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Ole Pedersen 
Title: Water Bowls - an aquarium that fits any place

Summary: Large decorative pots containing water plants are traditionally kept in homes in Southeast Asia. They are beautiful, easy to care for and allow plants to flower where they would not in a traditional aquarium. Illustrated.
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 c/o Claus Christensen:
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Publication: Tropica Aquatic Plants:
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Ole Pedersen
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Tropica Aquarium Plants
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Water bowls – an aquarium that fits in any place

by Ole Pedersen
Reprinted with permission, from the website of Tropica Aquatic Plants, of Denmark

Water bowls with tiny lotus flowers or purple water lilies and a few fish are incredibly beautiful in almost any home. The bowls do not require as much technical expertise as modern aquaria, and yet you may experience water plants flowering that only rarely flower in a traditional aquarium.

If you have ever travelled through Southeast Asia, you must have seen the characteristic water bowls that brighten up the streets and atriums. Usually these water bowls hold a blooming water lily and a Cyperus or an Echinodorus, although the latter is certainly not indigenous to Asia. There are always fish in the water bowls; often guppies or goldfish, since fish are required to complete the true Southeast Asian water bowl.

These water bowls play an important role because they are a convenient way to bring in beautiful and attractive water without taking up too much space. Since there are always fish in the water, the water bowl never acts as a hatching pool for the malaria mosquito (Anopheles). Should a rash mosquito lay its eggs in the bowl in an unguarded moment, the fish would assure that no mosquito would ever be able to hatch since the larvae would be eaten long before. Nevertheless, these water bowls have been banished in Singapore and Malaysia for a number of years as part of their struggle against the annoying malaria mosquitoes.

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However, a beautifully glazed Malayan bowl with a flowering water plant may prove an attractive sight elsewhere. I have a 40-litre bowl placed just inside the hall, and over the years I am sure it has caused much more attention than the 320-litre planted aquarium in my living room. The blue-glazed water bowl is the first thing you notice when entering our house, and if small children are among the guests, you can be certain that they have wet sleeves within two minutes. This is quite alright since we have floor tiles, so a little water on the floor does not matter considering the awareness and interest it creates among the kids. In addition, as shown in the photo, our cat does not mind the presence of the water bowl either! It provides easy access to mature and tasty water and the fish soon learn to hide in the vegetation…

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Providing the water bowl is placed in a heated room and has a sufficient light source, there are almost no limits to which plants you can grow. Our water bowl currently houses a beautifully blooming Echinodorus grandiflorus, Rotala rotundifolia, Hygrophila difformis, and a Cryptocoryne beckettii that refuses to give in although it is standing beneath the grand Echinodorus and some stems of Utricularia australis. Both the Rotala and the Hygrophila have to be cut back on a regular basis to prevent them from overgrowing the entire water bowl.

It is exciting to grow these amphibious plants that only flower when they are allowed to grow emergent shoots. Some of the above mentioned species are quite light-demanding, and consequently I have placed a 125 Watt mercury lamp above the water bowl providing light 16 hours a day all year round. I change half of the water once a week, and during the summer, when growth is fastest, I add a little Tropica Master Grow. The substrate is composed of clayish garden soil with a top layer of washed lake sand acting as a nutrient filter to avoid too many nutrients leaking to the water column.

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I have also tried growing water plants outdoors, although I live in a climate with frost during winter. You just have to make sure that the water bowl is frost-resistant – if not, you may risk frost bursting it during winter. In fact I have experienced this but I was lucky, since a giant ice cube – intact with fish and plants – was left back on the terrace floor and two men were able to lift it back in place into a new plastic tub. This can be avoided by purchasing the correct frost-resistant water bowl!

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The plants in the outdoor water bowl are familiar water lilies (Nymphaea alba) and some pondweeds (Potamogeton), but I have also tried sub-tropical plants. In that case, I had to take in the water bowl during winter.

The outdoor water bowl is also great fun. You should not be too surprised if you hear a frog croaking in the bowl one night. I have had both frogs and salamander in the outdoor water bowl. It is a great mystery to me how they have been able to enter the bowl, but they might have received some artificial help from the children?…