Philodendron in Aquarium – Benefits and Growing Tips

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You can use dozens of aquatic plant species to decorate your tank. From carpeting plants to colorful tall grasses, there’s something out there to suit all tastes.

But what about Philodendrons? Some aquarists go one step further and include these terrestrial houseplants in their setup.

Philodendrons thrive in high-humidity conditions, so submerging the plant’s roots won’t be a problem. To most people’s surprise, this plant thrives in the aquarium.

But should you add one to your tank? Is it safe or useful for your fish? Keep reading to find out!

Are Philodendrons Safe for Aquarium?

Philodendrons are large flowering plants. They’re most commonly used as home decorations thanks to their big lush leaves and low maintenance needs. Lately, though, Philodendrons make frequent appearances in aquariums as well.

If you like the look, there’s nothing wrong with including a Philodendron in your tank. These plants are perfectly safe, with two caveats.

First and most importantly, plants in the Philodendron genus are known for their highly toxic leaves.

The leaves contain a high concentration of oxalic acid, a potent poisonous agent that can be fatal when ingested. Simply put, you don’t want your fish anywhere near these leaves.

Luckily, Philodendron roots are perfectly safe. Since only the non-toxic roots are submerged in the aquarium, you don’t have to worry about toxicity problems in fish.

If anything, Philodendrons pose more of a health threat to other pets, like cats or dogs, rather than fish.

Secondly, Philodendrons could disturb the ecosystem in an already-planted aquarium. These plants are very efficient root feeders, and they grow rapidly. This could be a problem if you have other aquarium plants that can’t compete as well for resources.

Without additional fertilization, Philodendrons could starve and even kill off your other greens. But they’ll also kill algae in the process, so there’s that.

5 Benefits of Philodendrons in Aquarium

Aquarium plants aren’t always cheap— especially not the cool-looking ones. But you probably already have one or know someone who has a Philodendron in their home.

So, it’s easy to get one of these for free.

Besides, Philodendrons are virtually foolproof. You’d have to actively try to prevent this plant from growing. But that’s not all!

This hardy and versatile plant also brings other major benefits to your tank:

– Removing Nitrates

Like all plants, Philodendrons need nitrogen to grow and stay healthy. Nitrogen is readily present in toxic compounds like nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia.

This is why plants help purify the aquarium water. Your fish are highly sensitive to these compounds, but plants thrive on them.

Unlike most common aquarium plants, Philodendrons are very resource-hungry and may grow up to 4 inches per week.

To fuel this rapid growth, these plants will consume a lot of nitrogen compounds, thereby purifying the water more quickly and efficiently.

– Reducing Algae Growth

Do you know what else thrives on nitrogen? Algae, that’s what! Algae commonly bloom when you get a nitrate spike. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to prevent both nitrate spikes and algae growth.

The competitive and greedy Philodendron plant will soak up all the nutrients before the algae can feed and multiply.

– Provides a Hiding Place

Fish need hiding places for various reasons. Some use them to hide from aggressive tankmates, while others seek refuge during breeding.

The problem is that providing hiding places for middle and top-layer swimming fish is challenging. Well, not anymore! Philodendrons are the perfect solution to this dilemma.

These plants have explosive growth spurts and develop intricate root systems. You’ll get bushy root growths to decorate the top of the aquarium in no time.

Unlike other free-floating plants, Philodendrons are easier to anchor thanks to the heavy vines and leaves.

– Great Appearance

Many aquarium plants look cool. But only a few of them are as versatile as the humble Philodendron. Look up images of Philodendron aquariums, and you’ll see what I mean.

You can do a lot with this plant— trim it into a short grass, let a few vines hang gracefully off the edge of the aquarium, or attach a few vines to other surfaces near the tank.

Philodendrons are also diverse; there are hundreds of species in this genus, each with a slightly different appearance.

Heartleaf, Red-leaf, Velvet-leaf, Window-leaf, Prince Orange, and Lacy Tree Philodendron are just some of the striking varieties you can add to your tank.

– Resistant to Omnivore Fish

Omnivorous fish sometimes nibble on aquarium plants. It’s annoying, especially when struggling to keep slow-growing plants like Anubias or Crypts.

Luckily, Philodendron’s weed-like growth can more than compensate for the plant chompers in the tank.

Furthermore, Philodendrons aren’t that attractive for fish to begin with. The plant’s roots are highly fibrous and difficult to bite into.

Unsurprisingly, most omnivorous fish don’t flock to this all-you-can-eat buffet.

How to Grow Philodendrons in Aquariums?

Philodendrons are terrestrial plants. That said, growing them in an aquarium isn’t that different from growing aquatic plants.

There are two major things you must do to help this plant thrive:

– Anchor The Plant Properly

Philodendrons like high humidity and can survive with their roots fully underwater. However, the plant will die if its leaves are submerged.

