Fish that eat plants

Because we think of plants as important aquascaping elements, we don’t want our fish eating them—but perhaps we need to rethink the concept. This article is about live aquatic plants for your aquarium that will serve as food for your fish. These plants will grow fast enough and be palatable to your fish so that they can nibble on them for a source of nourishment.

Criteria for the Plants

First off, the aquatic plants we are looking for have to be attractive. They have to look good in the aquarium even when the fish have been nibbling on them. They also have to grow fast enough to keep up with, or ahead of, the efforts of your fish to nibble them down. The goal is to try and achieve a balance between the plants growing and the fish munching on them.

Not just any plants will do. They need to be sturdy enough that they won’t fall apart because of the attention of the fish, and yet be edible and soft enough to provide food for the fish. The plants should be fast-growing yet not so fast that they take over the aquarium if the fish can’t keep up with this growth.

Conditions for Growing the Plants

Without going into a detailed dissertation on how to grow live aquatic plants, I’m going to suggest a few simple ideas. “Simple” is the operative word here. Even though I am a loyal member of the Aquatic Gardeners Association, I realize that most hobbyists may not want to mess around with expensive lighting, carbon dioxide injection and all kinds of additives. That’s fine, because with very simple equipment, you can grow plenty of lovely plants that your fish will enjoy eating.

To start with, the plants need a good substrate. Plain old aquarium gravel is not sufficient for plants. They really need the special substrates now available for aquatic plants. These provide most of the nutrients plants require.

In addition to the right substrate, the plants need to receive enough light and the right kind of light. A single fluorescent tube in an aquarium reflector is not enough to grow aquatic plants. You need to have either two tubes or more intense light, such as that provided by compact fluorescents or T5 fluorescents.

Find the best local fish store for plants — the one with plants kept properly in well-lit aquariums, in the right substrate, with filters in the aquariums. Ask what light they recommend for growing plants. Also, it’s a good idea to buy your plants from them, because you will get ones that have been acclimated to local water conditions.

Good Food Plants

In discussing the specific plants that will make good food for your fish, I’m going to mention only the ones that you will probably find at your local fish store. Also, unlike fish, in which there are a number of common names for each fish, aquatic plants are pretty much referred to by their scientific name. Using their Latin names helps you find the right aquatic plants and know what you’re working with.

I’ve broken down the plants into basic categories. This will help you choose the kinds you want and understand how they’re used in aquariums.

Algae-covered rocks

The simplest aquatic plants are algae, and the simplest food plant setup for your fish is algae-covered rocks. All you have to do is to put some rocks in water in a container separate from the main fish aquarium, and set them where they get sun all day long. When they become covered with algae, which usually takes a week or two, put them in the aquarium, and put some new rocks in the water in the sun. As the fish in the aquarium consume the algae on the rocks, rotate in new ones. All fish really appreciate this unending source of food plants, especially the algae-grazing cichlid fish from the African lakes.

Algae or “moss” balls

This is a really fascinating form of algae that looks like a golf ball covered in green moss. It comes from large lakes in Europe and Japan, where it rolls around at the shore of the lake. They make excellent fish food, and I’ve had success using them with many different fish. They always grow in a round shape. The fish are always nibbling on them, and yet they never eat them completely. These can be expensive but are well worth the price.

Plants tied to rocks or driftwood

One of the best ways to provide growing plants for fish to eat is to attach either Riccia or Java moss (Vesicularia) to driftwood or rocks using cotton thread. As the aquatic plants grow, they naturally adhere to the rock or driftwood and provide excellent food plants for fish. Some stores sell these rocks and driftwood already combined.

Soft bunch plants

I’m going to mention many different species, but you really need to be very careful about which plants are legal in your state. Some states do not allow any aquatic plant that is not native to be sold or imported. Others have different laws about what you can possess and what you can import. Please check with your local state agency.

  • Cabomba. This comes in many different forms, and in both red and green. It’s a very beautiful plant, and if given enough light, it grows quite fast. The leaves form whorls from the stem. The aquatic plant is very soft and edible by many fish.
  • Egeria (Anacharis, Elodea). This is probably the most common plant around. This is the one you were told when you were a kid to put in a fish bowl to provide oxygen. Like Cabomba, this aquatic plant is a fast-grower and soft enough to be eaten by all fish.
  • Limnophila, also known as Ambulia. This plant is very fine-leaved and delicate, but it grows rapidly in good light. Depending on the number and type of fish, Limnophila may not be able to maintain sufficient growth to stay ahead of the fish eating it.
  • Myriophyllum. Another soft-leaved aquatic plant, Myriophyllum grows so fast that it can almost always stay ahead of the fish eating it. It comes in many different forms and species.
  • Rotala also comes in many different species, the most common ones being indica, wallichii and rotundifolia. Any Rotala are perfect plants for our purposes, because they have soft enough leaves that fish will nibble on them, but they are tough enough not to be completely eaten. If you have very strong light in the aquarium, there’s a beautiful red species called R. macrandra that is exceptional.

Ground covers

There are two plants I would like to mention that are very good for ground cover, in that they will spread along the bottom of the aquarium if there is sufficient light. They also both have very small leaves and can provide food for a number of fish. The aquatic plants are Glossostigma and Lilaeopsis. These two aquatic plants are usually best purchased in small pots, and you need to provide them with plenty of light.


Plants in the Hygrophila genus needs to be mentioned simply because it is so common, and there are so many species of it available. Better known as hygro, this is one of the fastest-growing aquatic plants there is, and it is excellent as a starter plant. It is a stem plant; as it grows, the bottom leaves becomes softer, and the fish will graze on them.


