Liverworts in the Aquarium

(Unedited version)
Originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of
Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine

Most people probably don't really notice liverworts that much if at all. They're usually very small inconspicuous plants. They usually prefer those areas that are humid and are usually hiding beneath other plants, mixed with mosses, or covering rocks or wood in shady areas. Liverworts have been around for a long time, they are some of the most primitive true plants. When people think of liverworts, if they ever do, they usually think of the flattened type with a leathery green appearance. There are actually more species of liverworts that have a moss like appearance but if you've seen them, you probably thought they were mosses. I have to admit I've always had a fascination with liverworts, even when I was a little girl. They just looked so darn cool.

Recently there's been a great deal of interest among planted aquarium hobbyists in aquatic liverworts, or at least those that will survive in an aquatic environment. Liverworts are often very useful in aquascaping, and are used to cover rocks and wood or as carpeting plants. With the recent interest in very small aquariums, called micro, mini, and nano tanks, these tiny plants have gained even more interest.

In the aquarium hobby for a long time the only liverwort that was readily available, at least in the United States, was Riccia, though some Asian and European countries have had more access to some of the other liverworts. Riccia is a long time favorite. Aquarists found it useful as a floating plant, often utilized to aid in the breeding of fish. Labyrinth fish will put it in their bubble nests, livebearer fry can hide in the floating masses. In more recent years it's gained a lot of popularity used as a ground cover, tied to rocks or wood, to keep it from it's naturally floating nature. In a tank with added CO2 Riccia very easily pearls and is quite attractive. But Riccia is old news, now there are several different types of liverworts available that grow well in the aquarium.

After Riccia the next liverwort I had contact with in the aquarium was in the mid 90's and came to me in a rather strange way. I was at someone else's home on other business and noticed they had an aquarium. All across a large piece of wood in this tank was a very interesting plant. I asked where they got it and if they knew what it was. They told me it just started growing on the wood in their tank and they had no idea where it came from. I asked for a small piece of it and brought it home. It was a dark almost brown green, and looked somewhat like a larger version of Riccia, except it stayed nicely down instead of floating. I grew it in a 10 gallon tank for about 5 years. I couldn't get it to grow in any other tank, I passed some around to my local club members but no one else could seem to get it to grow and when I moved the 10 gallon tank I lost mine. I would guess it may have been what's now being identified as Pellia. Fortunately liverworts can be ordered now and you don't have to wait for a chance encounter.

You may have to work a bit to find your aquarium liverworts. Sometimes local people may have these plants, particularly if they are very heavily interested in planted aquariums, check for an aquarium club or better yet an aquatic plant club. There are also places you can find them to order these plants on line, and even a few local shops may sometimes carry them. Since this plants are relatively hard to come by at this point they are generally more expensive than some of the other aquarium plants you may be used to buying. They also usually come in a very small quantities. Don't be shocked when you open an order and find some tiny zippered baggies and small squares of plastic canvas with your dollop of plants squished between. This is standard for these plants right now. It's the law of supply and demand, the good news is that as more aquarists are growing these plants they become more plentiful and prices drop. Those plants that are doing the best in hobbyists tanks will come down more quickly than those that are harder to grow. Sometimes it's hard to find the plants you want but perseverance will usually, eventually pay off.

Round Pellia

This plant previously was sold and referred to as Pellia endiviifolia or round pellia but was then identified to the aquarium community on the Tropica web site as Monosolenium tenerum, there are also claims that this plant is from the genus Metzgeria. Sometimes it's just hard to find out what your plants true names are. Whatever you call it this plant is a wonderful addition for your aquarium, that I would highly recommend.

Many of the new creeping and ground cover plants can be difficult to grow but this wonderful liverwort is easy to grow even in a very simple planted aquarium. It's size makes it useful in traditional large aquariums and the new popular micro aquariums. This is a liverwort that can be grown in almost any planted tank. The first time I got it I put it in to one of my aquariums with additional CO2 and fertilizers. The second batch went in to a tank with just some potting soil beneath the substrate, now I've got little start growing in tanks throughout the fish room, including those with only gravel substrate and no additional added fertilizers.

This liverwort grows in pillow like mounds. It's rather unusual looking, and adds a bit of mystery to your aquarium. The leaf-like thallus is medium olive green, with a branching, irregular wavy shape. The plant stays on the bottom of the tank and doesn't need to be tied down like Riccia. It will even attach itself to gravel, rocks or wood with rhizoids. If you have active or larger fish or a lot of water movement in your aquarium due to filtration, then you may have some trouble with parts of the plant finding their way around and growing in other places throughout your aquarium. As with all the aquarium liverworts, you can use mesh or fishing line to keep it more contained.

