12 Surprising Facts About Aquatic Plants’ Benefits

Alison Page

Alison Page


surprising benefits of aquarium plants

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Many aquarists love aquatic plants for their aesthetic appeal. I think there’s nothing more beautiful and relaxing than a display of vibrant green foliage gently swaying in the current while brightly colored fish dart between the waving fronds.

But plants are not just gorgeous to look at; they play a vital role in creating a balanced, thriving ecosystem in your fish tank.

In this guide, I uncover 12 surprising benefits of keeping living aquatic plants in your setup. Read on to be amazed!

Key Takeaways

  • Live aquatic plants are not only visually stunning but are also essential for a healthy aquarium ecosystem, providing oxygenation, natural filtration, and a habitat for biodiversity.
  • Aquatic plants can serve as a natural defense against erosion, offer medicinal benefits, and contribute to carbon sequestration, helping to combat climate change even on a small scale.
  • The versatility of aquatic plants caters to different aquarium setups, from substrate-rooting species to floating varieties that don’t require anchorage, enhancing the environment for fish and invertebrates alike.

An Oxygen Oasis

Most college students know that terrestrial trees and plants contribute to the world’s oxygen supply. In fact, the Amazon rainforest is also referred to as the lungs of the planet. But aquatic plants do so, too, through the process of photosynthesis. This underwater oxygenation is critical for the survival of all aquatic organisms, creating pockets of air even in deep water, and many aquatic plants produce oxygen at night.

Keeping living aquatic plants in your fish tank ensures that the enclosed ecosystem of the aquarium mimics the natural oxygenation found in the wild, helping to keep your livestock thriving and happy.

Natural Filtration System

Aquatic plants act as natural water purifiers in aquariums, helping to keep the environment clean and free from harmful nitrates that could harm your fish. Plant roots provide a suitable substrate where beneficial bacteria can grow and thrive, helping to break down organic matter and taking up harmful nitrates and associated chemicals as nutrients.

This natural filtration system lightens the load on your biological filter. It can even reduce the number of water changes you need to make, saving you time and effort in maintaining good water quality in your tank.

Carbon Sequestration

In the wild environment, underwater meadows of aquatic vegetation form potent carbon sinks, capturing and storing large amounts of carbon dioxide in their intricate root systems. That helps to mitigate the impact of climate change.

In a more modest way and on a smaller scale, a natural forest of lush plants in your fish tank makes its own eco-warrior contribution.

Erosion Control

In the wild environment, the extensive root systems of aquatic plants can provide a natural defense against the effects of soil erosion by stabilizing the substrate.

Over the years, I’ve used fast-growing plants to help keep gravel and sand substrates from being disturbed by burrowing fish. So, the same principle works in your aquarium.

Shelter and Hiding Places

Many fish and invertebrate species appreciate somewhere to take shelter and hide away from potential predators. Fry, shrimplets, and eggs are especially vulnerable, and a tank containing bushy plants is perfect for them.

High-stress levels are a major cause of a failure to thrive in tank-kept fish, and providing your pets with plenty of plants to hide in can reduce its effects massively, offering great health benefits for your fish.

Biodiversity Habitats

A range of aquatic plants creates diverse habitats that can provide a home for a multitude of species, from microscopic organisms to larger fish and invertebrates. Plant roots, stems, and leaves offer spawning grounds, food sources, and shelter, which is essential for fish, especially in their early life stages.

A forest of lush green plants fosters biodiversity in your tank and creates a natural ecosystem, including algae.

Medicinal Marvels

Certain aquarium plants are not only beautiful but have medicinal properties, too. Some species have been known to release compounds with antibacterial and antifungal properties, promoting a healthier environment and reducing the risk of diseases among fish species and invertebrates.

That can contribute to the overall well-being of the aquarium community.

Sustainable Aquascaping

These days, it’s not only the fish that are the stars of the show in an aquarium! Many hobbyists are keen aquascapers, spending hours researching the various plant species and creating a balanced, harmonious combination of greenery to set off their fish’s colors and shapes to perfection.

Aquatic Plants and Aquaponics

Aquaponics is a sustainable farming method that integrates aquatic plants with aquaculture. This symbiotic system uses fish waste as a nutrient source for the plants while the plants filter the water, keeping it safe and healthy for the fish.

Aquatic plants play a critical role in maintaining the balance of this closed-loop environment, providing a sustainable, balanced way of keeping the fish healthy and producing a plant crop.

Not All Plants Need Substrate

surprising benefits of aquarium plants

Some aquatic species of plants need gravel or sand as an anchor point, and many are root feeders, deriving the nutrients they need from the fish waste trapped in the substrate.

However, many column-feeding plant species are happy to go with the flow and drift around the tank with no need for a substrate to root to. These plants provide the perfect refuge for shy fish and fry, and my betta fish loves to build bubble nests amid the dangling plant roots.

Examples of floating species include Anubias, Hornwort, Java fern, and Water Wisteria.

Size Matters

No matter what kind of tank you have, from regular aquariums to paludariums and ripariums, there’s a suitable plant species for your setup!

Some aquatic plants live submerged in water, while others can live emerged, putting out shoots and even flowering above the waterline. Other varieties like to live close to the water’s edge and are suitable for use in a turtle tank, and, as mentioned above, some species prefer to float on the surface.

Viviparous Plants

The term viviparous refers to live-bearing animals, including dogs and cats. Most aquatic plant species are viviparous, reproducing by producing baby plants while still attached to the mother plant. To propagate these plants, all you need to do is carefully snip the plantlet from the parent stem.

Final Thoughts

Now you know that keeping live aquatic plants has many more benefits than just their aesthetic appeal.

An underwater forest can help to purify your aquarium water, provide shelter for fish and invertebrates, keep the substrate from shifting around, and even act as a mini carbon sponge. Some plants thrive in bright or low light, those that can live floating free in the water, and others that must be rooted in the substrate.

If you haven’t done so already, I strongly recommend keeping a few live plants in your setup – your fish and other aquatic pets will thank you for it!

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