in any gaps), it would be nice to include some general types and species that illustrate the variety within the growth habit. Instead of only very similar types, we should look at broader habits; not all rhizomatous plants grow the same way, so it would misleading to mention only Rex Begonias, but also too complicated to look at all plants with a rhizome. Text book examples are a good way to start though.
Concerning graphics, it would be great if we could use examples that show the end result, meaning we should aim to show how the plant will eventually appear as it grows over time (where possible); showing a cutting will not be as informational as showing a grown out patch or adult (if applicable) of said plant type. After all the types have been hashed out, perhaps we can try to detail plant type placement preferences.
Regarding growth rates, they are subjective to our experiences with the plants. So, keep in mind that our perspectives on this are limited to our lighting conditions and the amount of time we have grown the plants. After growing them for a few months, we kind of have an idea of how fast they grow. But if you start with a cutting that has three leaves, it will likely take a while to get going, so you'd likely have a better idea after a year or two. And that is what this is all about, planing for how the vivarium will turn out over time. Oh, and lets skip moss for now.

To Contributors: please try to include the: Type, then habit notes and experience with it, some genus and species, and some photos


Rosette:

These are plants that grow from a central axis, with the alternating leaves typically radiating in an overall circular shape. Bromeliads, many gesneriads, some carnivorous plants, like Butterwort, and some ferns are good examples. These types may spread by rhizomes or may just remain as one solitary individual. Rosette forming plants tend to require minimal maintenance, as they don't often travel far.

Butterwort:


Nautilocalyx pemphidius:


Fern sp.:





Vine

This habit tends to grow vertically on an upright surface or meander around at ground level, but it can usually be identified by a long stem. Generally, this type has one terminal growth tip, and does not grow straight or stand up on its own without support. Many Philodendrons, and some other aroids fit this description. Most of the shinglers also fall in here. Depending on the growth rate, this sort of plant can require regular to intermittent maintenance.

Philodendron sp.:


Marcgravia sp.:


Monstera dubia:





Scrambling & Rambling

This may not be a technical term, and it encompasses several types of growth habits really, and for that reason is not easy to generalize. I tend to think of many of the 'vining' peperomias in this way, since they scramble around horizontally or upwards, without a definite prefernces, unless they are trying to reach better lighting. But as they ramble around, new growth terminals also tend to branch off. Begonia glabra, Begonia maldonado, and quite a few Selaginellas are also nice examples. These plants may take a while to get established and gain momentum, but once they do, maintenance would need to be regular to extreme to keep them in check, unless your desire is a carpet of such a plant. Carpet is a loose term, since they come in all shapes and sizes. These are semi-agressive plants, generally speaking.

Begonia glabra:


Peperomia fagerlindii:





Branching & Spreading

Although these types are fairly similar to the scramblers and ramblers, they should be set apart, based on their (eventual) fast growth rate and tendency towards branching quickly and often, so that, depending on lighting conditions, they will likely form a nearly complete wall or carpet that can encompass an entire vivarium if left alone. Creeping figs and Ciscus sp. Come to mind. This sort of plant should be used by those that desire quick and easy coverage over large areas and those who don't mind keeping an eye on the other plants to ensure that they will not become choked out and starve for the lack of light. This plant has been the death of many bromeliads and other plants, so keep that in mind. Invasive is another good term.

Although there are plenty of smaller, slower, and more manageable plants that appear to fit the spreading type, like Microgramma heterophylla and many other rambling plants, due to their less threatening nature, they should be considered scramblers for the purposes of this discussion.

Creeping Fig (taken from this thread: http://www.dendroboard.com/forum/pla...g-fig-bad.html ):



Cissus amazonica:





Self-heading & Non-migratory

This is a prized and rewarding growth habit for those seeking growth types that stay in one place. Bromeliads could be viewed as such, but for this discussion, the focus is on aroids, such as numerous Anthurium species, quite a few orchids, and generally epiphytic plants. Although most Syngonium don't really fit this mold, I have a species that does grow in just this fashion. Some ferns are good examples, but few neotropical species are available to the hobby. It would be nice to get a good list of these, since, other than Anthurium and Orchids, which tend to be somewhat picky about their temperature requirements (many are highland species), there aren't many of these types that are truly suitable available to the hobby. Additionally, most of the Anthuriums are too large for the tanks most of us are using, but there are a few smaller types out there. Many orchids travel by rhizomes, but for this discussion, their non-aggressive growth lands them with this bunch. The growth rate of Self-heading plants is generally slow and they don't tend to move far from where they are planted/mounted, so they are nearly maintenance free! However, they are often more difficult to obtain and grow properly in a vivarium. One great alternative that is very happy in vivariums is Philodendron 'Wend Imbe', which is a hybrid, but is readily available. It does grow more quickly if planted, so mounting it is a great way to control it's growth.

