‘Décor swims' becoming Valley's newest accent for homes, businesses

August 09, 2001|By MARCY MISNER, Staff Writer

Visiting a home, business or doctor's office in the Imperial Valley lately, you may have noticed "décor swims."

Siamese fighting fish, or bettas, have taken up residence in some vases and are sharing their water space with water-loving plants as part of a trend that began in the Valley around Valentine's Day.

Lois Cummings, an associate at Wal-Mart in El Centro, said she can't keep the vases on the shelves at the store. Instructions on how to fill the vases are included, and some people have stolen the instructions, said another associate.

Cummings said a home decorating show introduced people to the idea of putting together bettas with peace lilies, dieffenbachia or philodendrons. Decorative gemstones often complement the male bettas' brightly colored, flowing fins.


"It was around Valentine's Day this year," said Cummings of when the trend took off. "It's popular with the men. They like to put them in their offices."

"It's a hobby. It's a pet, too," said Tony Sandoval, a Wal-Mart associate who works in the lawn and garden department.

Sandoval said certain customers know which days shipments come in so they can find their plants and fish in stock.

"It's a hobby, but it's a business, too," Cummings added.

Several people in the Valley have been making and selling the vases to sell to people and businesses.

The office manager for Brawley pediatricians Baig, Admani, Kapoor and Qureshi bought three such vases four months ago from a woman who has been selling the vases.

Veronica Ramirez, a nurse in the office, has been taking care of the plants and bettas since.

"They're really easy. I trim the roots … and I feed them every Friday, just regular betta fish food, a little pinch," she explained.

"None have died … Everybody that comes in here asks about them," she said.

Some people she's talked to said their fish died after a week or two. Ramirez said she thinks it could be because they overfed their fish or used tap water, which contains chemicals such as chlorine that could hurt the fish.

"We use AAA water. You don't fill it all the way to the top because they'll die," she said.

That is because bettas catch breaths through their mouth from the surface as well as breathing dissolved oxygen through their gills. Those qualities make them the perfect choice to inhabit the vases. The bettas cozy up to the roots of the plants and don't need much space to move around. In fact, they prefer small spaces and can withstand less-than-perfect water qualities, similar to their native mud puddles in Thailand.

Bettas are native to rice paddies and mud puddles in the tropical country, where they eat mosquitoes and insect larvae from the surface of the water.

Female bettas are a drab gray and the brightly colored male bettas will fight another male to the death, which is why they are kept alone. A male betta will even react to his own image in a mirror, spreading his fins and gills in an elegant display of aggression.

Ingrid Deol of El Centro bought one vase and began making others for friends and now sells them, mostly through word of mouth.

"I started (selling the vases) because I was having so much fun making them," Deol said.

"The hardest thing about it is finding the products. When they don't have them in El Centro, I drive to Calexico. I've been to Yuma, to San Diego," she said.

As for any tips she's learned making the vases, Deol warned against washing the vase with any kind of soap.

"Even if you think it's rinsed out, the residue can kill the fish," Deol said.

El Centro Wal-Mart Assistant Manager Susan Volz suggests making sure the water is at room temperature before changing part of the water in the vase every week to aerate the water and dilute the waste products.

"It's just unique. That's what impressed me. It's so unique to have a fish in a vase and it's small enough you can carry it and set it on your desk. It's so calming to watch them," Deol said.

Staff Writer Marcy Misner can be reached at

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