Many people add fake plants to their aquarium, but some of the best aquarium plants are actually alive. They introduce oxygen into the water, and these water plants also come in a broad range of colors, sizes, and shapes that can add interest to your aquarium. The best aquarium plants create natural hiding spaces for your more timid fish to keep them safe. However, since there is such a huge range of plants available, finding the best ones for your wants and needs can be very overwhelming. It’s easy to pick one or two, but you want plants that work together and create a nice environment for your fish.
This is why I’ve picked out the best aquarium plants available. I’ve chosen different sizes, colors, and shapes to give you a nice variety to choose from, and they work well for both beginner and veteran aquarium keepers. No matter if you’re a hobbyist or you have several large setups, this is for you. You’ll see several examples of beautiful plants and put together a nice aquarium for any fish you have.
Adding a few of the best aquarium plants to your tank is a nice way to introduce more oxygen in the water while giving your fish natural hiding spots. They can also add color and texture.
1. African Water Fern
Better known as the Congo fern, this plant offers delicately cut leaves in a dark green hue. Although this is a much slower growing best aquarium plant, it can grow very tall. It’s extremely useful as a bottom plant, and it can get up to 16-inches tall by 6 or 8-inches wide, but it can take up to 60 days to reach this size. You’ll need to achor it onto a piece of wood or rock, or you can get creative and anchor it to the wall of your aquarium or to the floor using a flat rock buried in the sand or pebbles.
You don’t want to bury this plant, but you should tether it to keep it in place. You can accomplish this by wrapping the rhizomes with fishing line. It likes slightly acidic or soft water with a gentle current, but it easily adjusts to brighter light conditions. You can use an aquarium-safe liquid fertilizer to encourage growth, and you want to put it by the bubbler if possible.
2. Amazon Sword
If you’re looking for one of the best aquarium plants for the background, look no further than the African Sword. If you decide to plant it by itself, it can turn into an eye-catching centerpiece because it has lush green leaves. If you have a dark background, this coloring will really stand out. You can also create a forest-like effect in your aquarium if you plant several Amazon Sword plants in a cluster. This will be thick foliage for your fish to hide in, but goldfish can be very hard on this type of plant.
This is one of the best aquarium plants for beginners because it’s very hardy and will thrive in a host of conditions. It needs a pH level between 6.5 and 7.5, moderate to strong lighting for 10 to 12 hours a day, and it likes the water to range from 72 to 80-degrees F. It can grow between 12 and 20-inches high depending on the aquarium size, but you’ll have to trim it to keep it from taking over.
3. Anubia Nana
This is a short plant that comes with broad leaves, and this is one of the best aquarium plants due to the dark coloring and how it helps clean the tank. It’s a very low-maintenance plant, and it needs at least a 10-gallon tank. Also, it’ll survive most beginner mistakes without damage, and it’s a very slow-growing plant that you’ll want to take the time to trim once it gets around 7.5-inches. It spreads out as it grows to cover a decent area of your aquarium, and it looks great against a light background.
It needs low to moderate lighting, and the pH should range between 6 and 7.5. The water should be between 72 and 82-degrees F to keep it happy, and it does very well in the background or foreground. Propagating this plant is very easy by dividing the roots, and the plant can produce small white flowers if it’s only partially submerged in the aquarium. The roots grow down into the sand or pebbles to anchor it.
4. Cryptocoryne Balansae
This is one of the longest-lasting best aquarium plants available, but the larger size makes it very imposing. With the proper care, it can grow between 11 and 21-inches tall over the course of several months. Putting it in a larger aquarium will encourage it to grow bigger and spread out. It grows very long, thin leaves with a deep green coloring. The green gets lighter by the middle before darkening at the edges, and it uses runners to reproduce and spread along your tank.
This best aquarium plant needs rocky substrate with medium lighting, but it can survive either partially or fully submerged. Since it can grow so large, it does very well as a background plant, but it can survive in the middle of the tank too. It needs a pH range of 6.8 to 7.5, and the temperature range starts at 72-degrees F and goes up to 80-degrees F. This plant can also have a slightly bronze hue, and you’ll want to periodically use column fertilization to keep it growing.
