Aquatic Plants: The Ultimate 2020 Guide

aquatic plants

If you are looking for an Aquatic Plants Guide in 2020, then you have finally found the definitive guide.

Things everyone should know by now about aquarium plants:

  • Every sustainable and beautiful aquarium has growing plants in it
  • Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to pack your aquarium with dozens of plants. Plant for decorative value, use as few or as many as you desire to make a tasteful arrangement
  • Different kinds of aquatic plants have different uses and requirements
  • It is not advisable to have too many kinds of plants in the aquarium. In a 24-inch tank therefore it is really not practicable to introduce more than three species
  • The conditions in the aquarium are bound to suit some kinds more than others, and these will make rapid progress, eventu­ally crowding out the rest

Aquatic Plants: 3 basic groups

1. Bushy aquatic plants

They sprout branched stems bearing many leaves and are usually propagated by cuttings.

These are what you are most likely to be offered at the dealers.

2. “Crown” aquatic plants

They sprout a number of long leaves from the same place, or “crown”, just above the root.

These usually spread by “runners” under the sand, which send up new plants near the old one.

The young plants are separated off, and so these will have roots to them when you buy them.

3. Floating aquatic plants

They do not have roots in the sand at all, but floats at the surface.

aquatic plants

Aquatic Plants: Making the right choice for your aquarium

There is always the tendency to take a piece of everything that is appealing, especially when confronted with choice and variety.

Reasons not to take every appealing aquatic plant:

  • It always turns out to be a waste of money.
  • A dozen different kinds of plant in a tank will compete for food and light, and before long the strongest will have gained the mastery, the others dying off.

You should focus on 3 choices of aquatic plants for your aquarium

  • 2 aquatic plants for the background
  • 1 aquatic plant as a center-piece

How to choose the right aquatic plants for your aquarium

  • Healthy plants are plump, crisp and intense in color; refuse those that are limp and pale
  • Most aquatic plants are rather brittle when out of water and must be handled carefully. Never pick them up by the middle of the stem; the best way is to lift them by the base, so that they hang down from the fingers
  • Select young, half-grown plants rather than fully grown ones, and with as many leaves as possible
  • Many of the plants which propagate by cuttings will be seen to have fine, hair-like roots sprouting from the nodes from which branches spring; choose these, as they will “take” more quickly
  • Plants with crowns must have good roots, and you should examine these to see that they are plump and bushy

Aquatic Plants: Disinfecting the plants

When we talk about disinfecting aquatic plants, you have to also remember to disinfect the tank.

You therefore need a solution that will effectively destroy any organism on the aquatic plants. 

Using Clorox or Alcohol to disinfect

Chlorox and alcohol are intended to kill disease organisms on aquatic plants

Things to note when disinfecting aquatic plants with Chlorox:

  • You have to use gloves  
  • Use Clorox at higher concentrations but take caution when handling the Chlorox
  • Chlorox does not kills snails at moderate concentrations
  • CHlorox needs contact for at least a few minutes to be effective on other organisms  
  • Rinse everything to remove residual Clorox
  • At low concentrations and short contact time procedures are known for treating plants and fish eggs with Clorox to remove undesirable organisms.
How to Disinfect a Used or Contaminated Aquarium with Bleach

Sterilizing using Salt

Salt is ideal for disinfecting equipment for the aquarium   

Advantages of using salt over all of the other sanitizers/sterilizers 

  • At low levels it is non-toxic to fish and plants
  • It helps to prevent velvet outbreaks
  • It promotes the slime coat on fish
  • At high concentrations it kills snails, leaches (like those that come in with black worms), planaria, hydra, all types of external fish parasites, and all types of bacteria
  • It also kills residual algae on equipment at high concentrations

Using salt in granular form and in solution form

  • In the granular form it can serve as a scouring agent to help remove algae from surfaces before filling the tank back up again
  • It is very easy to use as a water solution

Types of salt for your aquarium

  • Kosher salt and non-iodized table salt can be bought in small sizes but is a bit more expensive than others
  • Ice melting salt is cheap but often contains black solids that look ugly but cause no problems
  • Water softening salt which comes as rock salt or pellets in 40 to 50 pound sacks and is $5 to $7 per bag

How to create an effective salt sterilizing solution (SSS)