Psygmorchis pusilla:


Anthurium obtusum:


Philodendron 'Wend Imbe':





Rhizomatous & Sundry

Many plants fit this category, so for this thread, let's focus on types that slowly wander, often via rhizome (stem), and those that gradually spread itself (make new plants) via lateral rhizomes, etc. I would further narrow this down to plants that generally creep along and those that have a slow to medium growth rate. Good examples are some Begonias, some ferns, many gesneriads, etc. These sorts of plants do travel, and some creative new growths as they move, but generally speaking they are more manageable and require regular to infrequent trimming.

Begonia:


Rabbits foot fern:




My hope for this thread is that we won't be biting off more than we can chew. I say "we" because this broad topic really needs the collective experiences from everyone who has delved into this area themselves and come to some conclusions on the matter. It is definitely subjective. I also don't want this to turn into a place to trash talk specific plants, but if you have picked up on the theme, then you already know there is favor given here to plants that are more easily maintained and work with the intended design. Creeping fig can work with any design, but unless the design is for a carpet of fig, some religious trimming is going to be required. Saying, "gosh, that plant sucks", doesn't really bring much to the table. Most plants are neat, but some types work better for the design (whatever yours is) than others, hence the existence of this thread. If you've ever wanted to get all philosophical (not debate) about plant selection, this would be a great time to jump in.

Again, this is a simple beginning, laying the foundation for more in-depth conversations about how we can use the various growth habit types and so on. If its already time to kick it up a notch, that's fine with me.


Mike
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Old 10-16-2016, 08:50 PM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

This venue may not be the ideal location to develop this kind topic. But, I will continue to add some blog-like information here, if there are no takers.

Vivarium design is not fact-based. It is not a collection of facts with some interpretation, rather it is akin to art, where there is widely varying technique and opinion, with a little fact sprinkled in. What works, what doesn't? T'is in the eyes of the beholder, but there are some generalizations that can make the process a little more likely to succeed. Granted most of us are working with vivariums with volumes less than 10 square feet, which is why fitting in a bit of nature requires some restraint and planning in order for it to have some aesthetic appeal when the project is complete and the plants have grown in.

So, a couple points that were missed, regarding growth habits:

Rhizomatous:

Again this is a tough one, since many vivarium suitable plants have a rhizome or spread via one. This is a type of stem, basically, but doesn't always grow upwards with leaves along it. It may be bare of any leaves or roots, and it may be above the surface or below. Some rhizomes are long and others are a fraction of an inch. Some spiral gingers, and some aroids create new plants via subsurface rhizomes, as seen below.

Calathea undulata:





Upright Growth / Tall Stem:

This is a growth type that is seen in some vivariums, but not in great numbers. Some are considered miniatures and some can become bushes, even trees. Due to their propensity to continue to grow up and up, without stopping at a reasonable height, they are used with the caveat that some trimming may be required periodically to maintain a pleasing shape, but also to keep them from hitting the ceiling. However, this is not an unusual concept with vivariums, since most vines and some ramblers will eventually reach the top of a tank at some point and require a trim, unless a deformed plant is the desired outcome. A few smaller types are shown below, but due to variances in growing conditions, they may or may not actually ever need a trim.


Moncostus uniflorus:


Clidemia hirta:


Biophytum sensitivum:



I think another good group would be the pendant growers...


Mike
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Old 10-17-2016, 02:21 AM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

I'm sure there are many that can't really contribute because we just don't know much about plants... but I can assure you I really appreciated how informative this was. So, please keep it going

The mods can help move and edit things if they need to be after the normal edit window expires, just let us know what needs to be done.
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Old 10-18-2016, 01:55 AM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

Thank you, Tom - I appreciate the encouragement! And my thanks to all who have liked and thanked. I am trying to write to an audience, but it's not really my style. If you don't mind verbose, please read on. Tom - I would be happy to take you up on the offer at some point; there is a lot of subject intro and solicitation material here that can be removed. I will do the best I can to keep adding to this with my experience and perspective.

But again, I think we could all benefit from the addition of others' experiences and opinions. I know I'm not the greatest vivarium maker in this hobby, and also I know I'm not the only one who has reached some conclusions regarding methods can lead to a rewarding display.

Moving forward.


Pendant / Downward Growth

This is an appealing growth habit occasionally seen in vivariums. These plants often grow as epiphytes and tend to extend downward as they grow, which makes them unusual and eye catching. This type includes some Gesneriads, like Columnea, some epiphytic blueberries, epiphytic cacti, and a few Peperomias and Orchids. But like all plants, they have specific light requirements and unless those requirements have been met, they may grow upward - this is something to consider when selecting these plants to be part of a vivarium design. Another thing to consider is the total length the plants will attain. Some may require and tolerate trimming, but there are a few that max out at a more desirable length or grow slowly enough that it can be a while between trims.

Sphyrospermum sp.


Columnea microphylla:


Dichaea cryptarrhena:


Hatiora epiphylloides:





So what is the big deal with all these growth habits, why concern ourselves with how different plants grow?

1. Space. There is a finite amount of surface and volume in any given enclosure. Knowing the anticipated size of the plants, how they grow, and where they grow will make planting to achieve a naturalistic scene, that is not overly crowded or awkward, more of a real possibility.

