9 Different Types of Aquarium Plants
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Aquarium plants are necessary to any aquatic habitat for both utilitarian and aesthetic reasons. Live plants look great, contributing to a more natural vibe, improving water quality by boosting oxygenation, and providing fish with food and shelter. They also compete with algae over the same space and nutrients, which ultimately keeps the tank cleaner overall.
But, if you’re new to the aquarium trade, the topic may seem confusing at first. That’s because there are numerous types of tank plants to consider, each with its own requirements and profile. Today, we’ll discuss just that: the primary types of aquarium plants available today. So, let’s get straight to the point:
These are some of the most aesthetically-pleasing types of plants you can get for your aquarium. Floating plants come in numerous shapes and sizes and fulfill different roles, depending on their type and the ecosystem you have in place.
Floating plants require less care than rooted types due to extracting their nutrients straight from the water column. The most resilient types don’t need much care, but you may need to use some liquid fertilization occasionally to support your plants’ growth rate and coloring.
Some of the most popular specimens include:
- Duckweed – Duckweed is a food source for many fish species, primarily goldfish. This plant comes with multiple small leaves, grows fast, and can quickly cover the entire surface of the water. It’s a great choice for plant-eating fish, as they will control the plant’s spread. It also makes for a good option in tanks that require low-light conditions. Keep in mind that duckweed requires regular pruning to contain its accelerated growth rate. Otherwise, it will take over the tank, preventing light from circulating through the ecosystem and even producing excess CO2.
- Java moss – This is the number one beginner plant thanks to its low environmental requirements and hardiness. Java moss is versatile, as it can float or attach to various hard surfaces for different aquascaping results. This species is great for small fish, shrimp, and fish fry that need live plants for protection and comfort.
- Water sprite – Just like java moss, water sprite is a great option for fry and nano tanks housing smaller aquatic animals. You can also use it in larger tanks, so long as you trim it consistently to prevent it from taking over the entire ecosystem. Especially if you have top-dwelling fish that prefer free access to the water’s surface. Water sprite has a bushy look with needle leaves, so that fish can navigate through it easily.
Stem plants are rooted, so they require a nutritious and thick substrate for anchoring. The type of substrate to use depends on the type of plant, but not by much. Sand and gravel, for instance, aren’t ideal because these rank as inert substrates. In other words, they lack any natural nutritional value.
You can circumvent this problem by resorting to root tab feeding or choosing high-value soil or a mix of soil and other substrate materials.
Some good stem plants to consider include:
- Rotala Orange Juice – This one is a clear banger. Rotala OJ grows fast and takes on a bushy look over time. This species comes with narrow leaves that change color depending on the plant’s environment. Submerged Rotalas turn orange or even red, depending on the available nutrients and light conditions. Trimming is necessary to prevent the plant from covering the entire substrate.
- Ludwigia Senegalensis – This is a rarer plant type in the aquarium trade, given that it requires more care to reach its full potential. The plant comes with long stems and wide green leaves. The top leaves can turn red in optimal light conditions and exhibit visible red veins with time. It is a great addition to fish tanks thanks to the rich look and presence.
- Ludwigia Natans Super Red – This is a classic addition to any plant-rich ecosystem thanks to its blood-red leaves and rich spread. Ludwigia Natans produces a lot of leaves that will cover the entire stem, which, along with the plant’s rapid growth and length, leaves a lasting impression. Trimming is a must to prevent the plant from popping out of the tank, which Ludwigia Natans is known to do. I recommend pairing this one with pure-green plants like mosses or carpeting species for an amazing contrast.
Cryptocoryne wendtii is probably the most widespread aquarium plant you can find. This species comes with several breeds of different shapes, sizes, and coloring. The leaves are generally long, up to 8 inches in some cases, showcasing variations of green, rusty-red, and even pink with white and gold tints.
This hardy plant requires minimal care and is a great addition to any aquatic setup. So long as you have sufficient space, of course.
Provide the plant with a 40+ inch-long tank and a 2-3-inch-thick substrate, preferably soil, although sand or gravel also work with adequate fertilization. This species will thrive in water temperatures around 68-82 F and a pH range of 6.0-8.0.
Cryptocoryne doesn’t require CO2 supplementation, but you need to ensure proper substrate fertilization, especially if you keep the plant in an inert substrate. This species thrives in varying light conditions and makes for a great addition to betta, tetras, and dwarf gourami tanks. Avoid substrate diggers, large and aggressive cichlids, or other fish that could destroy or eat the plant.