Mini Pellia

This is a beautiful and very small liverwort that has started to become available. It's currently being identified as Riccardia chamedryfolia. I do wonder if that's going to change in the future as these plants are difficult to identify in the best of circumstances and from what I can find the plants that are being grown in aquariums were identified by the distributors. Most of these plants are coming to the aquarium hobby out of Asia, but the limited scientific information I find on Riccardia chamedryfolia growing in the wild comes mostly from Northern Europe where the common name for the wild plant is jagged germanderwort. Is this the same plant? We will have to wait to find out.

In reviewing what other aquarists are saying about their experience with mini pellia, I'd have to say mine has been a bit different. Most of the accounts I've read have indicated that it must have very high lighting and CO2, and supplemental fertilizers to grow. This has not corresponded to my experience with the plant so far.

When my mini pellia arrived it was in a small square cage of plastic canvas. I decided since it was so small I would leave it there until it got some more size on it. I didn't want to loose the tiny plants in my aquarium. The trip had also been hard on the plants, they had been in the mail for a week and it was already warm here in Arizona, there wasn't a much of the mini pellia left to work with. The tank I put it in was newly set up with a base of potting soil and black gravel over it. The tank is a somewhat less common 20 high with a shallow body from front to back, and somewhat longer from side to side, like a 15 thats a bit taller. I have several of these and they do make a nice planted tank size. For lighting I'm using a new fixture with 2 T-5 bulbs made specifically for the planted aquarium. I've purchased several of these in the last year and have been quite happy with them in terms of economy and functionality. I also had a soda bottle DIY CO2 set up on this tank, and was initially adding fertilizers.

Everything was set up and lovely in the aquarium, but I kept having to fight an outbreak of particularly nasty hair algae. When regular water changes and hand pulling weren't doing enough to get rid of it, so after about a month of fighting I took more drastic measures. I stopped fertilizing, took off the CO2 and added a bunch of duckweed to cut light and help suck up excess nutrients. Then I basically ignored the tank for several months. It was rather hard on the stemmed plants but 5 months later the hair algae is now to a minimum. The duckweed was slowly removed over the course of about a month and the stemmed plants are starting their recovery. I'm also thinking of firing the CO2 back up on this tank again soon.

When the little duckweed blackout started my mini pellia didn't look like it had much of a chance. There was very little of it and that was being attacked by the algae. I couldn't pull much of it off without pulling out the little liverwort plants too. So I left it as it was, tucked the plastic canvas into a shady spot and hoped for the best. I did check on it occasionally and could see that it was still struggling along. I was very pleasantly surprised when I really got a look at it after I cleaned out the duckweed and trimmed everything back. There's been quite a lot of new growth. The plant is very compact, and a dark rich green. This plant would be perfect for small aquariums. Even in a dark tank with no supplemental CO2 or fertilizers this little liverwort recovered and grew.

Liverworts at Home

Liverworts are truly interesting and unique looking plants and a wonderful addition to your aquarium. Though some may be difficult to grow I've found that the ones I've tried have mostly been very easy to grow. Liverworts can be wonderful accents, or ground covers in your larger aquariums. In small aquariums liverworts alone or with mosses can be used to create whole aquascapes. I would definitely recommend trying liverworts in your planted tanks.

Welcome to the Jungle | Into The Forest | The Creepy Crawlies | A Clearing in the Thicket | Algae Eaters for the Planted Aquarium
North American Natives | Why things go wrong Pt 1 | Why things go wrong Pt 2 (Algae) | Algae Eating Shrimp | Lo-Tech Tanks
Welcome to the Fish Room | The Stemmed Plants | Mosses | A Livebearer Biotope | Planted Tank Social | The Genus Hygrophila | Cyanobacteria
Easy Plants | What I Did Last Summer | Decorations in the Planted Tank | Botany-An Introduction to Plant Biology | Botany-Anatomy of a plant
Botany-How Plants Work | Easy Rosettes | Going High-Tech | Floating Plants | Dealing with Success | Bringing the Outside In | Vallisneria
Hair Algae | Flowering Aquarium Plants Part 1 | Flowering Aquarium Plants Part 2 | Liverworts in the Aquarium | Elements of Design
Planted Aquarium Maintenance | More Mosses | Invaders | Ferns in the Aquarium | Setting up a Planted Aquarium
Seaweeds of the Pacific Northwest | Proserpinaca | Hardware for the Planted Aquarium | Rotala | Neocaridina Shrimp | Lo-tech Tank Tips

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