Aquarium plants Articles

Floating aquarium plants | Benefits & types

April 12, 2015
floating aquarium plants

Floating aquarium plants, often with long decorative roots, are popular in many types of aquarium setups. With good reason! There are many advantages to keeping floating plants in your planted aquarium; although they may not always be ideal combined with plants that need a lot of light, they are a great addition to almost every setup and quite easy to grow.

Keep reading for more information about keeping floating plants, their advantages and which species make a good choice.

Amazon frogbit root system. Photo by Tumblr user apossibletwin!

Amazon frogbit roots by apossibletwin

Why grow floating plants?

Cover

Many popular fish species such as bettas, dwarf puffers, gourami and clown killifish occur naturally in darker waters and prefer a densely planted and shaded aquarium with plenty of hiding places. Floating plants provide shade and cover and the long roots help make your fish feel safe, which can help prevent stress.

It’s not just adult fish that will make thankful use of floating plants; they are also a great place for tiny fry and dwarf shrimp to hide and forage. The most popular floating plant with long roots is Limnobium laevigatum, also known as Amazon frogbit.

Easy to grow & low maintenance

Many of us fishkeepers are plant enthousiasts but at the same time unfortunately lack the green thumb, time or money to set up a high-tech, high-maintenance aquascape with more difficult plant species. Easy plants that require no extra lighting, nutrients or Co2 are life savers; luckily, there are plenty of easy floating plants that will do wonderfully in a low-tech aquarium as well! They grow very quickly and don’t need any extra care except for the occasional removal of a few plants if things get a bit too overgrown.

If you’re interested in low-care (floating) aquarium plants, you can find a list of the 8 easiest plant species here.

Food

As mentioned earlier, many floating plants grow very quickly. This makes them a great snack for herbivorous fish beside their regular diet of pellets and vegetables. You can grow the plants separately if you’re dealing with very destructive fish like vegetarian African rift lake cichlid species or (fancy) goldfish.

Go for only the fastest growing floating plants so you never run out and just regularly toss a handful in the tank for some variety in their diet. Duckweedis a great option for this.

Water values

Most floating plant species are very fast growers, which makes them great at reducing harmful wastes such as nitrate in your aquarium: these are used by the plants as nutrients. The only other way to reduce nitrate is by doing a water change, and although this will still definitely be necessary it’s great to have a “helping hand” that reduces nitrate levels inbetween water changes.

Popular floating plant species

Duckweed (Lemna minor)

You likely just know duckweed (pictured above) as the tiny floating plant that can overgrow an entire pond in a matter of weeks. However, it can also be used in the aquarium; just don’t introduce it unless you’re sure you want it, because it’s not easy to get rid of!

You can use duckweed to provide cover for the fish in the top water layer, but as mentioned earlier it’s also a great choice if you want to use plants as food for your (gold)fish. Duckweed requires no care at all and will survive in almost every type of aquarium setup.

Amazon frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum)

If you’re looking for the classic floating plant with large rosettes and beautiful long roots that is often seen in Amazon biotope aquariums, this is it! Amazon frogbit is easy to grow, can withstand a huge temperature range and will provide lots of cover for your fish. It does block quite a bit of light, but in dark water biotopes it’s usually kept in this is not a problem because the other plants as well as the fish prefer low light conditions.

If you’re having trouble with the roots getting stuck in your filter, try confining the frogbit to one corner of the aquarium. You can do this by attaching fishing wire to suction cups and putting the plants in this “designated” space; this way, they won’t be able to float towards your filter. You can buy Amazon frogbit online here.

Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)

Like Amazon frogbit, water lettuce grows long, attractive roots. The rosettes are on the larger side which makes this floating plant less suitable for the smallest aquarium setups; in a larger tank, though, it can be very decorative. Just keep in mind that it’s a very fast grower which blocks a lot of light.

If you don’t want your other plants to be outcompeted for light and nutrients or have problems with the roots getting into your filter, use the fishing wire method to keep it confined to one corner or one side of the aquarium.

Regularly remove yellowing/dead leaves and excess plants to keep your water lettuce healthy and green. You can buy water lettuce online here.

Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum), Java moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri), Brazilian pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephala), etc.

These are all popular aquarium plants than can be planted or left free floating. While they are not usually seen as “true” floating plants, they are easy, quick growers and offer many of the same benefits.


If you have any more questions about keeping floating plants or which species are suitable for your aquarium, be sure to leave a comment below. Happy fishkeeping!


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13 Comments

  • Reply Sue August 3, 2017 at 1:16 am

    I have seen pictures of houseplants on top of a glass cylinder with the roots in the water, with a guppy or goldfish inside. Does that really work?

    • Reply Mari August 3, 2017 at 10:59 am

      It depends. Fish are not meant for vases, they need a filtered, cycled aquarium (a very large one for goldfish). So that glass cylinder is out. However, the concept of houseplants that grow with their roots in “fish water” does work. You can make a sort of container at the top of the tank that allows plants to have their feet in the water and stems growing normally – put a nice grow light over it and you can grow your own organic herbs or houseplants! If you have an open top tank you can also just hang plants like Pothos in there, looks very natural 🙂

      This article doesn’t refer to any of that as it’s about floating aquatic plants, but there you go!

  • Reply Julia August 6, 2016 at 11:55 pm

    Hello! I’m interested in getting some floating plants for my aquarium, but also kind of want plants to grow in the substrate as well. Would floating plants (like duckweed) block the light too much for a plant below to thrive?

    • Reply Mari August 9, 2016 at 9:55 am

      Depends on which plants you have growing in the substrate and how many floating plants you have growing. Low-light plants like Amazon sword, Anubias, etc. would probably do just fine with a layer of duckweed blocking out a portion of the light.

  • Reply Jamie June 22, 2016 at 7:14 am

    Hi! I was given a beta and like an idiot I took off the plastic that the plant was grown on that made it float. The bowl is too big to let it hang out of something like I’ve seen in hourglass shaped vases, but I don’t know if it can stay submerged. Looking for a pretty alternative but I want to do right by the plant and my new fish. Any ideas?! Please help! Thank you!!

    • Reply Mari June 26, 2016 at 9:12 pm

      Bettas are not fish meant for bowls (unless they’re 5+ gallons). Please get a proper heated and filtered aquarium as described in this article. Don’t forget to cycle the tank! Upgrading the fish will also solve your plant problem, as you can put the plant in the substrate. 🙂

  • Reply Fox February 24, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    Do platies and cherry barbs like this stuff? I want to vary their diet but i’m unsure which plants they like to eat.

    • Reply Mari February 26, 2016 at 10:31 pm

      I have no personal experience with using floating plants for these fish but they do eat the occasional plant, especially the cherry barbs, so that definitely may work! Even if the floating plants aren’t eaten they’re still a nice addition to your tank in most cases and will be appreciated for the cover they provide 🙂

      • Reply Fox February 26, 2016 at 11:23 pm

        That’s interesting! Thank you! I don’t suppose either of those two eats java fern, swords, or anubias?

        • Reply Mari February 27, 2016 at 12:18 pm

          No, probably not! Those are the least favorite plants to eat for most fish, although yours may still use them: they are known for nibbling algae growth off plant leaves.

  • Reply John June 26, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    This makes me want my own little aquarium! Very cute little plants that add a very nice touch. Love it!

  • Reply Kay April 12, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    Hi,,, I have a 2.5 gallon National Geographic square aquarium. This has a very small filter. I have one betta and a moss ball in this aquarium. I would love to provide my betta with a floating plant for him to play with and in which to hide and sleep. Do you have a suggestion for a floating plant that would not clog up my filter that my betta would love? Thank you.

    • Reply Mari April 12, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      Duckweed is very small and should work. Salvinia natans is quite small as well, although it may not be too happy about any condensation from the lid of the tank or being splashed on by the filter. You could try it though!
      I would definitely recommend getting at least a 5 gallon aquarium for your betta and moss ball soon. 2,5 gallons is very small and unstable, and in a 5 gallon you would be able to fit more floating plants as well 🙂
      Good luck!

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