You’ll have to secure the vines and leaves to prevent them from falling into the aquarium.

However, you anchor the plant is up to you, as long as the plant stays in place.

Aquarium suction cups are the most common option because they’re the easiest to use underwater and can hold a decent amount of weight.

– Provide a Suitable Environment

Aquatic plants have specific water parameters, lighting, and nutrition needs. But terrestrial plants are no different.

Philodendrons also require a suitable water pH, sufficient light exposure, and good nutrition.

Philodendrons are naturally adapted to acidic environments. They thrive in soil or water values between 5.5-6.5 pH. Most aquatic plants prefer similar pH levels.

In fact, most aquarium planting soils bring the water pH down to a slightly-acidic pH of 6.5. This acidity is also tolerable to most freshwater fish and shrimps.

These plants grow best under medium light conditions. As house plants, they require bright indirect sunlight exposure. You can replicate these conditions in the aquarium by providing 2-5 hours of medium-intensity light daily.

Finally, remember proper nutrition. Philodendrons are ever-hungry. Luckily, they require the same nutrients as other aquatic plants.

A dose of liquid aquarium fertilizer twice a week should be enough to keep this plant nourished and healthy.

What Philodendrons are Best for Aquariums?

There are over 400 Philodendron species in the world. Most of them tolerate high-humidity environments. However, some of them make better aquarium plants than others.

Two species, in particular, thrive the most in aquariums:

The Heart-leaf Philodendron (Philodendron cordatum)

This trailing plant is also known as the “Sweetheart Vine.” It has medium-sized heart-shaped leaves that grow up to 2.4 inches across.

The smooth texture and bright green coloration might remind you of a young rubber plant.

The Sweetheart Vine is among the most versatile and low-maintenance plants. It can adapt to anything from high to low light exposure.

This plant also adapts to highly humid and high-temperature conditions like those in an aquarium.

The Velvet-leaf Philodendron (Philodendron micans)

This plant gets its name from its mesmerizing fuzzy foliage. Its leaves have an almost iridescent sheen, similar to velvet. This beautiful plant also sports heart-shaped leaves; these can grow up to 8 inches when fully matured!

Old leaves are anything between light bronze and dark green. Younger leaves typically have a purple tone.

The Velvet-leaf Philodendron does best under medium-light exposure but can also adapt to low- and high-light environments. The cool part is that light exposure will influence the leaf color.

Bright light will create more reddish leaves, while low light will result in deep green leaves.

Can You Grow Philodendron Under Water?

Philodendrons are naturally adapted to high humidity conditions. These plants thrive even when the roots are fully inundated.

That’s not to say this is an aquatic plant, though. You can’t grow this species underwater. A Philodendron won’t survive when fully submerged.

Its leaves must stay out of the tank for the plant to convert light and carbon dioxide into food. Otherwise, the plant will suffocate and die.

Besides, Philodendron leaves are highly toxic when ingested. You want to keep the foliage away from omnivorous or herbivorous fish in the tank.

Should You Cut Off Long Philodendron Roots?

Trailing plants like Philodendrons can grow impressive roots. Whether we’re talking underwater or aerial roots, these offshoots can become bothersome when they get out of control.

Should you do something about them? Well, you could if you wanted. Trimming off the excess root growth won’t cause any harm.

Just remember to use a sharp pair of aquascaping scissors. These are perfect for cutting small or soft roots without damaging the plant.

Don’t cut off too much of the submersed root growth, as this could lead to lower nutrient uptake and slower growth.

Aerial roots (those that grow from stem nodes) are useless unless you want to attach your plant to a vertical surface. They don’t serve any other purpose for feeding or photosynthesis.

Thus, you can safely chop them off with a pair of garden pruners. Cut these roots close to the main stem. Just avoid damaging the nodes on the vine.

Drawbacks of Keeping Philodendron in a Fish Tank

Philodendrons are foolproof. Even if you don’t have a green thumb, these plants are almost impossible to kill in the aquarium. When anchored correctly and looked after, Philodendrons also provide numerous benefits.

However, not every aquarist favors this plant. As I’ve mentioned before, there are two big caveats to Philodendrons. The first one is the toxicity concern.

The second one has to do with the interaction between Philodendrons and other aquarium plants.

Keeping a Philodendron in your tank could be dangerous if the fish have access to the toxic leaves. Remember to fix the plant properly to prevent leaves from reaching the water.

You should also protect the aquarium from other curious house pets. Cats and dogs also suffer dangerous reactions from consuming these toxic leaves.

Some aquarists are weary of Philodendrons because they can “destroy the ecosystem in the aquarium.” It’s partly true, but the issue can be avoided. Philodendrons use up lots of resources.

If there’s not enough to go around, some of the slow-growing plants in the tank will slowly starve and die.