  • Add at least 1200 grams of salt (4 cups is about right) to a gallon jug
  • Fill the jug with hot water to speed the dissolution process
  • Stir well and then let set an hour or overnight, and then stir again. If cold water is used, it may take a day or more to prepare the solution if you want to make sure it is really saturated. 
Why is Super Saturated Salt (SSS) good for killing organisms?
  • The SSS usually kills any organisms it contacts even in the crevasses between glass and silicone sealant or under the plastic rim. 
  • It effectively kills these organisms in a matter of a minute or less.  
  • So by the time you have completed scrubbing down all the insides of the tank, and maybe some of the outside, all you have to do is drain out the SSS and rinse.   
  • A SSS is nontoxic to you and any residual salt when you are finished does not have to be removed.  It can simply be diluted with the water you use to refill the tank.
  • The recovered SSS from the tank cleaning can be used again and again unless it becomes too diluted with water.  
  • SSS offers a great way to sanitize gravel.  Drain the gravel as much as possible and then add enough SSS to cover it. 
  • You can also use SSS to disinfect fishing nets. Simply store the nets in a container of a SSS to disinfect them. 
  • A SSS can be used to sterilize spawning mops, spawning cones and slates just before use.  This makes sure that the spawning site is not going to provide bacterial that might destroy the eggs. 
Can I use diluted Super Saturated Salt on Baby Brine Shrimp?

Yes. SSS can be diluted to make the salt solution used to hatch baby brine shrimp.  

How do I make a liter of this 2.5% SSS to use on Baby Brine Schrimp?
  • Dilute 94 grams (79 mL)(1/3rd cup) of the SSS with 921 mL (3.8 cups) of water.  
  • Dilute 362 grams (302mL) (~1.25 cups) of the SSS with 3538 mL (14.75 cups) of water. 
  • Verify that the solution is made properly using a refractometer or other aquarium specific gravity instrument. This will confirm the specific gravity is close to that wanted

Aquatic Plants: Planting


  • Add interesting rocks and driftwood to give the aquarium a very natural tone
  • Use of one type of rock or driftwood in the tank for consistency
  • Plan the layout to accommodate future growth

Planting stem aquatic plants

Planting Anubais and Java Fern

  • Attach to the wood or submerged rocks within the aquarium
  • Wedge ferns and anubais between rocks and hardscape to prevent them from floating away
  • Tie the ferns in specific areas of the aquarium
  • Use cotton thread to make sure it eventually dissolves in the water
  • For larger aquatic plants, use fishing wire to tie the plants to the hardscape

Planting crypts/potted plants

  • Take out the wool that protects the root structure and carefully remove the plant from the pot making sure to be extra careful with the root system.
  • Dig a small hole in the gravel
  • Push the plant into it and cover it up on all sides after removing from the pot

Planting Moss

  • Planting moss can be an extremely frustrating process due to moss size and density.
  • Switch off the filter to make sure the planting goes smoothly
  • Tie on the moss with fine colorless cotton string.
  • Alternatively, you can place a coin directly onto the moss to weigh it down.
  • After a week, remove the coin from the aquarium and the moss ‘feet’ will have grown onto the ornament.

Planting Hair grass

  • Remove the stems from the pot without disturbing the root
  • Spread out each shoot into one or two stems.
  • Plant each thin stem about half an inch from the next in a grid pattern to ensure that the Hair grass spreads naturally and densely.

Planting tips

  • Use strong aquarium light, co2 and fertilizers for the initial stages after planting
  • Purchase aquatic plants that look healthy and have budding plants that show signs of white roots
  • Make sure that the aquarium tank does not have any algae.
  • Do not purchase artificial plants that might not be unsuitable for the tank ecosystem
  • Purchase plants from reputable growers and high quality aquarists

Aquatic Plants: Aquarium Layouts

The right aquarium layouts will help you have a sustainable ecosystem.

3 standard layouts you can use when setting up the aquarium

1. The U-Shape aquarium layout

The U-Shape layout creates an open space in the middle of the aquarium.

Your planting options
  • Select what plants to use and where to position them after considering the growth habits of the plant (such as height and growth rate)
  • Determine the maintenance requirements of the plant
  • Use decorative sands and graded gravels to create the ‘U’ shape
  • Now you can plant to soften the harsh edges of the hard-scape

2. The Triangle aquarium layout

With this layout, the tank is in the corner of the room and viewing angles are restricted.

