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8 Best Background Plants For Aquariums – Reviews & Top Picks

Lindsey Stanton Profile Picture

By Lindsey Stanton

Aquarium Plants

Having a home aquarium is a fun and rewarding experience, and stocking it with your choice of interesting fish to observe is exciting and endlessly fascinating. Of course, your fish tank will need plants for your fish to hide in, and this is yet another exciting process!

In general, most home aquariums will have three distinct layers of plants: the smaller plants in the foreground, the middle layer of slightly bigger plants, and a background layer of the biggest plant species. This background layer forms not only an aesthetically pleasing, green backdrop for your tank but also provides vital cover and safety for the fish in your aquarium.

There are a ton of potential background aquarium plants to choose from, and here, we take an in-depth look at eight of our favorites. Let’s dive in!

aquarium plant divider

A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites of 2023

Rating Image Product Details
Best Overall
Winner
Vallisneria Vallisneria
  • Beautiful appearance
  • Easy to grow and maintain
  • Propagates easily
  • Second place
    Water Wisteria Water Wisteria
  • Hardy
  • Easy to care for
  • Anti-microbial properties
  • Third place
    Hornwort Hornwort
  • Easy to grow
  • Hardy
  • Propagates easily
  • Amazon Sword Amazon Sword
  • Unique appearance
  • Easy to grow
  • Hardy
  • Brazilian Pennywort Brazilian Pennywort
  • Easy to grow
  • Inexpensive
  • Fast-growing leaves
  • The 8 Best Background Plants For Aquariums

    1. Vallisneria  — Best Overall

    Jungle Vallisneria Rooted Plants

    Check Price on Chewy
    Growth rate Moderate to fast
    Max height 20 inches
    Light demands Moderate to high
    CO2 Not required but appreciated
    Difficulty Easy

    Vallisneria is our favorite background aquarium plant overall. The plant has long, thin leaves that taper to a point at the top and is a beautiful vivid green color, creating a gorgeous aquarium backdrop. There are variations within the species, so you can add several different types for a varied look in your tank. These plants can reach up to 20 inches in length and can easily reach the top of the waterline, creating a floating cover of leaves on the top of your tank too. It’s an easy plant for beginners because it doesn’t have any special lighting or water temperature requirements. It readily sends out runners or shoots that can swiftly fill your tank, so it is a great plant for almost any freshwater aquarium.

    Pros
    • Beautiful appearance
    • Easy to grow and maintain
    • Many variations available
    • Propagates easily
    • Hardy and adaptable
    Cons
    • It may be too big for smaller aquariums

    2. Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis)

    Water Wisteria Aquarium Plant

    Growth rate Fast
    Max height 20 inches
    Light demands Moderate to high
    CO2 Not required but appreciated
    Difficulty Easy

    This fast-growing plant is hardy and can tolerate a wide range of water parameters, making it one of the easiest, “set it and forget it” plants for home aquariums. Water wisteria prefers a sandy substrate if possible, as this will enable it to grow taller, but gravel is suitable too. It’s a popular choice for aquariums because it provides great cover for shy fish and small fry. It even has anti-microbial properties and helps keep certain algae species at bay.

    The plant is common and easily available, and when grown in gravel, it will easily produce plantlets that you can then remove and spread. In its natural habitat, this plant produces beautiful flowers that may even appear in your aquarium if there is enough space.

    Pros
    • Hardy
    • Tolerates a wide range of water parameters
    • Easy to care for
    • Provides great cover for fish
    • Anti-microbial properties
    • Propagates easily
    Cons
    • Grows rapidly
    • Creates a fair amount of debris

    3. Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)

    Aquatic Arts Live Hornwort

    Growth rate Fast
    Max height 10 feet
    Light demands Moderate
    CO2 Low
    Difficulty Easy

    Hornwort is a beautiful and easy plant to grow and has a high tolerance for various water conditions, making it ideal for beginners and experts alike. Hornwort has a fast growth rate and is simple to propagate, and it can provide great cover and shelter for bottom-dwelling fish. It is said to improve oxygen levels and water quality in general, so it is a must-have for any aquarist’s community tank.