These are the water lilies and water lotus, and are very hardy plants that send leaves up to the surface. If you pinch off these leaves before they reach the surface, the aquatic plant will soon put out leaves that stay on the bottom of the aquarium. As these age, they become very soft and are an excellent source of plant food for fish.

Floating plants

These are also good food plants for fish, but they have the problem of sometimes of taking over the aquarium. Floating plants are especially good for goldfish and koi, which will eat them greedily. The best floating plants are duckweed (e.g., Lemna minor), Azolla and Salvinia.


This is a group of aquatic plants consisting of a bulb or tuber that puts out a large number of leaves that reach to the water surface. Aponogeton will flower easily in the aquarium if given sufficient light. Fish will eat the leaves as they age and soften (and some fish will eat them all the time), and they will also always eat the flowers and seeds as they fall back into the water. These plants are often available at the local fish store in the bulb form sometimes called “wonder bulbs” — and they really are. All you have to do is push them into the substrate, and within a week, you have a plant.

Unedible Plants

Although the majority of this article has been devoted specifically to plants that fish will eat, I feel I should make some brief mention of some plants that fish will not consume. These can provide a stable, growing background for the other aquatic plants.


This is a genus of attractive, tough-leaved, slow-growing aquatic plants from Africa that make nice center plants, and also that do well when tied to driftwood or rocks. The only problem with Anubias is that they are so slow-growing they often are covered with algae.

Java ferns

(Microsorium) and Bolbitis: These two genera of aquatic plants need to be grown attached to rocks or driftwood, and are never planted in the substrate. They can grow in low light conditions and are completely unpalatable to all fish.


This is another genus of aquatic plants that is slow-growing, hardy and attractive, with long leaves growing up to and across the water surface from a bulb. The common Crinum is called the onion plant because it looks just like an onion bulb with long leaves.

Fish to Avoid

The basic premise we have been applying here is that we want plants that grow fast enough to avoid being eaten to the point of being unattractive. There are a few fish, however, that don’t play the game fairly, in that they will completely devour most aquatic plants. These should be avoided if you want to have a planted aquarium.

Silver dollars and headstanders all make their living eating plants, and will wipe out virtually any species. Loaches, especially clown loaches, will chew holes in the leaves of aquatic plants. Finally, big cichlid fish, especially those from Central America and from the African rift lakes, will uproot, toss around, eat and otherwise destroy all plants.

Some Information Sources

To learn more about growing aquatic plants and what plants can be kept with fish as a source of food for them, the best place to start out is with the Aquatic Gardeners Association. The AGA is international and is the oldest and best organization for everything about plants. It publishes a terrific magazine, and its website ( is a source of excellent information.

I would also like to make mention of two books published by two plant producers. The Aquarium Plant Handbook is published by Oriental Aquarium of Singapore, the largest producer of aquatic plants in the world. It has an excellent section on aquatic plant care, and illustrations of all of the plants.

Tropica Aquarium Plants is the book put out by Tropica of Denmark, another large producer of plants. It also is a good source of information.

Posted by: Chewy Editorial


Aquatic Plant Basics

Live plants create natural beauty in an aquarium, but they also promote a balanced ecosystem and provide many benefits to your fish including:

  • Producing oxygen and consuming CO2 during the day, which benefits fish, helps with filtration and stabilizes pH.
  • Preventing algae growth by removing nitrate and phosphate from the water.
  • Keeping your fish healthy and colorful by providing them with valuable cover and habitat. This lowers stress and boosts their immune systems, and when fish know they have refuge nearby they tend to stay out in the open where you can see them.
  • Creating a source of food for those fish that feed on the natural microbes that colonize plant leaves as well as others which feed directly on the plants themselves.
  • Producing spawning sites for many fish species, as well as valuable refuge for newly hatched fry.

Whether you just want to add a few plants for accent or set up a dedicated aquatic garden, understanding the basic needs of aquatic plants will help maximize your success and enjoyment with your aquarium. Aquarium plants need the following to thrive:

  • Clean, moderately soft water
  • Full spectrum light
  • Nutrients
  • Suitable substrate (for rooted plants)

Water Requirements for Aquatic Plants

Most aquarium plants do best at a pH between 6.5 and 7.8, general hardness of 50 ppm to 100 ppm, and alkalinity between 3° and 8° dKH (54ppm – 140 ppm). Nitrates should be below 10 ppm and phosphates below 0.5 ppm to prevent nuisance algae from growing on leaves. Temperature should be between 74° and 80° F. Perform frequent water changes and use Reef Carbon or Organic Adsorption Resin in your filter to remove organic pollutants that tint water and reduce light penetration. Use reverse osmosis or deionized water with Aqueon® Freshwater Renewal or Kent RO Right added if your tap water is unsuitable for use with aquatic plants.

Proper circulation is important to plants as well. It ensures a steady supply of nutrients, inhibits algae growth and prevents the accumulation of organic debris on leaves.

