Philodendron In Aquarium – Unconventional Plants

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The philodendron species are a common sight in many gardens, but make unconventional choices for a home aquarium. After all, these are technically land plants! However, philodendrons are also one of the most adaptable plants out there. In fact, they can sometimes be grown as marginal plants – in which the roots are submerged, but the leaves remain above water level.

This makes a philodendron in an aquarium a great choice, where you can allow your philodendrons to adapt and fit into their surroundings without worrying about drowning them.

Philodendron Biology

Philodendrons belong to the Araceae family. They are marked by their intriguing leaves that are often heart-shaped. They are generally very deep green in color, but will occasionally produce colorful flowers. Many of them also have aerial root systems that help them absorb water and nutrients.

Another quirk these plants have is that they are epiphytic – which means they grow on other plants (such as trees) and derive their nutrients not from the soil, but from the air or other plants around them.

In nature, philodendrons will grow under the shade of larger trees and absorb water from raindrops as well as from their host plant’s leaves if they are allowed to climb up. This makes them an excellent choice for hanging or climbing aquarium decorations where you can allow your philodendrons to thrive as marginal plants.

7 Tips On Caring for Philodendrons in Aquariums

Aquariums are complex ecosystems. There is a lot of variation in terms of their size, type, and water chemistry conditions, which means that any general advice on keeping philodendrons in an aquarium needs to be supplemented by your own research.

Extensive research is especially important because aquariums are an unconventional setup for these plants, which are grown in soil. With that said, there are a few tips that should help you keep your philodendrons happy, your tank healthy, and your fish safe:

Keep The Leaves Away From Fish

leaf Philodendron in the park

Despite their fairly benign appearance, philodendrons have a dark side. Their leaves are known to contain oxalic acid, which means that if the leaves are accidentally eaten, they could cause poisoning. This is especially true for animals like frogs or fish, which could easily blunder into the philodendron’s leaves and eat them without realizing their toxicity. 

Ensure that your aquarium plants are adequately secured to ensure that they won’t be pulled into the water accidentally, causing harm to any of your pets. Also, make sure that any places where small animals might take shelter (such as rockwork and driftwood) are properly secured and free from sharp edges.

Provide Moderate Lighting

Philodendrons are low-light species, but they won’t do well if kept in low-light conditions for an extended period of time. In fact, even a few days of inadequate lighting can cause significant damage to them. You will notice that your philodendron’s leaves will become smaller and sicklier over time if not given proper lighting.

However, too much light can also be a problem. While their roots require high humidity and water, the leaves do best in drier conditions. For most species of philodendron, anywhere from 2 to 5 hours of medium-intensity light a day is sufficient. Use a timer to ensure you don’t over-light your plants.

Submerge The Roots In Acidic Conditions

Most varieties of aquarium plants require balanced water chemistry. However, since all varieties of philodendron are adapted to acidic conditions, their optimal pH is somewhere in the 5.5-6.5 range! In other words, slightly acidic water is perfect for the roots of your plant if you intend to grow them in your aquarium.

peat moss soil

To achieve this balance, you can introduce peat moss or acid soil designed for aquarium plants, or simply add a little bit of sulfuric acid to neutral tap water. If you opt for the latter method, be careful not to use too much sulfuric acid. Doing so can cause significant damage to both your substrate and the philodendron’s leaves. Keep the water level low, and allow for a couple of hours for the pH to reach its ideal range.

Provide High Water Quality

Philodendrons are adapted to living in nutrient-rich water conditions. This not only includes the soil that they grow in, but also the water that they live with. They absorb their nutrients directly from both air and water sources, so it’s important for you to keep your fish tank water clean if you hope to keep your philodendron healthy.

While there is no need for daily water changes, you’ll need to keep a close on your water chemistry, as well as your maintenance routine. In terms of the former, check your tank’s pH and nitrate levels weekly, and ammonia levels daily. In terms of the latter, remember to do a 25% water change every 2 weeks or so with replacement water of the same temperature and pH.

Determine The Right Type Of Water To Use

Thus far, we’ve centered our discussion on philodendrons grown in freshwater aquariums because they are the most common. However, the split-leaf philodendron is capable of surviving in both saltwater and freshwater. This makes it one of the very few plants that can be kept in the same aquarium water used for saltwater fish and invertebrates like crabs and shrimp, who prefer high salinity levels.

