How to Grow and Decorate with Hornwort
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Captured in the wild from Dale E. Maffett Reservoir.
Origin. You can find hornwort in many Iowa ponds and lakes. In a few lakes, it grows so thick, it impedes boat traffic. You usually find it at the surface. Because it has no roots, hornwort floats. In cooler weather it sinks. In the wild, hornwort’s tiny leaves harbor any number of wee beasties that you may not want in your aquarium.
Baby Saver. Fine leaves and dense growth make hornwort an excellent safe harbor for baby livebearers. Fry swim in there. Larger fishes try to swim in there with less success. Fry also eat the microscopic animalcules that thrive on the hornwort leaves.
Egg Saver. Egg scatterers also find hornwort makes an excellent egg-laying site. Sticky eggs adhere to the leaves. Non-sticky eggs get caught in the tiny leaves. Parents and other egg-eating fish eat fewer eggs when they have trouble seeing them and getting to them. Unfortunately, small snails use the same technique to hide their eggs. Some people dislike the small snails because “they took over my tank.” Actually, those snails eat up all the extra food these people keep pouring in there. Less food = no snail population explosion.
Décor. Most hornwort fans use it because they like the way it looks. And hornwort costs next to nothing.
You can decorate a 10-gallon tank for about $3. Just drop a weighted hornwort bunch at each end and voila ... you have a decorated natural tank in under 60 seconds. By disassembling a bunch of hornwort and arranging the strands in different lengths, you can make your décor look even better.
Temporary. Many plant keepers consider hornwort a temporary or fill-in plant. Hornwort grows incredibly fast so any arrangements are only temporary. A hornwort stem reaching only halfway to the top will likely grow to the top by Tuesday. Six-inch strands easily grow to three feet long in a 10-gallon tank. This plays havoc with your décor. But little baby fish and spawners love it.
LA Kellie wearing a single strand of hornwort lei.
Easy to Grow. New aquarists find this the perfect plant. Under nearly any type of lights, hornwort survives and grows. Under bright lights, it grows as much as an inch per day. It sucks out fish wastes faster than fish can excrete them. Carbon dioxide, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and phosphates all go into that fast-growing foliage. It sucks all the nutrition out of the water in six to eight weeks and will often die unless you fertilize it. But in the meantime, hornwort keeps new tanks healthy as a horse without West Nile Fever. Under bright lights, hornwort growing tips often turn reddish.
Dying Hornwort. What causes hornwort leaves to fall off? Copper (many medications contain copper) kills it in hours. Most algae killers take just a bit longer. Starving takes much longer. So what do you do? Change the water and switch to anacharis.
Leaf Removal. When hornwort leaves fall off, you get a mess of decomposing plant material that looks terrible. It can also kill your fish if you leave it in there to rot. Get out your net and start scooping. By swirling your net in a figure-eight pattern, you can get most of this junk out in three minutes. Then gravel vac your tank floor.
Last Word. Still, for an econo natural look, you cannot beat a healthy bunch of hornwort. LA
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