Beginner’s guide: The 10 best low light aquarium plants

If you’re in a hurry and eager to find out the best low light aquarium plant. Then we would recommend the Anubias Barteri plant to be the best.

Plants are an essential component of aquariums. Not only do they have their notable aesthetic benefits, but they’re also known for improving the quality of water in your tank. However, whether you are a beginner or an experienced aquarist, you should be aware that most plants need light to thrive. While high amounts of light may be beneficial in enhancing plant coloration and increased growth rates; high light aquarium plants are harder to maintain, thanks to the conducive environment they create for an algae bloom.

This is why I believe low light aquarium plants to be the ideal choice, as they require less maintenance and thrive in most environments. In this guide, I will highlight the important things to know about aquarium plants, with a review of what I believe to be the ten best low light aquarium plants.

What are the different types of aquarium plants?

Not every aquarium plant will be fit for your fish tank. Aquarium plants come in different types which vary in size, shape, color and maintenance needs. Below we have divided the various types of aquarium plants into the following three groups: 

Floating plants

Unlike other types of aquarium plants, floating plants don’t have a rooting in the substrate (the material at the bottom of the tank). These plants function well when floating on the water surface, on which their leaves and flowers grow. Examples of floating plants include Duckweed and Hornwort.

Rosette plants

Rosette plants are famous for their leafy structures and shortened stems. They can be used in an aquarium as a stand-alone plant or in groups. Examples of rosette plants include Anubias and Amazon Sword.

Ferns and Mosses

Ferns and mosses have become very popular in the world of fish keeping, especially among breeders. This is because they thrive in low light, as well as providing an excellent cover for fry (baby fish) in the tank.

low light aquarium plants - (needyfish)

What are the benefits of low light aquarium plants?

The benefits of low light aquarium plants are plenty; they include the following;

Prevention of algae spread

The formation of algae in your aquarium will not only create an unclean environment but can also suffocate your fish. Low light aquarium plants consume nutrients that algae depend on for growth, thus preventing the bloom of algae in your aquarium. 

Aesthetic appeal

I find an aquarium without plants can appear incomplete. They not only give the aquarium a plush and natural look, but they also give it a personality that enhances the appearance of your tank. 

Reducing stress levels

Various factors can contribute to your fish getting stressed, which sometimes can be fatal. Adding live plants to your aquarium will go a long way in calming down stressed fish. Naturally, fish thrive well when around a natural ecosystem, which is what low light aquarium plants seek to create.

Reduction of ammonia circulation

Waste such as excrement from the fish will result in the circulation of ammonia in the aquarium. Ammonia is hazardous, and if not controlled, can lead to the death of your fish. Aquarium plants’ biggest benefit is that they will produce oxygen and absorb the carbon dioxide and ammonia that fish generate. 

Food for the fish

Aquarium plants are a great way to reduce your food budget, especially for those keeping herbivorous fish species, such as Pacus and Plecos since they will feed on them.

What is the difference between Column feeders and Root feeders?

Root feeders are plants that consume essential nutrients via their roots. These plants require a rich substrate layer for deep rooting. Without deep rooting, they will not take up enough nutrients, which can result in the plants decaying.

Column feeders, on the other hand, absorb nutrients through modified stems known as rhizomes. These plants aren’t rooted as deep in the substrate layer, and they can easily take up nutrients from the water.

How many plants should you have for an aquarium?

The number of plants to have in an aquarium depends on the size and number of fish you intend to have. While some fish may live well in a crowded space, some species will require sufficient space for survival; which is why your aquarium shouldn’t be congested with plants. Fishkeeping experts recommend having plants covering 20% – 30% of the surface or front of the aquarium.

low light aquarium plants - (needyfish)

Is the natural light sufficient for aquarium plants?

Theoretically, natural light is sufficient for the growth and survival of aquarium plants. However, insufficient light or too much light if not maintained correctly can be problematic for the plants. This is because aquariums encompass a small ecosystem for the plants, and any changes in lighting can result in adverse effects. Too much sunlight can cause an algae bloom. On the other hand, too little light will inhibit photosynthesis, which may eventually lead to the death of the plants. Having regulated lighting is, therefore, fundamental if you plan to sustain a healthy aquarium. 


needyfish’s 10 best low light aquarium plants

In this section, we will recommend what we believe to be the best low light aquarium plants. 

1. Anubias Barteri

Anubias Barteri is a popular root-feeding plant that is adaptable to various types of environments and shades, as well as also enhancing oxygen levels in the water.

To plant it in your aquarium, Anubias Barteri will require a substrate. It’s green in color, giving your tank an overall natural appeal. One feature that stood out among users is its sturdy leaves, making Anubias an ideal choice for fish that enjoy resting around leaves, such as Bettas.

Pros

  • Easy to maintain.
  • Thrives in medium temperatures and low light.
  • It’s safe for all types of fish.

Cons

  • It is a fast-growing plant, and it will require regular trimming for maintenance.

2. Java Moss (Vesicularia Dubyana)

Java moss is an excellent choice for beginners, as the plant can thrive in any water type. One thing that stands out is that it can be attached below and above the water, giving the aquarium a natural appeal. It is dark green and has plenty of tiny leaves and stems. Java moss is a column feeder and should not be buried under gravel.

Pros

  • The plant provides a conducive hiding place for the fish.
  • It is a budget-friendly option.
  • The deep green color enhances the aesthetic of the aquarium.

