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Plant Profile: Baby Tears vs Pearl Grass

“Baby Tears” is one of the most popular aquarium plants available and is popular as a foreground and midground plant. It has very small leaves and will stay short to cover the bottom under high lighting or will grow taller and bushier under moderate lighting. However, as is often the problem with common names, when we discuss “Baby Tears”, we may be talking about different plants. There are several plants that may be referred to as “Baby Tears”. That description above can apply to any of them. They all have small roundish leaves and grow in similar conditions…so which is the “real” one? That’s as tough to answer as the sneakers/tennis shoes/running shoes/trainers name debate.

Baby Tears and Pearl Grass

L: Baby Tears (M. umbrosum)
R: Pearl Grass (H. micranthemoides)

“Baby Tears” vs. “Pearl Grass”

The two most common “Baby Tears” available to aquarists are Hemianthus micranthemoides (also called “Dwarf Baby Tears” or Pearl Grass) and Micranthemum umbrosum (the species most often known as Baby Tears, also called “Giant Baby Tears”). The main difference between these two plants is in the leaf shape. M. umbrosum (“Baby Tears”, from here on out) generally has round, almost completely circular leaves. H. micranthemoides (“Pearl Grass”, for the rest of this blog) has elongated leaves, more tear-dropped or elliptical in shape.


Both of these plants have almost identical care and can usually be used interchangeably but there are some small differences here too. Baby Tears is usually easier to care for and tends to grow a bit faster than Pearl Grass, but Pearl Grass is a better foreground plant that will stay shorter and have smaller leaves under high light. Baby Tears tends to be taller and bushier but either can be pruned and trimmed to maintain a height or growth pattern. Both plants can be grown in bunches or on a surface like driftwood, rock or a plastic mat to form a thicker carpet; use fishing line or string to hold it in place under the roots start to attach.


A thick mat of Glossostigma in an aquarium

A thick mat of Glossostigma in an aquarium

Glossostigma: A Third Look-alike


Another plant, Glossostigma elatinoides (usually shortened to “Glosso”) is also very close to Baby Tears and Pearl Grass in appearance and is sometimes confused with these two plants. It has pairs of small, round leaves that are somewhat in between Baby Tears and Pearl Grass in shape, a rounded teardrop but with the widest and roundest part of the leaf at the end rather than by the stem. They stay short and small under very high light but the leaves will become bigger and taller under lower light. This plant can also be planted in the same way by attaching it to a hard surface or planting each stalk individually until it begins to spread on its own.



Oct 2016 UPDATE: Recent publications have listed that the Pearl Grass found in the aquarium trade may correctly be Hemianthus glomeratus, not H. micranthemoides. Though these two plants are very similar, they have some slight differences in native range and in the flowers. H. micranthemoides may actually be essentially extinct and it is thought that the Pearl Grass known to aquarists in the recent hobby is likely H. glomeratus.


(Baby Tears image by Alex Popovkin, Bahia, Brazil from Brazil (Micranthemum umbrosum (J.F. Gmel.) S.F. Blake) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Top 10 Aquarium Plants For Beginners

The beauty of a thriving planted aquarium is undeniable; it is like an exotic slice of nature in your living room.  Many people shy away from advancing to a live planted aquarium because they think it is too difficult.  Some folks have tried, and failed, and decided that live plants are not for them.  Whatever the cause for not keeping live plants may be, the truth is that keeping live plants can be easy with a little guidance to help your chances of success.  There are a wide variety of easy to keep aquarium plants available, here are my top ten.  I have separated these into two groups, with smaller plants listed as foreground plants, which are also well suited for shorter aquariums.  The second group is for mid-ground and background plants, which will work well, planted behind foreground plants, and can be incorporated into taller aquariums.


Foreground Aquarium Plants


java mossJava Moss (Vesicularia dubyana) is fairly undemanding. It can be left floating or attached to a surface like wood or rockwork (anchor in place with fishing line or another tie and remove the ties when plant has attached). It will form mats that provide hiding places for inverts and fish fry as well as a low foreground texture to the aquarium.   Java Moss will thrive in low light aquariums, and requires no special care.



