Directory of Freshwater Plants
Hundreds of plants are available to the freshwater aquarist, and selecting the right species means matching the optimum conditions for the plants to the needs of your fish. Plants and fish should share water chemistry needs and thrive under the same lighting conditions. Themed tanks, in which the geographical origins of fish and plants are matched, can work well. If your tank fish browse on vegetation, avoid slow-growing plants, which will not recover quickly enough; similarly, avoid prolific species that will soon outgrow a small tank.
Java Moss (Vesicularia dubyana)
- ORIGINS: Parts of southern Asia, ranging from India through the Malay Peninsula to Java.
- SIZE: Forms strands up to 4 in (10 cm) long.
- WATER: Temperature 72–77°F (22–25°C); soft (50–100 mg/l) and acidic to neutral (pH 6.5–7.0).
- PROPAGATION: Break off pieces of the moss and fix them in position as required.
This moss will help to create a natural aquascape, growing readily over rockwork and on bogwood. In the first instance, attach it with an elastic band and allow it to put down its rootlike hapterons, which will bind it in place. Take care to ensure that the lighting is not too bright; otherwise, the Java moss will be overgrown by algae in the water.
Madagascar Laceplant (Aponogeton madagascariensis)
- ORIGINS: The island of Madagascar, off the Southeast coast of Africa, and also on nearby Mauritius.
- SIZE: Leaves can be 20 in (50 cm) in length.
- WATER: Temperature 72–77°F (22–25°C); soft (50–100 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.2).
- PROPAGATION: Divide a rhizome. A root above the substrate may also produce a plant. Rarely seeds.
Madagascar Laceplants will grow readily from rhizomes, but they can be tricky to maintain. Shade them from bright light and keep them cool. Well-filtered water will stop debris from clogging their open leaf structure and prevent contamination by algae.
Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)
- ORIGINS: Occurs widely throughout Southeast Asia, ranging into southern parts of China.
- SIZE: Leaves may grow as large as 12 in (30 cm).
- WATER: Temperature 72–86°F (22–30°C); hard (100–150 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.8).
- PROPAGATION: Divide mature specimens, or remove the tiny plantlets that form on older leaves.
The tough nature of Java Fern enables it to survive in tanks where most plants would be destroyed by the fish, although there have been suggestions that it is toxic to a few species. The rhizome should be attached to the decor with an elastic band, rather than set in the substrate. The fronds will develop transparent areas if the lighting is too bright.
Giant Red Rotala (Rotala macrandra)
- ORIGINS: Asia, occurring in India and on the nearby island of Sri Lanka.
- SIZE: Typically about 8 in (20 cm) tall in aquariums.
- WATER: Temperature 72–79°F (22–26°C); soft (50–100 mg/l) and acidic (pH 6.5–6.9).
- PROPAGATION: Split off shoots and plant t
Bright lighting accentuates the red coloration of this attractive species. Unfortunately, Giant Red Rotala is difficult to establish in aquariums, and it can be damaged easily by rough handling. However, it is worth the effort, because it makes a striking contrast with green plants. To create the best effect, plant shoots in groups.
Onion Plant (Crinum thaianum)
- ORIGINS: Southeast Asia; particularly abundant in southern Thailand.
- SIZE: Leaves can be up to 60 in (1.5 m) long.
- WATER: Temperature 64–81°F (18–27°C); hard (100–150 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.5).
- PROPAGATION: May occasionally develop offsets on the bulb; these can be taken off and replanted.
Numerous types of Onion Plant are available, all of which reach a relatively large size. The straplike leaves can be up to 3 in (7.5 cm) wide and are variable shades of green. In the wild, the Onion Plant will often grow above the surface, and it is then that it produces its characteristic white flower. The flower reveals that this is not a member of the onion family but a relative of the popular Amaryllis houseplant. The Onion Plant looks best in a large, deep aquarium, especially when planted toward the back of the tank. If the bulb is set deep in the substrate, with just its shoulder visible, it should soon establish itself and start sprouting leaves. Onion Plants are quite tough, so they can be incorporated successfully in aquariums housing large vegetarian fish, where more delicate plants would be consumed. They are also unfussy about their water conditions and do not require brightly lit surroundings.
African Tiger Lotus (Nymphaea maculata)
- ORIGINS: Found naturally in parts of western Africa, notably in Gabon and Congo.
- SIZE: Spread may be up to 18 in (45 cm) across.
- WATER: Temperature 68–86°F (20–30°C); soft (50–100 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.5).
- PROPAGATION: It may be possible to take shoots off the tuber. Can also be grown from seed.