2. Natural Tendencies. Not all of the growth habits occupy the same surfaces, so that allows us to use various types in their niche locations. There are few hard and fast rules about growing plants in a vivarium, but some plants just won't grow far outside how they are found in nature. For example, some epiphytes truly have an aversion to growing in any kind of consistently moist substrate, such as we find in many vivariums, no matter how good the drainage is or how much air movement we add. Similarly, some plants need to grow in some kind of substrate media that remains moist and would never be happy mounted, so they are obvious terrestrials. The lines get blurred when we see a plant climbing a tree; although they appear to be happiest climbing (and that is true), most have roots in substrate in the beginning, so mounting vines to a background with a bit of moist sphagnum to give them an upwards boost may not produce the desired affect, for you or the plant. However, if a small pocket with substrate is included in the background, then 'mounting' the vine becomes a more plausible idea. But again, if the plant wants to start at the ground level, then it may be best for it and the overall look to let it do just that. Placing plants were they want to grow will not only look more natural, but will likely make them happier.

3. Eventual Growth and Maintenance. Seeing photos of how your plants will look as they grow out, if you have not already, is a great idea before letting them go free in a vivarium. This subject alone could inspire pages. Knowing how a plant will grow up, out, over, into, etc. the surroundings and other plants can give you an idea of where they will be happy, but also where the other plants and overall scene will be happiest. This is probably the most pivotal point with respect to creating a more harmonious vivarium. Envisioning how all the plants will grow out can help you find that perfect spot for the plant, add to the naturalistic aspect of the display, compliment other plants, and help you decide if the plant is right for the vivarium at all. If the bromeliad you like grows to 12" around, then you'll need a tank that is wider than that and plan to have a barren spot beneath it or track down some very low light plants. If your Peperomia is going to become a carpet, keep an eye on it and the scissors ready, or plant taller plants around it that can survive the swarm (but watch for over-shading). Unfortunately, there is only so much researching we can do, and sometimes all the photos are misleading, so trial and error comes into play. And plants are like water, they go where they are happy and will surprise you, just another surprise in life. I will say on this matter than the eventual growth of plants has caused me to reduce the amount of fast growing plants I keep around, in favor of slower growing species and those that don't travel far. But you have to walk the line between what you like best and what performs the way you'd like. I have some plants that require regular trimming, and I don't mind that, because I like having them around. Patience, it is not easy to wait for plants to grow in. Fortunately, things can be adjusted as the vivarium develops; you can add, subtract, trim, etc. You can start heavy or light, it is not set in stone

4. Preference. If you really like a particular growth habit and want to see it included, and highlighted, in the display, then choosing the appropriate hardscape becomes important. For example, some shinglers (i.e. Marcgravia) look great growing on the ground level of a tank or up any given background or piece of wood. But to grow them in a way that really showcases the natural beauty of that form, some nearly vertical wood, or (even better) a tree buttress would be the perfect mount. Conversely, if you are planning a tree buttress or vertical surface, plants that desire such a surface to grow upon would serve to highlight it in a natural way.

5. Variety and Interest. A little variety in growth habits goes a long way. Not to say that having all growth habits in one tank would be a bad thing. But it helps if you have the space and appropriate environments for all the types you intend to include. Too little variety can be a little monotonous in my opinion, such as a tank that only includes a vine and a bromeliad. Using a mixture of growth habits adds interest and keeps your eyes moving around all the patterns they form.

6. Quantity. If a plant is going to go nuts eventually, then starting with a smaller piece can help delay that. Some plants may acclimate better as smaller divisions, so starting small can be a good thing. If a plant is a small individual or discrete grower, then multiples can work and help draw some attention to it. This is pushing into another topic all together that can be elaborated on later.


Next will likely need to be how to arrive at planting based on the hardscape design. A short topic, but worth mentioning. Also need to add clumping habit.


Mike

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Old 10-18-2016, 09:43 PM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

@Mike

I can say that's exactly what I was looking for... A guide to plant selection!

I recently opened a thread, searching for advices on a specific build of mine (not really a successful thread, just saying...) so I'm really grateful for your endeavor with this nice thread. I will be eagerly reading what's coming next, as I did with all the information you already provided.

Please keep it flowing!

Thank you very much.
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Old 10-20-2016, 04:27 AM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

Thanks Mike,

I appreciate this post. There's always several questions I ask when buying or trading for a plant, but it's difficult to get them answered a lot of the time.

1. The growth habit, so I make sure I'm planting it somewhere where it's going to grow the direction it wants too and not get all leggy or weird. I've planted what I thought were hanging basket plants in the background only to see them grow upward towards the light.

2. Whether it likes to be planted epiphytically or in the substrate (sometimes I'll get mixed answers on this for the same plant, which is a real head scratcher).

3. How much air movement, light, and humidity does it like (and will it tolerate a range). I have my vivariums set up where there's a range of variables, like closer to the vents tends to have maximum air movement but lower humidity.

Those items will help me determine where to plant it. The only other thing I like to ask is how much it likes to be watered, and does it like water on it's leaves. You can usually tell if a plant is being over or underwatered but some plants are very tempermental about water on their leaves so that's something I really like to know ahead of time.

