18 Live Aquarium Plants You and Your Fish Will Love

Easy-care aquarium plants for beginners

Landscape scenery in the fish tank
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Live aquarium plants help create an environment more similar to the natural habitat of ornamental fish. They also help adjust the water hardness and pH, increase the dissolved oxygen in the water, and maintain the relative health of the fish.

The following is a list of 18 live aquarium plants to create a thriving aquatic environment for your fish.

Live Aquarium Plant Care

How to care for your live aquatic plants will depend on how they absorb nutrients. Some plants are heavy root feeders, and absorb nutrients primarily from the tank's substrate, so you'll want a nutrient-rich bottom layer. Column feeders, on the other hand, absorb nutrients from the tank's water. Some of the easiest to care for aquarium plants do a bit of both and can adapt to a wide range of conditions.

Many common aquarium plants grow using rhizomes (horizontal plant stems that send out roots and shoots from their nodes), and it's important to make sure they are exposed, above the substrate.

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Dwarf Anubias (Anubias nana)

Anubias aquatic plant in an aquarium. Anubias nana
Pro2sound / Getty Images

Dwarf anubias is a short-stemmed plant with dark green leaves native to West Africa. This plant grows well fully or partially submerged as long as its rhizomes are above the substrate. This variety is one of the smallest and most compact plants in the anubias genus, reaching a maximum height of around 4 inches. It works well in creating a layer at the base of aquariums for small fish to hide or in smaller tanks.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Moderate, tolerates range.
  • Medium: Rocky substrate; can also attach to wood.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 72-82 F; pH 6.5-7.5.
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Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)

Cremecicle Lyretail Molly
EuToch / Getty Images

Named after the Indonesian island of Java, this fern can be found in Malaysia, Thailand, Northeast India, and some parts of China. Java fern is fairly easy to care for and quite common in aquariums. It grows to about 8 inches and is used as a background plant in smaller tanks, or as a mid-ground accent to taller plants in larger tanks.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Low to moderate.
  • Medium: Attach to porous rock or driftwood. Do not submerge in substrate.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 68-82 F; pH 6-7.5. Occasional liquid fertilizer.
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Moneywort (Bacopa monnieri)

Leaves of brahmi herb, Bacopa monnieri
weisschr / Getty Images

Also known as water hyssop, moneywort is a popular and durable creeping herb native to the wetlands of southern and eastern India, Australia, Europe, Africa, Asia, and North and South America. Like many stem plants, it can be trimmed and the cuttings replanted in substrate. In most conditions, this plant grows quickly, and works well in taller tanks.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Moderate
  • Medium: Tolerates a variety of substrate and can be left floating.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 58-90 F; pH 5.0-9.0.
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Parrot's Feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum)

Myriophyllum, watermilfoil, freshwater aquatic plants.
Linjerry / Getty Images

A perennial plant native to the Amazon River in South America, parrot's feather can be found growing alongside lakes, streams, and other bodies of water. With a maximum height of around 16 inches, this plant has feather-like fronds and requires some direct light to do well. Parrot's feather is prohibited in the state of Washington, where it is considered a nuisance weed.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Moderate to bright.
  • Medium: Plant directly into high quality substrate.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 60-74 F. Prefers slightly alkaline conditions: 6.8-8 pH.
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Marimo Moss Balls (Cladophora aegagropila)

Marimo moss ball
helovi / Getty Images

A rare and beautiful spherical algae native to lakes and rivers in Japan and Northern Europe, marimo can grow on rocks or free-floating. The algae's round shape is maintained by the gentle movement of waves in the water, and making sure it rotates routinely around the tank will help maintain its appearance.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Medium to bright.
  • Medium: Fish will likely move plant about tank. If not, rotate occasionally.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 72-82 F; pH 6.8-7.5. Good for tanks with substrate diggers.
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Water Hawthorn (Aponogeton distachyos)