  • Plant around the tank in the corner of the room next to a wall
  • Then gradually reduce the height of the planting as it moves further away from the wall
Using the Golden Ratio
  • First determine the size of the open space
  • Aquatic plants will make up two thirds of the space
  • One third of the space will be left open
  • Utilize triangles throughout the design of the tank to highlight the composition and dimensions
  • Use wood or stones to counter balance the triangular planting of this design by pointing them in the opposite direction
Your planting options
  • Choose aquatic plants that have manageable maintenance requirements
  • Make sure the plants will maintain the desired height levels
  • Consider using stem plants due to their growth habits. Use them in the corner of the aquarium where the planting is at its greatest height.

3. The Island layout

This is the perfect layout if you have a large aquarium

  • All the main hardscape and planting is in the centre of the tank
  • The height graduates from high in the centre to lower on the edges
  • Dynamic triangles can also be added to sections in the centre
Your planting options
  • Use low growing plants
  • Use the hard scape and the height of the substrate to position the island shape in the centre.
  • Avoid dominant stones, wood or plants in the middle of the aquarium
Top 10 Beautiful Aquatic Plant Layouts in Aquariums

Aquatic Plants: List

The following list of the plants which are usually obtainable and suitable for aquaria is in alphabetical order.

It is in­tended chiefly to guide you in your choice of aquatic plants.

Types of Aquatic Plant for your Aquarium

Aquatic Plants: a-b

Anubias lanceolata

Leathery pointed dark green leaves rising from a crown; somewhat resembling a miniature aspidistra. Slow-growing.

Comes from West Africa, and makes an interesting centerpiece for the tropical tank. Not often available, and usually rather expensive.

Aponogeton undulatum

Beautiful rich green leaves with wavy edges, rising rather stiffly from a crown. Needs good light. Found in the Indian region, and useful for tropical tanks only, mainly as a center-piece.

Azolla caroliniana

Floating Minute green leaves which spread in masses over the surface, and may be difficult to keep in check. Under a good light it turns red. Flourishes in both tropical or cold aquaria.

Bacopa monieri

Branched, propagated by cuttings. Has small (half-inch) broad, almost circular leaves set closely against the thick fleshy stems.

In the closely related B. caroliniana the leaves are longer in proportion. They grow in both cold and tropical tanks, preferring the latter.

Aquatic Plants: c

Cabomba carolinensis

Branched, propagated by cuttings. One of the finest of the bushy plants, having finely-divided fan- like leaves set in pairs on the stems at short intervals; the color is deep rich green.

This luxuriant plant is ornamental.

Related species which may be available are C. viridifolia, lighter green in color, C. aquatica, bronze- green, and C. rosaefolia, coppery-red.

They grow in cold as well as tropical tanks; they are not recommended to be kept with Goldfish, however, as these fish eat them.

They need a strong light, or they grow long and straggly, with few leaves.

Callitriche verna (Starwort)

 A plant that is attractive in the cold-water aquarium. Clusters of pale green foliage are found below water, and in summer rosettes of floating leaves may be found on the surface.

It stops growing or dies down in winter, but the related C. autumnalis iwhich does not have surface leaves, flourishes throughout the year.

Ceratophyllum demersum (Hornwort)

Branched, propagated by cuttings. It is very dark green, with finely divided leaves set in close whorls, which are particularly dense towards the tips of the stems. The whole plant is very brittle; it does not easily take root, but does well as a floating plant. Needs strong light.

Ceratopteris thalictroides (Water Sprite)

Floating or rooted. This beautiful, bright green plant is a real fern, which appears to be primarily a floating plant. It can, however, be rooted into the sand, when the leaves grow delicately divided. Young plants develop in the edges of the leaves, and float to the surface.

If not forced to root, they grow into floating ferns with broad, scarcely-divided leaves, so different that they have been given a name (C. deltoides) as though a different species.

There is another species, however, which has broader leaves even when under water—C. pteroides. These are only for the tropical aqua¬ rium; they are very ornamental and interesting.

Cryptocoryne cordata

Pointed, rather leathery leaves, bronze- green above, coppery below, rising on slender stalks from a crown; like a miniature aspidistra.

C. ciliata is similar, but the leaves are rather broader and more wavy, and bright green in color; C. wightii (willisii) has narrower, rich green, very wavy or crinkled leaves.

C. griffithii has large broad leaves, sometimes almost round, which are dark green and have a waxy gloss above, and are set on proportionately longer stems. C. beckettii is a small species, the leaves bright green, very pointed, and not wavy at all.

These five species are the most commonly used of the Cryptocoryne, and can be had from most dealers. They are favorite decorative plants.

Coming from the Indo-Malayan region, they are mostly swamp-plants, but live for a very long time completely submerged, and do not need a strong light.