Light Requirements for Aquatic Plants

Choosing the right light for a planted aquarium depends on which species you want to grow and how tall your aquarium is. Some plant species need more intense light to thrive, and because light does not penetrate water very well, a stronger light source is needed for taller aquariums. Aquatic plants do best under full spectrum light with a Kelvin rating or “color temperature” between 6,500K and 8,000K. Always choose a light source specifically designed for growing aquarium plants; those designed for houseplants have a lower Kelvin rating. HO T5 fluorescent and LED offer the best lighting for aquarium plants today.
Exercise caution when using “watts per gallon” to decide how much light your plants need. The term “watts per gallon” has long been used to help aquarists determine the correct amount of light for live plants and corals. Until recently this formula worked well since standard fluorescent was the most common type of lighting in the aquarium industry. The introduction of high output T5 and LED lighting has complicated matters somewhat, making “watts per gallon” no longer valid. Here’s why: Wattage is a measurement of how much electricity a light consumes, not how much light energy it produces. Light intensity is measured in lumens, not watts, and different sources of light produce different amounts of lumens per watts consumed. For example, a 60 watt incandescent bulb produces fewer lumens than a 54 watt HO T5 lamp, and you would not want to look directly into 60 watts of LED light! Lumens, PAR (photosynthetically active radiation) and PUR (photosynthetically usable radiation) are more meaningful measurements. Aqueon® OptiBright LED, Planted Clip-On LEDs and Modular LEDs are all suitable for aquatic plants.

Aquatic plants do best with 10 to 12 hours of light per day. Leaving the light on longer will not compensate for weak lighting. It’s also important to create a consistent day/night cycle. If your aquarium light does not have a built-in timer, use a digital power center to provide a consistent photoperiod. For fixtures that use replacement lamps (bulbs), make sure the bulbs are replaced every 12 months to get the best light output. Finally, keep glass covers clean to allow maximum light penetration.

Substrate for Aquatic Plants

Choosing the right substrate ensures proper root development and anchoring of rooted plants. Fine to medium grade gravel or coarse sand are best, and you can also mix different grades for texture and aesthetics. Avoid ultra-fine sand and coarse gravel as fine sand compacts and doesn’t “breathe”, while coarse gravel inhibits proper root anchoring and may collect excessive amounts of organic debris. Install a 2” to 3” base and slope it higher towards the back of the aquarium. Terraces, hills and valleys also help create depth and dimension. Avoid dolomite, crushed coral, crushed oyster shells or other calcium carbonate based substrates, as they will cause an undesirable rise in pH and alkalinity. Always make sure to rinse all gravel before placing it in your aquarium.

Nutrients for Aquatic Plants

Aquatic plants use nitrogen and phosphorous as well as potassium, iron, magnesium, manganese and other minerals to grow. Most of the nitrogen and phosphorus comes from fish food and waste, however, minerals must be added to the aquarium on a regular basis. Depending on plant species, nutrients are taken in through leaves, roots or both. Aqueon® Plant Food or Kent Pro-Plant and Iron & Manganese supplements provide proper liquid nutrition for most aquatic plant species. Dose weekly or add partial doses every few days to make sure your plants have a steady supply.
For plants that take in nutrients through the roots, some aquatic plant enthusiasts mix laterite, an iron rich clay, into the substrate when setting up their aquariums. Others use special aquatic plant substrates that contain embedded nutrients. Yet another method is to insert fertilizer tablets into the substrate near plant roots. Do not use plant tabs or fertilizer sticks intended for houseplants as they may not have the correct balance of nutrients for aquatic plants.

CO2 for Aquatic Plants

Carbon is essential to healthy plant growth. Aquatic plants consume CO2 and produce oxygen during the day, while at night the process is reversed. Many dedicated plant enthusiasts add supplemental CO2 during the day to enhance plant size, color and growth. Beginning aquarists often ask if additional CO2 is necessary for successful plant growth. The short answer is no. Most aquatic plants don’t require additional CO2 to grow, but their size, color, and vibrancy are always better when it is added. Compare a planted aquarium that uses supplemental CO2 to one that does not to appreciate this.
Carbon can be supplied using liquid supplements as well as tablet and DIY yeast generators. All these methods are effective; however, the most reliable and convenient method of supplying CO2 is a pressurized injection system that is synchronized with the aquarium light. Since plant growth increases significantly with the use of CO2, it may be necessary to increase mineral nutrient dosing to keep up.

Aquatic Plant Selection

Choosing the right plants for your aquarium will depend on lighting, aquarium height, the visual effect you want to create, and to a certain extent, the type of fish you keep. Do research or ask your local aquarium expert for advice on choosing the best plants for your tank.
When laying out your plant scape, place tall or rapid growing plants in back, broadleaf and “showy” plants towards the center, and low-profile plants in front. Many foreground species grow laterally, so make sure you leave enough room for them to spread out. Be careful not to plant shorter plants next to tall broadleaf species that may block light to them.
Add a few plants to accent your aquascape or use them as the main décor theme. Some hobbyists go to great length to create lush aquatic gardens and use fish as the accent! Live plants add beauty and balance to an aquarium and provide a healthier and more natural habitat for your fish.

There are a lot of reasons why having live plants in your aquarium is a good idea.

They help control algae growth, oxygenate the water, and add stability to the substrate. Plus, they create a natural-looking habitat and provide a safe place for fry and timid fish to hide.

A lot of people think that live plants are too much work and stick with artificial varieties. But there are plenty of fast growing aquarium plants that are easy to care for. Your tank can be full of thriving live plants in no time.

The 8 Fast Growing Aquarium Plants

No matter what type of plant you need, you’re likely to find a fast-growing option that’s easy to care for. Here are eight that we recommend.

1. Amazon Sword

This plant gets its name from the tall sword-shaped leaves. It’s a great background plant because it grows up to 20 inches tall.

It’s not necessarily a good choice for beginners because it does require some extra care. Specifically, the addition of a high iron fertilizer and loose substrate.