Note that while this species of philodendron can survive in saltwater conditions, it does not adapt to them naturally. This means that you will need to slowly acclimate your split-leaf philodendron to its new environment by keeping it in a container of saltwater for several weeks before introducing it into the aquarium.

Consider Adding Aquatic Fertilizers

Chemical fertilizer on soil background

Philodendrons are, after all, plants. This means that they require nutrients such as carbon and oxygen to survive. While their roots provide these for them in soil, there is no guarantee that they will receive the nutrients they need in an aquarium environment. This is where aquatic fertilizers come into play.

Adding them will not only boost the survival rate of your philodendron, but also improve its color and growth rates! However, make sure to research the specific type of fertilizer you intend to use before adding it to your aquarium. Some varieties can be too strong for your plant, which will cause more harm than good.

Install A Good-Quality Filter System

A reliable filter system will not only keep your aquarium clean and healthy, but also ensure that the roots of your philodendron receive a constant supply of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Filters also aerate the water by creating a gentle water movement via the waterfall system used to return water from your aquarium back into your tank.

As such, you should opt for a high-quality filter for your plants. Given that most philodendrons are grown in smaller tank setups, we recommend checking out our list of best filters for 10-gallon tanks. In our view, the best filter material for philodendrons is activated carbon, as it is known to bind trace amounts of nitrogen and phosphates that are found in aquarium water. 

FAQs

Which Species Of Philodendrons Are Best For Aquariums?

The split-leaf philodendron is one of the most popular species of philodendrons kept as indoor plants, as it is hardy and can be grown under most conditions. However, if you’re looking for a more unique aquarium plant, go with the heart-leaf philodendron or the velvet-leaf line philodendron.

These species are, as their names suggest, characterized by their vivid foliage which makes them very popular among hobbyists.

Is Misting The Roots Of My Philodendron Beneficial?

While misting the root base of your philodendron is technically beneficial, it can also lead to root rot if you’re not careful. Therefore, only water your philodendron on the roots by misting them with an atomizer if you know that its water needs are already being otherwise met, either through its substrate or your aquarium’s daily water changes.

That said, it is still beneficial to mist the leaves on your philodendron every now and then in order to clean off dust and remove any fungal growth caused by excess humidity.

Are Philodendrons Toxic To Fish?

Many fish are capable of living alongside philodendrons, but it is important to research the specific species of your fish before adding any aquarium plant. Many fish are sensitive to the oxalates found in philodendron leaves, which could prove fatal to them if they’re exposed to high concentrations of it over a long period of time.

In general, because philodendrons are grown with only the non-toxic roots submerged in water, your fish will be safe. You can opt to be extra-careful by housing them with fish that are less likely to nip at plants, such as larger cichlids or other carnivorous fish.

How Do We Propagate Philodendrons?

While you can propagate philodendrons through the cutting of their leaves or roots, an easier method is to divide up their rhizome. All you have to do is separate it into smaller pieces that are around 3-5″ long before potting them in a clean substrate. The best time to do all this is during the spring, as it is when new growth begins for these plants.

It’s also worth noting that you should use a clean knife, spoon, or other utensils to avoid transferring any harmful fungi and bacteria from one plant to another. Once you’re finished, your philodendron will start showing new growth in just a few weeks’ time.

Who Is The Philodendron Plant Named After?

The word “philodendron” is actually derived from two Greek words which literally translate to “friend of the tree.” The species name, in particular, is derived from the Greek word “dendron,” meaning “tree.”

Therefore, while it may not be immediately apparent after hearing its common name, the philodendron plant was actually named after its tendency to cling onto tree trunks. Cool huh?

Conclusion

Philodendrons are easy to grow, hardy plants that have the potential to last for years without significant effort on your part. As long as you follow the guidelines discussed above, it’s possible for you to keep a philodendron alive and thriving in an aquarium for years to come.

I hope you enjoyed the article. If so, please consider sharing it with your friends or leaving a comment below! Thank you for reading, and good luck with your planted aquarium!

Wanda is a second-generation aquarist from the sunny tropics of Malaysia. She has been helping her father with his freshwater tanks since she was a toddler, and has fallen in love with the hobby ever since. A perpetual nomad, Wanda does her best to integrate fish-keeping with her lifestyle, and has taken care of fish in three different continents. She loves how it provides a nice break from the hustle and bustle of life.

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