Finding a reliable source for the purchase of marine plants can be challenging at times. Most varieties are only offered seasonally as they are collected from the wild. The good news is that today the amount of online retailers, as well as pet stores that provide macro algae and sea grass for sale, are increasing annually due to high demand for new and interesting specimens. Some slow-growing and rare species can be very difficult to obtain and are best acquired through a fellow hobbyist or local aquarium club. Just like corals, most cultured macro algae is hardier and more tolerant of aquarium conditions as it has been acclimated to survive under less than optimal conditions.

The major cultured varieties are Chaetomorpa, Red Gracilaria, Ulva and some species of Caulerpa. The best place to purchase marine plants is from your local pet store or hobbyist as these specimens can be examined for health and possible undesirable hitchhikers. As the popularity of the refugium and planted aquariums increases, many pet store owners are realizing the benefits and profitability of carrying different varieties of colorful macro algae for their customers. 

Even if one can’t find good specimens, most macro algae are very resilient and can be nurtured back to health within a few days if given the proper environment. Sea grass specimens however, must be in optimal health with fully intact root systems to survive. Look for specimens that have new growth at the tips or roots and appear healthy and green. Most varieties of red algae will not tolerate any drying of their fronds and should always be submerged or transported completely wet. Healthy specimens of Caulerpa will have new growth at the tips and will not have numerous clear and yellow fronds which is an indication of poor health.  

Chaetomorpha can be succesfully shipped wet and can survive for several days.When purchasing specimens through the mail, be sure to inquire how the plants will be shipped, as packaging and transport methods vary greatly between different vendors. Most macro algae, sea grass and mangroves ship fairly well and can even be sent for durations of 24 hours or more through the mail with good success. The important thing to consider when purchasing product online or through a catalog is the quality of the specimen when collected and the facility in which it was stored prior to shipping. Too many times wholesale distributors and pet stores don’t give attention to the needs of the plants and they are stored in terrible conditions with little or no lighting, inadequate water flow and improper filtration. Choose vendors that have a solid reputation and readily share information on acclimation and care.

Simple inspection of the plants prior to introducing them into an aquarium or refugium is necessary. Pruning of dead or discolored tissue and removing any undesirable hitchhikers will greatly aid in the acclimation of new specimens. It is also recommended that macro algae and sea grass specimens be quarantined, especially if adding to a system with seahorses, pipefish, etc, that are more susceptible to disease and infection. Depending on the species, it is beneficial to drip-acclimate macro algae to its new environment as any sudden change in water quality can often induce a sexual event causing the plant to sporulate and die. Caulerpa will not tolerate sudden changes in water temp, ph or specific gravity and have built in indicators to send out spores when conditions change suddenly.

Photo by John LowtherIdentification can sometimes be difficult between different species of macro algae as many are very similar in composition. Just like with marine tropical fish, many species are sold incorrectly or mislabeled at the pet store. While this is not normally a major issue, it helps to properly identify the species in order to care for it. 

Keep in mind that some deeper water species will not tolerate poor water quality, such as the beautiful Botyocladia and many of the algae from the Pacific. When introducing macro algae and especially sea grass specimens to a new aquarium, it is generally a good idea not to overstock as they need time to adjust and get established. One exception would be a sea grass dominated system. Most sea grass grows very slowly; in fact, Turtle Grass can take a year or more in the wild to re-colonize an area after its roots have been disturbed. For this reason, it is a good idea to provide fast growing specimens, such as Caulerpa, to help in the maturing of the aquarium so that nuisance algae does not take over, while root systems are developing. Even in the most well equipped aquariums, some species will do better than others and some unfortunately will simply refuse to grow. With this in mind, it is worthwhile choosing a variety of species to see which do better in their new environment.

Copyright © 2010 GCE All rights reserved. No part of this online publication may be reproduced in any form by any means without the expressed permission of the author. All images are the property of Gulf Coast Ecosystems unless otherwise noted and should not be reproduced or distributed without permission.

The Refugium

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