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Setting Up a Planted Riparium: The Three Riparium Styles (part 1)

Many of the decisions you make concerning your planted riparium will be influenced by what style of riparium you plan to emulate.

Overall, (or a more proper term would be “so far”) there are three riparium styles:

The Three Riparium Styles

  • Low water level, high humidity
  • Low water level, low humidity
  • High water level

We will cover each style individually.

An emersed Cryptocoryne.

The low water level, high humidity type setup is great for people with “collectoris” (a horrible disease caused by excessive plant collection). This is because the high humidity levels, usually caused by the use of a glass top or hood, make this type of setup perfect for growing emersed aquatic plants: Cryptocorynes, Anubias, Limnophilia, Bacopa and Alternethera are a just a few examples. Adventurous hobbyists can also fore into the world of misters and automated rain systems with this setup.

Low water level, low humidity ripariums are one of the more popular types of setup. Large riparium plant specimens are well suited to this type of setup. There are, in reality, two ways you could go with this breed of composition. One is confined to the inside of the aquarium, this setup has a boxed feel. The other grows up and out of the tank, and has a much more open feel.


An example of a rimless aquarium from GLA. If you cannot invest in a rimless tank, look into “derimming” aquariums.

The water levels in the above two styles tend to be around 1/3rd of the tank’s total height.

There happens to be an interesting concept often used by artists that lets one find a good ratio of water to air in a planted riparium. The Golden Section is a line which separates two sides of an object. What determines the size of the sides is the Golden Ratio (1.618033…). It has been proven that objects (the riparium plants) placed along this line (or water line) are much more aesthetically pleasing than if they were placed differently.

To find the Golden Section, simple multiply the overall height of the tank by the conjugate of the Golden Ratio, which is .62. The product of the said equation is equivalent to the height airspace found in a riparium. So, a tank that is 10 inches high should be filled to about 3.8 inches, as 10 x .62 = 6.2, and 10 – 6.2 = 3.8. Remember, the product of finding the Golden Section is the height of the airspace. So to find the height we need to fill the tank too, we must subtract the height of the tank by the result of the airspace.

Pendant light fixture are often a necessity for high water level ripariums.

The last system has a high water level and low humidity. This style also looks best when planted in a rimless aquarium with pendant light fixtures (which become somewhat of a necessity with the increased amount of water). These setups tend to use the box shape of the aquarium to characterize the aquatic section of the display, giving the tank the least box-like feel of all three styles.

Remember, these are just guidelines and ideas. You don’t have to emulate the outlined styles to have a succesful and good-looking riparium!

Please stay tuned for more posts in our “Setting Up a Planted Riparium” series of articles.