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10 Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants – 2020 Guide

10 Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants

10 Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants – 2020 Guide

Plants can really bring an aquarium together and give it a burst of life. Just like how having flowers and plants in a room can make it look amazing, plant life in an aquarium gives it an extra dimension.

Plants in an aquarium also make it look much more natural and ecological. Imagine a garden with no plants, and a garden with plants, which one looks better?

Not only will adding plant life to your aquarium enhance it visually and make it look great, it also holds numerous benefits for your fish.

Plants get energy from sunlight using a process called photosynthesis, which uses carbon dioxide and releases oxygen. Having this process happen in your tank will mean the plants remove carbon dioxide from the water and release oxygen back into the water. 

The animals in your tank, fish, crustaceans etc, use this oxygen to breathe. You often find animals becoming much more lively after having the best freshwater aquarium plants introduced to the tank.

The plants will also provide your freshwater aquarium with natural filtration. They often use the waste that is created in the tank to help themselves grow. This natural filtration will help to keep your water clear and tank clean. You may also see that you have to clean the filter a little less often too.

Many fish also use plant life as shelter, and as such will help to de-stress your fish. They are also a source of extra food for some fish, and can be very helpful in successfully breeding certain species of fish.

In this article we will run through the top 11 best plants for freshwater aquariums that you can find today, and also how best to care for them and have a thriving planted freshwater aquarium.

10 Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants

There is a multitude of different plant life that you can choose from when looking to find the best plants for a freshwater aquarium. 

There are plants which grow tall and are best suited for the back of the tank, plants best suited for mid-ground, and then there are plants which don’t have roots and instead float on the surface. 

All of these types of plants are easy to keep once you have to correct information, and are able to practice in keeping them for a time.

This list will go into more detail about the 11 best freshwater aquarium and hopefully give you some helpful information about them and whether they will be suited for you and your tank.

1) Water Wisteria

Water Wisteria best freshwater plantsThis is a very popular species of freshwater plant as it flourishes well in any aquarium conditions, so long as the water is circulated well. They need direct light and a temperature range of 70-82 degrees Fahrenheit, prefer a neutral pH level of 6.5-7.5, and a water hardness of 5-15 dGH.

They need a substrate that they can take root in, but they can also be grown as floating plants.. In the wild they are found in sandy substrates, so this is the ideal. Try and avoid larger grained substrates as the wisteria may not grow as readily.

Also known as bunch plants, water wisteria (Hygtophila difformis) provide a very good spot for shrimp to hide and play in. This makes them very popular with keepers of shrimps as there will also be a place for them to feel safe and comfortable in.

An easy plant to keep healthy and maintain, water wisteria is very popular with all aquarists, from beginners to experts. They also have fascinating tall, lace like green leaves which look amazing in any aquarium.

Water wisteria can either be grown as a tall background plant or as a carpeting plant. If you want them to be a background tall plant then plant them normally into the substrate, but if you want a carpeting effect then place the stems sideways, and then only the leaves will grow upwards, creating the carpeting. They also create a carpet effect when grown as floating plants.

They are very fast growing and propagate by side shoots and cuttings. So if you trim the plant to maintain a specific height, make sure you get the cutting out of the tank as they will root themselves and grow!

2) Anubias Nana

Anubias best freshwater aquarium plantsVery hardy plants that can survive the mistakes that beginners might make which make them very popular with beginner aquarists, anubias plants are members of the species Anubias barteri. Anubias nana is a variety of A. barteri, essentially a smaller version of anubias, meaning it is perfect for nano and small aquariums.

It can grow both partially submerged and fully submerged, and is best grown in temperatures from 72-82°F, and prefers a neutral pH range of 6-7.5. It is a very short plant that is quite slow growing.

As it is a very short plant it is perfect for providing cover on the substrate and creating nice habitats for bottom dwelling fish such as catfish and loaches.

Anubias can either be planted into finer substrates where it will happily grow and flourish, or it can be attached to decorations in the tank such as pieces of wood, where the roots will wrap around and anchor it in place. Seeing these plants growing on decorations is a great way to showcase their dark green leaves.

A tank with a flow of water will help to prevent algal growth on the leaves. These plants can handle nibbling from fish to a certain extent, but try and avoid this by giving your fish something tastier to eat!

3) Hornwort

Hornwort freshwater aquarium plantAlso known as Coontail, Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) is an extremely hardy plant able to tolerate a range of water conditions. This hardiness has enabled it in the wild to spread across the globe to every continent except Antarctica, becoming a pest as an invasive species.

