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5 Great Plants for Bristlenose Plecos & Why (with Pictures)

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By Lindsey Stanton

bristlenose pleco with plants in aquarium

Bristlenose plecos are a type of bottom-feeding fish that can grow up to 8 inches in length. These fish do require a fairly large tank, although they are quite easy to care for. This pleco also really loves having a lot of plants in the tank. So, what are the best plants for bristlenose plecos? A hardy, fast-growing, and fairly large plant is ideal. Anything they can hide under for some cover and forage through for food is going to be great. Keep reading as we explain furter.

aquarium plant divider


Do Bristlenose Plecos Eat Plants?

Bristlenose plecos are known for being voracious eaters, and they make for great aquarium cleaners. Due to this, you might be worried that they are going to eat your plants.

There is no need to worry because, while these fish love to eat algae like they’re at an all-you-can-eat buffet, they don’t like to eat plants. However, what they will do is root around and within plants in search of food, as they are foragers and scavengers.

The 5 Great Plants for Bristlenose Plecos

Let’s take a quick look at some good plant options for Bristlenose Plecos. The following are relatively fast-growing plants that are not easy to uproot.

1. Java Fern

java fern microsorum pteropus
Image Credit: Supanantananont, Shutterstock

The java fern is a beautiful plant that has long, wide, and super green leaves. This plant can grow up to 13 inches in size, thus providing bristlenose plecos with lots of cover. They grow at a moderate pace and form what is essentially a very leafy bush. This is perfect for plecos because not only are there lots of opportunities for cover, but lots of food and detritus will get stuck within it, thus providing them with the opportunity to forage for food.

These plants, due to their size, are best used as midground or background plants. The java fern multiplies through rhizome division, so it multiplies all on its own. Moreover, this also makes for an ideal plant because it can survive in all of the same water conditions as the fish.

Another good thing about the java fern is that it does not like being buried in substrate, as it will not grow or just flat out die. Itt needs to be tied to rocks or driftwood, which is good because it eliminates the possibility of being uprooted by your plecos.

2. Wisteria

Hygrophila difformis (Image Credit: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

Water wisteria is another great plant to put in a bristlenose pleco tank. First off, in terms of its appearance, it has very bright green leaves with narrow protrusions along the stems. Second, this plant can easily grow to 20+ inches in height and be about 10 inches wide. Keep in mind that, due to its large size and fast growth rate, it’s best used as a background plant.

Water wisteria multiplies through side shoots and it grows very fast. It will only take a few weeks for this plant to get close to its full height (under the right conditions). It makes for a great bristlenose pleco plant due to its large size and big leaves, as it helps provide them with some shade and cover.

Keep in mind that wisteria does need to be planted in gravel or large grain sand to grow properly, so unfortunately it is not 100% immune to being uprooted. Also, its somewhat bushy nature allows it to hold onto a lot of uneaten food and plant detritus, which your plecos will want to forage for.

The nice thing about water wisteria is that it can survive in a wide range of water parameters and has no problems surviving in the same water as bristlenose plecos. All in all, it’s just a really easy to care for plant.

3. Java Moss

java moss in freshwater aquarium
Image Credit: Rodloy, Shutterstock

One of the best options for these fish is java moss. It’s a thick, green, and mossy plant. There is more than one reason why this makes for a perfect bristlenose pleco plant.

First, java moss has a moderate growth rate and it is a carpeting plant. This is perfect for plecos because the thick java moss carpet will hold onto a ton of algae, uneaten food, and other things that the plecos will eat. Second, it will grow to a few inches in height, and under the right conditions can grow fairly tall, although it is quite easy to contain. Third, java moss is great at producing oxygen and filtering the water at the same time.

Java moss is also really easy to care for, as it does not need much light and it can tolerate varying water parameters. It’s definitely easier to keep this stuff alive than it is to kill it.

This plant does not need to be planted, per say. It has rhizomes which can attach to sand, gravel, rocks, and driftwood. For plecos, attach it to driftwood or rocks, so they won’t be able to uproot it.

4. Amazon Sword

Amazon sword plant with tetra fish swimming
Image Credit: Cheng Wei, Shutterstock

The amazon sword plant is another one which is ideal for bristlenose pleco tanks. This plant features very long, broad, and bright green leaves, hence its name, because each blade looks like a sword. The long leaves provide some good shade and cover for plecos, plus the base of this plant tends to collect uneaten food and detritus around it, making it a perfect spot for bristlenose plecos to forage for food.

The amazon sword plant can easily grow to 16 inches in height, and it has a moderate to fast growth rate. It’s quite easy to control, and it uses runners to multiply, so if it does get uprooted, it should be able to multiply and survive just fine. Due to its size, it makes for a good midground and background plant.

This plant can easily tolerate the same tank conditions as are required for bristlenose plecos, such as lighting, temperature, pH, and more. The amazon sword is popular due to its ability to filter water and to produce a good amount of oxygen.

What is good about this plant when put in a pleco tank is that the root system is extremely strong and dense. Yes, it does need to be planted in gravel or sand, and the substrate does need to be around 2.5 inches thick, but when it comes to uprooting, it’s one of the hardest plants to uproot.

5. Anubias

anubias plant in aquarium
Image Credit: Pavaphon Supanantananont, Shutterstock

Anubias or anubias nana is another ideal plant for a bristlenose pleco tank. It features rounded green leaves that come to a point, and it can grow to up to 8 inches in height. The leaves provide some cover and shade for fish swimming below. It makes for a good midground and background plant due to its size, but its growth rate is quite slow, so keeping it in check is not hard.

What’s cool about anubias nana is that this plant also uses rhizomes for rooting, which means that it is best tied to rocks or driftwood. It’s ideal for pleco tanks because they won’t be able to uproot it, plus it also tends to multiply quite quickly and cover whatever it is tied to.

On that same note, where the plant attaches to the wood or rocks, lots of detritus and uneaten food will collect, making it a great place for bristlenose plecos to forage for food.

aquarium plant divider


The Importance of Driftwood for Bristlenose Plecos

The reason why you want to add a good amount of driftwood to bristlenose pleco tanks is because driftwood allows for good algae growth. If you leave driftwood untouched, a lot of algae will grow on it. Driftwood has various substances in it, which spur on algae growth.

Do Bristlenose Plecos Eat Algae?

The reason why driftwood and algae are important to bristlenose plecos is because they love to eat algae. It is actually one of the staples of their diet, and they won’t be happy if they don’t have a good deal of algae to eat.

Are BN Pleco’s OK with Fake Plants?

Yes, bristlenose plecos are OK with fake plants, but they definitely don’t prefer them over live plants. Moreover, real plants filter the water and produce oxygen, both things which fake plants cannot do.

With that said, if you really want to go for fake plants, it is recommended that you go with silk plants over plastic. You want the fake plants to be very soft.

corporate aquarium with live plants
Image Credit: dushkovladimir, Shutterstock




The bottom line is that for bristlenose plecos, you do need fairly hardy plants that can withstand their digging and foraging. We would definitely recommend sticking to the plants which we have looked at here today. However, you should always do your research before selecting any plant to put in your tank.

Featured Image Credit: TTONN, Shutterstock

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