Cons

  • The plant can easily trap debris. You will, therefore, need to be extra careful when cleaning the aquarium.
  • Must be trimmed regularly to avoid overgrowth.

3. Cryptocoryne Wendtii

This plant is an excellent choice for those wanting to fill out the base of their tank. Cryptocoryne Wendtii is a unique plant since it does not grow beyond 6 inches in width and length. There are plenty of varieties of this plant when it comes to size and color. Making Cryptocoryne Wendtii an ideal choice when enhancing the aesthetic appeal of the aquarium.

Pros

  • It’s safe for all types of fish.
  • The plant can easily blend with different aesthetics.
  • It is a fast-growing plant.

Cons

  • The most common downside of this plant is that it is extremely sensitive during the acclimation process. (Acclimation is the process where the plant adjusts to their new aquarium environment.) During this period Cryptocoryne Wendtii may get discolored or its leaves may die off.

4. Moneywort (Bacopa Monierri)  

Moneywort is very popular thanks to its unique ability to grow, reaching the surface of the water in no time. It can grow in all types of conditions, which is why it is an ideal choice for low-tech setups. The light green color of Moneywort will give an aesthetic appeal to any aquarium.

Pros

  • Moneywort survives under airtight packaging and does not take long to adjust to the new aquarium.
  • Propagation can be achieved through cuttings. This can save you money when you need additional clusters.

Cons

  • If left untrimmed, its branches will continue to grow out of the aquarium.

5. Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocoty Leucocephala)

Brazilian Pennywort can grow up to 8 inches or more in height. This plant is unique as it can be planted both as a floating plant or in a substrate. In addition to its green color, the Brazilian Pennywort produces white flowers on the water surface, adding to the overall aesthetics of a tank. 

Pros

  • The plant has low maintenance demands.
  • Brazilian Pennywort is edible. Which will reduce the food budget for those keeping herbivorous fish.
  • It will grow well in both high and low-light setups.

Cons

  • It does not do well in soft water.
  • It may require iron supplementation for growth in the aquarium.

6. Cryptocoryne Spiralis

If you are looking for height and visual dramatization, then Spiralis is the ideal plant. The tall and slender green leaves of Spiralis are the plant’s main highlight. It thrives best when planted singularly. Spiralis is also known for its unique hammered textured leaves. 

Pros

  • It’s easy to grow, with minimal maintenance demands.
  • Spiralis is an affordable choice for beginners.
  • It can thrive in low and high light settings.

Cons

  • Unstable environment may cause the plant to rot or even melt.

7. Guppy Grass (Nahas Guadalupensis)

Guppy grass is a fast-growing floating plant that is popular for its efficient production of oxygen; it can also be planted on a substrate if desired. In addition to being a perfect hiding place for the fry in the aquarium, Guppy Grass is also a great source of microscopic food. This is one of the few aquarium plants that are heterophylly, which means that the structure and shape of its leaves will change based on where and how it’s planted.

Pros

  • It does not need supplements, soils, or fertilizers to grow.
  • Requires very minimal maintenance.
  • It’s a hardy plant that will efficiently deal with the algae problem.

Cons

  • If left unchecked, Guppy Grass can easily overrun the aquarium due to its speedy growth.

8. Pelia (Monosolenium Tenerum)

Once grown, this attractive Liverwort will require minimal maintenance. Pelia is famous for its formation of a ‘carpet’ on the aquarium waterbed. Although soft to touch, it’s also brittle. Meaning it can easily break if not handled with care.

Pros

  • It’s easy to plant.
  • Will be firmly embedded just a few weeks after planting. 
  • Can survive a host of environmental conditions.

Cons

  • Not suitable for smaller tanks as it will grow large. 

9. Waterwheel Plant (Aldrovanda Vesiculosa)

The Waterwheel plant is an aquatic version of the carnivorous Venus Fly trap. The plant has a unique light green color that will give your aquarium a glow under low and high lighting. The waterwheel is a rootless plant, which makes it an excellent choice for those wanting floating décor in their tank. The plant is famous for its ability to snap-trap mosquito larva in the water.

Pros

  • It can survive harsh conditions.
  • Waterwheel requires minimal maintenance.

Cons

  • Can be challenging to grow.
  • The plant is quite costly compared to most aquarium plants.

10. Coffeefolia Anubias Barteri

Coffeefolia is a variant of the Anubias Barteri plant that we mentioned earlier. The leaf shape and color combination of Coffeefolia makes it an attractive choice for aquarists. One feature that stands out with this flowering plant is that it can grow well when either submerged or floating. The plant’s rhizomes can attach to hard surfaces, such as stones and wood. Coffeefolia is an excellent choice for those after subtle growth in the background and midground of their aquarium.

Pros

  • The plant can thrive in a wide range of environments.
  • It can do well in both low and high light setups.

Cons

  • The plant is edible for herbivorous fish.
  • An unstable environment can cause a meltdown or rot of the plant.

Conclusion

When it comes to aquarium plants, there’s a wide range of options available. However, when selecting plants for your aquarium, considering factors such as cost, adaptability, growth rate, and edibility. Of the ten aquarium plants we reviewed, Anubias Barteri stands out as the best option. Anubias Barteri is easy to maintain, safe for the fish, and the plant can thrive in varying temperatures. A combination of Anubias Barteri, Java moss, and Moneywort would work well for your aquarium.

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