    Another great aspect of hornwort is that it can grow in a substrate or be left to float freely in your tank. However, since it is so fast-growing, it needs regular trimming to avoid too much debris.

    Pros
    • Easy to grow
    • Hardy
    • High tolerance to various water parameters
    • Can help improve oxygen levels and water quality
    • Propagates easily
    Cons
    • Needs regular trimming
    • Fast-growing and not ideal for small tanks

    4. Amazon Sword (Echinodorus grisebachii)

    Amazon Sword

    Growth rate Slow to moderate
    Max height 23 inches
    Light demands Moderate
    CO2 Not essential but appreciated
    Difficulty Easy

    The Amazon sword makes a great background plant with its broad, distinctly recognizable leaves. It is aneasy plant to grow and maintain. As the Amazon sword grows, it can help purify the water of your tank by absorbing nitrate nutrients. Amazon swords are hardy plants with long lifespans and can easily tolerate a variety of water parameters. This plant requires little care. With its large, broad leaves, it makes an ideal hiding spot for shy and smaller fish, and it looks great too!

    Of course, with such a large plant, you’ll need a fairly large tank, so it’s not suited for smaller aquariums. It also has an expansive root system that needs a deep substrate to stay in place.

    Pros
    • Unique appearance
    • Easy to grow
    • Hardy
    • Can help purify your tank’s water
    • Provides great cover for smaller fish
    Cons
    • Not suitable for small tanks
    • Needs a deep substrate

    5. Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephala)

    Brazilian Pennywort

    Growth rate Slow to moderate
    Max height 24 inches
    Light demands Moderate to high
    CO2 Not essential but appreciated
    Difficulty Easy

    Brazilian pennywort is one of the most popular aquarium plants around because it is super easy to grow, propagates easily, is inexpensive, and looks great in your aquarium. The Brazilian pennywort leaves can add a unique appearance to a tank. Since the leaves are not slow-growing, there is no danger of algae build-up.

    Reproduction is easy; you can simply trim a few inches of stem or leaf and let it float in the water or if you have a long section of stem available on the mother, plant it directly into the substrate. This plant needs a fair amount of light to grow properly, though; otherwise, it will grow very slowly.

    Pros
    • Easy to grow
    • Inexpensive
    • Unique appearance
    • Easy to propagate
    • Fast-growing leaves
    Cons
    • Needs a fair amount of light

    6. Red Flame Sword (Echinodorus schlueteri x E. barthii hybrid)

    4. Red Flame Sword

    Growth rate Moderate to fast
    Max height 18 inches
    Light demands High
    CO2 Low to moderate
    Difficulty Moderate to high

    Red flame swords are beautiful plants that bring a unique background aesthetic to an aquarium with their striking, broad green-and-red leaves. They are hardy plants that don’t need much special care, making them great for beginners. But they can get large and take up a great deal of space in your tank, so they are best suited for larger aquariums. They are also heavy root feeders, so they need nutrient-rich soil to thrive.

    One of the great aspects of these plants is that they can be grown both immersed and submerged in your tank, and new leaves can even grow above the waterline.

    Pros
    • Beautiful red aesthetic
    • Can be grown submerged or immersed
    • Hardy
    • Great for beginners
    Cons
    • Requires highly nutrient-dense soil
    • Requires fairly high amounts of light

    7. Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)

    aqua leaf Java Fern

    Growth rate Moderate
    Max height 5 inches
    Light demands Low to moderate
    CO2 Low but appreciated
    Difficulty Easy

    Java ferns are delicate-looking plants that are popular additions to home freshwater aquariums and among the best for beginners. These plants are easy to care for, don’t require any special care or conditions to grow, and can thrive even in the most simple of setups. They are easy to find and inexpensive to purchase, and they often come attached to a piece of driftwood and ready to simply place in your tank. The leaves have a unique appearance that can range from bushy to spiky with a leathery texture.

    Since there are so many varieties of the species, there are plants ideal for both small and large home setups. Bear in mind that java ferns are susceptible to melting, which can leave quite a mess in your tank.