I'm not sure how far you are intending to build out this guide but just thought I'd mention the main variables I like to know about. As a person who likes a lot of information beforehand, it's annoying to me when I can't find the care info, guess wrong, the plant suffers, I get stressed out, then have to move it around and hope it doesn't die on me. I've been able to nurse almost all plants back to healthy but if you can start out with the proper care, it's so much nicer.


Thanks,
Thane
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Old 10-21-2016, 02:18 AM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

Quote:
Originally Posted by dentex View Post
@Mike

I can say that's exactly what I was looking for... A guide to plant selection!

I recently opened a thread, searching for advices on a specific build of mine (not really a successful thread, just saying...) so I'm really grateful for your endeavor with this nice thread. I will be eagerly reading what's coming next, as I did with all the information you already provided.

Please keep it flowing!

Thank you very much.

And flow it shall! I'm really glad you were able to find something here that helped. Thanks for the good words!


Quote:
Originally Posted by thane View Post
Thanks Mike,

I appreciate this post. There's always several questions I ask when buying or trading for a plant, but it's difficult to get them answered a lot of the time.

1. The growth habit, so I make sure I'm planting it somewhere where it's going to grow the direction it wants too and not get all leggy or weird. I've planted what I thought were hanging basket plants in the background only to see them grow upward towards the light.

2. Whether it likes to be planted epiphytically or in the substrate (sometimes I'll get mixed answers on this for the same plant, which is a real head scratcher).

3. How much air movement, light, and humidity does it like (and will it tolerate a range). I have my vivariums set up where there's a range of variables, like closer to the vents tends to have maximum air movement but lower humidity.

Those items will help me determine where to plant it. The only other thing I like to ask is how much it likes to be watered, and does it like water on it's leaves. You can usually tell if a plant is being over or underwatered but some plants are very tempermental about water on their leaves so that's something I really like to know ahead of time.

I'm not sure how far you are intending to build out this guide but just thought I'd mention the main variables I like to know about. As a person who likes a lot of information beforehand, it's annoying to me when I can't find the care info, guess wrong, the plant suffers, I get stressed out, then have to move it around and hope it doesn't die on me. I've been able to nurse almost all plants back to healthy but if you can start out with the proper care, it's so much nicer.


Thanks,
Thane
Hi Thane,

I have felt your pain, and still do with some new plants. As you might have seen already, I have crossed over a few times from talking about general growth habits to actually growing the plants. I think there is a line in the Pendant paragraph where I mentioned that some of these types will grow upwards at times (I need a table of contents for referencing, haha). In my experience, this is because the lighting isn't intense enough, so they can be tricky and basically the photos you see are a little misleading, especially if you don't have the hardware needed.

And regarding plants that can grow epiphytically or not, many of those are epiphytes that like a consistent moisture or terrestrials that aren't picky. Another possibility is that the person giving advice has a very moist tank, lots of misting, lots of moss on mounted plants, irrigation to background. I have some plants that I have seen others grow in substrate that will only do well for me when I mount them, not really sure why. I think that is part of the learning curve for some plants though; having trouble, possibly losing it once or twice before figuring it out. Don't even get me started on growing orchids in a viv.

I totally get the importance of all the points you listed above, I consider those when getting plants and then finding good spots for them. And I think giving them their due attention would make a great thread, probably something that others would be more comfortable collaborating on, too. However, it would land us in the Plant section - although it is an important element of design when you consider the role plants play in that. If a thread like that were to be started, I think the scope would be even larger than what I'm hoping to tackle here. I'd like to see if there is a way to make a subforum with a thread for each plant family, then a thread started for each individual plant that folks here have tried in a vivarium. Then anyone who has experience with it and something to say about that or a question about it would be able to add to the information we have about growing the specific plant. Could you imagine an encyclopedia for growing all terrarium plants?

And besides not intending to write about how plants are grown in this thread, I think information on how plants grow is possibly even more subjective. You would think that what makes a plant happy would be a factual thing, but it's more complicated. If I grow a plant and it likes to be moist, then you grow it dry and it likes that too, but what does that mean? Possibly that it tolerates wide conditions, or that there are other subtle environmental conditions that we haven't considered as factors in making it happy. And it works the same way in reverse, we could both have trouble with the same plant under different conditions. So, it helps when you have multiple situations that are the same and reach the same outcome for reference; better "data". The more who agree on a method, the better your odds of it working for you.


I am planning to get back to this, so if you are enjoying it, you shouldn't have to wait long for more.

Mike
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Old 10-21-2016, 09:46 PM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

To continue the first portion of the original goal, below are two more groups.



