21 Best Aquarium Plants – A Complete Guide (Types, Tank, More…)

Some people believe that the prospect of tending after live aquarium plants in the fish tank is far too much of a hassle, but it’s simply not true. With a few key pointers, anyone can become a master aqua botanist in time. Plus, It offers countless benefits to the water column and the fish inhabiting the tank as well.

Although fake plants may seem like the more convenient option in the short run, you may be missing out on a plethora of helpful benefits in the long run. Not to mention the fact that fake plants will never look as good or convincing as real plants.

However it’s important to know which plants to choose for your specific tank and needs. Not all aquarium plants are created the same. It can all depend on the nature of the fish in the tank and the size of the tank in question.


Different Types of Aquarium Plants

There are many different types of plant life to choose from to put together a harmonious and vibrant environment in your fish tank. However, the main distinctions can be broken down into three different groups.

  • Foreground plants – These plants tend to grow bushy and short, and at a much slower pace than other pants. Sometimes they are referred to as ‘carpet plants’ for their tendency to cover the ground like a green carpet.
  • Midground plants – These plants tend to grow taller and skinnier than others. They are placed on either the sides of the tank or in the middle without taking away too much swimming space away from the fish.
  • Background plants – These are typically the largest plants in a fish tank and are placed in the back to avoid obstructing the view. They provide an idyllic backdrop and are ideally for providing shelter to fish.

Each different type of plant plays an essential role in the environment of your fish tank. An ideal fish tank should have an even balanced mix between the three in order to accommodate the needs of your fish.

Saltwater Tanks

Many newcomers to the hobby of fishkeeping are intimidated by the prospect of owning a saltwater fish tank and rightly so. There are many unique challenges to owning and maintaining a saltwater tank, however some would say that it’s a more rewarding experience.

The three main issues that need to be constantly monitored in a saltwater fish tank.

  • Salinity – The trick is to imitate the natural occurring levels of salt in the ocean, which is around 34-37 parts of salt per 1000 units of water.
  • pH level – This measures the levels of acids and of alkali in the water which needs to be meticulously monitored for an optimal environment for fish.
  • Temperature – A mild, warm temperature around 73-82 degrees fahrenheit (23-28 degrees celsius) is the ideal environment for your saltwater fish tank.

As long as you can manage these three factors along with the occasional tank cleaning, you’ll have no problem in maintaining a healthy, saltwater fish tank. The only thing missing is the wide assortment of live saltwater plants.

Saltwater Plants

There are many plants to choose from for your saltwater fish tank. Some are better for offering shelter for fish or filtering the water of excess nutrients, while others can be planted for a more aesthetic, vibrant look for your fish tank.

The best strategy is to fill your tank with a varied assortment of plants that will meet the needs of the fish in the tank and the spectator outside of it. Mix and match different species of plants for best results.

Shaving Bush Plant

This plant has long sticky leaves that bunch up into a green dense bush. It is particularly helpful for removing excess nutrients in the water such as nitrates and phosphates. It should be planted in an area with good light exposure.

Blue Hypnea Algae

One of the most visually stunning plants on the list, its hyper fluorescent blue hue is best revealed under high spectrum lighting. It helps absorb excess nutrients and provides shelter for shrimp and other little critters.

Turtle Grass Shoots

The stringy green leaves of this plant will add a certain dash of liveliness to your tank. It can provide shelter for numerous small species. It requires a sandy bottom of about 6 inches deep in order to plant roots, about 10 hours of lights a day. It may take up to a month to become fully acclimated to the environment.


It most closely resembles an underwater cactus with its wide, oval green leaves. This plant is tough and versatile which can easily adapt to most environments. Fish typically don’t feed on this plant.

Tufted Joint Algae

This plant is one of the most fascinating picks on the list due to its ancient look, featuring thick, green stems with transparent plumes on the tips. It helps oxygenate the water and balance the nitrogen cycle. For best results, it should be anchored to reefs with moderate exposure to light.

Red Mangrove Propagule

This plant creates a dense coverage with its candle like stems and thick, broad leaves. It can help lower excess nitrate levels in the water. Its roots can take hold rather quickly under proper lighting.

Green Finger Algae

This decorative plant most closely resembles the firestick cactus with the shape and size of its stems. It’s easy to care for and provides oxygenation and filtration to the water. Fish generally don’t feed on this plant.

Mermaid’s Fan

This plant is endemic to the tropical waters of the carribean. It’s characterized by its thick, wide leaves which resemble a fan of sorts. It’s not recommended for most beginners due to its fickle nature. The short stem can be easily planted in substrate or live rock.

