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25 Easy Low Light Freshwater Aquarium Plants

You’ve always been amazed by vibrant and lively aquariums filled with colorful fish and decorative plants? Why not recreate the spectacular view of a planted aquarium in your own home?

As a beginner fish-keeper or plant-grower, you might worry about choosing the right plants or keeping your aquatic flora green and alive.

Let me help you get over this fear with a comprehensive list of freshwater aquarium plants that can thrive even low light conditions and aren’t too fussy about maintenance either.

In this article I’m going to discuss the top 25 easy low light freshwater aquarium plants that are ideal for unexperienced beginners.

To make it easier for you to reach a decision on which plants are best for you, I’ll describe each plant and touch on the required light level, the level of everyday care and offer some compatibility advice.

Ready? Let’s meet the spectacular flora of freshwater aquariums!

Green Hygro (Hygrophila polysperma)

green-hygro-hygrophila-polysperma

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/159675085@N03/28816896167/

I’m starting off my presentation of low light aquarium plants with one of my favorites, the Green Hygro.

Despite its name, green isn’t the only color this plant exhibits. You’ll find variations of brown and red as well, all depending on the lighting the plant gets.

This stem plant is a rapidly growing one that develops long leaves.

To help anchor the roots, a substantial substrate is needed. If it gets too much light, prepare for an overgrowth and browning of the leaves.

To keep it under control, it requires regular pruning. I don’t recommend keeping this plant in a tank with Goldfish, they’ll just about feed on it until they kill it off.

  • Required light level: Needs low light, rapid growth can occur in low light as well;
  • Level of care: Beginner-Intermediate;
  • Compatibility: Good, do not forget to prune it often.

Java Moss (Vesicularia Dubyana)

java-moss-vesicularia-dubyana

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/greenbrightly/1064873801/

Recognizable after its tiny oval shaped leaves, the Java Moss is a widespread moss in world of aqua-scaping.

Unlike other aquatic plants that develop roots, the Java Moss floats freely, which allows it to

pick up the nutrients it needs.

It does, however, sometimes attach itself to the substrate or decorations within the aquarium.

The moss can be molded into different shapes, so it can also be used as a decor to cover unattractive objects, such as lamps or filters in your aquarium.

The Java Moss is slow to grow. Increasing light levels will encourage growth, but too much light will lead to overgrowth, which is a problem, because once it gets out of hand, it’s difficult to kill off.

  • Required light level: Low;
  • Level of care: Beginner;
  • Compatibility: Excellent.

Sunset Hygro (Hygrophila polysperma ‘Rosanervig’)

sunset-hygro-hygrophila-polysperma-rosanervig

Source: https://tropica.com/en/plants/plantdetails/Hygrophilapolysperma’Rosanervig'(050B)/4484

Similar to the Green Hygro, the Sunset Hygro distinguishes itself from its close cousin through its coloration. While the Green Hygro displays green, brown and red colors, the Sunset Hygro plant has reddish pink leaves with white veins.

Overgrowth can be avoided if the plant is pruned often. The unique color of the plant can only be maintained if the water contains appropriate levels of iron.

  • Required light level: Low-moderate light.
  • Level of care: Beginner-intermediate.
  • Compatibility: Good.

Rotala Rotundifolia

rotala-rotundifolia

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/shrimp-tank/7835736502/

With its unmistakable pink and narrow rounded leaves, the Rotala Rotundifolia is easy to spot in any planted aquarium.

The plant will cascade downwards from the surface of the water and will climb to the sides of the tank.

It’s a rapid-growing plant, but it needs enough lighting to achieve its unique pink coloration. They usually reach, but not exceed 6” in width.

Be careful though, as it can easily overgrow, so proper pruning is required in order to keep this plant under control.

If it gets very low light, leaves can turn yellow-green. Provide enough micronutrients for proper development in low light conditions.

  • Required light level: Moderate.
  • Level of care: Beginner-Intermediate.
  • Compatibility: Good but prune it often to avoid excessive growth.

Rotala Indica

rotala-indica

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/63251050@N06/5764926901/

Very similar to the Rotala Rotundifolia, so the Rotala Indica also requires heavy pruning to avoid overgrowth.

Compared to the Rotundifolia, the Rotala Indica has more rounded green leaves with a reddish hue. It can be planted separately or in a small bunch.

