Actually, the title of this post is a little misleading: Cherry shrimp do well with any plant. They don’t actually eat them, but instead graze the biofilm and feed on the tiny animals that grow on them. In the process, they keep plants clean.
Plants help shrimp in other ways. They condition the water by removing nitrates and some ammonia and nitrites. Plants promote a healthy ecology within the tank in ways we don’t measure (or even know about).
Depending upon your setup, some plants can work a little better though. We’ll go over great plants to start with, but don’t stop there! Aquatic plants are fascinating in their own right. In fact, some hobbyists are into aquascaping and keep shrimp as an excellent maintenance crew.
Tailoring Your Selection
There are basically two setups: a shrimp-only aquarium and a community tank. In a community situation, you should definitely include a few plants that provide cover.
Shrimp are particularly vulnerable at two points in their lives: when they are baby shrimplets (otherwise known as “fish food”), and right after they’ve molted. A new shell needs time to harden, and so shrimp naturally seek cover until their armor is ready.
A useful, informal way to classify plants is whether they are floating, planted, or adhering.
These are what we tend to think of as “traditional” aquarium plants. They grow rooted like most terrestrial plants do. Some plants require being planted to grow well—but others, like Anacharis, don’t mind floating.
There are a HUGE number of plants that can be traditionally planted, but they come with some challenges:
■ You must provide suitable substrate. Retail aquarium gravel can serve this purpose, but pebbles or coarse sand can work too. Some commercial substrate is specially made to grow plants well; which can be great, but it’s not always necessary.
■ You have to plant correctly. It’s crucial to anchor them properly without suffocating them. It’s not too hard, but it does take a little extra effort.
■ There is some maintenance involved. This can be as simple as making sure the plants are getting good light as the tank grows, or it can be as intense as careful pruning to maintain a specific design.
Shrimp love planted plants and will spend their time scrubbing crevices and clean both the top and undersides of leaves. Rooted plants aren’t usually the best choice for protective cover unless densely planted.
Here’s a tiny sample of rooting plants that are great for shrimp:
Anacharis – Champion plant that you can simply put in your tank and watch grow. You can bury the ends in the gravel for a traditional look, or simply let them float for a jungle effect.
Sword Plants – Most sword plants like softer water than cherry shrimp prefer, but the Kleiner Bar Sword is an exception. It turns red-hued in higher light.
Cryptocoryne – The only issue with Cryptocorynes is that they tend to “melt” when you first put them in the tank. They need time to acclimate and regrow, and then they are hardy and beautiful. There are many varieties.
Groundcovers – There are a number of hairgrass or other groundcover-type plants that will make a carpet in your tank over time. Once it gets dense enough, it makes good cover for your shrimp to hide in.
Vallisneria – This is a durable plant that does well in a shrimp tank. The corkscrew variety is especially decorative and interesting. They reproduce by runners—it’s fun to see them pop up and spread, but you may need to prune or replant them if they’re taking over.
Floating plants give your aquarium an extra dimension, literally.
Shrimp are perfectly at home in dense, highly oxygenated floating vegetation. It provides a little extra protection and is exposed to the highest light levels, with is good for producing an algae shrimp buffet.
It can’t be easier to install floating plants: just plop them into the water. (Make sure they are from a reputable source or clean them well). They present one major maintenance issue, however—as they grow, they gradually block out the tank’s light, and this can be deadly to your other plants.
The basic solution is to remove the plants to let the light shine through. There are two effective methods:
• Remove the excess plant material completely. Put it in another aquarium or (sadly) discard it.
• Make them part of your aquascape.
Here are some great floating plants that shrimp love:
Riccia – This is one of the best plants for shrimp. It provides a place for babies to grow up and adults to crawl into to for protection after a molt. It’s a beautiful green color, too. The trouble with Riccia is that it can grow TOO well, and can soon darken your tank and ruin your beautiful underwater design.
Rather than toss away parts of that beautiful green mat, you can wrap the excess around a rock, place in a non-toxic hairnet, tie it up, and sink it. It makes a lovely round ball that looks like a giant lime-green Marimo ball!
Salvinia, Frogbit, Duckweed – These small floating bits are great for shrimp but have drawbacks. They block out the light with the same diligence as riccia, only faster, and they make an annoying mess by sticking to any equipment you put in the tank. Including your arm.
There are no redemptive decorative balls you can make of Salvinia and friends, either. When it’s time to cut back, about the only useful thing you can do is freeze it in a ziplock back and break off pieces to feed back to the shrimp. If you have other ideas, let us know!
Anacharis, Myriophyllum – Many stemmed plants consider being planted an optional life choice. Freely floating, they form woven mini-jungles that shrimp love hanging out in, but they don’t necessarily offer protection if fish can go there too. You can grow out these stemmed plants as floaters and eventually convert them into vertically aligned, planted clumps.
This group includes some of the newest and coolest plants in the hobby: Anubias and various Mosses. These don’t necessarily use their roots to take in nutrients through the substrate, but can instead adhere to a solid surface. They don’t mind a little help in this, either.
Shrimp love large mosses for cover, and the broad leaves of Anubias and Ferns make excellent pastures for grazing. Most adhering plants can handle lower light, too.
There are two challenges to these plants:
■ Adhesion: Fishing line, lead plant weights, plastic nets, or just wedging beneath a rock are all tried-and-true techniques, but the simplest way is to use Super Glue. Just put a dab on wherever you want the plant to stick, and hold it there for thirty seconds.
■ Division: Okay, this isn’t a challenge … it’s a bonus. These plants tend to grow and grow, so you’ll want to intervene if they get out of hand, or you want to expand their coverage.
Here are great choices:
Java Fern– This hardy plant grows under most conditions. There are a few varieties: Broad-leaved, Narrow-leaved, and the frilly Windelov.
Anubias– There are over a dozen varieties of this wonderful slow-growing, low-light plant. They often look like an underwater Heart-Shaped Philodendron. Anubias helped fuel the new wave of low-maintenance aquascaping.
Mosses– There are more than a dozen moss varieties. Some are more difficult than others, but shrimp love them all.
Planted tanks are healthy for shrimp, but the details are up to you. You can use as many or few species as you’d like.
Here are online plant stores I’ve successfully purchased from: