It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner without much experience when it comes to planted tanks or an expert who’s looking for green without having to worry about dying plants and CO2 installations – everyone needs hardy, easy to care for plants sometimes. They are decorative, remove nitrates from the water and provide fish with a place to hide.
No CO2, no extra lights, no specific water values; keep reading for a list of plants that will be able to survive in the hands of the worst plant-keepers and most low tech setups, all while looking just as great as more sensitive plants!
Java moss Taxiphyllum barbieri
Used in aquariums throughout the world for various purposes, this undemanding, hardy plant (pictured above) is the most popular of all mosses available in the aquarium trade. It can provide a hiding place for tiny fry and shrimp, but is also often used for decoration; it can be tied to rocks and driftwood with fishing line or left floating free.
If you’d like to get creative, floating Java moss balls or Java moss covered coconut hides are also a possibility. In terms of light, this moss is very undemanding, and it can survive in a wide range of temperatures and water conditions – even in brackish water. For healthy Java moss, trim it when it gets too thick to keep the lower parts healthy and green.
Amazon sword – Echinodorus amazonicus, Echinodorus bleheri etc.
Famous for the enormous size it can reach even with low lighting, Amazon sword is most suitable for bigger tanks. This plant is a root feeder, so it might require some additional root fertilizers – simple root tabs are usually enough.
When provided with this, Amazon sword can turn into a ‘monster-plant’ and reach a size of almost 2′ (60cm), and thus makes a great background plant or focal point in the aquarium. If you allow your Amazon sword to grow above the water surface, it might even produce a few flowers.
Ahh, Java fern. Definitely a personal favourite. Although it can take this plant a while to get going in terms of growth, it’s unstoppable once it does! Java fern can survive in almost any aquarium, as it doesn’t require much light or specific water values, and is left alone even by plant-eating fish like goldfish. The only thing it needs to be able to grow into a nice, thick forest is for its roots not to be planted in the substrate; it prefers to be tied to a rock or driftwood.
Java fern is available in many varieties; if you don’t like the regular one, go for Windeløv-, narrow leaf-, trident- or Philippine Java fern. A full Java fern caresheet can be found here.
Vallisneria Vallisneria spiralis, gigantea, etc.
Vallisneria is another plant with subspecies suitable for almost every aquarium, although it may not always be herbivore-safe and will be seen as a snack by some fish species. It can easily adapt to almost any water and light conditions and although it’s not the fastest grower, you will quickly see runners with small new leaves appear around the mother plant.
If the runners are not removed, Vallisneria will form a dense field in a relatively short amount of time, which is great if you want to provide your fish with hiding places.
I’ve kept Vallisneria before and probably will own it again, as it’s very easy to care for and really appreciated by shy fish like bettas and dwarf puffers.
If you’re looking for a hardy, fast growing floating plant to provide your fish with some shade, look no further! Although frogbit can’t handle harsh lighting or being under water for extended periods of time very well, it’s one of the most popular floating plants – and for a reason.
Frogbit grows very quickly, even in less than ideal water conditions, and its long roots make a great place for skittish fish to hide in. I’d definitely recommend this plant – if you’re prepared to remove a bunch of it every once in a while to prevent the surface from being completely overgrown, that is.
Anubias – Anubias barteri, Anubias nana etc.
Anubias is one of the few plants that actually prefers low lighting, which, along with the fact that even plant-eating fish seem to leave it alone, makes it a great addition to many types of aquariums.
Anubias won’t appreciate being planted in the substrate and does best when tied to rocks or driftwood. It looks especially good in small groups of multiple plants and the broad leaves make a great sitting or sleeping place for fish that appreciate this. Trim your Anubias often by regularly removing some leaves with a pair of scissors to keep it looking good. If you allow it to grow above the water, it may reward you with a lovely white flower as pictured to the side.
You can find a full Anubias caresheet here.
Crypt Wendtii Cryptocoryne wendtii
If you’ve just bought a Crypt, you may be disappointed to see it seemingly dying within a few weeks. However, there is no reason to be discouraged. Cryptocoryne species are well known for their tendency to shed old leaves and ‘melting’ after being moved and then quickly growing back into a larger plant.
Crypts do well in low-light settings and although they grow quite slowly a huge bush can form over time in stable conditions. We keep them in our tropical living room tank and love it; they have formed a huge forest and have reached the top of the tank.
Cryptocoryne is availble in many different varieties including the red form pictured to the side and a dwarf form that can be used as a carpeting plant. You can find a full Cryptocoryne caresheet here and buy Cryptocoryne online here.
Anacharis Egeria densa
Another one of my personal favourites! In The Netherlands, we call it ‘water pest’, and for a not without reason; it grows like crazy. Anacharis can be left floating, but grows fine when planted as well – the parts bought from the store usually die off quite quickly, but they are replaced by fresh, live leaves. If you own herbivorous or omnivorous fish, growing Anacharis in a separate aquarium can provide you with a steady amount of (free) healthy fish food, but the plant looks great in planted tanks as well and can help compete with algae because it grows so quickly.
You can buy anacharis online here.
Note: Aquarium plants should never be released into local lakes or rivers. Doing this can cause damage to natural habitat and native species might be outcompeted for nutrients, light and space. If you have to get rid of unwanted plants, you can sell them, destroy them, give them away or dispose of them properly. Composting is also a great option.
When provided with the few requirements they need, all of these plants can thrive – and if you do accidentally kill one, there are always other species on this list to try.
You can buy many of these plants and their more rare varieties online from Amazon.