    Pros
    • Great for beginners
    • High tolerance to a variety of water parameters
    • Inexpensive
    • Hardy
    • Easy to care for
    Cons
    • Susceptible to melting

    8. Anacharis (Elodea densa)

    Anacharis

    Growth rate Fast
    Max height 10 feet
    Light demands Moderate to high
    CO2 Not essential but appreciated
    Difficulty Easy

    Anacharis is an easy-to-grow plant that is hardy and low maintenance, so it is great for beginners. The plant’s dark coloring will give your aquarium a lush appearance, with its long green stem and small green leaves that can range from light to a deep, dark green. This plant grows prolifically and can thrive in varying water parameters, so it’s more likely that you’ll be spending time making sure it doesn’t take over rather than keeping it alive!

    Since these plants grow so fast and can get so large, they leave a fair amount of debris in their wake and are better suited for large aquariums.

    Pros
    • Easy to grow
    • Low maintenance
    • Hardy
    • Great for beginners
    • Beautiful, lush appearance
    Cons
    • Fast-growing
    • Can leave a great deal of debris

    aquarium plant divider

    Buyer’s Guide: Choosing the Best Background Plants For Aquariums

    Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need that many plants in your aquarium, and your fish can live happily with only a few species to give them cover. Of course, a variety of plants does look great and will give your tank a far more natural look with all the different leaves and colors. This can be done by carefully choosing the right plants for the front, middle, and background of your aquarium and making sure they are the correct plants for their placement. Background plants are just that: they provide a backdrop for your tank, so they are arguably the most important choice.

    Let’s look at how to choose the best background plants for your tank.

    Size

    Naturally, you’ll want the background plants in your tank to be the biggest because they form the backdrop of your aquarium and you don’t want the plants in the foreground taking over. That means your background plants should grow fairly big and fast and preferably, have large, broad leaves for fish to hide among.

    aquarium-plant-pixabay
    Image Credit: susemeyer0815, Pixabay

    Ease of care

    Some aquarium plants require specialized water parameters, substrates, lighting, and CO2 levels, and this can make them difficult to match with other plants in your tank. The best aquarium plants should be hardy and adaptable to varying water conditions because this will make it far easier to have a variety growing in your tank. Remember, the water parameters of your tank need to be set up for your fish first and foremost, with plants second, so any adaptable plant species are best.

    Colors

    Aside from the shelter that background plants can provide, they also add a unique aesthetic to your tank. With all the various species available, you can mix and match different variations of greens and even a few reds to make your aquarium truly unique in appearance.

    aquarium tank with a variety of aquatic plants driftwood
    Image Credit: BLUR LIFE 1975, Shutterstock

    Substrate

    The substrate is an important consideration when choosing background plants. Naturally, you’ll want the substrate requirement of each plant to be compatible with one another. Some plants need to draw nutrients from the substrate, while others can draw most of their nutrients from the water around them. Also, some large plants require a rather deep substrate to spread their roots in, while light gravel is fine for others.

    Lighting

    The last consideration for your background plants is lighting. All aquarium plants need a source of light to grow properly, but some need more than others. Typically, most plants need around 8 hours of light per day of strong lighting, but some only need low lighting to grow happily. You’ll want to make sure these lighting needs are compatible with your choice of aquarium plants.

    Three gallon betta fish aquarium with live aquatic plants
    Image Credit: Sandra Burm, Shutterstock

    aquarium plant divider

    Conclusion

    All these plants can make excellent choices for the background of your home aquarium, but the Vallisneria is our favorite background aquarium plant overall. It has long, thin leaves and a beautiful vivid green color, it doesn’t have any special lighting or water temperature requirements, and it is simple to propagate, making it ideal for beginners and experienced aquarists alike.

    Choosing background plants for your aquarium is a fun and exciting process, and all the plants that we’ve listed here are easy to care for and readily available. Hopefully, there are a few that have made the choice easier for you, so you can get decorating right away!


    Featured Image Credit: Andrey_Nikitin, Shutterstock

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