The Tiger Lotus, a broad-leaved relative of the water lily, has two distinct forms. The African Tiger Lotus, shown here, has greenish leaves with purple blotches and pale green undersides. The Red Tiger Lotus has reddish leaves, again marked with purple. Once planted in the substrate, tubers should grow rapidly under bright light. The leaves, up to 6 in (15 cm) in diameter, provide retreats for small fish. Tiger Lotuses may flower in the tank, producing white blooms above the surface that open at night. If the resulting seeds are left to fall into the tank, they may germinate on the substrate
Orchid Lily (Barclaya longifolia)
- ORIGINS: Southeast Asia, occurring from Myanmar (Burma) to parts of Thailand and Malaysia.
- SIZE: Up to 12 in (30 cm) across.
- WATER: Temperature 77–86°F (25–30°C); soft (50–100 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.8–7.2).
- PROPAGATION: Small plantlets on the rhizome can be split off and planted. May also be propagated from seed.
The Orchid Lily produces a series of attractive upright leaves and may even bloom on occasion. The red flower produced is able to self-fertilize. Under brightly lit conditions, the leaves will be green, but relatively subdued lighting will bring out a more brownish tone. The substrate must be nonalkaline for this plant to thrive.
Giant Red Bacopa (Bacopa caroliniana)
- ORIGINS: Found naturally from southern parts of the United States into northern Mexico.
- SIZE: Stems can grow up to 12 in (30 cm) long.
- WATER: Temperature 68–75°F (20–24°C); hard (100–150 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.5).
- PROPAGATION: Strip off the lower two pairs of leaves from the stem and plant in the substrate as a clump
The leaves of this plant have no stalk but attach directly to the stems. They display a rich coppery color in bright light but appear more green under subdued illumination. A variegated form is also sometimes available. In the wild, the Giant Red Bacopa often grows as a bog plant above the water, but it thrives equally well submerged in a tank.
Glosso (Glossostigma elatinoides)
- ORIGINS: Found in Australia, in New South Wales and Tasmania, and also in New Zealand.
- SIZE: About 1 in (2.5 cm) in height.
- WATER: Temperature 68–82°F (20–28°C); soft (50–100 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.5).
- PROPAGATION: Clumps can be split up and used as cuttings. Alternatively, runners can be used.
This small plant is ideal for the foreground of the tank, creating a pleasing carpet of growth that provides a refuge for fish fry. It spreads through the substrate and benefits from small amounts of aquarium plant fertilizer. If its surroundings are not well lit, Glosso will become taller and rather straggly in appearance.
Red Telanthera (Alternanthera lilacina)
- ORIGINS: Grows widely throughout tropical regions of South America.
- SIZE: Can grow up to 12 in (30 cm) high.
- WATER: Temperature 72–86°F (22–30°C); soft (50–100 mg/l) and acidic (pH 6.0–6.5).
- PROPAGATION: Easily propagated by means of cuttings, which will root readily in the substrate.
This plant may be found growing above the water’s surface in its native habitat, but it adapts well to cultivation underwater in an aquarium. Red Telanthera will be seen in its full depth of color only if the tank is brightly lit. The upper surface of the leaves tends to be greenish with red hues, while purplish-red coloration is concentrated on the undersides. This plant is a good choice for a themed Amazon tank, although it can also be used in a community aquarium. Red Telanthera is best placed at the sides of the tank, or toward the rear. Set cuttings into the substrate so that they grow to form a dense clump, and place green plants of a similar height nearby in order to emphasize the contrasting leaf colors. Make sure you strip off the lower leaves from Red Telanthera before planting, because they will rot if they are buried. Use small rocks to weigh down the bases of the cuttings until they root and become established.
Red Ludwigia (Ludwigia mullertii)
- ORIGINS: This plant does not grow naturally in the wild, but its ancestors occur in North America.
- SIZE: Can grow to a height of 15 in (38 cm).
- WATER: Temperature 68–86°F (20–30°C); soft (50–100 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.5).
- PROPAGATION: Very easily propagated from cuttings, although it may also be grown from seed.
This vigorously growing plant is probably a natural hybrid between Marsh Ludwigia (L. palustris) and a different Red Ludwigia (L. repens). The key requirement of Red Ludwigia is bright light, which will maintain its distinctive red coloration. Because of its rather elongated shape, Red Ludwigia looks at its best when it is planted in clumps. Regular trimming back of the stems should help to ensure a denser, less straggly appearance and as a result provide more cover for the fish in the tank. This hardy plant is especially useful in tanks housing fish that require relatively low water temperatures, because it will grow well in such surroundings. If it is included in an uncovered tank, it may grow above the water’s surface and subsequently flower, although the white blooms it produces are tiny and inconspicuous.