Rhizome plants provide you with unique aquascaping possibilities that other plants won’t. These plant species can attach to hard surfaces, including rocks, driftwood, aquatic decorations, and even the tank’s walls. You need careful planning and strict maintenance to prevent them from covering everything in the tank, but the efforts will be worth it.
Here are some good options to write down:
- Anubias Barteri – Short and thin petioles with large, round, and beefy leaves. This is a great combination for any pure-green plant that can attach to any surface and thrive in pretty much any condition. Anubias barteri can reach 16 inches in height but grows slow, even in optimal conditions. This is great news for beginners since this species requires low maintenance compared to fast-growing species. Liquid fertilization is sometimes necessary if the aquatic setup doesn’t produce enough nitrates.
- Java Fern – You can’t have a rhizome plant list without including the notorious java fern. This plant consists of a bush of narrow and long green leaves that can reach up to 13.5 inches in size. This species will do just fine in low-light conditions and doesn’t require any CO2 injections for the most part. Java fern is a slow grower and requires the presence of driftwood for optimal growth. Don’t bury its roots in the soil, as this can cause the plant to die off.
- Bucephalandra – This is a hardy and small plant species, only growing up to 4 inches. It requires low lighting conditions and liquid fertilization to reach its full potential. The plant is great for beginners as it doesn’t require much care and doesn’t occupy too much space. You can easily pair it with other plant species because of this. Bucephalandra creates small bushes consisting of oval-shaped leaves with waved margins.
Sword plans comprise of many species, but they all share similar characteristics. They are generally tall with long leaves, growing in tight bush-like structures. They don’t occupy a lot of horizontal space, but need tall tanks as the ideal housing enclosure.
That’s because some sword plants can easily reach 20 inches or more in height, depending on the species, light, and nutrients. Many of them grow half submerged due to their tallness, so always choose your favorite species carefully.
Let’s look at some of the popular sword plants available today:
- Amazon sword – It was only natural that Amazon sword would rank as the first mention. This species is highly popular in the aquarium trade thanks to its size, ease of care, and overall presence. Amazon sword can reach 16 inches in ideal conditions and is as hardy as they come. This species can easily thrive in temperatures around 60-82 F and only requires mild-to-moderate lighting conditions. Amazon sword is rich with its long and wide leaves, serving as great hiding areas for small and medium fish set on exploration or resting.
- Pygmy chain sword – This species doesn’t grow more than 4 inches, making it ideal for small and even nano tanks. Pygmy chain sword remains close to the substrate and showcases long, narrow, and pointy leaves. It is a great plant for well-lit aquariums with clear water surfaces that allow for free circulation of light. This plant grows fast, but it’s easy to care for, making it ideal for all experience levels.
- Rosette sword – You wouldn’t say that this one is a sword plant based on its appearance alone. This species can reach 15 inches in the ideal conditions but will most often remain around 4-6 inches with a moderate growth rate. The care level is easy, as the plant doesn’t require any CO2 injections or even additional fertilization, depending on the environmental conditions. Rosette sword showcases oval-shaped, bright green leaves that are bound to make a memorable impact in your aquarium.
Moss plants are unique plant species with a unique vibe. They are essential to a rich and visually-striking aquatic ecosystem, especially when combined with other plant types. While mosses belong to the same overarching category, you would be amazed of the diversity that these species can produce.
Here are some examples to illustrate this point:
- Phoenix moss – Phoenix moss diverges from the classical moss look a bit. The plant retains a bushy and short look but comes with visible and distinct leaves, unlike your typical moss plants. The plant creates very thick bushes nonetheless, making it great for fish fry and smaller fish species in need of hiding. Phoenix moss is easy to care for and grows at a medium pace unless you supplement it with high-grade fertilizers designed to boost its growth rate and coloring.
- Java moss – There’s a reason why Java moss ranks as one of the most popular moss species in the aquarium trade. Several reasons, I would say, including the plant’s ease of care, awesome presence, and great adaptability. Java moss creates very thick and lush bushes and can spread throughout the entire tank if left unsupervised. Fortunately, Java moss has a medium growth rate, giving you time to trim it properly.
- Crystalwort – This is a special mention, giving the plant’s reputation as a bubbler. Crystalwort emites oxygen bubbles when provided with sufficient nutrients, allowing the plant to enrich your tank’s visuals. This hardy and easy-going species grows fast and can cover a lot of space. Most importantly, Crystalwort is the hardest and most adaptable type of moss you can get. This species can thrive in temperatures between 40 and 86 F which is unlike most aquarium plants you can find.