Aponogeton distachyos
Wicher Bos / Getty Images

A bulb plant that thrives in large aquariums, water hawthorns go dormant in the summer, when the ponds in their native environment of South Africa dry up. They later bloom in the spring and fall. In aquariums, they prefer cooler water temperatures but tolerate a wide range. Their leaves float on the water's surface, providing shade for fish and other plants.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Tolerates a wide range.
  • Medium: Prefers peat/loam substrate. Do not fully submerge bulb.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 32-75 F; 6.0-7.5 pH.
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Umbrella Hair Grass (Eleocharis vivipara)

Groundcover eleocharis plant in an aquarium on a background of decorative stones
Pro2sound / Getty Images

The taller variant of dwarf hair grass, umbrella hair grass is a thin-stalked, densely growing plant that can reach heights of almost 2 feet. This plant propagates via runners in the substrate and does well in nutrient rich water with generous light. Its growth mat provides good background cover in tanks for filters and other materials.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Moderate to bright.
  • Medium: Plant halfway into rocky substrate.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 59-79 F; pH 6.0-9.0.
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Amazon Sword (Echinodorus bleheri)

sumatra barbs, blue gourami, golden barbs
Amazon sword pictured in the middle. Daddy1971 / Getty Images

Echinodorus is a hardy genus of aquatic plants that prefer nutrient-dense substrate to thrive, as they are heavy root feeders. Native to Cuba, Central America, and South America, Amazon sword is cultivated for ponds as well as artificial aquatic environments, growing up to 20 inches with bright, green leaves.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Moderate to bright.
  • Medium: Loose, gravely substrate.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 72-82 degrees F; pH 6.5-7.5
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Brazilian Waterweed (Egeria densa)

freshwater aquarium
Tntk / Getty Images

Native to warm and temperate parts of South America including Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina, waterweed grows particularly well in tanks with nutrient rich water and bright light. This versatile plant grows well floating or planted in substrate. Its offshoots will eventually need to be trimmed in most aquariums.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Moderate to bright.
  • Medium: Gravely substrate or floating; versatile.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 60-80 F; pH 6.5-7.5.
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Carolina Fanwort (Cabomba caroliniana)

Feathery green freshwater aquarium plant / pondweed, Carolina Fanwort (Cabomba), fish-tank
mtreasure / Getty Images

This aquatic herbaceous perennial is native to parts of North and South America, and also goes by the names green cabomba, fanwort, fish grass, and Washington grass. Carolina fanwort grows rooted in the mud of stagnant or slow-flowing water, including streams, smaller rivers, lakes, ponds, sloughs, and ditches. It has fragile, short, rhizomes from which new shoots emerge.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Moderate to bright.
  • Medium: Gently plant stems in 1" or more of nutrient rich substrate. Can also float.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 72-82 F; 6.8-7.5 pH.
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American Waterweed (Elodea canadensis)

canadian waterweed elodea canadensis oxygen bubbles being released
Colin Milkins / Getty Images

A perennial aquatic plant native to most of the United States, American waterweed starts in mud at the bottom of the water as a young plant, producing roots at intervals along the stem that may anchor into substrate or float freely. This plant grows indefinitely from the stem tip, reaching lengths of up to 10 feet. In favorable conditions, it can grow prolifically and choke out other plants, and may need regular trimming.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Moderate to bright.
  • Medium: Plant young waterweed in 1 inch of substrate. May also float.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 50-82 F; 5.0-7.5 pH.
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Vallisneria (Vallisneria gigantea)

detail of a Vallisneria gigantea freshwater aquatic plant in a fish tank
Juan Carlos Juarez Jaramillo / Getty Images

Found in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, vallisneria is also known as tape grass or eel grass. It has narrow, linear leaves that grow to be up to 5 feet tall, forming a dense cover at the water's surface. These tough and strong leaves are not typically eaten by herbivorous fish, and will need regular pruning to allow light for other plants in the tank. Vallisneria grows in relatively stagnant water, and should be kept away from a tank's filter return pipe.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Moderate.
  • Medium: Fine sand and gravel substrate mix; iron-rich.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 68-82 F; tolerates range of pH but prefers slightly alkaline.
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Hydrocotyle Japan (Hydrocotyle tripartita)

Hydrocotyle tripartita and grandulossa red plant
Hydrocotyle pictured on the bottom left. DEBABRATA NAYAK / Getty Images