Low light should be enough for this plant, due to the fact that it can maintain its color in low light conditions as well.

  • Required light level: Low light needed.
  • Level of care: Beginner-Intermediate.
  • Compatibility: Good, but don’t forget to prune it often to avoid excessive growth.

Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)

java-fern-microsorum-pteropus

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/striferift/27071356551/

With long and thin leaves, the Java Fern is common in low light aquariums. It’s a versatile aquarium plant that doesn’t need any special care.

The Java Fern will start off growing slowly but will gradually start to spread across the aquarium reaching a height of 12-14” and a width of 6”.

Usually, Java Ferns float in the aquarium until they find an object they can anchor themselves to.

  • Required light level: Moderate to Low lighting.
  • Level of care: Beginner.
  • Compatibility: Excellent.

Hornwort (Ceratophylum demersum)

hornwort-ceratophylum-demersum

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/compassionate/2200076945/in/photostream/

Hornwort or “Coontail” as its nickname suggests has a specific foliage pattern.

The leaves of this plant grow outwards in several shoots creating the appearance of a bushy tail.

Leaves are colored light green and the entire plant floats freely in the water or until it eventually finds an object to attach itself to.

The Hornwort is a rapid-growing aquarium plant that’s great if you want to provide a good habitat for your fry. It also doesn’t need a solid substrate.

  • Required light level: Low-Moderate.
  • Level of care: Perfect for beginners.
  • Compatibility: Excellent.

Parrot’s Feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum)

parrot-s-feather-myriophyllum-aquaticum

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ladylong/2851617200/

As its name suggests, this plant tends to stand out among other aquatic plants due to its uniquely shaped foliage with a specific texture that’s like a parrot’s feathers.

The lush green color of the foliage is another of its distinctive marks. The Parrot’s Feather plant floats freely in the water but it can also be anchored by a heavy object or shallow substrate.

It’s very popular thanks to its utility to provide shade and shelter for aquatic animals. It can be a great addition to a tank that houses guppies, minnows or goldfish.

You can encourage its growth if you see it struggling by placing the tank a bit closer to the window.

  • Required light level: Requires moderate to low lighting;
  • Level of care: Beginner.
  • Compatibility: Excellent.

Moneywort (Bacopa monnieri)

moneywort-bacopa-monnieri

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/starr-environmental/24585053902/

The Moneywort is a low light freshwater aquarium plant that commonly grows vertically, achieving heights of 6-8”.

It has small, oblong bright green leaves that grow upwards and that lend the aquarium a splash of color.

It is usually planted in small bunches to create a colorful contrast amongst other aquatic plants.

  • Required light level: Moderate.
  • Level of care: For beginners.
  • Compatibility: Excellent.

Crypt Wendtii

crypt-wendtii

Source: https://tropica.com/en/plants/plantdetails/Cryptocorynewendtii(109)/4562

The Crypt Wendtii is a versatile species that comes in many sizes and textures. It can feature long brown, red and green leaves.

The leaves have waved edges and their lengths can reach 18”. Thanks to its characteristic look, the Crypt Wendtii is usually used as the focal point of the aquarium.

Although it’s not a high-maintenance aquarium plant, the Crypt Wendtii is sensitive to sudden changes in tank conditions.

They’re a good addition to any planted tank, but it should not be paired with cichlids, because they tend to tear up their delicate leaves.

  • Required light level: Any lighting conditions are fine;
  • Level of care: Intermediate;
  • Compatibility: Good.

Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephala)

brazilian-pennywort-hydrocotyle-leucocephala

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mauricio_tejerina/6533162829/

The attractive light green color and bean shaped leaves of the Brazilian Pennywort can provide high-contrast among the aquatic flora and fauna.

This plant can be used as a floating plant, but it can be rooted as well. It grows really fast, so in order to avoid overgrowing it should be pruned regularly.

Being a delicate plant, do not pair with goldfish or cichlids, as they can tear up the delicate leaves.

  • Required light level: Low light is sufficient to avoid overgrowth.
  • Level of care: Beginner.
  • Compatibility: Don’t pair it with goldfish or cichlids.

Crypt Spiralis

crypt-spiralis

Source: https://tropica.com/en/plants/plantdetails/Vallisneriaspiralis’Tiger'(055A)/4503

The leaves of the Crypt Spiralis grow up to 24 inches in length and form a loose spiral. Of all the Crypts plants in this genus, the Spiralis tends to have the thicker leaves.

