In this section we offer excerpts from an article by Steven Chong "Aquascaping Philosophy 102". Namely, the parts that are dedicated to use of eriocaulon in aquascaping.

Just like in many other disciplines, the key to a good Aquascape is in laying out a strong foundation. In Aquascaping, there are 3 basic pieces to the layout-- the foreground, the mid ground and the background. You should be well familiar with these terms. One of the keys to creating an attractive layout is the unification of these 3 parts into an interesting and depth-giving design. For this purpose, one needs to build a strong foundation.

What I am getting at is that the most important of these 3 is the mid-ground. Advanced aquarium designers may implement some innovation into the fore or backgrounds but, even for the best of Aquascapes the mid-ground design is critical. In fact, the innovations of foreground and background usually come from an understanding of the mid-ground. For a beginner aquarium designer, mid-ground should be the target of focus. One can have a beautiful fore and background plants, and the Aquascape will look flat and spirit-less. On the other hand, one can have a foreground of plain sand and no background plants at all, but if the mid-ground is well designed, the Aquascape will be beautiful and pleasing to the eye.

In nature aquariums, the mid-ground is traditionally inhabited by epiphytes and small bushy stem plants. Such plants include: Epiphytes - Moss Species (Taxiphyllum, Vesicularia and fissiden sp. being the most available), Anubias sp., Microsorium (Java fern varieties), Bolbitis, Hemianthus micranthemoides, Micranthemum umbrossum, Rotala rotundifolia “Green”, Microcarpea minima, Bacopa sp.

Keep in mind that depending on the size of the tank and the design, foreground or background plants can also be used in the midground. Plants that grow on runners such as crypts, hairgrass and echinodorus tenellus, depending on the size of the tank and layout, can be used in either fore or midground. In a layout with a sand foreground, even hemianthus callitrichoides can become a midground plant.

Aside from these types of plants, the midground (especially in nature aquarium style) is the traditional grounds for hardscape such as wood and stone. With the strong utilization of these elements, the foundation for the layout will be built.

The mid-ground is the area that is most demanding of the artist’s design skills and creativity. Even a beginner understands this subconsciously, and because of this often carries a fear of the mid-ground. This is another reason why FFWS runs so rampant among the majority of layouts. In order to become better though, the aquarium designer must conquer this fear and face the mid-ground head on. Even if his first efforts are poor, he must try because only by trying does one improve.

Off of the nature school, many other smaller interests have developed within its scope, primarily in Asia. However, these distractions are not particularly natural looking, and should be pointed out as something to be careful of.

"Tonina" style

Though not easily obtained, many should be familiar with plants from the Tonina and Eriocaulon groups. These plants have become a synonym with “rare,” “expensive,” and “cutting edge.” For better or worse, people tend to associate these words with “desirable.” Toninas and eriocaulons are very beautiful plants, and moreover require very special demands in the aquarium. Those who are obsessed with growing the “latest greatest” plants and looking for a challenge often turn to these.

Many an expensive ADA set up with aquasoil, high lighting, and CO2 have I seen dedicated to these with pages and pages of responses in tow.

Problem: None of them are very attractive.

I have yet to see a single example of top-tier Aquascaping that used Toninas or Eriocaulons, much less used them in a way that the Aquascape wouldn’t be better off without them. In the entire history of the ADA International Aquatic Plant Layout Contest, there has not been a single winning tank that used Toninas or Eriocaulons. Looking through the 2005 and 2006 contest books, they start to disappear as one gets into the top 100, and are non-existent in the top 50.

Why is this?

Of course volume is a problem-- how many people do you know who own 40+ of 1 type of eriocaulon? Collectoritis is also a problem since demographically, the majority (of the very small population) of tonina/erio growing hobbyists are afflicted with collectoritis. Another demographic problem is that the majority of serious aquascapers notice the lack of strong Aquascapes using these plants, and then choose to ignore them. Expensive plants that do not look good in over-all Aquascapes are not of great interest to serious aquarium designers.

Aside from these demographic/price/cultivation difficulties though, the plants are just not very easy to use from an Nature Aquarium Aquascaping perspective.

Toninas and tall Erios are leggy. Nature and Dutch designers alike prefer to have nice thick bushes, and usually hide the “legs” of their stems with either smaller plants or hardscape material. Compared to a rotala, hemianthus or ludwigia that will bush nicely and branch readily, a tonina’s shape is not-preferable. A straight leggy stem going up to a pom-pom like crown is not good for shaping. The most common motif for a stem plant to follow is that of a tree or bush. Toninas don’t do either of these motifs that well.

Smaller Eriocaulons would have more potential if they could be grown more thickly together. When I first saw Pogostemon helferi (Dow Noi), in my mind I put it in the same group of “too expensive a plant for no design pay-off” along with Eriocaulons and Toninas because it comes from the same “culture” or collectoritis-difficult-plant-loving keepers. However a few months down the line I had to eat those words. A number of aquascapers including Oliver Knott were able to use Dow Noi to breath-taking effect. The combination between Hemianthus Callitrichoides and thick bushes of Dow Noi are now well known to be amazing, and potentially a great combination in strong mid-ground design. Dow Noi’s ability to grow thickly and with others has allowed it to have this kind of success even in serious Aquascaping. If Eriocaulons could be grown in the same way, they would experience similar success. As of yet though, one normally sees the plant individually, spaced widely apart. Such an arrangement is distracting at best, and outright visually-annoying in others.

Erios and Toninas also have the disadvantage of not very closely resembling many plants in our terrestrial existence. Just like with salt water tanks, Tonina tanks often have the problem of not being able to connect with human instinct. They are just too “alien” looking. While beautiful, they do not touch our deepest memories, and make us feel rather alien.

All of this is not to say that it is impossible to make excellent Aquascapes with these plants. Rather, it is to say that doing so is difficult, and has yet to be done. What one should understand is that Toninas and Erios are difficult plants in cultivation yes, but ALSO IN AQUASCAPING. They are advanced, un-tested tools from which the beginner designer would do well to stay away from. They will likely require a high level of artistic maturity and inspiration in order to use effectively. I myself have only come up with only a handful of still un-formed ideas for their use, though I look forward to try my hand at it.

Steven Chong. Aquascaping Philosophy 102. 2007