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5. Cryptocoryne Beckettii
A close relative to Cryptocoryne Balansae, this best aquarium plant can thrive in indoor or outdoor koi ponds, aquariums, or other environments. It can live immersed or fully submerged in freshwater aquariums, and they can reach between four to six inches high and just as wide to create a nice fore or midground plant. It won’t obscure anything behind it, and it has reddish-hued leaves in a unique shape that makes it an eye-catching addition to your aquarium.
You can put this best aquarium plant right into the substrate, or you can attach it to rocks or pieces of driftwood to create a natural appearance. It needs a pH range that falls between 5.5 and 8, and it does very well in moderate to low lighting. This plant needs a lot of CO2 and a nutrient rich substrate to grow well, and it really doesn’t like you to move it once it establishes roots. This is a slow-growing plant that does very well in established aquariums, but subjecting it to strong light can speed up the growth.
6. Cryptocoryne Wendtii
This is one of the most well-known best aquarium plants that is native to Sri Lanka. Also called the Water Trumpet, and it’s low enough to the ground that you can easily add it anywhere into your aquarium without a problem. This plant comes in a broad range of colors ranging from red to deep green, and it has very narrow stalks with longer and narrow leaves with gently rounded edges. The leaf size ranges from 5 to 18 inches, and it creates a nice focal point in the front of your tank.
This best aquarium plant can easily survive a broad range of light conditions ranging from low to high light, but higher light will encourage it to grow faster. It will respond to CO2 injection, but it doesn’t need it to grow. It likes stable conditions, so you don’t want to move it once it starts to grow. You can easily propagate it with root cuttings, but you should give it at least 60 days to establish itself before you try it.
Duckweed is a very common flowering free floating plant, and it’s one of the best aquarium plants if you’re looking for something that grows in small clusters. Each plant has one to three leaves on it, and the leaves are small at 1/16 to 1/8 inch in length. These are very aggressive plants that can easily take over aquariums or wildlife ponds if you don’t monitor them very carefully. You have to be very careful with this plant because it can cause oxygen depletion for your fish that can kill them.
You can put duckweed anywhere you like in your tank, and this best aquarium plant does well in corners. This plant has very light green coloring, and it likes areas away from the bubbler because it doesn’t do well if the water is constantly in motion. They like high light conditions, but they can be very difficult to remove if you don’t keep them in check and you let them take over your tank.
8. Elodea Densa
This best aquarium plant is very beginner-friendly, and it’s a very low-maintenance aquatic plant that will thrive in a broad range of tank conditions. It has dark green coloring that gives the aquarium a lush shade, and it does best in the back of the aquarium because it grows so large. If you put it in the front, it’ll obscure a large amount of your tank. It forms a long stem with tiny leaves that run up and down both sides, and it’ll move to the top of the tank to take advantage of the light before sinking in dark conditions.
You want to bury this best aquarium plant in one or two inches of substrate to give it something to anchor to, and you have to space this plant out to give it room to grow and spread out. The pH levels should range between 6.5 and 7.5, and the temperature can range between 60 and 82-degrees. You need at least two watts of lighting per gallon to make this plant happy, and it’ll need a fertilizer in a tropical tank.
9. Hygrophila Polysperma
This is one of the hardiest aquatic plants available in the best aquarium plants list, and it’s native to SouthEast Asia. It’ll grow very quickly under a broad range of conditions, and this makes it good for novices. Since it can grow so fast and very tall, you want to space this plant out along the back of your tank. It does well close to the bubbler, and it can handle water movement without damage. Once it starts to grow, you do have to keep an eye on it and routinely prune it and trim it back or keep it healthy.
This best aquarium plant needs low lighting conditions with low CO2, and it can grow between 20 and 30-inches tall in a few months. You get a long stem with light green, elongated leaves that grow around the stem. The pH should range between 5 and 8, and it needs a minimum tank size of 10 gallons. For the temperature, it ranges between 64 and 86-degrees F.
