Helping you keep your aquarium beautiful and healthy


A Novelty Aquarium: Beta and Bamboo in a Vase

by Robert W. Bly, founder,

A few years ago, an oriental gift shop around the corner from my office was selling a novelty item: a vase containing a bamboo and a beta fish. So naturally we bought one.

Betas are commonly bought by people who are not hobbyists as a novelty. They have long flowing fins and bright, vibrant, deep color; ours was a dark cobalt blue.

The bamboo plant was suspended over the mouth of the vase in a small plastic grid, and the vase was filled with water. Smooth blue glass beads were placed at the bottom of the vase.

A beta swam peacefully in the vase. Right away, I felt sorry for it


Now, full disclosure: I feel sorry for most beta fish. They live a solitary life, and you can't put two male betas in the same aquarium to keep each other company, because they will fight to the death. That's where betas get the nickname "Siamese fighting fish."

Betas are sold in fish stores in tiny little plastic or glass bowls in which they barely have room to turn around. It's depressing.

Our glass vase was much bigger than the typical beta bowl. But it was still tall and narrow, rather than squat and long like an aquarium should be. I worried that with the small surface area of water exposed to the air, the beta would not get enough oxygen.

However, beta fish can survive in water with low dissolved oxygen content. They have a special respiratory organ that allows them to breathe air directly from the surface, and I saw my beta rising to the surface for air frequently (though I did not know about the extra organ at the time and worried that he was not getting enough oxygen from the vase water).

A beta and bamboo in a vase, though, is theoretically a self-contained biosphere, except for exposure to the atmosphere. The beta breathes oxygen in the water released by the plant.

We were told it would nibble on the roots and it was not necessary to give fish food to the beta. But I was skeptical, and fed it a few flakes every day. Since there was no filter, I changed the water every few days.

Betas are tropical and thrive in warm water, but the seller of the beta-in-a-plant-vase set-up did not tell us this, and we had no heater in the vase. But the beta never became listless, so whatever the temperature of the vase water was (we had no thermometer either), it seemed not to be a problem.

The set-up lasted for some time, but I just didn't think it was fair to the beta. Eventually I bought a 5-gallon plastic aquarium which I set up as a home for the beta, where he lived peacefully and contentedly for a year or so.

They sell horizontal dividers for these 5-gallon aquariums that allow you to have two betas, separated by the partition so they will not fight. But to me it's like having an axe murderer in the next room, with the killer always trying to get through the door to waste you.