Native to New Zealand and the Australian states of Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria, this perennial herb has vibrant green leaves reminiscent of clovers that grow in bunches. Japanese aquascapers made this hydrocotyle species famous. It can be trimmed and kept low in the foreground to create a carpeting effect or allowed to grow to its maximum height of 10 inches in the middle or background of the tank.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Moderate to bright.
  • Medium: Nutrient-rich substrate.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 72-82 F; pH 6.0-7.5
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Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)

Aquatic plant, the hornwort, in aquarium. Ceratophyllum demersum. Selective Focus
Pro2sound / Getty Images

Hornwort is a submerged, free-floating, aquatic plant with a wide distribution, native to all continents except Antarctica. This popular plant can grow to be up to 10 feet tall and becomes a bushy mass with numerous side shoots if left untrimmed. Growing in lakes, ponds, and quiet streams, hornwort, also known as coontail, prefers still or very slow-moving water, where its fluffy fronds provide cover for small fish.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Moderate.
  • Medium: Mostly free-flowing. Stems may loosely attach to sandy substrate.
  • Water Conditions: 50–86 degrees, 6.0-7.5pH; soft to medium hardness.
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Hygrophila (Hygrophila angustifolia)

Water plant hygrophila in the aquarium. Hygrophila angustifolia
Pro2sound / Getty Images

Native to Southeast Asia, this aquatic plant is grown worldwide in tropical aquariums and is also known as common swamp weed. Hygrophila grows and spreads rapidly, reaching heights up to 2 feet and needing a tank at least 10 gallons in size. Goldfish will eat this plant in its entirety, so it's not an ideal choice if those fish will be in your aquarium. Swamp weed needs regular pruning and enjoys the addition of trace minerals after each water change to promote growth.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Moderate to bright.
  • Medium: Any common substrate. Takes nutrients from water column.
  • Water Conditions: 64-86 degrees; pH 5.0-8.0.
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Water Trumpet (Cryptocoryne wendtii)

Goldfish, aquarium, a fish on the background of aquatic plants
MirekKijewski / Getty Images

Native to Sri Lanka, this plant prefers highly stable conditions, so take care when initially planting it — it may appear to die off, but will recover after a week or two. Water trumpet typically inhabits slow-moving streams and rivers in lowland forest areas, and has been cultivated by aquatic gardeners since the late 19th century. One of the more robust cryptocoryne species, it's propagated by runners and forms deep roots in the substrate. This plant prefers growing slowly in low light conditions and can be crowded out by other faster-growing plants.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Prefers shade.
  • Medium: Sand and gravel iron-rich substrate.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 75-82 F, slightly alkaline to neutral pH. Tolerates hard and soft water.
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Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana)

Underwater bamboo
Kameleon007 / Getty Images

Lucky bamboo can be grown either fully or partially submerged in aquariums, with the former requiring more added effort than the latter. Native to Central Africa, this plant is not actually related to bamboo, which is indigenous to Asia. Common names include Sander's dracaena, ribbon dracaena, lucky bamboo, curly bamboo, Chinese water bamboo, Goddess of Mercy's plant, Belgian evergreen, and ribbon plant. A perennial herb capable of reaching almost 4 feet in height, lucky bamboo can be distinguished from true bamboo by its fleshy stem.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Prefers indirect light; tolerates low light better than sun.
  • Medium: Nutrient rich substrate at least 3 inches deep.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 65-95 F; 6.0-6.5 ideal pH. When fully submerged will need added Co2 and aeration.
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Spongeplant (Limnobium laevigatum)

Floating aquarium plant
Jpr03 / Getty Images

This free-floating perennial herb is native to freshwater environments in Central and South America, but is now present in parts of the United States in warmer climates. Limnobium can form thick mats across the surface of the water, providing pleasant shade in aquarium environments, but becoming a nuisance to boaters, fish, and other plants in areas where it is considered invasive, including the state of California. Like many non-native tropical plants, climate change will likely exacerbate the spongeplant's impact as water temperatures rise and its range increases.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Moderate to bright.
  • Medium: Free floating. Benefits from nitrogen, iron, and other water supplements, particularly after water change.
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 64-86 F; 6.0-8.0 pH.