Clumping & Mounding

This is a growth habit that is more open to interpretation. Many of these plants are rhizomatous, but due to their short internodal lengths and the bushy appearance of the overall growth, they appear as little clumps or mounds. Some begonias, some peperomias, and various other plants may have this type of growth. Alternatively, some of the best clumping types are orchids; some of the smaller species can form very attractive clumps which make great focal points when mounted on a background, piece of wood, or even a narrow vine. Although listed under the self heading group above, Philodendron 'Wend Imbe' certainly has a clumping form, as well. If these plants are viewed as newly started cuttings, they may appear as simply rhizomatous and their growth may even ramble initially. But given time they usually form a clump. Given ample time, they can form large colonies that could be viewed as groundcover eventually. These plants generally take a while to fill an area out, but as they eventually tend to do so, they require some trimming from time to time. Some plants with a mounding form are very rhizomatous and spread quickly, such as Saxifraga stolonifera, and would require regular trimming to keep them confined to one area.


Peperomia caperata:



Begonia lyallii var. lyallii f. masoalensis:


Saxifraga stolonifera:


Pleurothallis grobyi:





Groundcover

This type of growth is desirable especially for patches in larger vivariums and for designs that are based more on aesthetics than dart frog habitat. Not all vivariums contain frogs or any vetebrates, so the use of this growth habit is not uncommon. Probably the most commonly grown groundcover is moss. Fortunately, many designs incorporate other surfaces above the ground level that can support plenty of moss growth, such as branches, rocks, and organic substrates of all sorts. So, moss is not only a groundcover, but can really cover just about any surface, provided the conditions support its needs. Some mounding Selaginellas can spread relatively quickly to form a groundcover. Otherwise, given enough light, many of the spreading/branching forms and the scrambling/rambling forms can eventually cover all areas of a vivarium, including the ground level. So, depending on the application, this form may need regular trimming, if a small maintained patch is desired, or perhaps very little at all.

Moss:


Selaginella krausianna:
http://i15.photobucket.com/albums/a3...kraussiana.jpg


I think I have finally exhausted my repertiore of the most basic and common growth types used in vivaria. On to other related topics.
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Old 10-21-2016, 10:56 PM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

Now that the grow habit discussion, I will try to get back to the remainder of the scope, which was:

1) growth habits of various plant types and the maintenance required, if any, 2) which plants to use for desired features from beauty to function, and 3) where to plant them for best use of their growth habits and to meet their basic needs.


For topics #2 & #3, I feel that the second post of this thread covered much of where to plant various selections for beauty and function, but there is more to consider.

Probably the most obvious notion is that of visibility. Once the vivarium is planted and the plants are growing, how easy is it to see the key aspects? Can the well crafted dangling roots, buttress, rock wall, waterfall, other plants, etc. be seen clearly? Carefully selecting plants to grow on or in front of other features that should remain in view is important. For example, were I to make a rock wall with some sculpted detail, and if I planned for some reason to mount three bromeliads on it, I think I would make three areas that jut out a bit and are less detailed, so there is nothing of artistic value obscured. And of course, slower growing, smaller, or less spreading types are more likely to spare your focal points. Something like Sinniginia muscicola can be placed on almost any artistic portion of a vivarium and will not overwhelm it, unless it creates numerous seedlings. Minature orchids are also good choices for showing off an artistic feature without covering it up. Highlighting the main features versus smothering them seems like a good idea. But when preplanning fails and the vista becomes swarmed by peperomia, moss, bromeliads, etc., a pair of scissors or tweezers can reclaim it and allowing you to enjoy it once more.

And perhaps even more basic is the idea that the smaller and lower growing plants, if placed towards the front of a display, will allow a better view to the background. But I prefer not to look at this as a concrete concept - I don't envision rows of plants, each followed by a taller growth habit, from front to back. Rather, this is a loose rule that will help you keep enough space open to see most of the elements in the vivarium. In fact, to discuss this topic further, I will suggest that some disorder is desirable. When I am planting a vivarium, I usually find myself placing at least one or two taller-growing plants towards the front, but I make sure they aren't going to obscure the view too much, so they are typically off to one side. A Biophytum obscures little of the view behind it and shines when given good access to light, free of other competing foliage, and this solitude at the low- to mid-level serves to show it off. In addition, when there is only a background on the back side of the vivarium, some taller upright plants can be used on the sides of the display to give it a fuller look. But keeping them it check is important if visibility of the other vivarium features is to be maintained.

This discussion is a little disjointed, since I am basically working off the text already here and trying to fill the gaps as I write, without a rigorous editing process. I have now covered growth habits and where to plant. There is obviously more that could be said about where to plant, but I think it verges on pure opinion, so I am trying to adhere to philosophy-based concepts. If there is more to say on this that makes logical sense, I welcome any contributions.

Next, I'd like to talk about the use of plant textures and colors.


Mike
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Old 10-21-2016, 10:58 PM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

Forgot to add the proper codes above...

Selaginella krausianna:
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Old 10-24-2016, 11:04 AM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

I nearly forgot a worthwhile discussion on planting.

So, if the goal of the finished product is a naturalistic display, then one of the questions to ask is, how do plants often appear in nature? Without going overboard on trying to extract an actual slice of nature to place in a glass tank, an expression of what we commonly see in nature can be reproduced easily in a vivarium.