Like other Crypts, it is a slow grower, but as it grows, it tends to sprout shoots throughout the aquarium.

It’s not a difficult plant to care for yet changing tank conditions can affect it. As for compatibility issues, avoid adding them to tanks with cichlids that will tear up its delicate leaves.

  • Required light level: Moderate.
  • Level of care: Intermediate.
  • Compatibility: Good, avoid adding cichlids.

Crypt Balansae

crypt-balansae

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/doubleace/2056515975/

Similar to the above-mentioned Crypt Wendtii, the Crypt Balansae has long and thin leaves with uniquely ruffled edges.

The dense clumps it forms can be a perfect hiding spot for many aquatic animals. It grows relatively slowly and it’s sensitive to sudden changes in tank conditions.

You can pair it with most fish that enjoy a planted tank, except for cichlids that may tear up the leaves.

  • Required light level: Moderate-High light;
  • Level of care: Intermediate;
  • Compatibility: Good, avoid cichlids.

Micro Crypt (Cryptocoryne Petchii)

micro-crypt-cryptocoryne-petchii

Source: https://tropica.com/en/plants/plantdetails/Cryptocorynebeckettii’Petchii'(108A)/4560

Just like the other Crypts described so far, the Micro Crypt is also a slow growing plant. It has thin, long leaves with ruffled edges.

This Crypt is the smallest of all the Crypts mentioned above, the maximum height it can reach is only a few inches.

  • Required light level: Needs low light.
  • Level of care: For beginners.
  • Compatibility: Good, do not pair with plants with cichlids to avoid tearing up the leaves.

Guppy Grass (Najas guadalupensis)

guppy-grass

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fn7_kbWWSqA

As its name suggests, Guppy Grass got its name thanks to its perfect utility to nurse baby guppies.

Its thin green leaves that grow in thick clumps provide shelter and nutrition to guppy fry.

The plant floats in the aquarium and grows steadily.

  • Required light level: Low light is enough for this plant.
  • Level of care: Beginner, easy to handle.
  • Compatibility: Excellent, pair it with baby guppies!

Pelia Moss (Monosolenium Tenerum)

pelia-moss-monosolenium-tenerum

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/64735858@N02/14801502664/

Pelia is commonly mistaken for a moss due to its similarity, but it is a distinct plant. It grows fast in thick mats and it’s great for aquascaping.

This plant does not attach itself to any object within the aquarium, instead it sinks naturally or floats freely in the water.

It can be anchored down by using a netting or a fishing line, if needed.

  • Required light level: Low-Moderate light.
  • Level of care: Beginner – Intermediate.
  • Compatibility: Moderate, do not include in tanks with rough or schooling fish.

Anubias Barteri

anubias-barteri

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/119291467@N08/13279487593/

Anubias Barteri is a small, slow-growing plant with large arrow or heart shaped, rippled-edged, bright green leaves. It stays small, reaches a height of 6” and it’s 5” in width.

It’s a hearty plant that can be planted even in aquariums with fish that love munching on plant matter.

  • Required light level: Low-Moderate light.
  • Level of care: For beginners.
  • Compatibility: Excellent.

Anubias Nana

anubias-nana

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mahbobyusof/5020694708/

Anubias Nana is a smaller aquarium plant than the Anubias Barteri. This plant is bushy and low, spreads slowly, and it is usually anchored to driftwood or other objects within the tank.

Like the Barteri, it has arrow shaped leaves. It’s a strong plant that can be placed even in aquariums with fish that have a taste for plants.

  • Required light level: Low light.
  • Level of care: For beginners.
  • Compatibility: Excellent.

Waterwheel Plant (Aldrovanda Vesiculosa)

waterwheel-plant-aldrovanda-vesiculosa

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ourbreathingplanet/13902404358/

The Waterwheel Plant is a carnivorous plant, which adds a great degree of mystery to the plant.

The small carnivorous traps at the end of each whorl of the plant traps aquarium insects. Due to its need of a special diet of meat, the Waterwheel plant has evolved to floats freely on the surface of water “hunting” for insects, mosquitos, and snails.

Before you decide to grow this plant in your aquarium, you should know that it requires a special diet of meat, supplied through mosquitos, snails, insects, tadpoles, daphnia, etc.

