9 Plant types and their uses in the aquarium

plant type

For your aquarium, plant types can be divided into groups:

  • according to their external characteristics
  • their growth form and their way of reproducing vegetatively

This not only serves to keep track of the now immense number of species that are regularly offered as aquarium plants, it also has practical advantages.

The same types of plants are similar in their cultivation conditions and can often be used in a comparable manner in the aquarium as a background or foreground plant.

Use epiphytes or specimen plants in the center of the aquarium.

Below is a list of 9 plant types that you should consider for your aquarium.

Plant Type: Stem plants

Plant type
Stem Plants

The Indian giant water Hygrophila corymbosa is a typical stem plant

Stem plants with their sprouts grow as vertically and purposefully as possible without detours towards the light and the water surface. They grow particularly quickly and are therefore particularly suitable for the initial planting of a newly set up aquarium.

You can get them in the aquarium shop mostly as single shoots without roots. They are planted in dense groups – depending on their size – in the background or middle ground. So that they take root well in the fine gravel or sand, the lowest leaves are removed and the end of the stem cut. Then you put each individual stalk at least 2 to 3 cm deep into the substrate.

The leaves are alternate or opposite or arranged in whorls around the stem. There are smooth-edged, notched, lobed and pinnate leaf shapes. Stem plants are relatively easy to propagate with the help of cuttings. When the water surface is reached, the shoot tips are cut off about 5 to 10 cm deep and immediately replanted as head cuttings in the bottom of the aquarium. At the interface of the mother plant, branches and side shoots then often form, which can also be cut back and used to propagate cuttings. Typical stem plants can be found in the genera Rotala, Ludwigia, Alternanthera, Hygrophila and Limnophila.

A special case are stem plants floating freely in the water that cannot or do not have to take root in the ground. These include, for example, some waterweed, horn and thousand-leaf species.

Plant Type: Rosette-forming plants

Plant Type
Rosette-forming plants

Water goblets (Cryptocoryne) and sword plants (Eichhornia) are typical rosette plants. They have a short, strongly compressed shoot, at the lower base of which the leaves are formed. As a result, they form a regularly arranged, circular rosette of leaves.

You can get these rosette plants in small pots. The plants are carefully removed from these pots, the outer leaves are removed, the roots are shortened by 2 to 3 cm and the plant is then pressed as deeply as possible into the soil substrate. Then you pull it out again a little so that the plant base is flush with the substrate surface.

Over time, rosette plants form adventitious plants or offshoots at the base, which can be separated and used for vegetative propagation. Depending on the size and shape of the leaves, these rosette plants can be used in the foreground, as background plants or as solitary plants in the center of the aquarium.

Plant Type: Runners-forming plants

Plant Type
Runners-forming plants

Runners such as the Mauritius grass plant Lilaeopsis mauritiana or the dwarf sword plant Echinodorus quadricostatus are often very slender and delicately built.

In the trade they are usually offered wrapped in cotton or rock wool. Carefully cut the rock wool sideways. A small residue is left on the plant root, which makes planting a little easier.

Such plants spread best in the foreground as a lawn-like cushion. And like a lawn, they can be trimmed to a certain height from time to time with special scissors. The somewhat more robust Vallisneria must be prevented from taking possession of the aquarium across the board by regularly removing their offshoots. The offshoots can be reinserted in small groups close to the mother plants or elsewhere in the aquarium.

Plant Type: Rhizome plants

Plant Type
Rhizome plants

Many water ferns like the Java fern Microserum pteropus and the black salsify Bolbitis form root-like rhizomes.

The rhizome must lie close to the surface when the plants are inserted or tied. If it were sunk completely underground, the rhizome could start to rot. Such ferns are excellent as epiphytes. Poorly grown, damaged or dead leaves are removed directly at the rhizome base. The stiff-leaved water ear Aponogeton rigidifolius is also a rhizome plant and not, like the other representatives of this genus, a bulbous plant. Rhizome plants are also the water goblet (genus Cryptocoryne) and sword plants (genus Echinodorus).