Granted nature is going to appear widely varied from place to place, not just in terms of miles apart, but even a few feet apart. Therefore, one thing that can be observed and reproduced loosely and is common to most areas, with respect to the plants, is the repetition of a species within an area of suitable habitat. When you look at a patch of brush or weeds, you often see multiple plants of the same species scattered about or growing in clusters. Very often, more than one species calls the location home and several may grow together with the appropriate amount of space left between them. Sometimes it appears that one plant in the area is best suited to a habitat and basically takes it over.

So, in theory, the use of multiple plants of the same species and that resulting pattern, whether done intentionally or not, has the potential to trigger the beholders' memory of a natural scene. There are many ways to achieve this. I think that smaller plants make good subjects for this, since it is easier, especially with smaller vivariums, to include multiples of something that requires less space. And it is this theory that I believe causes many of us to be drawn to vivariums that include lots of moss. If you think about it, the moss-covered branches, background, and/or floor have, in fact, tied the whole display together, and triggered our response that says subconsciously to us, "this appears as something I have seen in nature".

Nature also produces scenes polka-dotted with individuals, so this is by no means a golden rule, but it is worth noting when designing a vivarium. See some examples of natural settings below:



















There is a little more to say on this subject.


Mike
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Old 10-24-2016, 01:53 PM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

I'll work a little more in on the subject above.


Multiples, they can be used to weave some continuity into a design. Clustered together or spread out, they have the power to make the word naturalistic come to mind.

One other thing to consider, while we are thinking about how plants tend to grow in colonies or just more frequently in ideal habitat, is the natural arrangement of plants, with respect to their environment and one another. Plants are always in competition with each other for resources, most of all a good spot in their desired light intensity, which is necessary for them make a living. A lot of tropical terrarium plants (especially terrestrials and vines) really don't need much light and so they are more difficult thwart. But epiphytes are usually trying to find a spot with exposure to brighter lighting or at least away from the competition for lighting found lower down.

One of the first things you might note, during a review of in situ epiphyte photographs, is that they are quite often growing at some kind of angle with respect to horizontal, and to each other. As was discussed above, epiphytes are often seen in groups of the same species, especially bromeliads. Accordingly, placing epiphytes at some kind of angle from the others can aid in developing a naturalistic appearance. Placing five different bromeliads in a line does not hit upon a natural theme necessarily, but it is not impossible to find something comparable in nature - but it is not as easy to relate to it. But again, some tree branches are nearly level.

Of course, not all tanks can accommodate large amounts of multiple plants, and that is ok. Sometimes it is better to use one individual of a plant, such as a bromeliad, since they can be found as singles in nature and it will benefit the other plants and the overall appearance of the vivarium to do so.

This concept is possible for terrestrials too, since they can also be found growing on nearly vertical surfaces, such as banks and steep hill sides.

See some examples of epiphytes growing in nature:

















More to say about angles later.

Mike
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Old 10-26-2016, 01:46 PM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

Hey all,

Just want to say 'Thanks!' to those who are following this and appreciate what I'm trying to do. If I get some time, I might try to edit all this and convert it into a pdf. In hindsight, it probably would have been better to work on it that way from the beginning.


Angles can be dealt with in vol 2, since that is really bridging into another topic.


So, now the final plant-related topic will be addressed - color and texture. This is pretty basic, and is really a matter of preference, but there is some logic that can be applied. Like anything good, some moderation is important. For example, using only plants with striking colors or heavily textured plants would create quite an interesting display for sure. It has been done before, and you'll find examples of this if you look around enough. Some textured plants help break up the monotony of a scene, making it less bland, like the way a typical (dissected frond) fern is completely different from the typical smooth leaf of a bromeliad or philodendron. This difference in texture adds interests and complexity to the overall view, much the same way a splash of different color, such as red, purple, or silver, can become a great focal point or accent. Flowers have a similar, but temporary affect. I think of it as adding spice to a dish; too much and it overpowers the objective, but at least the plants can be removed! Reviewing photos of natural habitats is a great way to get some perspective on what a rainforest is like and just how much they can vary in appearance, but at some point creativity and the availability of resources comes into play and you do the best you can.


For some, the object may be to reproduce a specific jungle in a specific part of the world, as closely as possible, others may want something that just looks natural, and many people are just interested in keeping the plants they bought alive. So, there are many ways to select plants, and many ways to arrange them. With the application of a little logic, some creative imitation of the natural world is possible, especially since plants are a part of that and help breath life into the unnatural components of the vivarium. Personally, I see the hardscape as a blank canvas, and the plants are like living paint that really makes it an evolving work of art. Look at it how you like and enjoy!

Below are some photos of more pronounced plant leaf textures and a few natural settings.

Anthurium clidemioides:



Pilea involucrata:



Begonia crispula:











Unless I missed something important here or unless there are some comments, this will conclude vol 1.


Mike
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Old 10-26-2016, 01:56 PM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

Plant texture is a seldom addressed topic in regards to planting vivs, its good that you mentioned/discussed this. Comments on color, growth habit, placement, and leaf shape are sometimes brought up, but texture is rare.
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Old 10-26-2016, 07:29 PM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

Excellent thread Mike, Thank you for taking your time to contribute such an in-depth perspective on an important aspect of vivarium design. I will definitely be referencing this thread a lot for all my future builds. From your username I had guessed you might be a geologist but now I have to guess you’re a botanist of some sort
I would nominate this thread for a sticky unless you plan to edit it all into a care sheet or something like that.

