Factors to consider when choosing plants for a jarrarium
Deciding what kind of plants you want to have in your jarrarium should be one of the first things you do. The kind of plants you want will determine the substrate you choose, how big the jar needs to be, and also if you can support any animal life. You’ll want to consider where your jar will be placed. On a windowsill with lots of sunlight? Will it instead be on a desk with limited light? These are important considerations. Finally, how much maintenance are you willing to put in? Some plants grow very, very rapidly and have to be trimmed regularly. Others shed and you will need to remove the debris.
Choosing plants can be daunting since not everyone has a green thumb! The plants detailed in this guide are all easy-to-grow plants. While they might have different light or substrate requirements, they should all be able to grow in a mostly self-sufficient manner. Since our ultimate goal is a self-sustaining ecosystem, we will avoid inputs to the system as much as possible. That includes energy inputs like water heaters, bubblers, carbon dioxide injectors, or electric lights. That precludes many of the more advanced plants.
If you order your plants from a grower instead of picking them out of a pond, you may experience “melting”. Melting is exactly what it sounds with – the leaves on the plant disintegrate. Don’t worry though: it’s neither dangerous nor permanent. The plant is merely withdrawing nutrients from the leaves and recycling them to make new leaves better adapted to their new conditions. It usually takes them a week or two to get rid of the old leaves and start on some new ones. The plants will be somewhat fragile during this period though, so make sure chemical levels don’t change drastically and that any animals in the jar don’t get any smart ideas about the yummy plants.
In addition to those plants planted intentionally, you will almost certainly have to deal with the “weed” of the aquatic world – algae. Algae comes in many, many forms. In fact, your jar will probably contain a few different kinds! If you use water from a pond or another aquarium, it will always carry microscopic hitchhikers that will populate your new jar. It isn’t a bad thing necessarily. Algae is an important part of many ecosystems. The problem with algae is that it sits around waiting for the opportune time – not enough light, chemical imbalance, warmer water – and then it strikes, rapidly outgrowing everything else. This has the effect of depleting valuable resources (including oxygen), and choking out your plants and animals.
There are two kinds of algae you are likely to encounter. The first is green hair algae. It appears as miniscule, filamentous “hairs” that grow on everything. You’ll find it on plant stems or rocks or substrate. Hair algae will probably be omnipresent, but it isn’t bad until it grows into noticeable clumps. The second type is the brown algae that often grows on glass. Brown algae like this is usually composed of diatoms, which might indicate you have an excess of silicates in the water. It is difficult to remove from glass with any method other than scrubbing. If you see this spreading further than a few centimeters above the substrate line, you’re probably in trouble. Many algae can be fought with algivorous animals or algicide (don’t use copper algicide if you have shrimp, it will kill them).
List of Low-Tech Plants
The world of planted jarrariums is filled with Latin names and specific water parameters that make perfect sense to the seasoned aquatic botanist. But, in case you haven’t devoted yourself to studying and memorizing thousands of different aquatic species, I’ve compiled a list of “low-tech” plants that will thrive without the addition of carbon dioxide or trace elements and will visually complement any jarrarium. Each of these plants has been chosen because they do not require much light and are considered hardy in normal jarrarium conditions.
All of these are easily purchasable online. You may even be able to find some of these growing in a body of water near you!
Anubias (Anubias Barteri)
Anubias are a staple of the aquarium hobby, and do just as well in a jarrarium setting. Although there are several variations to choose from, they are generally tough, slow-growing plants that are incredibly easy to propagate. Anubias Barteri v. Barteri is considered one of the most hardy and appropriate for low-tech set ups. If you’re looking for a bit more variety, Anubias Barteri v Nanas “Golden” will add a splash of yellow among the usual green foliage. One thing that must be taken into account with all Anubias species (and any plant with a rhizome, for that matter) is that care should be taken not to plant the rhizome itself, as this will eventually kill the plant. Instead, use an aquarium weight to hold the plant to the ground and let the roots grow into the substrate, or attach the plant to some driftwood or stone.
Anubias are generally hardy enough to endure shipping. Use that Prime membership and get 2 day shipping for your plants! Find Anubias on Amazon here.
Water sprite (Ceratopteris thalictroides)
Ceratopteris thalictroides, better known as “water sprite”, is one of the most popular beginner plants in the hobby. As a tall plant, water sprite works well in the background, giving depth to your jarrarium and creating a dynamic difference between the foreground and back.
Like all plants on this list, it requires little light and grows well without much maintenance. Water sprite is an “advantageous propagator”, meaning it is extremely easy to grow more than you purchased. In fact, you’ll probably find yourself trimming regularly if you don’t want that overgrown look. Be aware this plant is that it is often used as food by snails, so care must be taken when considering what invertebrates you will be placing in your jar.
Watersprite is easily available at most pet stores and also online at Amazon.
Moneywort (Bocopa monnieri)
Moneywort is another great choice and a personal favorite. Like water sprite, it is tall and easy to propagate. Its appearance will vary depending on how much light it receives. In low light settings, the top of the plant will have leaves while the bottom will reveal the bare stalks, giving it a unique, almost bamboo look. In higher light settings, these plants will sprout leaves all over as well as growing offshoots.
Unfortunately, these plants tend to grow to the water’s surface, which could obscure light to some of your other plants. If this is the case, try placing some low-light Anubias near the base of the moneywort to create a more harmonious atmosphere!
In my experience, moneywort is a little more difficult to find in stores. Check on an aquarium forum, or just get it from Amazon.
Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)
Java fern is a wonderful plant that not only adds vibrancy and volume to your jar, but also makes a great home for many invertebrates. Another rhizome plant, this one should be sunk via a weight and the roots allowed to grow into the substrate. What makes java fern unique is how quickly it grows. Under higher-light conditions, this plant will produce brown seeds under the rhizome that can then be planted as entirely separate plants.
The downside of this plant is also one of its strengths: its size. This large plant grows outward, meaning that it will require a larger jar than some other plants. But then you have an excuse to get more animals too, and everyone is happy!
Here’s a link to get your own java fern on Amazon!
Cabomba caroliniana is an excellent mid-ground plant for an aquarium, and makes a great background plant for a jarrarium. With its pine-like leaves, this plant is great for creating a surrealist environment. Cabomba can form the illusion of a dense, coniferous forest, especially if planted around a large rock centerpiece. It does require moderate lighting and may grow quite slowly, however, but it is beautiful nonetheless.
*Note that the EPA has listed this plant as an invasive species and it is illegal to import to some US states, such as California. Check your state law to make sure that you’re allowed to import this plant for personal use and always be sure to dispose of this plant safely.
If you’re certain you can legally buy caroliniana, buy it from Amazon here.
The part we’ve all been waiting for – picking animals for your jar!