Saturday, November 27, 2010

Whimsical West Africans

«Our country was not paradise,
Sometimes heavy rains fell upon us.
But if we lose such a place,
We’ll not be happy anywhere else. »

These lines from a poem of the Soviet writer D. Kedrin suit the majority of aquarian plants very well. For example, the native land for the most cryptocorynes (South East Asia) is located worlds apart from our homes, more than that echinodorus had moved from the other part of the world. Of course, you can disagree and doubt whether it is possible now to buy an echinodorus, which has been grown in a tributary of the Amazon, in an ordinary shop. And you will be absolutely right. The majority of the aquarian plants are grown in special man-made nurseries. In spite of it even 100 years in evolutionary process of higher plants are but drop in the bucket and can not influence their physiology considerably. Beyond any doubt we try to create conditions, resembling the existence of our pet plants in the native habitual. Most people use different hand books, which contain information about optimal conditions (temperature, water pH and others) for growing one or another species. Such figures always surprise me. Sometimes I think that most writers of such literature just copy each other. In some cases plants appear to be able to exist and to propagate in more wide range of figures. There are examples of successful echinodorus and nymphaea cultivation in climate of East Europe in summer (see «Aquarium» Nr. 5/2008, Nr.1/2009). Having read these materials I thought if my favorite plants, anubias, can be kept in our climate. More than that such experiments can explain some phenomena observed in the cases of aquarian cultivation of that plants, but we will discuss it lately. Now I am going to tell you about my trial to grow anubias in the climate of the Moscow Region.

A small brook with luxuriant vegetation in the Moscow Region reminds African jungle.
If you are mercenary, you will have nothing to do in the forest at the beginning of June, because soil is not enough warm for mushrooms growth and berries are not ripe. Though, in that season our nature just astonishes us at its riot of colours. Beams of summer sun penetrate through birch leaves which have become strong already, and the scent of blooming field grass creates a special atmosphere making you muse upon timeless questions. In that June morning I was tormented by a more down-to-earth question, if my anubias, which has been raised in hothouses in winter, will blend with the landscape. Their native land is West Africa. The Czech naturalist Joseph Wagner wrote about it: “Tropical forest does not look like our familiar temperate zone forests. It has always shadow, constant temperature, humid soil, and that is ideal conditions for rapid growth of trees. On the ground lie dead leaves, plants, roots, you can see moss and ferns about there, but everything rots at an incredible speed, that’s why humus layer is never so sizeable as in foliage forests of the temperate zone. Everything what falls from trees is edible, and eaten by different animals, fungi, and bacteria.” In nature anubias is a riparian helophyte of the shrub layer in topical rainforests. Taking that into consideration, I chose a tiny brook in a forest gully as a place for my “tropical garden”. The brook ran both in open areas with dense grass on banks and under the shadow of leaf-bearing trees crowns. As a result in a shady nook I bedded out Anubias sp. Gabon (see “Aquarium” Nr.4/2009) and place under the sun was given to Anubias heterophylla. Both plants were emergent, it means that only their roots and rhizomes were located under water, and leaves lied above. More than that in order not to make experiment too exotic, I bedded out a small bush of the well-known Anubias barteri var. nana, which was submerged. The brook’s current was strong, that’s why I had to tie small pieces of red bricks to the rhizomes otherwise the plants will be carried away by the current.

A. heterophylla was planted in the brook.
Anubias heterophylla in its native place, Gabon. Photo made by A.S.J. van Proosdij.

Air temperature in June fluctuated from 48, 2 to 86˚F. The brook’s water seemed to be cold (according to several measurement at different times - 50 – 62,6˚F ) and had not enough time to warm up during short period when sunbeams were penetrating through leaves of the trees surrounding the gully. Meanwhile, the maximal air temperature in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, everyday was the same – 82, 4˚F- as if it were mechanically produced by some heavenly conveyor. That’s why it does not seem strange that in the country there are 6 species of anubias from 8 species described in the current revision (W.Crusio, 1979). High and constant temperature together with almost hundred-per-cent humidity ensures ideal conditions for growing plants of that species. As for my anubia, they perceived their new home differently. Gabon lay steady in the shadow of a near alder without any symptoms of discontent, and it testified enough air humidity. The same could be said about the submerged nana. But heterophylla had the bad luck, during few days it lost all her leaves, which were dried out in the broiling sun. Meanwhile, it does not upset me much, because even before my experiment I had not cherished an illusion that everything would be fine. I had Anubias sp. Gabon and Anubias barteri var. nana as yet. But finely even their wellbeing became transient and was carried away by warm June breeze. They succeeded in existing in our climate only one month. The Gabon got dark blotches on its leaves, its apical point rotted off, and by September only few half-rotten leaves in the brook’s mouth still reminded about my experiment.

Anubias barteri var. nana after 2 weeks in the Moscow area climate.

After a month necrotic blotches appeared on Anubias sp. Gabon.

But after all, going to pick up mushrooms after a few days I visited my “garden” and was pleasantly surprised. Under the layer of duckweed I found the heterophylla’s rhizome with absolutely rotten roots. Two weeks had not passed after placing my find in a hothouse, when it made me glad with some new small roots and a light green leave. This example again shows particular features of the anubias rhizome which make the plant able to go through adverse conditions. In general, the plants, which seem to be Hercules of an underwater garden, are very whimsical in practice. C. Kasselmann in her «Aquarian Plants Atlas» writes that 35,6 – 78,8˚F is the temperature needed for successful anubias vegetation. And that figures do not make me doubt. Too low temperature must cause death of my plants.

The heterophylla rhizome went through three-month “exile” and give birth to a new plant.

Anubias reminds the majority of aquarians plastic plants. Such comparison may be right, but only if we speak about their appearance, because other then that the plants require care as many other inhabitants of aquaria. Buying a plant you must pay attention to the water temperature in trays. I hear a lot of questions and claims of aquarians that leaves of the plants, which had been bought shortly before, turned yellow, became perforated, and finely died off. Reasons for it are said to be the shortage of some microelements in aquarium water, eating by snails or herbivorous fish, the habit of sold plants to live in hothouse conditions etc. In practice it is caused by negligence of sellers and buyers toward those West African plants during transport and storage without aquarium. More then that low temperatures are able to cause development of fungus diseases, which are typical of anubias, but it is another story…
The authors of this note: Dmitry Loginov.
The note is based on the next article: D. Loginov “Nezhenki”, Russian Journal “Aquarium”, 2010, № 1.
Translated from Russian by Elena Belyaeva and Alexander Grigorov
Photos: Dmitry Loginov and A.S.J. van Proosdij.