A cool thing about this plant is it can grow even if it’s only partially submerged. You can create some cool effects with this one. In the right conditions, it can grow incredibly fast so it requires a large tank.

2. Sagittaria Subulata

There are different types of aquarium plants: those that grow on the surface of the water, those that grow from the substrate to the waterline, and those that grow across the bottom of the tank.

If you’re looking for a good carpeting plant that grows fast, go for Sagittaria subulata.

This plant quickly covers the substrate with long, thin leaves that resemble blades of grass so it adds more height than a lot of carpeting plants. The more established this plant is, the faster it grows. Don’t be surprised if it requires a trim now and then.

3. Hornwort

Hornwort can be used as either a floating plant or rooted in the substrate depending on the kind of look you’re going for.

It’s hardy and tolerates a variety of tank conditions, though it does require strong lighting to grow fast.

This plant grows pretty tall, particularly if it’s rooted. For that reason, it’s a good idea to keep them in tanks that are at least 15 gallons.

4. Amazon Frogbit

Not only does Amazon frogbit look awesome, but this floating plant can also play an important role in the balance of your tank’s ecosystem.

It serves as a tasty treat for some fish and blocks the light, creating a safe hiding spot for timid of juvenile creatures that need it.

Amazon frogbit grows fast, especially with strong lighting. It’s a good plant for beginners because it tolerates a wide range of water temperatures and pH levels.

5. Java Moss

One of the most popular carpeting plants is java moss because it grows quickly and is easy to take care of. That said, it has been known to grow too fast and may require a lot of pruning to keep it manageable.

This is a great choice for anyone who is trying to breed fish. The dense cover gives the fry a place to hide and it can even be used as food. It requires a lot of light, nutrients, and CO2 to grow quickly but it’s versatile enough to grow in a range of conditions.

6. Water Wisteria

This is another plant that’s very easy to care for and grows very fast. Something to keep in mind with this one is it gets very tall.

In the right conditions, it might grow to the height of your tank and even attempt to grow beyond the waterline and over the sides!

Water wisteria grows best in medium light and is a good background plant because it gets so tall. This is a good choice for beginners, too.

You should have a tank that’s at least 10-gallons. It’s pretty easy to maintain in part because it tolerates fluctuations in temperature and pH so well.

7. Marsilea Hirsuta

One of the great things about Marsilea Hirsuta is it’s a great carpeting plant that doesn’t tend to grow excessively.

By that we mean it grows fast, but it won’t invade other plants or require pruning as often as some of the other carpeting plants we mentioned.

Another cool thing about this one is its changing leaf patterns. The same plant can have anywhere from one to four leaves per stem.

This plant not only carpets the bottom of the tank, it grows pretty tall, too, without a lot of maintenance. It does better in a larger tank with a lot of room to grow.

8. Lilaeopsis

If you’re looking for a carpeting plant that grows fast, take a look a lilaeopsis. It typically only gets about two inches tall but it quickly covers the substrate, creating a natural green carpet that looks amazing in a planted tank.

A word of caution, it’s possible that this plant will grow too fast. It may need pruning occasionally if it begins to invade other plants. It’s pretty forgiving when it comes to water temperature and pH and adds a bright green pop of color to your tank.

How to Make Aquarium Plants Grow Faster?

There are a few things you can do to help your aquarium plants grow faster. Luckily, if you’re also keeping fish in the aquarium, you’re probably already doing most of them. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of overlap between the needs of healthy plants and healthy fish.

1. Use a good substrate. Healthy plants need a firm, stable substrate to grow sturdy roots. While glass beads or large gravel might make your tank look pretty, plants need sand, fine gravel, or soil to develop a root system capable of sustaining them.

Large root systems are very important for plant growth. The bigger the roots, the more surface area there is to absorb the essential nutrients the plants need to grow. The more nutrients, the faster the growth.

–> Best Substrate for Planted Tank – (2020 Reviews & Guide)

2. Keep the water flowing. Most aquarium plants don’t grow well in stagnant water. There are a few things you can do to create movement.

The easiest thing to do is turn up the speed of your filter. This causes the water to return to the tank faster which creates more motion on the surface. Keep in mind that some fish don’t like water that flows too fast so try to find a balance to make both your plants and fish happy.

Alternatively, you can invest in a powerhead which gives you a little more control over where movement is generated. You can set up the powerhead so the water flows faster at one end of the tank by the plants while leaving a calmer area elsewhere for the fish to swim in peace.

3. Heat. If your plants aren’t growing well, make sure your tank is the right temperature. You might need to invest in a heater if you don’t already have one. Like fish, plants all have different temperature needs, so make sure you research the kind that you have to get the temperature right.

The good news is that a lot of these plants have a wide temperature range that they’re comfortable with which makes it easier to pair plants with your fish.

4. Fertilizer. If your plants aren’t growing fast enough or don’t seem to be doing well, there’s a chance that there aren’t enough nutrients available to feed them. There are different types of fertilizer available depending on what type of plant you have.

We mentioned how important the right substrate is for plant growth. If the plants have a decent root system but still aren’t growing quickly, add fertilizer to the substrate to make sure there are enough nutrients available.

It’s also possible that your plants were growing great initially but that growth has slowed down over time. In this case, the plants may have used up everything available. So, adding fertilizer should get them growing again.

If you have floating plants, liquid fertilizers can be added directly to the water. In any case, read the directions carefully to make sure the product you’re using is safe for your fish.

5. Keep algae under control. Essentially, algae are green plants that compete with your aquarium plants for the same nutrients. By eliminating algae, you get rid of the competition.

