A Brief and Incomplete History of Aquascaping

tiger15

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I was going through my hobby book collection and re-read two old publications: The Hobbyist Guide to the Natural Aquarium by Tetra, and Exotic Tropical Fishes Expanded Edition by TFH, both published in early 1980s. The author of the Tetra plant guide is Gerhard Bruenner, former curator at the Institute for Applied Botany at the University of Hamburg, and the TFH encyclopedia with a 127-page chapter on aquarium plants written by 5 authors. I don't know how many of the authors are still alive as Bruenner, born in 1926, would be 94 if he is still around. These old publications provide historical perspective of the state of knowledge on plant keeping before Amano which I define as modern era of plant keeping.

These old guides have no mention of CO2 injection, liquid carbon, aqua soil, and hardly any epiphytes. They recommend the use of washed gravel for substrate and against the use of aqua soil except capped in pots to prevent mess. Tetra guide recommends the use of water column fertilizer Tetra Florapride and root tab Tetra Crypto, both are still sold today notwithstanding many new competitions. Tetra guide listed Java fern as the only epiphyte among 50 popular Aquatic Plants, and TFH guide mentioned only two Anubias and moss species. Apparently, epiphytes were not popular in the old days and no wonder Bolbitis, Buce, and many species of Anubias, Java fern, mosses and carpet plants were not mentioned at all. On the other hand, the plants recommended were all easy plants, such as Cryptocoryn, Vals, Echinodorus, Ludwigia, Hygrophila, Hydrocotyle, Limnophila, Rotala, etc that are commonly use in low tech tanks today. What's nice is that the plant species names remain the same and immediately recognizable to me, which is unlike fish species names that have changed multiple times since I first learn them.

In term of trouble shooting and fixing plant problems, not much tool was available in the old days except for recommending more frequent water change, fertilizer balancing, and light management. I read these guides and tried plants briefly in the 1980s, but gave up due to BBA infestation. I never stop keeping fish though and restarted my planted tanks a few years ago. What a big difference today in the amount of information and tool (CO2 and liquid carbon) available to enable plant keeping easier to succeed for newbies.
 

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tiger15

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I’m surprised by that as I was already experimenting with co2 in about ‘85. Tetra used to sell a set not dissimilar to the Tropica system 60 and pressurised co2 systems were already available by the likes of Dupla.
My TFH publication copy right date is 1980. I cannot find the copy right date for my Tetra publication which I assumed to be no later than 1981-2 when I bought it. So you are right that Tetra may have started selling CO2 system around 1985. What is important is not when CO2 became first available, but when CO2 use became popular. I saw the first CO2 set up in a LFS in early 1990s, around the same time Amano published his 3 volume Nature Aquarium gallery in 1994. So I would define the modern era of aquascaping by Amano in early to mid 1990s, coinciding with the popularity of CO2 use around the same time. I do not know when liquid carbon is first used, which is also a turning point for modern aquascaping.
 
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Tim Harrison

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I do not know when liquid carbon is first used, which is also a turning point for modern aquascaping.
That's an interesting observation. Do you mean in terms of algae control or growing plants? It'd be good to get a better understanding of how LC fits in with the whole aquascaping story.
 

lilirose

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This is fascinating to me- I got my first tank in 1981, but somehow it never occurred to me to use living plants until 2018. Yes, you read that right, I had tanks with plastic plants for nearly 40 years.

In the places where I lived, I didn't see aquatic plants for sale until after 2010- or if I did, they were dying, leading me to think that aquatic plants were difficult to grow, and when they died they'd irretrievably foul the tank. I guess I just somehow had a blind spot when shopping in a LFS, but I had never even heard of CO2 injection until I found George Farmer's YouTube channel. I'm astonished to hear that people were starting to play with CO2 in the 80s. I'm learning so much from this thread! :D
 

tiger15

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That's an interesting observation. Do you mean in terms of algae control or growing plants? It'd be good to get a better understanding of how LC fits in with the whole aquascaping story.
For algae control, LC effectiveness is positively confirmed by toxicity tests which I have compiled below.

Toxicity of glutaraldehyde
96h acute Bluegill sunfish LC50 = 11.2 mg/L
Bluegill sunfish NOEC = 10 mg/L
48h acute Oyster larvae LC50 = 2.1 mg/L
96h acute Green crabs LC50 = 465 mg/L
96h acute Grass shrimp LC50 = 41 mg/L
48h acute Daphnia magna LC50 = 0.35 mg/L
Daphnia magna NOEC = 0.32 mg/L
96h algal growth inhibition Selenastrum capricornutum ILm = 3.9 mg/L
Algal inhibition Selenastrum subcapitata IC50=1 to 1.8 mg/L
96h algal growth inhibition Scenedesmus subspicatus EC50 = 0.9 mg/L
Bacterial inhibition Sewage microbes IC50 = 25-34 mg/L
96h O. mykiss (Trout hatch rate) IC50 = 1.82 mg/L
96h C. dubia (Daphnia reproduction) IC50 = 4.7 mg/L

*EC=Effective concentration; IC=Inhibition concentration; LC=Lethal concentration;
NOEC=No observed effect concentration

For enhanced plant growth, Seachem makes the claim based on theoretical speculation. I cannot find a single test data confirmation though. But Glut is indispensable for many low tech tanks, before balancing a new setup, or running into algae problem for variety of reasons. If Glut can suppress algae that blocks off light, it will have the effect of enhancing growth but for the wrong reason.

