If you’re interested in keeping plants in your aquarium, you need to research what plants will grow in your tank. Different plants require different lighting levels.
There are many low light plants available to purchase. You should select your plants based on the type of water in your tank, the temperature of your water, and the fish you plan to house in the tank.
These plants don’t require very much light to grow properly. Still, that doesn’t mean some of them don’t require a lot of care to stay healthy.
This guide will teach you about the different low light aquarium plants available so you can decide which plants will grow and look best in your tank.
- Beginner Plants
- Freshwater Plants
- Saltwater Plants
Many of the plants on this list don’t require very much hands-on maintenance. However, you should have a few tools and supplies on hand to take care of your tank’s plants.
Have a pair of scissors dedicated to trimming any plants. There are curved aquarium plant scissors available that make it easy to do.
Water treatments with bioavailable carbon improve the CO2 systems in your tank that plants need to thrive. Bioavailable carbon should be added to your tank whenever you perform a large water change.
Root tabs are small discs full of nutrients you can add to your tank’s substrate where you root any plants. These help provide your plants with the nutrients they need on a regular basis.
There are also liquid fertilizers on the market. However, they provide fewer nutrients to your plants and can cause algae outbreaks in your tank.
Many aquarium plants require regular maintenance to encourage growth or to keep unruly plants at bay. However, there are a few plants in a variety of shapes and sizes that are perfect for beginning fish keepers.
Java ferns are one of the most popular aquarium plants, especially for low-light aquariums. They can grow in both fresh and saltwater.
Java ferns have broad, wide leaves that provide a lot of shelter for shy fish. They can grow in dense clusters if you leave them alone.
These plants should be kept in water temperatures between 72-82° F. For best growth, attach java ferns to rocks or driftwood—their roots will wither if they are planted in substrate.
Java moss, along with Java ferns, can grow in both fresh and saltwater, but its ability to grow in brackish tanks gives it a place in this category. It’s a popular choice to cover rocks or to float at the top of aquariums.
Java moss also grows in all lighting conditions. In low-light tanks, it will be a dark green.
This carpet plant grows in very warm water, with temperatures ranging from 70-90° F. Java moss is an excellent addition to tropical saltwater aquariums.
Lemon bacopa plants are also known by their scientific name, Bacopa caroliniana. They are a freshwater herb that give off a lemon scent when crushed.
In low-light aquariums, lemon bacopa grow slowly and might need some water and substrate fertilization from time to time. Otherwise, these plants grow well without much care.
Lemon bacopa grow best in water with temperatures ranging between 64-77° F. These plants can be pruned into any shape, but it makes an excellent background plant.
The majority of aquarium plants need to be kept in freshwater tanks. Here are several options for a variety of different water temperatures and tank mates.
The Amazon sword is a popular freshwater plant for tropical tanks. It is also known by its scientific name, Echinodorus grisebachii. Amazon swords have short stems, but their height comes from their tall, broad leaves that shoot up like bushes.
Amazon swords are root feeders, and they will extend their roots deep into your tank’s substrate. The type of substrate in your tank does not matter, but it should be at least two and a half inches thick.
These plants grow best in water between 61-82° F. Most fish will get along well with Amazon swords, but they should be kept away from plants that will eat its large leaves.
American waterweeds are also known by their scientific name, Elodea canadensis. They grow in stalks and have leaves that grow off of each stem.
This plant can grow to be up to three feet long. Regular trimming will keep it from taking over your entire tank.
American waterweeds can grow in a variety of conditions and in water temperatures anywhere between 50-77° F. They add a lot of oxygen to your tank and provide plenty of hiding spaces for fish fry and smaller fish.
Banana plants can grow in any lighting conditions, but some say they look best in low-light aquariums. When these plants need light, they form leaves that look like lily pads and float on the water’s surface to take in more light.
Banana plants are root feeders. They get their name from their root tubers, which grow in banana-like shapes.
These plants grow best in water temperatures between 68-82° F. Banana plants can be kept with most freshwater fish. However, snails will eat their tubers and kill the plant.
Bladderworts, also known as Utricularia macrorhiza, are one of the two carnivorous plants on this list. However, they eat plankton and small bugs rather than fish, so they’re safe to keep in your tank.
These plants float at the top of your tank. When a small insect brushes against one of the bladderwort’s trigger hairs, the plant traps it in its bladder.
Bladderworts should be kept in tanks between 60-80° F. They will grow very quickly, so they need regular maintenance.
Brazilian pennyworts, also known by the scientific name Hydrocotyle leucocephala, are versatile column feeders. These plants have round green leaves about the size of pennies. They can be rooted in your tank’s substrate or float freely at the top of the tank.
Brazilian pennyworts grow quickly in high-light tanks, but they are still viable options for low-light tanks. They grow more slowly in tanks with little light.