Moss BallsMoss Balls (Chladophora aegogrophila) Moss Balls are a truly unique addition to planted aquariums. They are non-invasive structures that are actually made from algae shaped by wave action. Moss Balls are low maintenance, tolerating a wide range of water conditions and tolerant of minimal lighting (though they thrive better in moderate lighting). They may be left in their ball shape or split and attached to a surface like driftwood or rockwork (use fishing line or another anchor until attached, then remove the ties).


anubias nanaAnubias Nana (Anubias barteri ‘nana’)  There are several forms of Anubias Barteri, that have been developed for aquarium use, with Anubias Nana being the most common.  Anubias plants are characterized by their broad, thick, dark green leaves.  Anubias Nana is an extremely tough plant, which can be kept with fish that may eat other more delicate species.  This plant will thrive in low to medium light aquariums, and a wide range of water conditions.


chain swordNarrowleaf Chain Sword (Echinodorus tenellus)   Also known as Pygmy Chain Sword, this grasslike plant is one of the smallest of the sword family, and is an excellent choice as a foreground plant, or for small aquariums.  Narrowleaf Chain Sword is tolerant of a wide range of water conditions, but requires moderate to high lighting to maintain its small size.



micro swordMicro Sword – (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis) Micro Sword is another excellent foreground plant, and is a staple for aquatic gardeners of all levels.  This plant forms dense green mats, which resemble a green carpet across the bottom of the aquarium.  Tolerant of a wide range of water conditions, this plant is a fast grower, but requires strong lighting to keep a short dense appearance.




Mid-ground and Background Aquarium Plants


amazon swordAmazon Sword (Echinodorus bleheri) The Amazon Sword is one of the most iconic aquarium plants used in the hobby, and is probably what most people visualize when they think about aquarium plants.  These plants are tolerant of a wide range of water conditions, and can grow quite large.  These plants can also survive in low to medium light, but will thrive in medium to high light levels.  Be careful not to plant smaller species close to this plant, as it will overshadow smaller plants in a short amount of time.


java fernJava Fern (Microsorum pteropus) Java Fern is a hardy plant that tolerates a wide range of conditions. They can tolerate lower lighting as well as the higher pH and hard water of cichlid aquariums and aquariums with higher lighting. They even may be used in brackish water aquariums with low salinity.  Java Fern can easily be attached to driftwood and rockwork, and can form a dense covering on these structures if allowed.  Mature plants can grow leaves up to a foot in length.


Crytocoryne WendtiiCryptocoryne (Cryptocoryne wendtii) Cryptocoryne wendtii is one of the most popular of the Cryptocoryne plants, which are commonly called Crypts. They are adaptable to most aquarium conditions, although the conditions in which it lives will often affect its form. When grown in lower light, the plant will become taller and narrower.  Crypts grown in higher light will typically remain more compact with broader leaves. The color also varies greatly. Some of the most popular variations in the aquarium trade are green, red and bronze.


anubias congensisAnubias Congensis ( Anubias barteri ‘congensis’) Anubias Congensis is another form developed for aquariums from Anubias barteri plant.   Congensis has dark green, waxy, spear-shaped leaves which grow to an average height of about 15 inches.  Like most of the Anubias aquarium plants, this variation is adaptable to a wide range of aquarium conditions, and thrives in low to medium light levels.



sagittaria subulataSagittaria (Sagittaria subulata) Subulata is a thin, grasslike plant. The leaves are green in coloration with some areas of reddish brown. A “dwarf” variant is often available as well as the “regular” Subulata but height is often dependent on lighting; the plants will grow taller in lower lighting but will stay more compact and spread laterally in higher lighting. Subulata will thrive in a wide range of water and light conditions, and may tolerate brackish water environments with very low salinity.



If you have ever considered trying a freshwater planted tank, but did not know where to start, give some of these plants a try.  Once you see how easy it can be, the sky is the limit, and you are on your way to becoming an aquatic gardener.

