Ralph Cote  

One way to reduce toxins in your aquarium is to grow philodendrons in your tank, not exactly in your tank, but you can put the roots in your tank. By positioning the plant in such a way as to keep the leaves out of the water and the roots in the water, the plant will grow and remove toxins from your aquarium. Plants need nitrogen to live and they will remove the nitrogen from the water in the form of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. They won't remove significant amounts of CO2 like aquatic plants, but on the other hand, you don't need a substrate for them either. They also provide some cover for you discus. I personally like the look of the roots in the tank, but it may not be for everybody.

Philodendrons belong to the plant family called Aroids and many (or possibly all) of the members can be used for this purpose. In the rain forest, they often grow attached to trees (they are not parasitic though) and send out their roots looking for water and nutrients. This is the reason that they can live in growing out of an aquarium. Many of them are from the Amazon region.

There is at least three ways to get the plants to root in your tank.
  1. Position a potted aroid near the top of your top (or right on the lid if you want). Drape one or two of the stems so they enter the water (keep the leaves out of the water). Within a day, roots will begin forming near the leaf node. Once the roots are formed, about a week, you can cut the stem away from the main plant and you are set.

  2. You can cut the stem off first and put it in the aquarium. Usually roots will still grow but the success rate may be lower than the first way. This option is handy though if you have a friend with a plant that is willing to donate a cutting to you.

  3. Buy a small aroid, remove it from the pot, and gently break away the soil around the roots. Wash the root with warm water and when they are free from soil, just position the plant so the roots are in the water.

The hardest part though is positioning the plant so that it doesn't completely submerge and it is out of the way. I usually drape the plant between the tank top and the tank rim. You can also attach the plant to the lid or even put it in a hole in the lid. I heard of someone using plastic grills as a tank lid and having many plants grow down into the water. There is a lot of room for creativity here. Make sure the leaves aren't too close to the lights, even the reflector can get hot enough to kill the leaves. The most common aroids don't require a lot of light and grow with indirect sunlight or strong room lighting.

These are some of the most common aroids and they are some of the most popular house plants:

Philodendrons - it's a large group, but there are four of five common ones. There are a couple that don't form branches (lianas) and may not work for you. P. scandens (heart-shaped leaves) works well.

Pothos - very common and almost indestructible, probably the easiest plant to use.

Antheriums - well known for their flowers, called the Flamingo Flower.

Syngoniums - also real common, most have various colors of arrowhead shaped leaves, also very easy to root.

Monsteras (cheese plant) - larger and slower growing.

Spider plants - member of the lily family, you can use the plantlets that form off of runners.

An alternative to philodendrons which has many of the same benefits is floating plants.

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