Choosing the right plants for your tropical aquarium is not as simple as it sounds. While you can simply pick out the plants you think will look best, putting some careful thought into it will go a long way toward ensuring the health of your aquarium.
Live plants in your aquarium provide essential oxygen while absorbing carbon dioxide and removing ammonia that your fish generate. Plants also provide shelter and a feeling of safety and security for your fish, plus help reduce algae growth in your tropical tank.
There are a bunch of different plants available for tropical aquariums, all of which have their unique pros and cons. In this article, we’ve collected 10 of our favorite varieties and put them to the test with some in-depth reviews, to help you find the best tropical aquarium plants to suit your unique tastes and requirements.
A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites of 2024
The 10 Best Tropical Aquarium Plants
1. Amazon Sword
The Amazon Sword is an easy plant to grow and maintain, and makes an ideal background plant with its broad, recognizable leaves. As this plant grows, it helps to purify the water of your fish tank by absorbing nitrate nutrients. It’s a popular plant due to its hardiness, long lifespan, and its unique ability to withstand temperature fluctuations. Plus, it requires very little special care and looks great in any tropical tank.
This plant can be fully submerged in water but can reach 20-25 inches high! This makes it ideal for large tanks with plenty of space, but it will swiftly outgrow smaller tropical tanks. They also have large and expansive root systems that require a deep substrate to stay properly rooted.
2. Java Fern
Java Ferns are beautiful, delicate-looking plants that make a great addition to any tropical aquarium. They are simple to care for, do not grow too fast or too big, and have a unique look, making them ideal for beginner aquarium enthusiasts. They are hardy plants that don’t require any special care or conditions to grow, and it will thrive in the most basic setups. They can reach heights of 13 or 14 inches, and so will need a tank of at least 10 gallons to grow properly.
Best of all, these plants can grow on bare bottom tanks as they don’t require any substrate. The only thing to look out for with this plant is larger fish, as they can easily knock it over.
3. Dwarf Hairgrass
Hairgrass is a popular addition to tropical tanks due to its low needs and its high fish compatibility — this grass can be used with almost any fish species. It also looks beautiful and gives your tank a natural look with plenty of space for small fish to hide. This plant oxygenates your tank’s water, removes pollutants, and is hardy and adaptable. It is an undemanding plant that is simple to propagate and easy to maintain, it just needs the occasional trim when it grows too tall.
The one issue with this plant is the light levels: too much light will make it grow rapidly and need regular trimming, and too little will cause sparse growth overall.
Hornwort is an attractive plant that is simple and easy to grow; so easy that the plant has spread to every continent but Antarctica in the wild! It has a high tolerance to various water conditions, has a fast growth rate, and is simple to propagate. This plant provides great cover and shelter for bottom-dwelling fish to escape light and improves oxygen levels and water quality in general. Hornwort is also great as it can be used attached to a substrate or left to float in your tank.
These plants do shed some debris, and if you have a lot, they can cause a mess. Also, they can grow really large really quickly, and so need regular trimming.
5. Flame Moss
Perfect for creating a carpet or mat in an aquarium, Flame moss’s unique appearance makes it an ideal decorative plant. It grows in a distinct upward spiral off of wood or substrate, giving it a unique “flame-like” appearance. It has a far deeper, richer green color than other moss commonly used in aquariums and can be used both submerged and emersed. It can also provide a perfect cover for small fish and shrimp.
This moss can take over your entire tank if not pruned regularly, and with lots of light algae can propagate inside its thick spirals, and you’ll need to remove it all and start again.
Hardy and easy to grow, Anubias is a great plant for beginner aquarium enthusiasts. It is a short plant with broad leaves and dark green colors and helps keep your aquarium clean and well oxygenated. This plant is fairly slow growing and thus easy to maintain, and propagates easily so you can begin with a small amount and quickly spread it around your tank. Since these plants are so short, they mostly cover the lower and middle sections of your tank and can easily grow attached to driftwood or rocks for a uniquely attractive feature.
This plant does not do well under strong lighting, a consideration if you have other plants in your aquarium that require lots of light.
7. Red Flame Sword
These Red Flame Sword will bring a unique and striking element to your aquarium, with their broad green and red leaves. They are hardy and fairly undemanding plants that add a lush, moving feature to your tank. Like most sword species, they need to be planted directly into the substrate and can take up a lot of space, and are thus heavy root feeders. They can be grown both emersed and submerged and new leaves will even continue to grow above the waterline.
These plants need a lot of space and are thus not suited to smaller tanks. They are also fairly difficult to keep as they require nutrient-dense soil to thrive, and any drastic changes in the aquarium can cause their leaves to melt and rot.