6. Lighting. Most aquarium plants are just like any other plant. They need light to grow. Different plants require different levels of light. For plants that need UV light, there are full-spectrum LED lights available that give off some UV light.

Your plants may also be getting too much light. Some plants do better when it’s a little darker in the tank. Research your plant to see what it needs.

7. CO2. What about carbon dioxide? Some people will tell you that adding carbon dioxide is essential if you have aquarium plants but that’s not exactly true. In low to moderate light conditions when algae growth is under control, adding CO2 isn’t necessary.

That said, if you have a large aquarium with a lot of plants that require plenty of light along with some algae growth, adding CO2 is something to think about.


There are a lot of reasons why adding plants to an aquarium is beneficial. Not only do they look great and create a natural-looking atmosphere, but they also help control algae growth and give those fish that need it a safe place to hide.

If you’re interested in adding live plants to your tank but don’t have the patience to wait for them to grow, consider the fast-growing plants we included in our list. Most of them are easy to care for and thrive in a range of environments.

10 Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants for Beginners

If you’ve never looked at a planted tank before, you’d probably be surprised at just how vibrant and lively the aquarium seems to be.

That’s because the freshwater aquarium plants provide natural filtration for the water, help keep fish healthy, and can even help you breed your fish.

Aquarium plants are used by fish for any number of things, including safety, comfort, food, and reproduction, so they’re vital to any healthy aquarium environment.

You’ll find great resources in a few places online, but here’s a list of the top 10 freshwater aquarium plants that are nearly impossible to kill, and grow quickly in most every kind of water.

Before You Choose

It can be tempting to set up everything in your aquarium on the same day, but in most cases it’s not a good idea.

You’re aquarium needs to go through what’s called a cycling process, where the water quality and parameters and vary widely.

During this time, There are very few fish that can survive. This is why most experienced fish keepers will tell you to wait for a period of time before you put live fish in. Click here to read more about setting up your aquarium tank.

Useful Post: The Freshwater Aquarium Water Guide

However, plants don’t require this. You’re free to add plants as soon you get the water in the aquarium! Just be sure you have the correct plant tools to avoid harming them while you’re planting.

The 10 Best Aquarium Plants For Your Tank

There are three categories of plants for most aquariums: Foreground, Midground, and Background. Each type requires various types of light, and there are certain setups that make your plants grow much more effectively.

Take a look at the best lighting setups for beginners.

Foreground Plants
Carpeting plants like Java Moss, Willow Moss, and Water Wisteria tend to stay low to the ground and spread horizontally across the floor of your aquarium. Because of this, they make a great foreground plants.

These plants are also excellent for water quality, since they tend to grow very quickly, and thus filter lots of water.

Java Moss

Java Moss is one of the most common plants in a tank. It’s low-maintenance, difficult to kill, and grows quickly.

If you attach it to a rock, it’ll crawl over the surface of your tank. it has been known to float, so it’s best advised to attach it to something to prevent any float-away.

  • Appearance: Low, carpetlike growth pattern. Appears ‘fuzzy’.
  • Water Preferences: Tolerates anything between 72-90 degrees Farenheight. Growth is fastest around 73 degrees.
  • Lighting Preferences: Grows well in any lighting. However, growth is fastest in medium-high lighting conditions.
  • Uses: Decoration, substrate covering and stabilization, carpeting, protection, and breeding of certain types of fish.

Our recommendation:

Aquatic Arts Java Moss (Large 25 Square Inch Portion) Freshwater Aquarium Plants | Java Moss Live Plant for Aquarium | Aquarium Plants Live | Pairs Well with Marimo Moss Balls in Planted Aquarium

  • Loose portion bunch; enough moss to make a 5 by 5 inch or larger mat that covers 25 square inches
  • Grows along driftwood, rocks, and other surfaces; grows along rear glass for a plant backdrop effect

Dwarf Baby Tears

These are my most favorite carpeting plant. It’s tough, hard-working, and a healthy carpet of DBT looks beautiful in many of the common aquascaping styles.

As a bonus, if they’re producing oxygen, Dwarf Baby Tears have beautiful little bubbles that form on their leaves.

  • Appearance: Low, carpetlike growth pattern. Healthy carpets of DBT are thick and vibrant.
  • Water Preferences: Tolerates anything between 72-85 degrees Farenheight. Growth is fastest around 73-75 degrees.
  • Lighting Preferences: Grows best in bright lighting conditions, thought amount of light affects growth patterns. Brighter light means more compact growth.
  • Uses: Decoration, substrate covering and stabilization, carpeting, and protection.

Our recommendation:

Dwarf Baby Tears Hemianthus Callitrichoides Java Moss Live Aquarium Plants Freshwater Fish Tank Vitro TC Cup by Greenpro

  • LIVE AQUARIUM PLANT : Dwarf Baby tears, the most popular carpet plant also known as HC, Cuba. The beautiful…
  • IMPROVE WATER CLARITY : Under proper conditions, HC will provide Oxygen bubble which is called perling also,…

PS: It has been highlighted to me by Kara Van Kirk in this post that Dwarf Baby Tears might not be suitable for beginners as it requires ideal lighting and CO2. Thanks, Kara!

Dwarf Hairgrass

The aquascaping possibilities are endless with this type of plant. It looks beautiful next to Stone, as well as contrasting perfectly with dark sand or soil.

It’s incredibly easy to grow. So much so that you’ll probably find yourself trimming this quite a bit!