10. Java Fern
This is a traditional green plant for your tank, and this best aquarium plant comes with a slow growth rate while being very easy to propagate. At the highest point, this plant can grow up to 13.5-inches high, and this makes it nice in the background or in the middle of the aquarium. You can grow it fully or partially submerged, and it does well on rocks, the walls, driftwood, or in the substrate. You can get it as a plant or it can come pre-attached to a piece of driftwood that you pop into your tank.
You’ll get a thick clump of lush green leaves with elongated leaves with this best aquarium plant, and it needs a pH range between 6 and 7.5 to grow. You’ll set moderate light without it being too bright, and it likes a broad temperature range starting at 68-degrees F and going up to 80-degrees F. You should divide the rhizomes and attach them to driftwood if you want more Java Ferns in your tank.
11. Java Moss
This is one of the most common types of mosses grown in freshwater aquariums, and this best aquarium plant thrives in a broad range of conditions. This plant gives your aquarium a natural aging look, especially when you attach it to driftwood or rocks. It can give you aquarium movement, and it has a bright green coloring that is very attractive. It has very irregular small branches attached to one and two millimeter long leaves, and it absorbs the nutrients it needs through the stems and leaves.
Java Moss does well in low to bright lighting conditions, and it grows well fully or partially submerged. This best aquarium plant needs a pH range of 5.0 to 8.0, and the temperature can range from 59-degrees F to 82-degrees F. You can train it to cover the floor, walls, or even the filter to soften out any harsh edges and give your aquarium a natural look. It’s popular in breeder tanks to help hide the eggs and fry from other fish in the tank.
Moneywort is a stem plant, and this means that this best aquarium plant grows smaller leaves along a very thin stem, and it grows upwards rather than wide. The leaves grow in an alternating pattern along the plant’s stem, and this allows fish to move through it. It has an average height of 12-inches, but it can grow much taller with the correct lighting in larger aquariums. It has a bright green coloring that contrasts nicely with dark backgrounds, and it does best in the background.
This best aquarium plant likes moderate to natural lighting, but it can grow up to the top of the aquarium to improve the light conditions. The pH should range between 6.5 to 7.5, and the temperature can fluctuate from 72-degrees F to 82-degrees F. It requires a high-quality aquarium fertilizer to boost the growth when you first plant it, and you can propagate it by cutting nodes off when the white roots get around an inch long before burying them in the substrate
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13. Pygmy Chain Sword
If you’re after a plant to cover the foreground of your aquarium without growing too large and obscuring your view, this is the best aquarium plant for you. It’ll grow fully or semi-immersed in water, and it has narrow but spiky leaves with either a bright green or blue-green hue. It’ll grow to a maximum of four inches high and three inches wide, and it works well in hydroponic systems. This plant will grow very rapidly, and this is especially true if you put a nice fertilizer into the tank when you introduce it.
This best aquarium plant likes two to three watts per gallon for more intense lighting for 8 to 10 hours a day, and it likes a pH range of 6.0 to 8.0. It will grow in brackish water, but this may require some experimentation on your part. The temperature range starts at 72-degrees F and goes up to 8-degrees F, and this plant will pull any excess nitrogen from your tank to help keep it clear, balanced, and healthy.
14. Red Ludwigia
Although this is a slightly more finicky plant to grow, the gorgeous coloring puts it as one of the best aquarium plants available. The deep red coloring is very eye-catching, and it’ll go well in any freshwater aquarium. This is a medium plant that can grow up to 20-inches tall and 2-inches wide, so it does better in the back or mid-ground of your tank. However, it can take years to reach this size, so you could even plant it in the front of the aquarium if you wanted to enjoy it more.
This best aquarium plant does well in any substrate but sand because sand can suffocate it. They propagate very quickly, so you only need a few unless you have a huge aquarium. They need average or medium light at a rate of 0.5-watt per gallon, and they have a medium grow rate associated with them. You need a pH around 7.0 with warm water, and you can cut the stems to create more.
