Best Plants For Freshwater Aquariums | Top 10 Aquarium Plants

There’s no question a well-planted freshwater aquariums look amazing. It’s like looking into a beautiful underwater garden. But which are the best plants for freshwater aquariums? Ones that are perfect for all levels of aquarists from beginners to specialist aquascaped aquariums.

Adding a selection of plants to any freshwater aquarium can serve a number of roles. Firstly to make your aquarium look attractive and natural, that goes without saying. But did you know that plants act as a natural form of filtration? They can also help create a natural breeding ground for many species of freshwater fish.

Aquarium plants are used for a number of reasons by different species of fish. Some use them for protection from larger more aggressive fish and others use them to breed and even lay eggs on.

All the plants in our Top 10 Freshwater Aquarium Plants list are suitable for all community freshwater aquariums. Perfect for all sizes of a home aquarium and are readily available from most good pet stores and aquatic retailers.

Some are even available online from stores GreenPro through Amazon. These plants are carefully packed and delivered to your door safely and in perfect condition.

In this article, we will discuss the best plants for freshwater aquariums suitable for beginners and experts alike. If you’re a newbie and have just purchased a new fish tank these are the best choices to start with.

10. Dwarf Aquarium Lily

Dwarf Aquarium Lily (Nymphaea stellata) is a very distinctive and colorful bulb plant that comes from India. It has triangular-shaped leaves that are green, red, and pink in coloration.

A plant that is often purchased in bulb form with no leaves showing, just the bulb. Plant the bulb no more than 1/4 of the way into the substrate leaving the top part of the bulb exposed. Plant the bulb any deeper and it will rot and die.

Dwarf Lillies grows to 5-6″ which makes them a suitable plant for the aquarium foreground or mid-level once established. If you care for this plant well and provide the perfect water conditions and you’ll sometimes see it flower if it’s kept in shallow water.

Water temperature is key for this freshwater plant to flourish. It cannot stand low temperatures and therefore must be kept within the conditions mentioned below. It’s also a firm favorite plant for freshwater shrimps.

Temperature72° - 82° F (22° - 27° C)
LightingModerate to High spectrum
Care LevelEasy
pH5.5 - 7.5
OriginIndia, cultivated nurseries around the world
Bulb or Root plantBulb: Only submerge 1/4 of the bulb in substrate

9. Water Wisteria

water wisteria

This species of aquatic plant, Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis) or as it’s sometimes known “bush plant” is one of the most common aquarium plants sold today. For good reason, this plant is very hardy and grows at a very fast rate even in low lighting.

Water Wisteria is particularly liked by fish, thanks to it’s bushy and very protecting appearance which can form a shield for smaller fish seeking refuge.

Propagating these freshwater aquatic plants is very easy. All you need to do is to clip off a healthy long stem. Then, bury it in the aquarium substrate about 3 to 4 inches deep and watch it grow and propagate very quickly.

Its natural habitat is marshy grounds on the Indian subcontinent in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. It grows to a height of 20 to 50 cm with a width of 15 to 25 cm.

Provide them with good lighting and temperatures ranging from 75 to 80 degrees and you can’t go wrong with this freshwater aquarium plant. Plus the fact that it only costs on average $2 is also a bonus.

Common NameWater Wisteria, Bush plant
Growth RateFast
Care LevelVery Easy
Maximum Size20 inches
PlacementBackground plant
Water Conditions70-82°F, pH 6.5-7.5, KH 2-8

8. Java Fern

Java Fern

Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus) comes from Malaysia, Thailand, Northeast India and some regions of China. Named after the Indonesian island of Java.

Java fern has green rhizomes that will attach themselves to rocks and wood. The key to planting Java fern is to not actually plant it, but rather to attach its exposed rhizome to a piece of driftwood or rock. The rhizomes will naturally attach and propagate onto the nearest thing it can find.

Top Tip: Do not bury the roots fully within the substrate as this can cause them to rot and die. Simply attach the plant to a stone using a rubber band until it attaches itself firmly, then remove the band.

Its long, clustered green leaves flourish in 68°F – 82°F water temperature, in low to moderate light. It’s a slow-growing plant but looks amazing in Amazonia natural style aquariums.

Java Fern is a live plant that is simple to grow in your freshwater aquarium, as they discharge spores from the front part of their leaves when it is time for propagation. These spores will just float about until they discover something to tie themselves to, and afterward, they will grow faster.

This inexpensive aquatic plant is perfect for beginners and people who like to aquascape their aquarium. Java Ferns won’t require any plant fertilizers or supplements but they can help if you’re in a rush to see the plant flourish.

Here’s a great step by step guide for attaching Java Fern onto a rock.

Common NameJave fern
Growth rateSlow
SizeMax 13-14"
Water Conditions68-82oF, pH 6.0-7.5, KH 3-8
LightingLow to Moderate
Propagation Rhizome Division
Placementmid level - Background

7. Anubias Nana

Anubias Nana
Image Credits Here

Anubias Nana like Java moss and Java fern are often sold attached to rocks or driftwood.

Its leaves are very thick and are sometimes mistaken as plastic plants due to their appearance. The leaves are very dark green, wide and pointed which makes them perfect mid-level aquarium plants.

Ensure you keep the plant above the aquarium substrate and don’t cover the bottom of their roots fully in the substrate. This can cause them to rot and die. Attach them to rocks and wood as per the Java Fern instructions above.

If you do plant their roots within the aquarium substrate then only do so if your gravel is larger stones and not the fine 1mm gravel often used in aquariums. Their roots require water flow and room to breathe when buried in the substrate.

Anubias Nana is a variation of anubias with much smaller leaves. It is more appropriate for smaller or Nano aquariums. This plant is difficult to get and usually comes at a higher cost. The greatest advantage of this aquatic plant is the measure of coverage it gives.

If you have small fish that require hiding places in your aquarium tank, this is really the perfect plant to get. It provides perfect cover and shade for breeding fish. With a maximum height of 6-8” it’s perfect to form a carpet of leaves at the front of your aquarium.

Propagating this plant is very easy. Anubias nana propagates by side shoots on the rhizome, causing rhizome division.

Common NameAnubias Nana
Size6-8 Inches max
Care LevelEasy
PlacementFront to Mid
Water Conditions72-82° F, KH 3-8, pH 6.0-7.5
Fertilizer RequiredYes, Plant food supplements and Co2 can help but not essential.
PropagationRhizome Division

6. Crypt Wendtii

crypto wendtii aquarium plant

Crypts are great plants that are often for sale in pots. They are usually sold in two varieties Green & Brown.

Did you know that Cryptocoryne wendtii is a herb that is popular in freshwater aquariums?

Yes, it’s a herb which is native to Sri Lanka

An easy to grow and propagate cryptocoryne which naturally propagates by runners but can be helped along by manually dividing the plant as per the video below.

It’s a great looking foreground plant that is recognized by its long slim leaves stretching out from a focal point below the substrate. The texture of the leaves can vary and is dependant on the amount of light they receive. In shaded parts of the aquarium, the leaves can look totally different from the ones directly under the light.

Often this plant will totally dissolve and look like it’s died. We simply remove the dead leaves with a fine net and allow the roots to return to full health as it develops its new root framework in the freshwater aquarium.

It has a very deep root system that firmly attaches to the substrate making it a great choice for aquariums that have fish that like to dig in the gravel or substrate.

For such a fragile-looking plant it is incredibly hardy and can handle being moved around by the inhabitants of your fish tank.

Common NamesWendt’s Cryptocoryne, water trumpet
Size5-15 inches
Origin Sri Lanka
ColorsVaries but mainly Red and Brown
LightingLow Level
PropagationRoot division

5. Pygmy Chain Sword

pygmy chain sword plant for freshwater aquariums
Image credit here

The Pygmy Chain Sword (Echinodorus tenellus) otherwise called Narrow Leaf is a good choice of plant for both a beginner and expert hobbyist.

As the name gives away this is a small aquarium plant that only grows to a maximum height of 4-5 inches with a leaf thickness of 1-2mm. It’s a very small growing freshwater plant perfect for the foreground of any aquarium.