They spread into dense clumps, and it is advisable to divide up the roots (corms) after a while, to give the young ones more space to grow.

Aquatic Plants: e

Echinodorus intermedius (Amazon Sword-plant)

1 Long, light green leaves, on comparatively short stems rising from a crown. A magnificent plant, growing to a large size under the right conditions.

Not more than one will be needed in any ordinary aquarium. Good, but not excessive light is needed, and temperatures above 65°F.

It sends runners from the crown which grow into young plants; these should be removed when well established, to be used for other tanks, or exchanged with other aquarists.

Other species becoming available are E. rangeri, with much broader leaves, E. martii in which also the leaves are very broad but are wavy also and very decorative. E. tenellus is a pigmy species, known as the “Chain Sword- plant”, usually only about three inches high, and therefore useful for planting in the front part of the tank; it does not need a strong light. All these are from tropical America.

Egeria densa (often called Elodea densa)

Branching, propagated by cuttings. Dark green foliage in dense whorls on the long stems; under a good light it will produce small white three-petalled flowers at the surface.

Eleocharis acicularis (Hair Grass)

Very slender, needle-like leaves rising in a bunch from a rooted crown, to a height of about six inches. A European plant which does not like high temperatures but also cannot stand much cold; 6o°F. is a good average. Not an easy plant to grow, but attractive in some kinds of tank layout.

Elodea canadensis (Canadian Pond-weed, or Anacharis)

A North American plant which is sometimes a pest. Propagated by cuttings, and grows rapidly in a good light; in a poor light it will be straggly and pale in color. E. callitrichoides is a related species. Both have small, light green pointed leaves closely set on the stems.

8 Aquarium Plant That Can Grow Without Soil

Aquatic Plants: f-h

Fontinalis antipyretica (Willow-moss)

Very small dark green leaves densely-packed on the stems which form a tangled mass, moss-like in appearance. A native plant useful in the cold-water aquaria; it collects a good deal of sediment. Does not require a strong light. F. gracilis is a much more delicate species, paler green in color, which can be grown in the tropical aquaria. Both these are very useful when breeding fishes, providing shelter for eggs and young.

Heteranthera zosteraefolia

A delicate-looking plant. The slender stems bear rather long, transparent pale green leaves set alternately on opposite sides. Propagated by cuttings. Needs moderate temperatures and a strong light.

Hottonia palustris (Water violet)

A species which makes a very attractive addition to the cold-water tank. Can be grown from cuttings, but rooted stems are best. Has delicate fern-like leaves on the submerged stems.

Hydrocharis morsus-ranae (Frog-bit)

Floating. Forms a rosette of heart-shaped leaves on the surface, and sends up pretty white flowers in a good light. A species for the cold-water tank only. A Frog-bit suitable for the tropical tank is Limnobium spongia, from Brazil).

Hygrophila polysperma

Branching, propagated by cuttings. Rather long oval leaves, bright green, in opposite pairs on the stems. Originating in the Indian region, this is one of the easiest plants to grow in the tropical aquarium, and can be adapted to the cold tank too. Recommended for the beginner

Aquatic Plants: l

Lagarosiphon major (wrongly called Elodea crispa)

Propagated by cuttings. Long stems thickly clothed with dark green leaves that curl backwards in a decorative way

Lemna gibba (Thick Duckweed)

Floating. This and its rela­tives, the Lesser {L. minor) and the Ivy-leaved (L. trisulcd) Duckweeds, are very simple plants, consisting of scarcely more than a tiny bright green blade floating on the sur­ face ; these soon multiply to cover the whole area of tank or pond, and are often a nuisance, shutting out the light from other plants. They are often useful in the cold-water tank, however, as Goldfish like them to eat, and can be used as shade in a tank that gets too much sun.

Limnobium spongia (see Hydrocharis)

Limnophila sessiliflora (often called Ambulia)

Branched, propa­ gated by cuttings. Bright green, deeply divided leaves arranged in whorls round the stems. Grows easily in a good light. Comes from India.

Ludwigia mullertii

 Branching, propagated by cuttings. This is really a marsh-plant, and likes to have some of its leaves above the water, but lives for a long while as a submerged plant. The oval leaves are bright green above and pink beneath. This, and the related L. ramosus (more bushy and redder leaves) and L. macrocarpa (leaves all green) are native to America. Growth will be quicker if the lower leaves are taken off before planting. They do not thrive in hard water and need a strong light.