15. Rotala Rotundifolia
This best aquarium plant originates from Southeast Asia, and the name means round leaves, so it should come as no surprise that you get a stem plant with small round leaves in a nice green shade. It grows 15 to 30 long stems per clump of plant, and it has long, narrow leaves. It’ll form side shoots as it grows to fill the plant in and make it very bushy and compact, and this makes it great for the mid or foreground. You will have to prune this plant with the right tools to ensure light reaches the bottom leaves.
It needs medium to high lighting to help it keep the rich colors, and this best aquarium plant requires you to avoid having an uncycled tank or high alkalinity. You can add CO2 injections to the water to encourage growth, but it doesn’t need it to survive. The pH should fall between 5.5 and 7.5, and you can plant it directly on the substrate to encourage growth. The temperature can range between 70-degrees F and 80-degrees F.
16. Tiger Lotus
This is a plant with bright red bulbs, and it’s native to Africa. This best aquarium plant can grow very large at over 30-inches tall and 20-inches wide, so you want to put it in the back of your tank to stop it from blocking your view of your aquarium. The deep red coloring sets off nicely against dark or lighter backgrounds, and it’ll grow very quickly once it establishes itself. This is why beginners like this plant, and it adds a pop of color that can liven up your aquarium.
To get this best aquarium plant to grow, bury ¼ of the blub into the substrate. It’ll grow in stages, and it may periodically go dormant during the first few weeks. You need temperatures ranging between 75-degrees F and 85-degrees F. It doesn’t handle colder water. The pH range starts at 5.0 and goes up to 8.0, and it needs moderate to high lighting. However, it’ll start to grow up toward the light once it takes off, so you can get away with slightly dimmer lighting.
17. Vallisneria Spiralis
This is a tall rosette-type plant that is a classic for beginner and veteran aquarium enthusiasts alike. This best aquarium plant won’t survive if you take it out of the water for long. It grows long and narrow leaves that feature deep green coloring with yellow striping that earned it the common name of the Tiger plant. It works very well in small aquariums because it doesn’t grow that big, and the leaves have a narrow look that won’t take over the other plants in the area.
When you see runners, you can use your garden scissors to cut them off to propagate new plants. It has a very low light demand, and it can grow in virtually any lighting condition. It’ll get 11 to 20-inches tall, but it only spreads between 2 and 3-inches wide. The pH can fluctuate between 6.0 and 8.0 without hurting it, and you should keep the temperature between 63-degrees F and 82-degrees F.
18. Water Lettuce
Next up on the best aquarium plants list is an interesting choice called Water Lettuce. This is a slightly more difficult plant to grow, but it’s well worth it. It grows floating near the surface of your aquarium, and the leaves form a tight rosette with trailing roots that submerge under it. You’ll want to remove a few plants every month or so to prevent it from taking over your aquarium and blocking all of the light out from your other plants.
This best aquarium plant can get up to 10-inches wide, and it needs a pH range of 6.5 to 7.2 to grow well. The temperature can drop to 70-degrees F and go up to 80-degrees F without damaging it, and it needs high lighting. However, since it grows right by the top of the tank, the lighting shouldn’t be a problem as long as you switch it on during the day.
19. Water Wisteria
The Water Wisteria plant provides excellent cover for your fish, and it features a deep green coloring. It’s one of the best aquarium plants due to how easy it is to grow and maintain, and you can either root it directly into your substrate or spread it across the bottom of the tank like a lush, green carpet. The stems can reach up to 20-inches high and 10-inches wide, and this means it can cover a lot of your tank and block out the light unless you trim it.
To make this best aquarium plant grow, keep your pH levels between 6.5 and 7.5, and the temperature between 70-degrees F and 80-degrees F. They like soft to moderately hard water, and it will do well in a broad range of lighting conditions with regular aquarium lights. Spread the plant out when you put it in the tank so it doesn’t compete with other Wisteria.
Adding layers of the best aquarium plants in your tank will keep your fish happy and your aquarium clean. They require little maintenance, and they’ll help to balance your chemicals.
These 19 best aquarium plants can help you create a colorful, textured aquarium that is clean and clear. They’ll create natural hiding spaces for your fish, and you can stagger them from the front to the back of your aquarium to get a lush and full look you can’t wait to show off.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.