These plants prefer warmer water, but Brazilian pennyworts can grow in any temperature between 68-82° F. This means that they can also be kept in cold tropical tanks.
Crypt balansae have broader leaves that stick up and spread out. They add layers to any tank they’re housed in.
These plants are best suited to high-light tanks, but it will still grow well in low-light tanks. Crypt balansae are root feeders that need high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen.
Water temperatures for crypt balansae plants should be between 72-82° F. Crypt balansae can be trimmed to maintain smaller sizes, but they can grow to up to three feet long.
Crypt spiralis plants have tall, narrow leaves that look similar to grass. It can grow up to 16 inches tall in low-light tanks.
These crypts need to be planted in substrate rich with iron. Because of their specific requirements, they are best kept on their own or in bunches with other spiralis plants.
You can set your crypt spiralis up for success by using root tabs to make sure it gets enough iron. Water temperatures should be between 75-82° F.
Crypt wendtii come in a variety of colors, ranging from green to red to brown. They’re a good choice for low-light tanks because the lack of light leads to long leaves. Some plants can grow leaves up to 18 inches long.
Crypt wendtii plants are root feeders. They need larger-grained substrate for their roots to spread out and take in nutrients.
These crypts are tropical freshwater plants that grow best in water between 75-82° F. When you add it to your tank, keep in mind that it takes time to adjust to new tank conditions. It might appear to die off, but give it time to bounce back.
Dwarf rotala plants are also known by their scientific name, Rotala rotundifolia. They are tall column feeders that have short, needle-like leaves.
Dwarf rotalas require a lot of care. They grow quickly and need regular trimming. You’ll sometimes need to replant the tops of their stems to replace the bottoms, which can die off.
These plants grow best in water temperatures between 70-86° F. It is compatible with any freshwater fish that requires similar temperatures.
Giant hygro plants are also known as Hygrophila corymbose, their scientific name. They have large, broad leaves and can grow above your tank’s surface.
These plants require regular pruning to keep them from growing outside of where you planted them. If you want to let them grow out to create a jungle, you still might need to trim them below the water’s surface.
Giant hygros are best suited to tanks with water temperatures between 75-82° F. They can be housed with any fish, but herbivores might want to eat their leaves.
Green hygro’s scientific name is Hygrophila polysperma. It is a strong freshwater plant that is rooted in your tank’s substrate.
Green hygros are column feeders that take their nutrients in through their stems. Trimming them encourages faster growth.
These plants should be kept in water with temperatures between 74-82° F. Most herbivores will leave green hygros alone, but digging cichlids and goldfish might try to eat it.
Hornwort plants are also known by their scientific name, Ceratophylum demersum. Hornworts are incredibly tall column feeders and can grow to be nearly 10 feet tall, so they should be kept in large tanks.
Because of its large size, hornworts need to be trimmed regularly. It produces multiple stems that you can use to landscape your entire tank.
Hornworts produce chemicals that can stop the growth of other plants. These chemicals do not harm fish, though, and they can be kept with fish that live in temperatures anywhere between 59-86° F.
Parrots feather plants are also known as parrotfeather or by their scientific name, Myriophyllum aquaticum. Parrots feathers are thick with green and blue leaves and stay rooted at the bottom of the tank.
These plants prefer to be rooted in fine substrate that mimics soil. It can also thrive in mud substrates common on the edges of ponds.
Parrots feather grows in a variety of water temperatures, with a range of 64-86° F the most helpful. This plant provides a lot of dense coverage for freshwater fish to hide in.
Peacock moss, also known as Selaginella uncinate, is similar to Java moss, but it is a hardier alternative. It has a blue-green color and grows small needle-like leaves similar to fir trees.
This plant grows rather slowly, which means it requires less maintenance than Java moss. It does, however, benefit from regular water fertilization.
Peacock moss grows best in water between 69-75° F. It is a good moss option for cooler low-light tanks.
Pygmy Chain Sword
Pygmy chain sword plants are also known by their scientific name, Echinodorus tenellus. Pygmy chain swords grow close to the bottom of the tank. They keep their bright green color regardless of the lighting conditions they are kept in.
These plants are root feeders. Pygmy chain swords should be planted in iron-rich soil, and they require fertilizer and CO2 regularly.
Pygmy chain swords thrive in water that is kept between 68-84° F. They can be kept with any fish that won’t try to eat it.
Red ludwigia plants, or Ludwigia repens, are stemmed plants with broad red or orange leaves. They’re often planted in bunches to create a bushy effect in your tank.
These plants are root feeders that require iron-rich substrate. Plant them in a tank with larger substrate, and consider adding a root tab to help them get the nutrients they need.
Red ludwigia can grow in a variety of water temperatures, ranging from 59-79° F. They do not need to be pruned often, but frequent trimming can encourage growth.