  • Required light level: Moderate to full.
  • Level of care: Intermediate – Advanced.
  • Compatibility: It needs a special meat diet to thrive.

Bacopa (Bacopa Caroliniana)

bacopa-caroliniana

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dinesh_valke/40039219860/

Well-known for its oblong, various leaves. The coloration of the leaves can vary from bright greenish-yellow to brown.

The leaves grow opposite each other creating a ladder up each stalk. It’s a slow growing plant and needs enough substrate to anchor its roots. It can reach up to 12 inches in height.

  • Required light level: Low-Moderate.
  • Level of care: For beginners.
  • Compatibility: Excellent.

American Waterweed (Elodea Canadensis)

american-waterweed-elodea-canadensis

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pocho_master/6490236819/

As a fast-growing, long-stemmed plant, the Elodea can be rooted in the substrate or it can just as well float around the tank and grow like that.

It provides a great hiding place for small fish. It is considered as a main food source for several aquatic animals.

The plant grows naturally in ponds and lakes across North America. In some states it’s considered an invasive species, so make sure you’re observing relevant local legislation in this matter.

If you’re going to add it to a tank with fish that feed on soft plants, expect damage to the plant.

  • Required light level: Low light.
  • Level of care: Beginner.
  • Compatibility: Good, although some species will eat it.

Red Ludwigia (Ludwigia Repens)

red-ludwigia-repens

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rdubphoto/16177246911/

The Red Ludwigia is well-known for its bright red foliage, which develops in proper lighting conditions. Too little light causes fading to the color of leaves.

As a stem plant, it grows quickly, so regular pruning is required in order to avoid overgrowth.

It is common to plant large groups of shoots together, so it can form a thick unit on the foreground of aquariums.

  • Required light level: Moderate;
  • Level of care: For beginners;
  • Compatibility: Excellent.

Marimo Ball

marimo-ball

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mobile_gnome/3737853528/

The Marimo Ball is usually mistaken for a moss, yet it’s a spherical alga that grows radially, forming the specific, well-known ball shape.

The form of these plants is the reason why it is commonly used as a decor element. These Marimo Balls grow very slowly, but they are absolutely easy to handle, they do not need much care or attention, and they last long.

Too much light will cause the color to fade into a brownish shade.

Make sure you monitor its growth and ensure that your fish are not overeating it. Avoid in goldfish tanks, use with betta tanks instead.

  • Required light level: Low light;
  • Level of care: Beginner;
  • Compatibility: Excellent.

African Water Fern (Bolbitis heudelotii)

african-water-fern-bolbitis-heudelotii

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/55032306@N02/5122321049/

African Water Fern grows quite slowly, but it can grow really tall, up to 16-18”. It is a robust plant, with delicate dark green leaves.

The fern attaches itself to rocks, bark or any substrate found in the tank, and it will naturally tether itself.

  • Required light level: Low-Moderate.
  • Level of care: Beginner level.
  • Compatibility: Excellent, try to pair it with shrimp or algae-eating fish.

Coffee leaf anubias (Anubias barteri v. ‘coffeefolia’)

coffee-leaf-anubias-barteri-coffeefolia

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/snaps_at_aquastuff/1441521425/

The Coffee Leaf Anubias is well-known for its big, wide-spread rippled leaves. This plant grows wide rather than tall, as its leaves spreads out from the main plant.

In low light conditions it tends to grow rapidly. Plant it shallowly in substrate or attach it simply to driftwood, both variations are just perfect!

  • Required light level: Requires low light.
  • Level of care: Easy to handle, perfect for beginners.
  • Compatibility: Excellent, my advice is to pair with algae-eating fish.

Ready to plant your own the aquatic flora?

As you have seen, low light freshwater aquarium plants are not just decorative elements in the environment of your aquarium.

They can act as a natural filter for the water, they provide safety and comfort for your aquatic animals and they can be a great source of nutrients for fish that feed on plant matter.

After discovering this comprehensive guide of a wide variety of aquarium plants, any beginner aquarium owner should be able to maintain a low light flora ecosystem in their tank.

All you need is the right mixture of aquarium plants and friends with whom you can share the spectacular view of your aquarium!

Resources:

Featured Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aids_cruz/106065288/

Updated: October 4, 2018 | Freshwater

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