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 lush as more sensitive plants!
Java moss Taxiphyllum barbieri
Used in aquariums throughout the world for various purposes, this undemanding, hardy plant 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.
You can tie it to rocks and driftwood with fishing line or leave it floating. If you’d like to get creative, floating Java moss balls or Java moss covered coconut hides are also a possibility. You can even create a lush Java moss wall by attaching the plant to a mesh plate. Given some time to grow this can make for a pretty amazing effect!
In terms of light, this moss is very undemanding. It can survive in a wide range of temperatures and water conditions. In fact, it’s one of the few aquarium plant species that can grow in (low-end) 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 everything it needs, Amazon sword can turn into a ‘monster-plant’ and reach a size of almost 2′ (60cm). This makes a great background plant or focal point in the aquarium. Fish will appreciate the long, sword shaped leaves for the cover they offer, while shrimp see them as a perfect foraging spot. The plants’ quick growth means that it helps keep your aquarium stable by absorbing nutrients that can be harmful to your fish.
Consider allowing your Amazon sword to grow above the water surface. If you do so you might be rewarded with a the occasional flower.
You can find a full Amazon sword caresheet here.
Java fern – Microsorum pteropus
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 type of aquarium and comes with the advantage that its hard leathery leaves are almost indestructible. Even notorious plant-eaters like goldfish will usually leave this species alone.
This plant doesn’t require much light or specific water values, making it a great choice for low-tech aquariums. Even beginners won’t have trouble growing it as long as they keep in mind its special planting requirements. Java fern needs to be tied to rock or driftwood to grow properly, as it hasn’t evolved to grow in the substrate.
Java fern is available in many varieties, so if you don’t like the regular one go for Windeløv-, narrow leaf-, trident- or Philippine Java fern. Each has a different growth pattern and leaf shape, meaning there’s a Java fern for every aquarium.
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. This species can easily adapt to a wide range of water and light conditions. 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. It’s a great option if you keep fish that appreciate being provided with plenty of cover. Do keep in mind that Vallisneria may not always be herbivore-safe. Its soft leaves will be seen as a snack by some fish species. In fact, it’s even edible for us humans!
I like to grow Vallisneria in tanks that contain shy fish like bettas and dwarf puffers. I’ve found that there’s no need to worry about never seeing your fish again. As paradoxical as it might sound, having the option to retreat to a safe place actually gives species like these the courage to come into the open more often.
Amazon frogbit – Limnobium laevigatum
If you’re looking for a hardy, fast growing floating plant to provide your fish with some shade, look no further! Frogbit is one of the most popular floating plants out there. Its easy care makes it the perfect choice for beginners.
Frogbit grows very quickly, even in less than ideal water conditions. It helps keep your water parameters stable between maintenance rounds by absorbing nitrates and phospates, which are harmful to fish in large concentrations. Its long roots make a great place for skittish fish to hide in and help prevent stress.
Do keep in mind that frogbit doesn’t handle harsh lighting or being under water for extended periods of time very well. It works better for low-light aquariums than high-tech set-ups with very strong lamps.
You can find information and profiles of more easy floating plants in this article.
Anubias – Anubias barteri, Anubias nana etc.
Anubias is one of the few plants that actually prefers low lighting. This, 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 or glued 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 (‘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 available in many different varieties including the red form pictured to the side and a dwarf form that can be used as a carpeting plant.
Anacharis Egeria densa
Another one of my personal favourites! In The Netherlands, we call it ‘water pest’, and 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 should be 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. It looks great in planted tanks as well and can help compete with algae with its super quick growth.
You can buy anacharis online here.
Plants from the genus Bucephalandra seem endlessly captivating to aquarists. Their beautiful colors and different sizes really make it tempting to want to collect every species out there. Really one of the most decorative aquarium plants out there, and what do you know? It’s easy to care for, too.
Bucephalandra care is pretty similar to that of Anubias and Java fern. This plant is also a rheophyte that grows on rocks and driftwood in its natural habitat in Borneo. It doesn’t need much light and has adapted to grow both submersed and emersed.
There is an endless variety of Bucephalandra species out there. Many haven’t even been properly scientifically named yet and new varieties are regularly being discovered. The most popular variety in aquarium stores today seems to be ‘Wavy Green‘, which is named after the funky bends in its leaves.
You can read more about Bucephalandra in its dedicated caresheet here.
To keep in mind…
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.
If you have any more questions about the plants on this list or want to share your own experiences, don’t hesitate