Until next blog,


Algae Eaters and Plecos for Small Freshwater Aquariums

Finding the perfect new addition to an aquarium is often like finding the Holy Grail to many aquarists. We all want the perfect little helper to keep the tank clean so there’s less work for us to do (and so our tank is cleaner and healthier, of course) but many “algae eaters” get too large for smaller aquariums and many others like the group of fish known as “plecos” don’t even eat algae at all. So what are the best plecos and algae eaters for small freshwater aquariums? Here are a few of our favorites that are some of the best choices for smaller community aquariums:


Bushynose & Bristlenose Plecos (genus Ancistrus)

Starlight Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus dolichopterus L183)

Starlight Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus dolichopterus L183)

  • PROS: Lots of variety in color and pattern, small size, vegetation-heavy diet (including algae), community-friendly.
  • CONS: Some species grow larger than others, needs meaty foods as well, underfed fish may eat live plants.
  • BEST SUITED AS: A community algae-eater and bottom-feeder.


Plecos from the genus Ancistrus usually have “Bristlenose” or “Bushynose” somewhere in their common names, a nickname that comes from the whisker-like frills that develop on most adults. They are usually more prominent in adult males but some females may get them too in some species. Different species in this group have different requirements, but they are generally among the smallest plecos. While they eat some meatier foods as well, most appear to eat mostly vegetation.



Clown Pleco (Panaque maccus L104)

Clown Pleco (Panaque maccus L104)

Clown Pleco (Panaque maccus L104)

  • PROS: Small size, easy-going temperament, fairly wide-spread diet.
  • CONS: Need driftwood for grazing, not primarily an algae-eater.
  • BEST SUITED AS: A general clean-up bottom-feeder for community aquariums.

The Clown Pleco is a popular small pleco. As with other Panaque plecos, these fish are omnivores and feed about equally on plants matter and meatier foods. Panaque plecos are also unique in that they actually feed on driftwood as well; make sure you have driftwood décor in your tank for these fish to graze on.




Hillstream Loaches

Reticulated Hillstream Sucker (Sewellia lineolata)

Reticulated Hillstream Sucker (Sewellia lineolata)

  • PROS: Eats algae, can be kept in groups, unique and unusual appearance.
  • CONS: Needs high flow and pristine water, vulnerable to aggressive tankmates and poor water chemistry.
  • BEST SUITED AS: A unique addition to a suitable community aquarium where it incidentally may help eat algae but isn’t the primary algae-eater.

Hillstream Loaches have flattened guitar-shaped bodies and are often mistaken for plecos. They cling to rocks in the fast-moving mountain stream where they come from much like plecos cling to surfaces. Hillstream Loaches need well-oxygenated and well-filtered tanks and don’t do well with nippy tankmates or in tank with less-than-pristine water quality. They do eat some algae however, as well as other detritus and leftover sinking foods.



Otocinclus Catfish

Dwarf Suckermouth Catfish (Otocinclus sp.)

Dwarf Suckermouth Catfish (Otocinclus sp.)

  • PROS: Small size, safe for planted tanks, primarily algae-eaters.
  • CONS: Can be sensitive to stress, can starve if they can’t find enough to eat.
  • BEST SUITED AS: Algae-eating housekeepers in planted community aquariums.


There are a few very similar species that are commonly grouped together as Otocinclus Catfish (“Oto Cats”) or “Dwarf Suckermouth Catfish”. Most are brownish-grey in color with a black stripe but some like the Zebra Oto (Otocinclus cocama) have a more ornate pattern. These fish stay under two inches in length and are great for eating algae off of plants without harming the plants. They can be a bit finicky and sensitive though so only keep in a stable, healthy aquarium. They are also best kept in groups so plan tankspace accordingly.



Rubbernose Plecos (Chaetostoma sp.)

Spotted Rubbernose Pleco (Chaetostoma sp.)

Spotted Rubbernose Pleco (Chaetostoma sp.)

  • PROS: Moderately small adult size, eats some algae, community temperament.
  • CONS: Not a primary algae-eater, can be bulky for very small tanks.
  • BEST SUITED AS: A general bottom-feeder for community tanks over about 30-45 gallons.


Like the Clown Pleco, Rubbernose Plecos are some of the most common smaller plecos available. They also have a very familiar pleco-like appearance that many novice aquarists associate with algae control. They are not exclusive algae-eaters however; this is another omnivore that needs about equal parts meaty food and plant matter. These fish are pretty middle-of-the-road overall: moderate adult sizes, eats diet for about half their diet, neutral coloration, moderate temperament.



Freshwater Nerite Snails

Freshwater Nerite Snails (Neritina sp.)

Freshwater Nerite Snails (Neritina sp.)