8. Staurogyne Repens
Staurogyne Repens is a great choice for the lower levels of your aquarium and forms beautiful carpeting over the substrate. This provides a wonderful shelter and protection for smaller fish, as well as removing nitrates and oxygenating your tank’s water. It is a hardy plant that is slow-growing and requires very little maintenance, making it ideal for beginners.
This plant has fairly high light demands, and so needs to be placed in areas of the tank where it is not being shadowed by other plants. The other downside to this plant is that it needs very specific water conditions to thrive, and in temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the plant will wither.
9. Java Moss
Java Moss is a great addition to the floor of any tank, providing beautiful carpeting for your aquarium. It spreads quickly and is easy to trim and maintain, and doesn’t require much light, although will grow faster in higher light conditions. Due to this ease of care, it is one of the most commonly used species of moss for aquariums and is easily available. This moss is ideal for aquascaping as it can attach itself to many different surfaces including rock, wood, and substrate, and can produce some uniquely beautiful results in a short time.
The only downside to this moss is that without proper maintenance it does not look as beautiful as other available moss species. It can also quickly block filters if it gets out of control.
10. Aponogeton Ulvaceus Bulb
Also known as “magic bulbs” due to how easy they are to propagate and grow, these beautiful plants have translucent, light green twirling leaves that make a striking addition to any tropical aquarium. One bulb can grow easily grow up to 40 leaves that can be up to 1-inch in length, so this plant needs a lot of space. The plant is fairly hardy and can do well in a variety of water conditions, making it ideal for beginners.
These plants frow very quickly, even without added light or fertilizers. This means they’ll need to be trimmed down fairly often, and you’ll need a large tank to house them.
Buyers Guide: Buying the Best Tropical Aquarium Plants
Plants are usually the last on the list of new aquarium owner’s priorities; the tank, fish, and decorations usually take center stage, but plants are just as important of a consideration. While live plants may not be essential to the health and wellbeing of your fish, they do a lot more than just make your aquarium look good and can provide some real benefits to your tank’s ecosystem.
There is a dizzying amount of aquarium plants available these days, all of which have different growth rates, heights, and care requirements and it can quickly become confusing. A quick look into the available options makes you want to run to the artificial plant aisle! Choosing the right plants for your aquarium is not as difficult as it seems though, and there are plenty of easy to look after, beginner-friendly plants that can make your tank look great plus provide benefits for your tank.
Benefits of Having Live Plants in Your Aquarium
In the beginning, it’s a good idea to add hardy and easy to grow plants to your aquarium, and as you gain experience and confidence you can include more sensitive species. Live plants improve the water quality of your tank overall, and since high water quality is essential to the health of your fish, your fish’s overall health is in turn improved too.
Types of Aquarium Plants
The healthiest aquariums have a wide variety of plants, adding a lush and visually appealing aesthetic. The types of plants that are found in aquariums can be broken down into 3 different categories; foreground, middle-ground, and background.
While it’s a good procedure to place smaller plants in the front and bigger plants at the back, for larger tanks it’s a great idea to mix them up a bit too. Try placing some small plants at the back to create the illusion of depth and give a more natural look to your tank overall.
Important factors to consider:
Before rushing out and buying your aquarium plants, you need to carefully consider the size to which these plants can grow versus the size of your tank. While plants create a great environment for your fish, remember that your fish also need plenty of space to swim around in without being inhibited by too many plants. Large growing plants are a great addition, but just be sure to place them at the back and mix your selection up with some smaller varieties too.
Aquariums require a ton of regular maintenance as it is, from cleaning to feeding, and so you don’t want to purchase plants that take too much time and effort to look after. Fast-growing plants need to be trimmed regularly, and mosses can quickly take over your substrate and potentially clog the filters. These “carpet” varieties can also grow very densely, and without proper maintenance may be an ideal habitat for algae.
All plants require light to photosynthesize and survive, but some species require a lot more than others. Most plants will typically need up to 8 hours per day of light. Additionally, be careful of shading plants that need a lot of light with larger plants, or they will swiftly turn brown or die. Placement is key with plants that have different light requirements.
The substrate at the bottom of your tank will play a key role in the types of plants you can grow. Before buying plants, be sure that the substrate you have is compatible with the plants you want to grow. Your plant’s roots need to absorb nutrients from this substrate to thrive, and some species have more specific needs than others.
While live plants are not essential to your aquarium, they can provide some important benefits and a beautiful aesthetic. Most of the plants we’ve chosen for this review are easy to grow and propagate and should be easy to implement into your tank’s ecosystem without much experience or difficulty.
Decorating your tropical aquarium is a fun and exciting process and is a way to tap into your unique creative expression. Be creative when choosing plants for your aquarium, and if you decide to go with any of the above-mentioned varieties, you cannot really go wrong as they are mostly simple and easy plants to look after.
Featured Photo Credit: Tony Stock, Shutterstock