This trait works in your favor for your aquarium, as Hornwort is almost guaranteed to thrive in your tank. This makes it an ideal plant for beginner aquarists, or those without the time to manage more demanding plants.

Hornwort can either be planted and rooted into the substrate or free floating on the surface of the aquarium. Both have different pros, and it usually depends on what fish you have as to whether you want it free floating or rooted.

It is normally recommended to plant them into the substrate, as if they are free floating they can block light to other plants. Hornwort lacks true roots, and instead uses certain leaves to help anchor it, and also grows hair like roots called rhizoids. Surface dwelling fish would love free floating Hornwort though, as they could hide amongst the leaves and it provides them with shade. 

In its natural environment Hornwort can grow to 10 feet long. In an aquarium it will grow to the top of the tank unless trimmed regularly. This means unless you are willing to keep it in check it is best suited to the back of the tank.

As it is found naturally in ponds, marshes, lakes, and rivers, it is suitable for any freshwater aquarium. Though be wary if you have a smaller aquarium as it’s quick growth rate may see it get out of control and dominate the space.

It can handle a high range of temperature, from 59 to 86°F. As such it is often used both in tropical and cold water tanks. It can handle a pH range of 6 to 7.5. 

4) Java Moss

The ideal conditions to grow Java Moss, (Vesicularia dubyana) are soft acid water from between 70 to 75°F, though it is a very hardy plant and can tolerate conditions from 59 to 86°F, and a pH range of 5 to 8. 

Java Moss best aquarium plantsJava Moss is extremely popular among aquarists, providing a much more natural look to an aquarium. It is used extensively in aquascaping, the aquarium form of gardening, arranging stones, plants, and driftwood to create a beautiful setup.

It is also extremely useful and popular amongst fish breeders, as it is a delicate moss with short stems and small leaves which provide a perfect place for fish to lay eggs, and for fish fry to hide and feel sheltered.

Java Moss can be attached to basically any surface in the aquarium. They attach themselves using rhizoids, little hair like roots. It is very popular to attach it to driftwood, stones, the substrate or even the filter. Though you may have to attach the moss with wire or something similar until it attaches itself to the surface.

In lower light conditions Java Moss grows a little darker and taller, while in higher light conditions it grows a brighter green and into a denser plant. Be wary of using high light though as algae also favors high lighting.

You can either let Java Moss grow as it wants, or you can maintain it to a specific shape by trimming it. You don’t need to be too careful with cutting as it is a very hard plant to kill!

If you do decide to attach the moss to the filter to try and hide the filter and make it look more natural in the tank, ensure to keep the moss trimmed properly as otherwise it will grow and clog the filter.

5) Dwarf Lilies

Indigenous to India, Dwarf Lilies (Nymphaea Rubra) have beautiful green, reddish, and pinkish triangular shaped leaves that will look incredible in any aquarium.

Dwarf Lilies freshwater aquarium plantsTypically Dwarf Lilies grow to 5 inches or so in height, so are best utilized in the foreground of aquariums, or in the mid ground of smaller aquariums. Their foliage will also provide a great sanctuary for fish and shrimp.

It is a warm water plant which prefers a temperature range of 72° to 82.4°F, and a pH range of 5.5 – 7.5. If the water temperature gets too low the plant can die. It also prefers moderate to high lighting conditions.

Usually this plant comes as a bulb, which you plant and then wait for the leaves to grow. Be careful when planting the bulb, as if you bury it too deep into the substrate it will rot. A quarter of the bulb being buried is fine.

Dwarf Lilies grow at a moderate pace, and sometimes go through a dormant stage, when the leaves drop off before regrowing in a few weeks, so don’t be alarmed if it does that to you!

6) Amazon Sword

Indigenous to the remarkable Amazon Basin, the Amazon Sword (Echinodorus Bleheri) is a great plant for an aquarium with their extremely long sword-like leaves which can reach 14-16 inches long.

Amazon Sword best freshwater aquarium plantsThese long leaves make it a perfect plant to place in the mid ground of your tank, where you will see the dark green sword leaves reaching to the surface. Just like a sword the leaves are broadest at the base, and narrow towards the tip.

This plant has a strong root base, so it needs at least 2.5 inches of substrate for it to root and anchor properly. The actual substrate type doesn’t matter all that much, just that it requires a nice thick substrate layer.

Amazon Swords can survive in temperatures from 60.8 40 82.4°F, but ideally they like a temperature of 68 to 75°F. They like a neutral pH range of 6.5 to 7.5 and a water hardness of 8 to 12 dGH. They don’t need a lot of maintenance or upkeep, but do require good clean water to thrive, so make sure you keep up with your regular water changes.