  • Appearance: Small to medium sized strands of what would appear to be grass. Carpets easily in most environments.
  • Water Preferences: Tolerates most environments. Grows best in water that’s 72-78 degrees Farenheight.
  • Lighting Preferences: Grows best in bright lighting conditions
  • Uses:Decoration, accenting various hardscape features such as stone and wood, carpeting, and protection.

Our recommendation:

Greenpro Dwarf Hairgrass Live Aquarium Plants Tissue Culture Cup Freshwater Fish Tank Decorations

  • LIVE AQUARIUM PLANT : Dwarf hair grass, great carpet plants.
  • EASY AND LOW MAINTENANCE REQUIRED : NO need any special maintenance, Perfect for any size of aquarium tank.

PS: It has been highlighted to me by Kara Van Kirk in this post that Dwarf Hairgrass might not be suitable for beginners as it requires ideal lighting and CO2. Thanks, Kara!

Marsilea Minuta

the aqua escaping possibilities are endless with this type of plant. It looks beautiful next to Stone, as well as contrasting perfectly with dark sand or soil.

It’s incredibly easy to grow. So much so that you’ll probably find yourself trimming this quite a bit!

  • Appearance: Easily identified by the ‘clover’ appearance of its leaves. Carpets easily in most environments.
  • Water Preferences: Tolerates most environments. Grows best in water that’s 73-78 degrees Farenheight.
  • Lighting Preferences:Grows in most lighting conditions. Does best in medium lighting.
  • Uses:Decoration, accenting various hardscape features such as stone and wood, carpeting, and protection.

Our recommendation:

Tropica Marsilea crenata Live Aquarium Plant – In Vitro Tissue Culture 1-2-Grow!

  • Marsilea crenata In Vitro Tissue Culture Live Aquarium Plant
  • Great for foreground zones.

Amazon Sword

The Amazon Sword is the staple of most aquascapes. It’s easy to maintain, fast-growing, and can be quite beautiful when arranged in the appropriate area.

Note that these can grow quite big (up to 20 inches), so they’re most often planted in the mid-background area.

  • Appearance: Large swordlike leaves
  • Water Preferences: Grows best in water that’s 72-82 degrees Farenheight.
  • Lighting Preferences:Growth is optimal in medium lighting.
  • Uses:Background decoration, hiding plumbing and hardware, and protection.

Our recommendation:

Greenpro 3-Bundles Amazon Sword | Echinodorus Amazonicus Live Aquarium Plants for Aquatic Freshwater Fish Tank

  • AQUARIUM PLANTS PACKAGE : Amazon sword from Greenpro come with sturdy root system to ensure those roots will…
  • EASY AND LOW MAINTENANCE : Amazon sword can grow upto 20 inches. With beautiful bright green leaves will…

Java Fern

Java Fern is very a very low maintenance plant, and has a unique look that appeals to most aquascapers. Its biggest benefit is its ability to be planted in nearly any area of the aquarium without distracting from the hardscape. It also looks quite good!

  • Appearance: Semi-striped, thick leaves. Appears in bunches.
  • Water Preferences: Grows best in water that’s 72-78 degrees Farenheight.
  • Lighting Preferences:Growth is optimal in low-medium lighting.
  • Uses:Decoration and protection.

Our recommendation:

Aquatic Arts Java Fern – Huge 3 by 5 inch Mat with 30 to 50 Leaves – Live Aquarium Plant

  • Ships as a 5 by 3 inch mat with 30 to 50 huge leaves
  • Bright and healthy; directly from a dedicated tank which causes your plant arrive in good shape

Anubias Nana

Anubias Nana is one of the more appealing midground plants you’ll find in aquascaping. It tolerates nearly any water quality or environment.

With curved stems and large semi-round leaves, it’s a great match for the stone aquascaping present in most aquariums.

  • Appearance: Curved stems with medium-sized, semi-round leaves.
  • Water Preferences: Grows best in water that’s 72-78 degrees Farenheight.
  • Lighting Preferences:Growth is optimal in medium lighting.
  • Uses:Decoration and protection. Looks beautiful in any aquarium placement.

Our recommendation:

Aquatic Arts Dwarf Anubias Nana – Live Aquarium Plant with Large Leaves

  • Bright and healthy; directly from a dedicated tank which causes your plant arrive in good shape
  • 3 to 5 inches tall; 3 to 4 inches wide

Pygmy Chain Sword

This plant isn’t often seen in aquascaping. Mostly because it’s very similar to what we see everyday of our lives—grass. It’s useful for placement around hardscapes, and is beautiful when properly trimmed.

However, it’s nearly impossible to accidentally kill it!

  • Appearance: Strikingly similar to most lawn grass.
  • Water Preferences: Grows best in water that’s 72-78 degrees Farenheight.
  • Lighting Preferences:Growth is optimal in medium-bright lighting.
  • Uses:Decoration and protection. Good for placement around hardscapes.

Our recommendation:

Pogostemon helferi

Besides having an interesting name, this is one of the most unique foreground plants available to aquascapers today. It has a striking zig-zag shape in its leaves, and grows in a ‘blooming’ pattern that’s visually appealing in front of hardscapes.

  • Appearance: Beautiful ‘blooming’ growth pattern. Zig-zag shaped leaves.
  • Water Preferences: Grows best in water that’s 72-78 degrees Farenheight.
  • Lighting Preferences:Growth is optimal in medium lighting.
  • Uses:Decoration and protection. Good for placement around hardscapes.

