New Dicovery In Plant Substrates!
I have an African Cichlid setup. My lighting is a Marineland Double Bright LED. My substrate is Cichlid Sand which acts as a buffer in order to raise the ph. A while back, I decided to make it a planted aquarium, very risky due to the African Cichlids. I originally planned on having Java Moss and Narrow Leaf Java Fern. The Java Moss was eaten in a matter of days! I then planted Onion bulbs and Aspotogen. I also added a Wendlov Java Fern! All of the plants reproduced more rapidly then the fish could eat! I researched the sand and found out it had nutrients that the plants need! I am very happy as my Ferns are bushes and the rooted plants are towers!!
I find it very odd that a substrate not meant for live plants contains all of the nutrients required to grow them. The reason I say this is because if it's designed for cichlid tanks, which as you pointed out typically don't contain live plants, the additional nutrients will just serve to drive algae growth.
It would be interesting to see exactly what nutrients this sand contains. Substrates intended for rift lake cichlids would obviously be calcareous, containing calcium and magnesium. These are two important macro-nutrients for plants. Other nutrients will naturally occur from fish foods, nitrogen as ammonia/ammonium from the fish respiration and breakdown of organics, etc.
Some of the named plants are slow growing, which means they need less nutrients to begin with (Java Fern, Anubias), so these would likely be fine without additional nutrient fertilization. Also, these are not substrate-rooted plants so they take all their nutrients direct from the water column.
The Aponogeton and Onion are fast-growing, requiring more nutrients, but they are also both bulb plants so nutrients are stored in the bulbs and this may be helping now. However, these will give out and if they are not being replaced somehow in the substrate, don't expect these two plants to do well long-term. They may perhaps manage, depending upon the fish load and feeding, or they may not.
I'm probably overthinking, but I can see a buffering substrate containing Calcium, Mg, Phosphorus (Phosphoric Acid as it dissolves, rather.), Carbon (As it dissolves), and probably traces of other minerals that plants need very tiny amounts of (copper, iron, and boron comes to mind.)
I wouldn't expect it to provide nearly enough of these nutrients though, I bet it's only a trace. Also, they probably have a very low CEC, which means they have to actually dissolve for the plants to be able to absorb them. (unlike a clay-based product like flourite, which can release nutrients to the plants roots, low CEC substrates have nutrients that are 'locked in' and not easily absorbed by plants)
I agree with Byron, the Ca and Mg would be easily released to keep the ph stable, but keep in mind, the high kh can prevent the plants from absorbing other nutrients that they need. (If I recall, high levels of calcium can keep the plants from absorbing iron.)
@ Byron: I thought Calcium and Mg were Micros, not Macros. Aren't NPK the Macros?
Micro nutrients are boron, chloride, copper, iron, nickel, manganese, molybdenum and zinc. These are required in extremely small quantities, usually referred to as trace elements. These are important to many functions and processes that sustain life and are vital for plant health.
I realize you (redchigh) understand the roles, but for the benefit of other readers like the OP I inclulded the brief descriptions.:-)
I'm not sure which nutrients might be affected by too much calcium, but I would suggest that in most cases this limit is not too likely to be reached. Of course, staying with "hard water plants" in hard water [=more calcium and magnesium] will avoid the problems even more. And that reminds me, the Onion plant mentioned initially does like harder water, so it should do well here.
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