This plant can survive in various lighting strengths but that will alter the growth rate and thickness of the plant. In strong lighting conditions, it will form a thick carpet and under low lighting, you can expect it to be thinner and less dense.

The plant prefers a fine-grained nutrient-rich substrate with regular plant fertilizer to ensure maximum growth. Be careful in large deep aquariums that they receive adequate lighting at depths deeper than 18 inches.

This plant is also tolerant of varied water conditions. It can flourish in hard or soft water, low or high pH and an extensive variety of temperatures, thereby making it a superb plant for beginners and a preferred choice for every aquarium.

Once again this plant provides excellent hiding spots for any small fry fish species that may seek cover. It also provides a rich environment for the microorganisms that young fish feed upon.

Common NamesPygmy chainsword, narrow leaf and grassy dwarf plant
OriginsNorth, Central and South America
Size4-5 inches
Water conditions6.2-7.5, 3-4 dGH, temp 68 - 84F
Food RequiredYes and co2 can help but not essential
Care levelEasy

4. Amazon Sword

amazon sword

This has to be the most popular plant for freshwater aquariums. There are a few different varieties commonly found in aquatic stores. Echinodorus bleheri has broad leaves and Echinodorus amazonicushas has narrower leaves. These two are the most common varieties you will find on sale.

Amazon Swords grow under the right conditions rapidly and can grow very large. Often 2-3 fully grown Amazon swords are enough for one aquarium. Beginners often buy far too many and only realize this a year or two down the line.

These hardy and fast-growing plants are very popular with cichlid fish fans as they can withstand the digging and moving around that cichlids often inflict on these plants.

Amazon Sword plants are often the first choice of plants for beginners and fish keeping newbies since they can be easily acquired from aquarium stores at a low price.

They originated in South and Central America. However, today they are mostly grown in North America and dispersed to hobbyists.

Provide good lighting and temperatures around 72°F – 82°F and these plants will grow huge. These aquatic plants have leaves that look like swords (as you can tell from the name) and they often grow more than 18 inches in size provided they receive the best conditions.

Common NamesAmazon Sword
Size18-20 inch max
Water Conditions72-82° F, KH 3-8, pH 6.5-7.5
CO2 & Plant FoodNot needed. However, plant food has its benefits
Care LevelEasy-Moderate

3. Hornwort

Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demursum) otherwise called Coontail can be potted, planted or even floating. It offers a different level to your planted aquarium.

Hornwort is more than just an attractive plant it can also help oxygenate and clarify the water as well as keep algae growth to a minimum.

Suitable for a wide range of aquarium conditions and temperatures it is also suitable for cool outdoor ponds and water fish tanks.

Hornwort can grow to over 22 inches in length which you can propagate by simply breaking a length off and planting it in the substrate or alternatively allowing it to float on the surface will encourage it to propagate.

This aquatic plant is one of the easiest plants to grow both in the home aquarium and in the wild. This has been proven by the extent of its growth in the wild. Originating in North America it quickly spread to every continent except Antarctica. In some places, it is now seen as a pest and measures have been put in place to try and stem the growth.

It can provide multiple levels of cover, protection and shade for your fish that may need to escape larger predators.

Common NameHortwort
SizeAverage size 10-24 inches
Care LevelEasy
Water ConditionspH 6.0-7.5, Temp 55-85°F
PropagationSide Shoots
PlacementMid Level - Background
FoodC02 is not necessary but liquid fertilizer is a good option.
Growth rateFast

2. Java Moss

Java Moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri) is a firm favorite with shrimp lovers, as they provide exceptional hiding places for them to live and play.

Native to Southeast Asia, this freshwater aquarium plant is famous for attaching onto rocks and driftwood. Many fishkeepers use it extensively in aquascaping aquariums as a staple plant base.

To attach this plant to rocks and driftwood you can use elastic bands or a similar item to support the live plant until the roots take hold which usually takes around two weeks.