A few additional thoughts related to plants/ plant selection that you may want to include either here or in separate species specific posts:
1. Strength/durability of the plant, Ability to handle frogs (laying eggs, pooping, hopping around, etc.) Also avoiding any plants that may harm frogs, I’ve seen some bromeliads that have mean looking spikes on the leaf edges.

2. Scale/shape of leaves. Even plants with different growth patterns/ needs can have similar looking leaves that when used together can add subtle variation without the tank becoming a busy patchwork

The following thoughts may be better in a layout/design thread but still pertain to plants:
3. Avoid over-planting/overcrowding! Keep in mind the final size of the plant

4. Using an odd number of plants to have a more natural feel. I.e. single plant or groups of 3, 5. (EDIT: realized you already mentioned this in the post regarding multiples and using natural groupings of plants)

5. Limit variety of drastically different plants/morphs. Rather than a grab-bag of every type of plant and 5 different colors of broms, simplify the variations so that the tank has more of a balance. Too many different plants creates a busy/ distracting tank.

Thanks again, and I’m really looking forward to volume 2

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Old 10-27-2016, 12:40 AM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

Thanks guys! I can tell you two also have an interest in the subject.


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Plant texture is a seldom addressed topic in regards to planting vivs, its good that you mentioned/discussed this. Comments on color, growth habit, placement, and leaf shape are sometimes brought up, but texture is rare.
Hey man, thanks for the comment. There is probably a lot that could be said about texture.


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Originally Posted by WZDesigns View Post
Excellent thread Mike, Thank you for taking your time to contribute such an in-depth perspective on an important aspect of vivarium design. I will definitely be referencing this thread a lot for all my future builds. From your username I had guessed you might be a geologist but now I have to guess you’re a botanist of some sort
I would nominate this thread for a sticky unless you plan to edit it all into a care sheet or something like that.
Thanks for the good words! I think it was worth the time spent, and I figure when you have something to say that might be of any help, best to go ahead and speak. I studied rocks in school and still love them, but I've always been an admirer of biology. I've been drawn to plants for a good while, but my isn't as academic. I did take a horticulture course once, it was neat and gave me a little more insight into plants/propagation.

Quote:
Originally Posted by WZDesigns View Post
A few additional thoughts related to plants/ plant selection that you may want to include either here or in separate species specific posts:
1. Strength/durability of the plant, Ability to handle frogs (laying eggs, pooping, hopping around, etc.) Also avoiding any plants that may harm frogs, I’ve seen some bromeliads that have mean looking spikes on the leaf edges.
I kind of mentioned that aspect of plant selection in the intro, but allowed that this is more basic information that most frog enthusiasts learn about before worrying about more technical design matters. I know there are many hobbyists who do a lot of reading before getting a vivarium started; and as this kind of information is sprinkled around with other frog care information, I consider it to be common knowledge.

On another note, I don't know this as a fact, but I think some frogs may actually select bromeliads that have spiky leaves for tadpole deposition. The spines may offer the frogs and their young some protection from predation, but again I'm not sure whether this is a scientific fact. I can imagine a larger dart frog having some trouble with spiky bromeliads, but I have seen obligates move through them without any issues.

Quote:
Originally Posted by WZDesigns View Post
2. Scale/shape of leaves. Even plants with different growth patterns/ needs can have similar looking leaves that when used together can add subtle variation without the tank becoming a busy patchwork
This is a great point. I think using plants with similar leaf shapes is a great idea. It is tough to use enough restraint and avoid the patchwork affect. I have trouble with it because there are so many great plants and so few vivariums to spread them out. If a lot of different plants are used, then I guess you have to summon up some creativity to produce a scene that makes sense.

Scale in general is something I thought would be best dealt with in another volume about general design, even though there is some overlap with the plant side of design. It is a more complicated thought process when you get into the nuts and bolts - I'd appreciate any help when I get vol 2 rolling, if there is something you'd like to say about the subject.

Quote:
Originally Posted by WZDesigns View Post
The following thoughts may be better in a layout/design thread but still pertain to plants:
3. Avoid over-planting/overcrowding! Keep in mind the final size of the plant
Those are certainly valid concerns. Over-planting is something that can be avoided for sure. I think I went into this in some of the first posts about researching the eventual growth habit of the plants, which includes not only the eventual size and shape of a plant, but the rate of its growth. And when that fails, removing, replacing, or trimming can resolve any undesired over-growth. It's tough to get a grasp of this concept early on, and even with experience it can still present challenges.