Rotala indica plants are very similar to dwarf rotalas. While dwarf rotalas are the same color throughout the plant, rotala indicas are green at the top of the stem and redder at the bottom.
Like dwarf rotala, this plant requires a lot of care to stay healthy. It needs a substrate to anchor to, and it needs to be trimmed regularly.
Rotala indicas should be kept in water between 72-80° F. It should not be housed with digging cichlids, which will harm the plant’s roots.
Sunset hygros are the same species as green hygros, Hygrophila polysperma, but sunsets are the “Rosanervig” variety. They have purple and red leaves that grow at the top of their stems that give them their name.
Sunset hygros can grow to be up to 16 inches tall. They can be rooted in your tank’s substrate or float at the top of the tank. They will take in their nutrients through their roots or their stems depending on where they are kept.
These plants can live in tropical freshwater tanks with temperatures between 64-86° F. It can be kept with any fish that fits its water requirements.
The waterwheel plant is one of only two carnivorous plants on this list. No need to worry about it eating your fish, though! This plant eats mostly microorganisms that live in your tank.
Waterwheels, also known by their scientific name Aldrovanda vesiculosa, are small free-floating plants. They have eight “stems” that resemble a wheel, which is where they get their name.
Waterwheels should be kept in water between 73-86° F. The best way to feed it is by adding zooplankton to your tank, though this can often serve as an alternative food source for your fish.
Water thyme are also known by the name hydrilla. They are incredibly resilient plants that can be found on every continent, including Antarctica.
It is also one of the fastest-growing plants you can keep in your aquarium. They can grow almost one inch every day.
Water thyme are so hardy that they can be kept in any tank regardless of temperature. However, you should avoid keeping them in tanks with other tall plants, as the water thyme will intertwine and choke the other plant.
Water wisteria, also known as Hygrophila difformis, is a tall stemmed plant that changes appearance depending on the light level it is exposed to. In low light, its leaves are broader to maximize light exposure.
Low light does not impact water wisteria’s fast growth. Still, it needs extra fertilizer and CO2 to get the nutrition it needs to grow. Water wisteria should be trimmed regularly if it becomes unruly.
Water wisteria should be kept in warmer water between 70-82° F. It makes an excellent background plant. Small and shy fish enjoy using it for cover.
Most aquarium plants cannot live in saltwater. It can be hard to find ways to decorate your saltwater aquarium. However, there are a few live plants that are good options for brackish tanks.
Anubias nana are the most common anubias species. They can grow well in both freshwater and brackish water. These plants have thick, dark green stems and large rounded leaves.
These anubias plants are column feeders, though they can be rooted to substrate for stability. They also don’t need trimming very regularly.
Anubias nana are best suited for tanks with water between 72-82° F. They provide good coverage for your tank’s bottom feeders, like loaches or catfish.
Coffee Leaf Anubias
Coffee leaf anubias plants are a variation of the Anubias barteri. They grow broad leaves in a dark, rich color, which is where they get their name.
These plants are root feeders, so they need iron-rich substrate. The stems can grow to be up to 16 inches tall.
Coffee leaf anubias prefer water with temperatures between 68-86° F. Herbivorous fish like goldfish and cichlids will not try to eat this plant, so it can be housed with nearly any fish that thrives in the water temperatures the plant needs.
Guppy grass, or Najas guadalupensis, is a carpet plant that can be planted in both fresh and saltwater tanks. In low-light tanks, it will stay close to the substrate, but guppy grass can grow much taller in moderately or brightly lit tanks.
Guppy grass can also float at the top of your tank for a more natural look. However, it looks best when planted at the foreground of your tank.
This plant will grow in waters anywhere between 64-82° F. Guppy grass is a good option for breeding tanks as it serves as a safe place for fish fry to hatch and grow.
Dwarf sagittaria is also known as Sagittaria subulata. It is a tall grass plant that provides good coverage for your tank’s floor. It has long, wispy leaves that also make it a good background plant.
This plant grows quickly and can reach 12 inches tall. It requires regular trimming if you don’t want it to grow too tall.
Dwarf sagittaria thrive in water between 72-82° F. Any fish that needs water in that temperature range can live in a tank with this plant, but you should avoid herbivorous fish that will eat the leaves.
Moneyworts are also known as Bacopa monnieri, their scientific name. They are column feeders with small, round leaves.
These plants only grow to be about 12 inches tall, so they are a good option for smaller tanks. They don’t need to be trimmed unless you want to keep them shorter.
Moneyworts do best in water temperatures between 72-82° F. They can also be kept under a variety of lighting conditions, not just low-light tanks.
There are plenty of plants that are compatible with low-light tanks. We only covered twenty-eight of the many varieties available.
Most aquarium plants need to be kept in freshwater. There are a few options that will also grow in brackish water.
Low-light plants come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors. They can be kept anywhere in your tank to add to your aquarium’s environment and atmosphere.