Dragon’s Tongue Algae

This plant adds a pop of both bright color and interesting texture to your tank with its resemblance to a fiery red shred of cabbage. It also works hard filtering and oxygenating  the water as well. However, fish tend to feed on this plant which can pose challenges for tanks with many herbivores.

Red Gracilaria Algae

The last plant on our list features a visually stunning specimen with its thin stems and fuchsia pink hues. It also works very hard at maintaining a healthy level of nutrients in the water along with warding off the growth of invasive algae. It can easily take root when anchored to a hard surface like a rock.

The Best Choice

When choosing the plants for your saltwater fish tank, it is important to consider all factors such as the existing fish and plant life already in the tank. Are any of the species overly aggressive or will the chemical balance be thrown off?

Also remember to spot the difference between a healthy and a sick plant. The act of introducing a sick plant into your fish tank can severely throw off the chemical and nutrient balance in the water.

Lastly, the lighting and temperature should be fine tuned as well to closely resemble the natural conditions of the ocean. It may seem overwhelming at first managing all of these factors simultaneously, but it will become second nature over time.

Freshwater Fish Tanks

Newcomers to the hobby of owning a fish tank are generally convinced that starting off with a freshwater fish tank is the way to go. There are less factors to monitor as compared to a saltwater fish tank, not to mention the fact that freshwater tanks are much cheaper to maintain as well.

As long as you have an operating water filter, then you’ll only have to worry about replacing the water in the tank at least once a month or so. The only additional concern is whether to opt for real plants or artificial ones.

Nonetheless, there are a few hurdles that one may encounter in the maintenance of freshwater live aquarium plants. A nutrient deficiency may develop in certain species of plants which need to be remedied with additional supplements. However it is a quick and easy fix for a vigilant owner.

Freshwater Plants

There’s no comparison between artificial and real plants in your freshwater fish tank. Although artificial plants may be cheaper and more convenient than real plants, they lack the filtering and oxygenating properties that are essential to the wellbeing of your fish.

Live aquarium plants are an investment for the vitality of the fish in your tank. They also  boast the diversity and strength of your ecosystem. It is proven that fish that live in a tank stocked with real plants, typically enjoy greater longevity. It is suggested that they fare better off against diseases and stress as opposed to fish that live with artificial plants.

Freshwater plants come in all different shapes and sizes, however it can be tricky to find the right species for your tank. Different species of fish or plants may behave in an invasive, aggressive manner towards if they’re not well selected.

Java Moss

This bushy, underwater shrub is considered a very easy plant to tend after that only requires a moderate amount of light exposure and boasts a very fast growth rate. This carpet plant propagates quickly under moderate temperature (74-82°F) and is easy to prune.

Dwarf Baby Tears

This mossy patch is known for its tiny leaf clusters which form a tidy carpet at the bottom of a fish tank. This plant has a moderate growth rate under high exposure of light. It is considered to be of moderate difficulty.


This carpet plant can grow well both underwater and semi-submerged as well. It requires a high light exposure along with CO2 and other nutrients. It is labelled as a moderately difficult plant to maintain.

African Water Fern

This plant is a slow-growing species that grows best anchored on a sturdy surface. It is considered an easy plant to grow as long as it is exposed to high levels of light. The recommended level of temperature should hover around 74 to 84°F.

Amazon Sword

Many would consider this one of the most recognizable aquarium plants with its swooping, broad leaves. It only requires moderate light exposure and has a moderate growth rate. It prefers moderate temperature and loose substrate.

Water Wisteria

This plant is a marvel to view with its amazonian-like leaves. It easily propagates and expands under high light exposure and moderate water temperature. It is best displayed in the midground and background of the fish tank.

Java Fern

This plant nearly resembles the iconic Amazon Sword but in a shorter form. It is an easy plant to care for which only requires low to moderate light exposure to avoid the leaves from browning. Under moderate pH and temperature levels, it can grow at a moderate to fast pace.

Aponogeton Ulvaceus Bulb

One of the more odd looking plants on the list, it nearly resembles shreds of iceberg lettuce.  It propagates well as a background plant under moderate light exposure. It boasts a fast growth rate producing up to 40 leaves per bulb.


One might mistake this plant for underwater spinach at first glance with its broad, green leaves. This durable plant grows at a moderate to fast pace which only requires low light levels. It grows best when attached to surfaces above the substrate.

Dwarf Aquarium Lily

Another interesting pick on our list, it’s uniquely shaped and multicolored leaves can be fascinating to admire. This fast growing species must be planted within the substrate in order to thrive. It only requires low to moderate levels of light exposure.

Cryptocoryne Beckettii

This following pick closely resembles a potted plant that you’d likely find around the yard with its long, narrow leaves. The ‘Water Trumpets’ as it is alternatively called, are easy to tend to after they are established in the substrate. Low to Medium light exposure works best for this species.