Aquatic Plants: m-n

Marsilea quadrifoliata (Australian four-leaved Clover)

This is actually a fern, but has not that appearance. Slender stems rise straight from a runner in the sand, each crowned with a four-lobed leaf, the whole being deep rich green. The stems grow very tall and straggly in time, and it is a good idea to let a piece float at the surface for a while; it then gets many leaves on short stems, and looks pretty when set down in front of rocks.

Myriophyllum spicatum (Water Milfoil)

Propagated by cuttings. Very fine, almost hair-like leaves arranged in thick whorls round the stems. Several species are available; this one is green with bronze tints; M. hippuroides is pale green; M. heterophyllum and M. pinnatum are bronze-red. They do equally well in cool or tropical tanks, but they need room to grow, and a strong light, and do not like hard water. The stems tend to grow very long, and to lie along the surface of the water.

When this happens it is advisable to cut them about half-way down; this encourages the production of new shoots, and the end that is removed can be re-planted.

Nitella gracilis (Stonewort)

Propagated by cuttings. A very delicate-looking plant, light green with slender stems from which radiate whorls of still more slender stem-cum-leaves. It is a primitive kind of plant the exact relationships of which are uncertain. It grows best at the higher tem­ peratures, and prefers hard water).

Nuphar (Water-lilies)

One or two varieties of plant related to the common yellow water-lily can be used in the aquarium, staying small in the restricted space. They make an attractive center-piece, but very rarely flower. They grow from a rhizome, a thick, woody sort of root; when well established parts may be cut from the rhizome to start new plants. They do not require very strong light. Not always obtainable.

Aquatic Plants: r-s

Ranunculus aquatilis (Water Crowfoot)

A pretty species, best grown from a root. It has slender pale green branching stems, bearing finely divided foliage underwater, and pretty three-lobed ones floating on the surface.

Under a strong light it produces white flowers. A plant for the cold water tank, preferring hard water, and useful in the breeding-tank).

Riccia fluitans (Crystal wort)

Floating. This very small, bright green plant is like a slender, many-branched duckweed; it has no roots and never bears flowers.

It multiplies rapidly, and under suitable conditions will completely cover the surface of the tank, sometimes to a depth of two or three inches.

This completely cuts out light from other plants, and is not generally to be encouraged. Riccia is, however, very useful when breeding some fishes, providing splendid shelter for the babies, and also in tanks exposed to too much sunshine.

If weighed down, it can be made to grow as a carpet on the sand, giving a beautiful effect.

Sagittaria natans (Arrowhead)

Rooted, leaves rising from a crown. The submerged leaves are long and strap-like; under good conditions long stems are sent up bearing oval leaves that float and arrow-shaped leaves that rise above the surface (the latter rarely in aquariums).

The submerged leaves of S. natans are brilliant green, and rarely exceed twelve inches in length.

Another species, S. subulata, has dark green leaves which grow straighter, and are rather more tubular in form, while for larger tanks S. sinensis is a giant of the group. S. graminea is a more delicate, grass-like form, and other kinds are sometimes available.

These are plants of the temperate regions, from the United States to Japan, but can be used in both cold and tropical tanks.

Salvinia braziliensis

Floating. A tropical plant having a double row of very small hairy, waterproof leaves on a small stem, and dangling roots. It is the prettiest of floating plants for the tropical tank, and less likely to be a pest than the others. S. natans, from India, is similar, and S. major is a larger species having leaves half an inch or more long).

Aquatic Plants: u-v

Utricularia minor (Lesser Bladderwort)

Floating, or scarcely rooted, but submerged. Forms a dense mass of fine stems, bearing tiny bladders which capture microscopic water- animals.

The larger species, U. vulgaris, should be avoided, as it can catch newly-hatched fish. The Lesser species is valuable in the breeding tank, however, as it provides excellent shelter for the fryP).

Vallisneria spiralis (Tape-grass)

Rooted, with grass-like leaves rising from a crown.

The best of all aquarium-plants, combining beauty with usefulness. The vivid green leaves usually have a slight twist in them, and one variety, called torta, has this exaggerated to give a corkscrew effect which is very pleasing.

Under a good light the plant sends up a spiral stem which bears a little white female flower at the surface; the male flowers, which are seldom seen, are submerged, near the crown of the plant.

Propagation is usually by means of runners, and a dense thicket is soon formed.

It is a native of the United States and Southern Europe ; it can be adapted to both cold and warm tanks, and is not fussy about the hardness of the water.