Amazon Sword

7) Micro Sword

Micro Sword freshwater aquarium plantsThe Micro Sword, (Lilaeopsis Novaezelandiae) is part of the same family as the Amazon Sword plant. However it is the smallest plant in the family reaching only 6 inches tall, meaning it is best placed in the foreground of aquariums.

It is a beautiful plant with very green linear leaves, which provide a great place for fish and shrimp to hide and play. It tolerates a wide range of conditions meaning it is suitable for beginner aquarists as well as those with more experience.

It requires a nice sandy soil to be planted in, and does require a nutrient rich substrate to promote proper growth, so using an aquarium fertilizer is recommended. The Pygmy Chain Sword best likes moderate lighting and water temperatures from between 68° to 84°F. Ideally it prefers a neutral pH, but can still readily grow in water with a pH range of 6.2 to 7.5. It can grow in water with a hardness between 3 to 8 KH.

It is an amphibious plant and will grow either fully or partially submerged. It propagates most readily by runners, so with the right conditions it will grow to form a thick mat carpeting your aquarium.

When the baby plants growing from the runners off the adult plants are half the size of the adults, you can cut the runner stem, which allows the baby to grow as its own distinct adult plant. You can then move the plant if you want it somewhere else in the tank.

8) Java Fern

Java Fern best freshwater aquarium plantsJava Fern (Microsorum pteropus) is a very popular freshwater aquarium plant. This is due to its unique shape, slow growth, and ease of care. As such it is an ideal plant for beginner aquarists.

They can flourish in water temperatures from 68-82°F, a pH range of 6.0-7.5, and a water hardness of KH 3-8. They prefer low to moderate lighting. An adult plant can reach a height of around 14 inches, so they are suitable for midground or background placement in the aquarium.

In their native habitats of South East Asia the Java Fern is found along the waterline of streams attached to tree trunks, rocks, and on the ground. It can grow fully or partially submerged and so can also be found in tropical rainforests.

The leaves of the Java Fern are quite leathery and hardy in appearance, and depending on the exact species can be spiky or more bushy. They are a traditional green color, and a higher lighting environment will create a darker green. 

They lack true roots, instead having rhizomes which anchor the plant to surfaces. As such, you need to emulate their natural environment by attaching the plant to a piece of wood or ornament. If you bury the rhizomes the fern will grow extremely slowly or simply just stop growing altogether. 

Usually it is recommended to attach the rhizomes to your chosen ornament using black wire as it will match the color of the rhizomes and blend in. Or you can go crazy and go for a colorful wire!

9) Cryptocorynes

Cryptocorynes freshwater aquarium plantThese very popular aquarium plants are native to tropical forests of Asia and New Guinea. In their natural environment they are found in relatively slow flowing water, and are also found in pools and river banks that are only submerged some of the year, making them suitable for terrestrial use.

There are a very wide range of Cryptocorynes species that vary in color, size, and shape. But all of the available varieties are stunning and worthy of a place in your tank.

They are a little bit tough to take care of, meaning they may not be suitable for total beginners. They prefer dimmed light; brighter light won’t make them grow faster. They can be grown in water temperature from 72 to 82°F. 

Cryptocorynes often suffer what is known as “Crypt Wilt”, or “Crypt Melt” when they are transferred to a new aquarium, or from a terrestrial to aquatic environment. The leaves basically disintegrate and fall off, and the whole plant may seem to go to mush. New leaves normally grow back however so be patient. 

Infrequent water changes or changes in water conditions can also cause crypt melt, so ensure you keep the conditions as stable as possible.

Note: Crypt Wendtii

Crypt Wendtii best freshwater aquarium plantsThe most popular of the Cryptocorynes species, Cryptocorynes wendtii are widely popular with aquarists. While they are also prone to crypt wilt when introduced to new environments, so be patient when you first plant them in the tank. 

The plant will have new growth after the initial wilt of its leaves. Just ensure that the conditions remain as constant as possible to allow the plant to grow accustomed to its new aquarium.

They are best used as a foreground plant in your aquarium, so you can best see their long leaves and stems flowing from a singular focal point.

Like other Crypts they can be grown in water temperatures from 72 to 82°F and a moderate amount of light. As they are very sensitive to changes in conditions, they are best suited to aquarists with a bit more experience of how best to maintain the conditions in their aquarium.