The Importance of Substrate

Aquarium plants play an essential role in the environment of your fish tank, however without proper substrate on the bed of the fish tank you won’t be able to grow and tend after the plants sufficiently.

In simple terms, substrate refers to the material that lines the bottom of your fish tank. If your fish tank is mostly comprised of fish, then sand or gravel will work perfectly fine as the substrate material.

Some aquarium plants can receive most of their nutrients from the underlying substrate as opposed to the water column. In these cases, sand or gravel will not suffice in supplying the necessary nutrients to live aquarium plants.

There are several options for those looking to improve the quality of substrate in the fish tank. There are specially designed substrate soils that pack all of the necessary nutrients that your aquarium plants crave such as phosphorus, potassium, and iron.

Aquarium Lights

Along with the substrate, aquarium plants are also able to gather necessary nutrients through the light exposure in the fish tank via photosynthesis.  In this process, they convert excess carbon dioxide into energy.

Ideally, a fish tank full of aquarium plants requires a minimum of eight hours of full spectrum light in order to best imitate natural daylight which is best for the photosynthesis process of the plants.

LED lights are the best option for aquarium lights. They are highly efficient and prevent overheating in the fish tank. Not to mention that they are cheaper to run than other lights. Natural light may seem alluring, but too much of it can lead to excess algae growth.

Aesthetic Appeal

It is an undeniable fact that fresh aquarium plants can dramatically boost the visual appeal of your fish tank. The natural, vibrant colors and rich textures can’t be matched by the alternatives of artificial, fake plants.

The natural aquarium plants can also help keep the water in your fish tank cleaner for a longer period of time through the filtering and oxygenation of the water which are benefits that can’t be reaped from the artificial alternative.

The way the water and the fish behave and interact with the natural aquarium plants is an unmatched sight to behold. Although artificial plants may imitate the look of real plants, it’s no substitute for the real thing.

Fisk Tank Dimensions

The size and layout of your fish tank also plays a role in the type of plants you should choose to decorate. If the fish tank in question is a longer, more narrow shape then midground and background plants should be used to adorn it.

On the other hand if your fish tank has a wider shape, then filling it with foreground and midground plants may be the best way to accommodate both the fish and the spectator’s view of the water.

The aquarium plants serve many purposes in a fish tank. Their most important job is to provide filtration and oxygenation, but also provided shelter to the fish and food for the eye of the spectator as well.

Water Chemistry

The water column of a fish tank contains the most important ingredients. The nutrients and minerals are essential to the health of all plant and fish life. The usual culprit behind an unhealthy fish tank environment usually lies in the deficit of nutrients and minerals.

A conventional water filter can typically filter out most of the harmful toxins and oxygenate the water. However it is still recommended to replace at least 10-15% of the water in the fish tank on a weekly basis in order to maintain optimal levels of nutrients and promote fish vitality.

It is also recommended to check the pH, carbon dioxide, and oxygen levels in the waters on a regular basis. Along with that, be sure to manage the levels of nitrates which can become harmful at higher levels.

Plant Nutrition

Most aquarium plants receive the bulk of their nutrition via the water column in the fish tank. The water column refers to the visual depiction of the flow of water from the top of the tank to the bottom.

Although it’s also important to bear in mind that some plants receive many essential nutrients from the light source along with other sources apart from the water. The vitality of the aquarium plants in your fish tank depends on many independent factors that need to be synchronized harmoniously.

It’s essential to have not only a good water circulation to feed your plant, but also added nutrients and supplements in the water as well. Some plants require more iron or nitrates than others, so keeping to know the needs of the aquarium plants is part of the process.

The Living Organisms in the Tank

The fish aren’t the only living beings in the fish tank that you need to watch after, there are also numerous aquarium plants that need to be taken care of as well. Aquarium plants are in some cases, require even more maintenance than the fish.

It’s a common fact that certain fish species don’t get along well together. You can’t pair overly aggressive or invasive species together in a confined space such as a fish tank without the constant violent encounter or standoff.

The same thing applies to species of aquarium plants. Some plant species are more invasive or aggressive than others and will encroach on the space and terrain of other nearby aquarium plants.

The Perfect Fish Tank

Aquarium plants can have numerous benefits in your fish tank. Not only can they filter and oxygenate the water column but also provide necessary shelter and food to many herbivore species of fish.

It’s important to bear in mind that different types of plants each play their own unique role in your fish tank. Some may focus more on the aesthetic, vibrant side while others may serve a more useful task.

Although they tend to be pricier than the artificial alternatives, consider it an investment in the wellbeing of the environment of your fish tank. Let’s be honest, the artificial variety never looks as good as the real stuff and the fish can definitely tell the difference.

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