Our recommendation:

Pogostemon Helferi Downoi Small+ Free See Description, Live Aquarium Plants

  • Shipping 2-3 days – priority mail, It will be packed w/ multiple layers of insulation to protect from the hot…
  • Plants can live underwater, Roots will grow within a few days once planted in your aquarium.

Dwarf Sagittaria

Dwarf Saggitaria is an easily-maintained plant that maxes out at around 4-6 inches, making it perfect for midground aquascapes. Placing Dwarf Saggitaria around stonework or driftwood is an ideal location, giving it a perfect place to root into the wood or stone, and is an ideal complement.

  • Appearance: Vibrant green leaves with curved blades.
  • Water Preferences: Grows best in water that’s 72-78 degrees Farenheight.
  • Lighting Preferences:Growth is optimal in medium lighting.
  • Uses:Decoration and protection. Good for placement around hardscapes.

Our recommendation:

Greenpro Dwarf Sagittaria Subulata 3-Bunch Freshwater Live Aquarium Plants Carpet Tank

  • AQUARIUM PLANTS PACKAGE : Dwarf Sagittaria from Greenpro come with sturdy root system to ensure those roots…
  • EASY AND LOW MAINTENANCE : Dwarf Sagittaria Subulata, undemanding foreground plant whose short runners form a…

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There are many reasons to introduce plants into your tank. From oxygenating the water to providing shelter, plants will keep the tank, and the fish much healthier.

Hornwort is one of the easiest freshwater plants to grow. This is demonstrated by its success in the wild where it has spread to every continent except Antarctica, after originating in North America. Its high tolerance to various water conditions makes it ideal for beginners, while its fast growth rate and ease to propagate means a little will go a long way.

It can be used as either a floating plant or rooted in the substrate, giving you more freedom when designing the look of your aquarium. This also increases the range of freshwater fish that can benefit from it.

If you are looking for an easy, fast-growing plant then hornwort could be for you. Here is a brief summary of what you should expect.

Category Rating
Genus: Ceratophyllum
Care Level: Easy
Growth Rate: Fast
Maximum Size: 10 foot
Minimum Tank Size: 15 gallons
Water pH: 6.0-7.5
Water Hardness: 5-15 dGH
Water Temperature: 59-86°F
Lighting: Moderate
Propagation: Side Shoots
Placement: Background

Hornwort Overview

Ceratophyllum demersum

Hornwort, or Ceratophyllum, is a popular freshwater aquarium plant. The number of species is uncertain. Over 300 species names have been published, but there are likely only 100-150 species due to misidentification.

The most common species for an aquarium is Ceratophyllum demersum.

Its hardy nature makes it ideal for beginners or those looking to introduce a non-fussy plant to their tank.

While being hardy is useful in an aquarium, in the wild it can cause problems. Its tolerance to a wide range of conditions, coupled with a fast growth rate, allows it to spread to new areas as an invasive species.

This has become a problem in places such as New Zealand where it is out-competing native plant species and disrupting hydroelectric power generation.

Another reason for hornwort’s success is that it has allelopathic abilities. This means that it can produce chemicals which prevent the growth of other species, leaving more space and nutrients for itself.

The achievements of this plant are demonstrated by the numerous locations it can be found across the globe – it has cosmopolitan distribution. This plant now exists on all continents except Antarctica. The popularity of this plant creates a high demand and as a result it is stocked in many stores. Since this species grows rapidly, it can be produced in high densities very cheaply, so it is usually sold cheaply.

A few bunches of hornwort will cost in the range of $5-$10, but prices per plant will vary between retailers and depending on how many you buy at once.

Benefits of Hornwort

One of the main reasons that people add hornwort is for its aesthetic. Adding plants to your tank increases the amount of color, whether it is at the top as a floating plant or grounded in the substrate.

It also gives your aquarium a new dynamic as it sways in the current. What people do not often consider is how it keeps your tank healthier.

As a plant, hornwort photosynthesizes. The main byproduct of photosynthesis is oxygen. As a result, it will oxygenate the tank for your fish. Furthermore, it provides areas of shelter for fish looking to escape each other or the light. Plants like this may be used as a nursery for fry as well; another great plant for this is java moss.

Occasionally they will shed some debris, but this will likely be used as food by scavenging fish.

Finally, it helps improve the quality of the water. It takes in small amounts of the waste that fish produce, as well as nitrogen compounds, keeping the water cleaner and lightening the workload for the filter. Lastly, the allelopathic abilities that we have already mentioned above, can inhibit the growth of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). This is an alga that can quickly get out of control in conditions with too much light or lots of organic waste.

Hornwort Appearance

Typically, one plant will have many stems, creating the look of multiple plants. Hornwort lacks true roots, but certain leaves function to help anchor the plant in the substrate. It may also grow rhizoids (hair-like roots) to help anchor the plant.

If left to its own devices, anchored stems could grow all the way up to the surface of your tank with 0-3 branches per node. In a natural habitat, it can reach 10-feet long and 1/10-inch in diameter.

Leaves (or needles) are produced in whorls of six to twelve. They tend to fork once or twice but remain relatively short, generally less than one inch.

In most instances this is a dark green plant, though lighter green shades can occur in warmer environments.

Hornwort is a flowering plant which is important for reproduction. Both male and female flowers are found on the same specimen, making it a monoecious plant. Do not expect much color from the flowers as they are brown and only 1/10-inch long.

The flower produces fruit in the form of a nut which is around 1/5-inch in size, with three spines.

How to Care for a Hornwort Plant

Ceratophyllum demersum

Tank Requirements

Naturally hornwort inhabits lakes, rivers, ponds, and marshes. Each of these environments have their own different structural components. The broad scope of these natural habitats means that there is no one right way to design a tank to cater for hornwort. It should remain healthy in most setups.

