A Paludarium, part 3

by Keri K. on November 27, 2009

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Check out part 1 and part 2 to read about the first two phases of the paludarium I keep in my cubicle.

The paludarium today.

The paludarium today.

After more than two years of relatively worry-free paludarium keeping, I experienced a huge loss. My setup includes a Mini-Jet pump that moves water up to the top of the tank, where it flows through the filtration and out the top of the waterfall. The large amount of plant matter in the paludarium coupled with a heavy fish load meant I had to regularly clean the pump intake of dead leaves and waste. I could usually tell when maintenance was needed because the waterfall volume would begin to lessen and the trickling-stream noise would become noticeably quieter.

Unfortunately, it was over a long holiday weekend that the pump clogged and quit. Many aquarium hobbyists can relate to the terrible feeling of walking up to their tank and realizing that something, somehow, has gone wrong! After a big water change, I replaced the pump and added a Whisper air pump and bubble wand, but it was too late for the few survivors. I ended up losing about ten guppies and two albino cory cats. It seems like a small number of losses, but it was my entire paludarium population, and I really did love those guppies.

Happily, their descendants still swim in office tanks today, and I have a few in my home tank too. After the crash, I tentatively added a few baby guppies back, but they never lasted more than a week. So, rather than tear the whole setting down and start over, I decided to focus on the plant life. After all, the ivy and pothos had been establishing root systems for a long time and were flourishing, sending vines out and over the top. Someone had brought me a Syngonium podophyllum clipping, and its arrowhead-shaped leaves were enthusiastically competing for the light as well.

paludariumWhen a fortuitous sale came along, I upgraded the lighting from a single 24” fluorescent bulb to a Coralife Aqualight compact fluorescent. That meant the tank went from 17 watts to 65! With light now easily reaching the bottom of the water, I was able to add many more aquatic plants, including Cryptocoryne, Java Moss, Ludwigia, and Micro Sword.

The Java Moss has become amphibious, and creeps out of the water all the way up the “log” waterfall, one of my favorite effects. I have several feet of pothos reaching for the next cubicle. I added a “sunlight” floor lamp beside the paludarium to provide for the tall arrowhead leaves, which refuse to stay within the tank. This summer I picked up a Corkscrew Rush, Juncus effusus spiralis, which is typically seen in ponds. A clipping of burgundy Oxalis adds a dash of red leaves and tiny yellow flowers. I am always looking for interesting things to add, although I am rapidly running out of space!

If you have any water-loving plant suggestions, please share!


Keri is a lead catalog designer for Drs. Foster and Smith and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from UW-Stout. She shares a small home with her husband, two Chinese Crested dogs, two cats, two ferrets, several reptiles and amphibians, and 30-some gallons of freshwater planted aquariums. See more articles by Keri K.

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William (Bill) gause May 18, 2011 at 12:39 pm

This is really great. I’m going to read in detail all 3 parts of your paludarium story. We just got what I presume is one of the last Water’s edge paludariums and we are going to try to set it up. I have a lot of aquarium experience, have a large discus setup, but got this for my 10 yr old daughter who is really into terrariums. May get back to you with questions, if your interested.
Best regards and thanks for the great articles,
William C. Gause

Keri K. May 19, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Hi, William! I’ve always admired discus! Someday I’d love to have the space for a large enough aquarium (as well as enough patience) for the challenges of keeping them.

As for the Water’s Edge, it’s a pretty neat setup that’s provided me with a lot of joy for almost five years now. As you already know, research is an important step before putting any species into your paludarium, whether plant or animal. It’ll make long-term success much more likely! If you’re going with live plants, I definitely recommend upgrading the lighting.

If you need to be concerned with water quality, regularly check the Bio-Wheel to be sure it’s still turning. If the pump or filter media starts to clog up, the water flow can to slow to the point where the wheel stops, which will compromise biological filtration. Also, I’ve found there tends to be a lack of water movement in the right-hand side of the unit, just because of the way the “rock and log” is shaped. That’s where I put my bubble wand. I also am sure to occasionally siphon out the section behind the wall. It’s a little awkward to maneuver back there behind the scenes, but in my experience that space accumulates a lot of organic debris.

As I recall, the unit also came with a fan to reduce condensation. The fan did stop working on me after about two years, but luckily that was right about when I decided to remove the glass top and allow the plants to grow out.

Best of luck with your paludarium!

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