10) Flame Moss

flame moss best freshwater plantsOften confused with Java Moss, Flame Moss is a great plant which is used extensively in aquascaping, the art of creating a beautiful landscape in the aquarium.

They are a member of the Taxiphyllum genus, and is a low maintenance plant which can tolerate water temperatures from 68°F to 83°F and a pH level from 6 to 7.5. It also grows in a wide range of lighting conditions. This wide range of conditions it can tolerate makes it an ideal plant for aquarists of any level.

Flame Moss is rapidly becoming more popular among those with aquariums, due to its distinctive swirled growth which, as the name suggests, looks very flame-like. When this moss creates a carpet across the base of the tank the fronds look like green fire.

This moss can be either attached to ornaments or placed on the substrate. It will reach around 4 inches high, so can be placed wherever you would prefer in the tank. 

It doesn’t have any substrate preference as it doesn’t have the root network to warrant any particular substrate. However this also means that strong currents can rip it from where it has anchored itself. So don’t place it in direct flow of any aquarium powerheads or wavemakers.

How Best To Care For Freshwater Aquarium Plants

Properly caring for your freshwater aquarium plants isn’t difficult, and will save you a lot of hassle in the long run, as dying plants cause a lot of mess that can be hard to clean up!

But mainly you want your plants to remain healthy as they will add a huge visual boost to your aquarium as well providing oxygen for your fish, helping to purify the water, and providing shelter.

By following this simple guide your plants should flourish in your freshwater aquarium and keep providing you with all these amazing benefits.

Pick Appropriate Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants

It may seem obvious, but making sure you pick appropriate plants for the type and size of aquarium you own is very important. If you have a smaller aquarium then medium or smaller sized plants such as Hornwort and Pygmy Chain Swords are brilliant.

If you are a beginner aquarist you will want to choose plants which tolerate a wide range of conditions and are easy to maintain. Then you can mostly leave your plants to grow and keep themselves.

You also want to be aware of what fish you have in your aquarium, and what plants they can be housed with. Some fish like to eat live plants, so be careful with this as it can cause the plant to become unhealthy and may lead to it eventually dying.

best freshwater aquarium plants

You want to try to emulate the natural conditions the plant is found in. This way, your chosen plant has the greatest chance of thriving in your aquarium. Some plants can’t be planted in substrate and instead need to be attached to ornaments, such as wood and rocks.

If your plant does need to be planted, check the requirements. Some plants prefer sandy substrate, while others may prefer larger gravel substrates. You can bury the plant in its pot, but it is best to remove the pot first before planting, as this enables the roots to spread and develop naturally.

Ensure Lighting Is Correct

Having the correct lighting is important in the proper growth of plants. Some plants prefer higher lighting while some prefer low lighting. If the lighting is wrong for the plants you have then they may grow slower than you expect.

Some plants also grow a darker green the stronger the lighting conditions are. So ensure to keep to the recommended lighting requirements.

You want to emulate the natural conditions as realistically as possible, so you want to be having the lights on in the tank for around 10 to 12 hours per day. You can read our article on the best LED lighting for aquariums here. You can buy lights which emit the full spectrum of light to encourage plant growth.

Use Fertilizer If Necessary

The growth and development of many plants is improved by the use of appropriate aquarium fertilizers. You can read our article on the top aquarium fertilizers to help you find which fertilizer might be suitable for your tank.

As a general rule though you want to try and avoid using phosphate or nitrate based fertilizers. While these compounds will encourage plant growth they will also promote unwanted algal growth in your tank. This can lead to harmful and unsightly blooms.

You ideally want a good moderate release fertilizer. And be wary of the amount you use, as overdoing it can cause great harm to your fish.

Conclusion

The best freshwater aquarium plants are beneficial on a number of levels. They help to make your tank look more natural and filled with life, whilst also providing your tank with more oxygen for the fish and removing carbon dioxide and harmful chemicals such as nitrates and phosphates. They also provide a great sanctuary for many fish and shrimp.

If you find your freshwater aquarium plants keep browning and dying and you’re not sure why, you can try adding an aquarium CO2 regulator and you may see an increase in growth and life. Most likely however is that they aren’t getting the required nutrients. Read our article on the best aquarium plant fertilizers for more.

Hopefully this article has allowed you to gain some knowledge of the best freshwater aquarium plants which are out there, and which ones would be best suited for you and your tank.

About the author

Authority Aquarium Staff

Authority Aquarium Staff writers are experts and aquarium enthusiasts, our in-house marine biologist fact checks all our content and reviews to bring you the best advice for your aquarium health.

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