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…by which I mean, the little hexagonal aquarium I’m using to overwinter some aquatic plants indoors. It’s an experiment in more ways than one, because I’m using an ordinary swing lamp with a 60-watt Phillips Agro-Lite bulb as a plant light – “For The Acceleration Of Indoor Plant Growth”. It honestly seems a little dim for 60 watts, but plants perceive light wavelengths differently, so who knows, it might work. To be honest I’m really not sure what I’m expecting from this light bulb, if anything. The plants in question are tropical water hyacinths (Eichhornia crassipes), and tropical water plants like lots of light.

Along with the water hyacinths are some floating bladdwort (Utricularia gibba) and the ubiquitous duckweed (Lemna sp.). I’m finding this aquarium to be a fascinating experience, because along with these floating plants came all sorts of little beasties clinging to them from the tub ponds. In the tubs they’re simply not apparent, but in an aquarium with light shining through it, it’s a whole new world in there. I used to keep fish a long time ago, but in its own way this is more interesting.

Water hyacinths are extremely good at drawing nutrients from the water column; so much so that aside from their attractive mauve flowers, pond keepers use them to keep the water clean. This means that their dangling roots attract a lot of waterborne detritus; some of this got tranferred with the plants from the tubs to the aquarium, and then knocked off, so there’s a thin, patchy carpet of…muck, I guess, on the bottom. And it’s alive.

I’m not terribly good at identifying the things in the tank, because dammit, Jim, I’m a botanist, not a limnologist. The everpresent Physalid snails are there, of course, along with Daphnia and Cyclops, commonly called water fleas. The muck at the bottom gets collected into little tube structures for Chironomid midge larvae (sometimes called bloodworms) to live in. What really interested me were the three (at least) mayfly larvae (probably Baetidae) and the several Hydra creeping through the muck. I’d mistakenly thought the mayfly nymphs were some weird freshwater shrimp at first. Part of me is sorely tempted to add one little fish, just one, to see how it affects this nascent ecosystem.

Just as a PSA, water hyacinths are extremely fast spreading and extremely invasive in warm areas. They’re not a problem here because they just wouldn’t survive a local winter, but in many areas they are banned. Even if they aren’t, a responsible pond keeper never ever ever disposes of them close to a natural waterway. If you have them, please be responsible.

Regarding the outdoor tub ponds, the water lilies (various Nymphaea spp.) are just about dormant. Soon it will be time to pack them up for winter. The water in the tubs can be saved to top up the aquarium; it probably contains all sorts of interesting things.