  • PROS: Colorful shells, safe for plants, small size.
  • CONS: Limited availability, may reproduce, may be vulnerable to predators.
  • BEST SUITED AS: Algae-eating grazers for small planted aquariums.


Nerite Snails are popular for saltwater aquariums but some species are found in freshwater as well. These snails are much smaller than some of the other less-suitable and more invasive freshwater snails like Apple Snails or Trapdoor Snails. They mainly eat smaller algaes like the ones that cause spots on glass but usually won’t harm plants. These snails also appear to bred less frequently in most aquariums than the more common Apple Snails. Make sure the ones you get are from freshwater; a saltwater Nerite will not survive being moved to a freshwater tank.


Freshwater Shrimp (Caridina sp.)

Several freshwater shrimp (Caridina sp.)

Several freshwater shrimp (Caridina sp.)

  • PROS: Safe for plants, small size, can be kept in groups.
  • CONS: Limited availability, vulnerable to predators, very small.
  • BEST SUITED AS: Algae-eaters for planted nano tanks with peaceful or no other tankmates.

Small freshwater shrimp like the popular Cherry Shrimp and Amano Shrimp can be ideal grazers, especially for nano tanks (under 1-2 gallons). Some are clear, some are colored or have colored markings and they can be kept in groups. However, most of these shrimp are very small; you may not see them often and can’t be kept with anything remotely predatory.      




As always, the best algae-eater for your tank depends on its tankmates, the size of the tank, the water parameters and other such factors but hopefully this helps give you some alternatives to fish that may be too big or otherwise unsuitable to your needs. If you need more help in making your best choice or have a favorite of your own, feel free to comment below!

Choosing New Aquarium Lighting for Your Tank

aquaticlife T5HOThe choices for lighting your aquarium have never been so vast. Whether you are setting up a new aquarium, replacing an old light fixture, or adding to your existing light, there are many decisions to be made.  New technology, and improvements on older lighting methods, provide today’s aquarium hobbyist with a dizzying array of lighting choices for any aquarium. So, how do you choose? What is the best light for your aquarium?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself, to help you with the decision:

Is the light that you are looking for only going to be used on your current aquarium habitat, or are you planning on a more advanced aquarium in the future that may require a higher output light source? You may want to consider a stronger light than you need for your current livestock, as basic lighting may limit what you can keep in the tank down the line.   Read More »

Current TrueLumen Pro LED Strips Now Available at That Fish Place

That Fish Place now has the latest LED strip lights from Current USA, the TrueLumen Pro Series.  The TrueLumen Pro LED lighting system is modular, easy to use, environmentally friendly, and extremely energy efficient. The strips are available in four sizes (12”, 24”, 36”, 48”) and four different color spectrums. These lights can be adapted to any aquarium setup, offering brilliant lighting for any set-up.

8,000K Sun White – Brings the color of natural sunlight into your aquarium, perfect for freshwater planted aquariums, marine refugiums, and general lighting purposes

12000K Diamond White – Crisp white light for excellent shimmer and light penetration,  coloration on freshwater and marine fishes, limits growth of nuisance algae.

Deepwater Blue – 453nm actinic blue color provides proper wavelengths for enhanced coral growth, and intensified coloration in corals and fishes.

Marine Fusion – Blend of the Diamond White and Deepwater Blue LED colors to provide an ideal single light source any marine or reef aquarium. Can also be used on freshwater aquariums to enhance fish colors.

TrueLumen Pro LEDs come with a mounting bracket, that allows them to be easily attached the inside of a canopy or solid surface for an easy retrofit.  Aluminum mounting legs are also available for a more traditional tank frame mount setup, or they can simply be set on top of a glass canopy. Available inline dimmers and splitters allow for a wide range of custom installation possibilities.

The aluminum housing of the TrueLumen Pro is also a heat sink, that allows for cool operation of the LED chips, which will give them long life, and high performance. LED chips are also sealed in crystal clear silicone protectant, keeping all the electronic connection protected from any accidental splashing or corrosive salt creep.

The DC transformer power supply is sold separately, and can power up to 6 TrueLumen Pro light strips with the use of the available three way splitters.

Whether you are looking to upgrade, or replace your old lighting, the Current USA TrueLumen pro LED strips are worth taking a look at, they may be just what you are looking for.