Quote:
Originally Posted by WZDesigns View Post
4. Using an odd number of plants to have a more natural feel. I.e. single plant or groups of 3, 5. (EDIT: realized you already mentioned this in the post regarding multiples and using natural groupings of plants)
Absolutely, this is getting to the heart of the matter, with respect to making a more naturalistic display that isn't polka-dotted. If a solid thread (wide use of a specific plant) is running throughout the variation of other plants, they can all fit in to the overall scene a little better. I haven't experimented with using specific numbers of a type of plant with a purpose, but I can see it being effective.

Quote:
Originally Posted by WZDesigns View Post
5. Limit variety of drastically different plants/morphs. Rather than a grab-bag of every type of plant and 5 different colors of broms, simplify the variations so that the tank has more of a balance. Too many different plants creates a busy/ distracting tank.

Thanks again, and I’m really looking forward to volume 2
I completely see what you mean and I have seen vivariums with fewer species that were some of the best I've seen. But I have seen others with a higher degree of variation (different species) used that were also very successful, too. I have seen a few displays that were very densely planted, and I enjoyed them too, but I don't think the objective was a successful dart frog vivarium. I think it is all about placement and what you want to see in the end. There are some techniques that should work very well to get on the right track towards making a vivarium that is enjoyable and doesn't turn into a mess in six months, but at some point creativity and plant availability/preference come into play. And then plants have a mind of their own, and will do unexpected things that we hadn't envisioned in the original conception - at that point, some intervention may be needed. I have certainly done plenty of alteration in order to achieve a look that is closer to what I'd like to see.

But in general, I look at color as an accent that is easier to over-do than different plants/textures. Like you mentioned, five different bromeliads don't really fit together, especially when they are different colorful Neoregelia hybrids. And a vivarium with a lot of silver and red plants may end up being too busy and is not something I'd expect to see growing naturally together in one place. But I haven't been everywhere, so maybe there are places where lots of colorful plants exist in the same setting. Most photos I see of the tropics show a lot of green plants, so I try to make sure most of the plants I use are green. There are so many interesting red plants that it's hard to avoid having a few around.



And I'd like to say that, while this thread has been all about looking at plants and vivariums is specific and refined ways, I don't really expect my own displays or any others to be perfect replicas of natural scenery. I think striving for something more natural is a fine goal, but I understand that the limitations of tank size, plant availability, artistic ability, finances, etc. play a role in what we are able to produce. Just wanted to mention that, since I think that plenty of great vivariums have been shared here and look forward to seeing what others turn out in the future.

Mike
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Old 10-28-2016, 05:54 PM
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Additionally, most of the Anthuriums are too large for the tanks most of us are using, but there are a few smaller types out there.
Mike
Mike- Which Anthuriums do you feel are best suited for mid-sized tanks?

Thanks for taking the time to start this informative thread!

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Mike- Which Anthuriums do you feel are best suited for mid-sized tanks?

Thanks for taking the time to start this informative thread!
You're welcome! Glad it is being enjoyed!


That is a good question. I have tried a number of Anthurium in vivariums and have seen most of them do pretty well. But I have been trying them for a few years now, so I have gradually improved and have an idea of what they like.

The easiest ones are a couple vine types - A. polyschistum and A. pentaphyllum. They grow as easily as most Philodendron. Of course, these require some regular trimming. A. clidemioides and A. flexile are vines that are a little more tricky. Neither seem to appreciate high lighting. A. clidemioides is generally fickle and grows sporadically.

Most other Anthuriums, especially those with fleshy roots, are more akin to orchids in their requirements. So that means, once you have found some lowland options, keeping them from remaining moist and stagnant is important. For some vivariums this could mean minimal misting and internal fans for air circulation, but others with significant passive ventilation built in should have an easier time with this. But they are some of the most amazing plants and don't spread much, so they are worth trying, IMO.

Anthurium scandens has several cultivars or subspecies and is not too bad, but seems to like dryer conditions in vivariums. I've had mixed luck.

A. rupicola and A. lapoanum seem to be pretty easy, but improved lighting and ventilation have helped me to get them going. I tried lapoanum in the past and it didn't do as well. A. arisaemoides is more challenging I think, but I am trying it again, since I have been having better luck with this type. One thing I would say about mounting these, is that it helps to give them some rooting options.

So far, I'm having pretty good luck with A. obtusum. And it wouldn't be fair to mention the ones I haven't done well with, since most were during the 'formative' years and may be worth trying. And of course, like orchids, there could be an expensive learning curve before you have success with them. If you want to enjoy an inexpensive Anthurium in your vivarium that is easy and colorful, a lot of the hybrids found in grocery stores and at garden centers stay pretty small and many can withstand higher moisture levels. You might have to trim them eventually, but it shouldn't be needed frequently.


Mike
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Old 10-29-2016, 03:24 PM
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Default Re: Vivarium Design vol 1: Plant Selection

If I may ask another specific question (I don't want to pollute the thread; just tell me if it's the case), I wanted to know if Mike or any of you is aware of any plant that:
- shows climbing behavior;
- can easily grow with the base into the water (and the root system into a completely watered aquarium soil);
- and preferably has small leaves (I.e. as the size Peperomia prostrata has).

Thanks.
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Reviving this wonderful post in hopes that Mike will continue with Volume 2
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This should be a sticky.
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