Java Moss grows best at temperatures of 70 to 75° Fahrenheit (21 to 24° Celsius), but can also live in very high temperatures up to 85 to 90 °F (29 to 32 °C).

It can also provide food for newly hatched fry, which are often difficult to feed. Shrimps like to feed on the miniature leaf-like structures known as phyllids.

Java Moss has many different names around the world including Christmas moss, dubious bladder moss, mini moss, Singapore moss, triangular moss, and willow moss.

If you have a freshwater aquarium you have to try Java Moss and try to get it to attach onto a nice piece of driftwood. It looks amazing when fully established.

Common Names Many including Christmas moss, dubious bladder moss, mini moss, Singapore moss
Scientific NameTaxiphyllum barbieri
Care LevelEasy
Temperature Range15 to 30C (56-86F)
Growth RateSlow
Size4 inch max in height

1. Vallisneria Spiralis

Image Credits Here

This popular freshwater plant looks striking and adds a different level of appearance with its long straight narrow leaves which, if left, will spread flat across the surface. 

In the wild, it is classed as an ‘ Invasive Species ‘ due to the fact that it grows so quickly and grows up to 36 inches long. It also feels at home and thrives in many different water conditions and temperatures making it widespread throughout the world.

Vallisneria Spiralis grows perfectly well in low lights making it suitable for many home aquariums.

It forms a thick carpet of cover which is perfect for fry fish which need shelter. You can trim it back if it starts to become too thick and dense.

There are many varieties of this species with the most common being Tiger. It’s an inexpensive plant that is easy to grow, inexpensive and requires no extra nutrients to grow.

Common NamesStraight Vallisneria
Care levelEasy
OrginsSouth East Asia /Australia
Temperature Range17-30C

How to Choose the Right Plants

All of the plants selected and covered in this article are perfectly fine for most freshwater home aquariums. The only thing to consider is how many to buy and where to plant them.

Potted plants are one of our favorite types to buy as they are already established within the pot. They can also stand abuse from your larger fish.

Most plants like a pH level of 7 to 7.2 and average water temperatures so there’s no need to worry if they will be suitable for a home aquarium. Some fish will eat plants and snails and shrimps will also nip and eat them so choose the hardier species mentioned above if you have these inhabitants.

Is your substrate suitable?

The depth and gravel size is important if you plan to have a lot of aquarium plants. You can also add soil/supplements under the gravel that offers the roots extra nutrients. However, you need to add this when you first set up your aquarium. It’s almost impossible to add after without disturbing your fish.

Potted plants can be kept within the pots or, as we prefer, remove them and plant the roots directly in the gravel or soil. If you have larger fish you will do well to keep them in the pots as these fish will dig and move the gravel around which can damage the plant roots.

What are the best lights for growing plants?

Plants require light for photosynthesis, which is a process in which plants create energy for growth and development. Having the correct lights which produce the perfect light spectrum is essential for plant growth.

Most freshwater aquarium plants need between 10 and 12 hours of light each day. Most modern aquarium lighting used and sold today is LED lights. They offer the perfect light spectrum for growing plants. You can adjust LED lighting for different plant species and they often come with builtin timers to ensure the plants receive the correct amount of light each day.

Freshwater Aquarium Plant food

Freshwater aquatic plants use nitrogen and phosphorous as well as potassium, iron, magnesium, manganese and other minerals to grow. Most of the nitrogen and phosphorus comes from leftover fish food and fish waste.

You will still need to add extra nutrients to your aquarium to ensure your plants have all the essential nutrients and food sources they need to grow and thrive.

You can even take it to the next level and supply your plants C02. Plants consume CO2 and produce oxygen during the daytime. At night the process is reversed. Aquatic plant lovers add supplemental CO2 during the day to enhance plant size.

Depending on plant species, nutrients are taken in through their leaves and roots or both. You’ll need to add the correct amount of C02, as overdosing can result in excessive algae growth.

Summary: Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants

The plants above have been selected for a number of reasons like popularity, looks, hardiness and price.

If you have never kept real aquatic plants you can’t go wrong choosing any of the ones above. All of them are inexpensive and easy to care for and available online or at your local pet store.