This includes a range of tank sizes since it will grow to fit big tanks and can be regularly pruned to fit small tanks. 15 gallons should be the minimum tank size or the plant may quickly get out of control with its fast growth rate.

They are comfortable in a range of temperatures, roughly 59-86°F. Consequently, it is often incorporated into both cold-water and tropical setups. Similarly, pH can range from 6.0 to 7.5 while hardness should be 5-15 dGH. Filtration is required to keep nitrogen compounds low (ammonia, nitrites and nitrates), but there are no special requirements.

The few demands they have are focused around photosynthesis for growth. These include a high light intensity and clear water to allow the light to penetrate throughout the tank. Keep your water clean by performing regular partial water changes.

When kept with other plants, hornwort will quickly diminish the tank’s supply of nutrients. If this is the case, then it may be wise to add a fertilizer each week to maintain supplies.

To Plant or Float?

We have already mentioned that hornwort can be anchored in the substrate. However, it can also be left to float at the water’s surface. But which is best?

It really depends on what aesthetic you are going for when aquascaping, as well as considering the preferences of your fish. Whether planting or floating, they makes excellent shelter for small fish, with many species using it as a site to reproduce and keep fry safe.

At this point you need to consider which fish you have. Surface dwelling fish (such as hatchetfish) would appreciate floating hornwort whereas fish in the mid to lower levels (such as tetras or loaches) would prefer it to be planted.

Looking beyond shelter, floating plants provide shaded areas in the lower levels. This gives fish space to escape the light, which can really bring out their colorations.

While showing off the colors of fish below, floating it on the surface also adds a pleasant aesthetic to an area which is often devoid of attraction.

Make sure to avoid planting it close to a filter inlet so that it does not get blocked by any plant debris. Since hornwort does not have roots it can be planted in most substrates, though fine-grained sands are preferable to secure the bottom leaves of the stem.

Maintenance and Care

It is known to grow very rapidly. There is no exact growth rate because it is dependent on a variety of factors, though it is not uncommon for it to grow 5 or more inches within a week.

To increase the growth rate, ensure that the plant is receiving a high intensity of light. This can be done by changing the light fitting and making sure that nothing is shading the hornwort. More light results in a larger, greener plant.

A warmer tank will have the same effect as a brighter tank. Be careful to consider the effects of changing the temperature on any other life in your tank. A healthy tank should supply hornwort with adequate amounts of nutrients, but if it is in competition with other plants then adding nutrient supplements each week could improve the plant’s growth.

When at its desired length, it needs to be maintained. This involves watching for further growth and cutting the stem from the top to get the plant back down to the ideal size. Cuttings will have to be taken every now and then, whenever you see the stems getting out of control.

Common Problems

Due to its rapid growth rate, a common problem is that it becomes too large and begins to dominate the tank. With regular maintenance and cutting of the stems this should not be an issue.

Their large potential size has made it popular for ponds, but even in this environment its length needs to be regulated.
Maintaining the size of floating hornwort is especially important so that it does not cover the surface and prevent light reaching the bottom of the tank. This could kill any grounded plants.

Another common problem is how much it can shed. Though not always the case, hornwort may shed its needles at an intense rate.

This is more likely when it is first introduced to the tank, while it gets used to the setup, so do not worry if you see shedding initially.

They will always shed in small amounts, but if it is happening more than usual then it is likely that the temperature in your tank is too high. If safe to do so, try lowering the temperature and test the nutrient levels to ensure they are at the normal levels.

Hornwort Propagation

Ceratophyllum demersum

Given it’s success in the wild, you would expect it to be easy to produce new plants.

Hornwort propagates via vegetative fragmentation, a common technique for invasive plant species. This is where one part of the plant is separated from the rest; it then grows to form a new plant.

The main stem grows multiple side shoots that may become detached. It could be a whole stem that separates, or even just a small section from the top of a stem.

In autumn, buds form at the end of the stems. These are released and sit at the bottom of the tank throughout winter before forming new plants in spring. However, this is much rarer in captivity compared to vegetative fragmentation.

If you are looking to multiply the amount of hornwort in your aquarium, try cutting off a side stem and planting, or floating it elsewhere. Over the next couple of weeks this should develop as a new plant.

Hornwort Tank Mates and Compatibility

Compatibility with fish is not generally a big concern since hornwort makes a good companion for all fish. That being said, it is better paired with some fish over others.

Live-bearers will benefit more than most. Fish such as Common Mollies or Guppies will use the plant as a refuge for fry when mating.

They can also become a food source for some fish. Species such as Gouramis or Angelfish will eat the plant, so bear this in mind when choosing your fish.

Snails, shrimp, and scavenging fish (e.g. loaches) are great at clearing up any debris shed from the plant, keeping the bottom of the aquarium looking cleaner.

Is Hornwort Suitable for Your Aquarium (Summary)?

Hornwort has very few demands and is therefore likely to be suited to your aquarium. It is a hardy plant making it more ideal for beginners.

It is multi-purpose, improving the safety of young fry while also keeping fish waste and algae levels down.

Its’ ability to function as a floating plant makes it a rare point of interest for surface-dwelling fish, while planted alternatives provide shelter to fish from the lower levels. If you are prepared for regular trimming of the stems to prevent it dominating the tank, they will make an attractive addition to most aquariums.

Have you had any different experiences with hornwort in your aquarium? Let us know in the comments below…

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