I used Glut following Seachem daily and after WC dosage to start my set up and found it helpful. Now that my tanks are balanced and largely algae free, I still administer initial Glut dosage after weekly water change. My intent is not to enhance growth as I have CO2 injection, but if Glut can prevent algae, it is helpful.
 

Tim Harrison

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I guess for some folk it's possible it gives them more wriggle room but do you reckon it's really played that much of a significant role in the hobby, especially when hydrogen peroxide essentially does the same thing? And if so when do you think it's influence began to become important ?

I've had many successful scapes that haven't been dosed with LC at all, both low and high energy. When I first started out, more years ago than I care to mention, I was pretty much limited to water and capped soil and had fantastic plant growth and no algae to mention so needed neither LC nor H2O2. And I figure most folks that had reasonably good success back then share a similar experience.
 

tiger15

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This is fascinating to me- I got my first tank in 1981, but somehow it never occurred to me to use living plants until 2018. Yes, you read that right, I had tanks with plastic plants for nearly 40 years.

In the places where I lived, I didn't see aquatic plants for sale until after 2010- or if I did, they were dying, leading me to think that aquatic plants were difficult to grow, and when they died they'd irretrievably foul the tank. I guess I just somehow had a blind spot when shopping in a LFS, but I had never even heard of CO2 injection until I found George Farmer's YouTube channel. I'm astonished to hear that people were starting to play with CO2 in the 80s. I'm learning so much from this thread! :D
Growing plants with fish has been around for as long as fish keeping for centuries. But growing plants as aquascape focus is a recent invention by the Japanese and Dutch. It may not happen if Internet hasn’t popularize it in early 1990s when Amano, CO2, and internet itself became available.
 

hypnogogia

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But growing plants as aquascape focus is a recent invention by the Japanese and Dutch. It may not happen if Internet hasn’t popularize it in early 1990s when Amano, CO2, and internet itself became available.
I’m sorry, but that simply isn’t true. My LFS was already selling plants in the early 80s, and some of the shops had great displays of fish and plants. I remember shops in Germany already using CO2 in their display tanks. My father introduced me to the hobby in the 70’s when we had a planted aquarium at home. It’s true to say that internet and YouTube has made information more accessible, but books already covered this hobby, and Dutch stösst planting developed in the 1930, so not that recent. Whilst it is true to say that Amano had a great positive influence on the hobby, let’s not kid ourselves that great planted tanks didn’t exist before that time.
 

tiger15

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I guess for some folk it's possible it gives them more wriggle room but do you reckon it's really played that much of a significant role in the hobby, especially when hydrogen peroxide essentially does the same thing? And if so when do you think it's influence began to become important ?

I've had many successful scapes that haven't been dosed with LC at all, both low and high energy. When I first started out, more years ago than I care to mention, I was pretty much limited to water and capped soil and had fantastic plant growth and no algae to mention so needed neither LC nor H2O2. And I figure most folks that had reasonably good success back then share a similar experience.
You may be right that I might have over played the role of LC. Peroxide probably works as good and cheaper. My old plant guides have no mention on LC or peroxide, Walstad and Amano don‘t use either, only Tom Barr used both. But most aquarists have low tech and when they run into algae or stunt growth problems, they resort to LC marketed by multiple vendors and it works for them. Without LC, they would likely given up plants so it still makes a difference in the hobby.
 

Tim Harrison

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I don't think the Dutch nor the Japanese have ever claimed to have invented aquascaping. For instance, I was just one of many folk who started aquascaping back in the late 70s early 80s, using rocks from local quarries and bog wood which was sold in pet stores.

Admittedly, the number of plant species available from pet stores back then was limited and many of them were really terrestrial plants. But you could mail order more exotic aquatic species via companies that placed adverts in periodicals like the one I mentioned in the article, Aquarist and Pond Keeper. Further, pressurised CO2 has been used for growing aquatic plants since the 1960s.

Sure the internet has spread the word and folk like Amano have done much to popularise the hobby using the Nature Aquarium concept. But aquascaping was around long before that and in a very similar form. It's just a facsimile of nature when all said and done, and it's a shared experience, so nothing really unique about it. Other folk just didn't have the urge or the business acumen to package it and give it a name for commercial gain.
 

tiger15

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May be I should use the word popularized rather than invented. Very few things are invented, most are repurposed or popularized. Your brief history mentioned that CO2 injection idea was first come up in the 1960s, patterned by a German company in 1970s, but not popularized until 1990s by the Dutch, theJapanese, and the internet (who’s first).

Not just man made, in natural selection, feather was not evolved inventively so birds can fly but already there in Dino for insulation, and lungs were not evolved inventively to live on land but already present in many fish species in different forms to survive in low oxygen water.
 
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