Plant Type: Bulbous plants

Plan Type
Bulbous plants

Some aquatic plants form a bulb-shaped, thickened organ by storing reserve substances. These bulbous plants include most of the water ears (genus Aponogeton) and some water lily plants with a bulbous rhizome such as the tiger lotus Nymphaea lotus. In nature, this storage organ helps them to survive dry periods and other times of the year that are unfavorable for growth. To do this, the water temperature in the aquarium is lowered or the tuber is stored in a cool and dark place – wrapped in damp sand.

Plant Type: Tuber plants

Plant Type
Tuber plants

Tuber plants are extremely rare among aquarium plants. The have large showy flowers on leafless stems.

One of the few examples is the hook lily of the genus Crinum from Africa and Southeast Asia. Like the tuber in the Aponogeton species, your bulb is a storage organ to withstand dry periods and longer periods of rest when the plants stop growing.

Before planting, the roots are shortened, the outer, dead shells of the onion are removed and then the onion is inserted up to about halfway deep into the aquarium bottom, whereby the soil must of course have a sufficient layer thickness. Hook lilies can be propagated with the help of bulbs and seeds.

Plant Type: Aquatic moss

Plant Type
Aquatic moss

Several types of moss form dense carpets and lawn-like cushions under water. Since they are usually only short, these aquatic mosses, unlike water ferns, are difficult to tie onto wood and stones.

However, aquatic plant nurseries supply them already safely planted on rustproof stainless steel pads or they are grown on ceramic plates. Both substrates are so heavy that they remain on the bottom without being found. Over time, these areas are so overgrown by moss that the artificial growth substrates can no longer be seen.

From time to time you have to trim and trim the moss cushions. The cut pieces of moss can be stuffed into cracks in the bog wood or tied onto stones and root wood.

Plant Type: Floating plants

Plant Type
Floating plants

Floating plants float on or just below the surface of the water. They receive the necessary buoyancy from leaves or other plant organs that are blown up like bubbles and filled with air-permeated sponge tissue. They have roots or leaves that have been functionally transformed into roots that float freely in the water and with which the floating plants absorb nutrients.

Longer roots, such as the mussel flower or the water hyacinth, serve fry and young fish as a means of attachment and hiding place. So floating plants are not only decorative, they also have an important ecological function to fulfill.

In addition to protection and hiding places for the aquatic animals, they clean the water by removing nutrients and thus also inhibiting the growth of algae. And finally, floating plants also produce oxygen. Some of these exotic aquatic plants can be moved to the garden pond in the summer months.

Others such as the horn and sumatra fern have to stay in the warm water aquarium all year round. With their help, part of the underlying water layers can be darkened somewhat, as some bottom fish can only tolerate subdued light.

Plant Type: Epiphytes

Plant Type

Epiphytes are plants that do not take root directly in the ground, but rather grow as epiphytes on trees and stones. Such epiphytes are mainly found in the tropical rainforest, but also under water. They can be used in the aquarium to plant bog roots with them. The best-known examples are Java fern and Java moss, which are tied to the wood with the help of thin threads or wires or grow into the cracks and small openings in the wood surface.

The specialist trade offers cleverly designed mbuna. The “trunk” of such a mbuna is a gnarled piece of savannah wood, on which a spear plate, e.g. Anubias nana is seated. Over time, the treetop becomes larger and denser and the drooping roots look like small lianas. With such Mbunas an entire underwater forest can be created.

As solitary plants, it can be used to set territorial boundaries for territorial fish, and for some aerial catfish they also become the preferred places to stay in the aquarium.

The various leaf shapes provide somewhat different criteria for classifying aquarium plants, which are also of particular importance for the design of aquariums. Several groups can be distinguished:

  • Plant types with ribbon or thread-like leaves
  • Plant types with coarse or moss-like leaves
  • Plant types with long-stemmed leaves
  • Plant types with pinnate leaves
  • Floating plant types
  • Plant types with floating leaves
  • Marsh plant types

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