Grass-like plants are ideal to a shrimp tank, but they have a place in any aquatic ecosystem, no matter the setup. These rank as carpeting plants and come in various shapes, sizes, and colors, although most of them remain green.
Let’s have a look at some top grass-like aquarium plants you can get right now:
- Dwarf sag – Expect dwarf sage to reach 12 inches in the ideal setup with an accelerated growth rate, especially in low-light conditions. It may sound counterintuitive, but you can keep the plant’s growth speed low by providing it with high-intensity light. Keeping it in low-light environments will force the plant to grow faster and taller so that it can get more light. This makes the dwarf sage highly adaptable and versatile, allowing you to easily manipulate its size and growth rate.
- Staurogyne repens – This carped plant won’t grow past 4 inches in height but makes up for it via its lush-green leaves. Staurogyne repens is the ideal choice for gravel, thanks to its ability to propagate fast on hard surfaces, forming a rich bed and soon covering the entire tank floor. Trimming is necessary to keep the plant in check, as it can spread fast.
- Dwarf hairgrass – This species is the grass plant to get. Dwarf hairgrass has needle leaves that can reach 10 inches in the ideal setup. Few plants are as grass-alike as the dwarf hairgrass is, making it one of the most popular aquatic choices. This species propagates with ease, grows fast, and is highly versatile and adaptable. You need to trim in rather often to prevent it from overtaking the entire tank.
Bulb plants rely on underground bulbous structures to complete their life cycle and consist of different species based on different physiologies. In this sense, you have tuber plants, corm plants, rhizomes, tuberous roots, fleshy roots, etc.
Some of the best bulb plants for aquarium use include:
- Orchid Lily – This species comes in 2 varieties, green and red, and doesn’t require much care and maintenance. It’s easy to grow, with its leaves being capable of reaching 32 inches in length in ideal conditions. The ideal temperature for this species falls in the 70-90 F range and requires a nutritious substrate at least 2-3-inch deep. The Orchid Lily also gets some of its nutrients from the water column.
- Aponogeton crispus – This bulbous species is hardy and easy to grow and comes with long and wavy leaves capable of reaching 20 inches or more in length. You require a lot of vertical space to accommodate this one. This species thrives half-buried or planted on top of the substrate to prevent the bulb from rotting. Keep in mind that Aponogeton crispus grows extremely fast, so regular trimming is crucial to keep the plant in check. The plant’s leaves are also sensitive, so choose the fish species carefully to preserve the plant’s integrity.
- Aponogeton ulvaceus – This is another fast grower, capable of reaching 20 inches in size. Despite this, you can easily keep it in a 10-gallon setup with the right preparation and space management. A single bulb can house more than 40 leaves which speaks volumes of the plant’s outstandingly rich appearance.
Carpeting plants are ideal for environments with a lot of bottom dwellers, including shrimp, snails, and smaller scavenger fish. They provide shelter, food, and a natural vibe, keeping your aquatic pets safer and more comfortable. Basically, any moss-type or grass-like plant can qualify as a carpeting plant, which includes many of the plant species we’ve already mentioned.
But there are many others you may not have heard about. Here are some examples:
- Helanthium tenellum – This species is great for low-tech plants, as Helanthium can even thrive in inert substrates. So long as you ensure optimal fertilization, of course. This species comes with long and narrow leaves and requires environmental temperatures between 60 and 82 F. Keep the light low and provide some CO2 supplementation if needed, although it generally isn’t. This plant has a slow growth rate, which means it doesn’t require trimming as frequently as other species.
- Dwarf baby tears – This is a bubbling plant which is responsible for its cute and telling name. This species can only grow up to 2 inches but will cover a lot of substrate surface when mature. Dwarf baby tears forms leaf clusters that form a thick carpet, perfect for shrimp and small bottom dwellers in need of hiding, food, and exploration opportunities. Keep the water temperature stable between 68 and 75 F and lights high to support the plant’s growth rate.
- Glossostigma Elantinoides – This species is more difficult to keep than other names on today’s list, making it unfit for beginners. Glosso can only reach 2 inches in size and requires abundant environmental light and nutrients. You need CO2 injections to support the plant’s growth and keep its leaves healthy and green. This species forms a thick carpet thanks to its numerous small leaves and long and hairy stems forming intricate web-like structures.
Aquarium plants are pretty much a necessity in most aquatic setups, both for utilitarian and aesthetic reasons. Given the immense variation in this sector, I suggest doing your own research on the topic. That being said, you are bound to find an aquatic plant to your liking and experience level with sufficient know-how and patience.