But this can happen with any hungry and competitive plant, not just Philodendrons. Additional fertilization prevents this problem.

Philodendron Alternatives for Aquariums

Philodendrons aren’t the only terrestrial plants you can keep in the aquarium. There are a few other options for those who want a different look for their tank. Check out the following plants!

These are all very popular home decorations, so they’re easy to procure for a good price:

– Pothos

  • Growth rate: 3-4.5 inches per week
  • Lighting requirements: Moderate
  • Planting: Submersed roots and stems; emersed leaves

Pothos are among the most common houseplants. They have low maintenance requirements and tolerate low to moderate light exposure.

Similarly to Philodendrons, Pothos are flowering trailing plants with vine-like growths.

The leaves can reach 4-8 inches when fully grown and come in different shapes and shades of green, depending on the species.

The most common variety (Epipremnum aureum) has elongated and waxy heart-shaped leaves. This species has a deep green base color and pale green streaks.

– English Ivy

  • Growth rate: 2 inches per week
  • Lighting requirements: Moderate to high
  • Planting: Submersed roots and stems; emersed leaves

English Ivy plants are easily recognizable thanks to their lobed leaves and trailing growth. The leaf color, shape, and size vary between subspecies.

The most common variety has dull green leaves with light veins and 3-5 lobes. Leaves are typically 2-4 inches in size.

– Lucky Bamboo

  • Growth rate: Up to 1 inch per week
  • Lighting requirements: Low to moderate
  • Planting: Fully submersed

Lucky Bamboo is different from other terrestrial plants on this list. This species can thrive both fully submersed or partially submersed in the aquarium.

It also has low light requirements and slow growth. You can’t get lower maintenance than this.

Lucky Bamboo looks similar to real bamboo, although these plants are classified into different families. Lucky Bamboo has long, pale stems with prominent nodes. It grows narrow, elongated leaves, typically a deep green color.

Lucky Bamboo stems are very flexible and can be “trained” to take various shapes as the plant grows.

– Peace Lily

  • Growth rate: Up to ½ inch per month
  • Lighting requirements: Low to moderate
  • Planting: Submersed roots and stems; emersed leaves

This small plant will add an elegant touch to your aquarium. Its elongated oval leaves and white spade-like flowers are unlike anything you’d see in a run-of-the-mill aquatic plant. With moderate light exposure, this flowering species blooms twice a year.

Peace Lilies also have long stems that grow straight up, so they can be easier to fix in place compared to vine plants like Philodendrons.

Peace Lilies are very slow-growing, so you won’t have to worry about pruning. If untrimmed, fully-grown plants will develop dense, bush-like foliage.

– Spider Plant

  • Growth rate: 1-2.5 inches per month
  • Lighting requirements: Moderate
  • Planting: Submersed roots; emersed foliage

The Spider plant looks similar to aquarium swords such as the Amazon Sword or the Red Rubin Sword. This plant grows into a rosette pattern. It has a very small central stem that branches out in dense foliage with long thin leaves.

Its leaves are either deep green or variegated with pale green. As the leaves grow taller, they begin arching outwards and down.

Adding this plant to the aquarium is challenging due to its rosette leaf arrangement. The leaves will rot if kept underwater, but the stem is way too short.

You’ll have to find a very tall anchoring point in the aquarium where you can submerse the roots without drowning the plant. I suggest an aquarium plant pot with suction cups.

– Peppermint

  • Growth rate: 1 inch per week
  • Lighting requirements: Low to high
  • Planting: Submersed roots and stems; emersed leaves

Peppermint thrives in high-humidity conditions. Unsurprisingly, this common plant does well in the aquarium as long as its leaves aren’t inundated.

With its rapid growth and small, fuzzy leaves, peppermint is perfect for creating dense foliage on top of the tank. This plant also does great when kept in a HOB filter.

All of these plants are great alternatives to Philodendrons. They provide similar benefits, including nitrate removal, algae prevention, and an improved aquarium appearance.

The fully-submerged Lucky Bamboo even provides a hiding place for the bottom and middle-layer swimmers. Most of these plants require slightly acidic soil or water with a pH between 6.0-6.5.

Conclusion

Philodendrons are an unconventional choice for aquarium use. After all, this plant is typically used as a potted home decoration. However, this water-loving species thrives in just about any conditions, including a fish tank.

As long as the leaves stay out of the water, both your fish and the Philodendron are safe. A Philodendron will provide some of the same benefits as regular aquatic plants.

This plant grows rapidly, so it will consume a lot of nitrogen, purifying the ammonia and nitrates in the tank. Philodendrons also prevent algae and provide shelter for top-layer swimming fish.

Other terrestrial plants you can use for your tank include Pothos, English Ivy, Peace Lilies, Lucky Bamboo, Spider plants, and Peppermint.

avatar I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.

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