Plastic plants are fine, but….

Base of large plastic plant. Notice the holes and general shape where detritus and waste can accumulate. Photo by the author.
Base of small plastic plant. Notice how there is little area for waste to accumulate. Photo by the author.


I’m increasingly seeing a lot of new or inexperienced cichlid keepers asking about adding live plants to their tank. Live plants work for many cichlids but not all. Why? Some species dig them up and others simply eat them. For Lake Tanganyika tanks, I did a post a few years ago about plants species you might look at if you’re considering a biotope set-up. So what about plastic plants you ask?

Plastic plants can make a nice addition to your tank. In fact, the quality of plastic plants has improved significantly over the years. Many of them now appear very realistic and life-like in aquariums. Plastic plants are also virtually no maintenance. “Virtually no maintenance?”, you ask. What does that mean? Depending on the type of plastic plant you purchase, detritus and other waste can actually accumulate on them, especially in their base.

For those plants that are really dense, you need to make sure that you give them a good shake when you do your regular tank maintenance. You will be surprised at all the “bad” stuff that comes out of them when you do this. Also, when you’re doing your normal substrate vacuuming, be sure and vacuum the base of your plants, especially if the base is concave. A concave base acts as a “bowl” for detritus, so making sure the base is clean is important, especially if your tank has multiple plants like that. Many large plastic plants will have a large support base, which may be flat or even concave (see left photo at top). Smaller plastic plants will have small bases that may even be more convex in shape (see right photo at top).

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