Banana Plant (Nymphoides aquatica)
- ORIGINS: Occurs naturally in the eastern states of the United States, extending along the Atlantic coastline.
- SIZE: Can grow up to 12 in (30 cm).
- WATER: Temperature 68–77°F (20–25°C); soft n(50–100 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.5).
- PROPAGATION: Divide the rootstock, remove small plantlets, or split off runners.
Although this adaptable plant will tolerate being permanently submerged in a tank, it prefers shallower waters similar to those of its natural habitat. The leaves of the Banana Plant spread out over the surface in the aquarium, and it may produce white flowers on stalks above the water level. In the wild, the bananalike roots act as a water reservoir to sustain the plant in times of drought.
Cabomba (Cabomba species)
- ORIGINS: From the southeastern United States along the eastern side of Central America down to Argentina.
- SIZE: Branches can grow to well over 20 in (50 cm).
- WATER: Temperature 68–79°F (20–26°C); soft (50–100 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.2).
- PROPAGATION: Roots easily from cuttings placed into the substrate.
There are five different species of Cabomba: some have larger whorls of fine leaves than that pictured, and others have mauve-tipped leaves. Good lighting is important for these plants, which are best planted in groups near the back of the tank, using pieces of slate to weigh them down until they take root. Cut back leggy plants to encourage vigorous and compact new growth
Hornwort (Ceratophyllum submersum)
- ORIGINS: Grows widely throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical regions.
- SIZE: May reach a length of 18 in (45 cm).
- WATER: Temperature 68–82°F (20–28°C); hard (100–150 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.5).
- PROPAGATION: Very easy to propagate; pieces break off naturally, giving rise to new plants.
This attractive plant has fine green foliage. It needs to be held down in the substrate with rocks, because it has lost the ability to anchor itself with roots. Hornwort is also fragile, and pieces break off easily, usually from the crown. These may then grow at the water’s surface as floating plants. Hornwort fares well under bright light.
Bitter Cress (Cardamine lyrata)
- ORIGINS: Asia, found naturally in parts of eastern China, as well as in Korea and Japan.
- SIZE: Can grow to about 12 in (30 cm) in height.
- WATER: Temperature 59–77°F (15–25°C); soft (50–100 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.5).
- PROPAGATION: Take cuttings, which will rapidly establish themselves in the substrate.
This is an ideal choice for tropical aquariums. House it with Paradise Fish (see p.108) and other species that share the same waters in the wild. This plant prefers cool surroundings and may not thrive at temperatures above 68°F (20°C). The leaf form ranges from circular to kidneyshaped. Above the surface, the leaves are pointed, and small, white flowers are produced.
Barter’s Anubias (Anubias barteri)
- ORIGINS: West Africa, occurring in Nigeria, Gabon, Ivory Coast, and Cameroon.
- SIZE: Leaves may be up to 12 in (30 cm) long.
- WATER: Temperature 72–77°F (22–25°C); hard (100–150 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.0–7.5).
- PROPAGATION: Divide the rhizome and transplant the pieces to different areas of the tank.
A number of local strains of this plant occur throughout West Africa. The smallest is the Dwarf Anubias (A. b. var. nana), pictured right, which is widely cultivated for aquarium use because of its compact shape. The relatively thick leaves are about 2 in (5 cm) across, and the stalks are of a similar length. The largest variety, the Lance-Leaf Anubias (A. b. var. lanceolata), has long, narrow leaves. Barter’s Anubias is slow-growing and benefits from a substrate fertilizer. It grows from a rhizome, which should not be buried but simply left on the substrate, where its roots will spread out. It is thus possible to anchor this plant to tank decor such as bogwood. The plant’s low height makes it ideal for the front of a tank, and it will thrive under subdued lighting. Its spathe flower, which is produced above the water’s surface, is unlikely to yield fertile seed.
Dwarf Hygrophila (Hygrophila polysperma)
- ORIGINS: Occurs in southern Asia; particularly common in many parts of India.
- SIZE: May reach 10 in (25 cm) or so in height.
- WATER: Temperature 59–86°F (15–30°C); hard (100–150 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.5).
- PROPAGATION: Take cuttings using the lower leaves that are trimmed off before the plants are set in place.
Dwarf Hygrophilia is one of the most adaptable and easily cultivated of all aquarium plants. The long, green leaves sometimes develop red tips when the plant is kept in brightly lit surroundings. This fastspreading plant will provide valuable cover in the tank, although its growth may be curbed if snails attack the leaves before it becomes established.
Mexican Oak-Leaf Plant (Shinnersia rivularis)
- ORIGINS: Central America, where its distribution is restricted to Mexico.
- SIZE: May reach 12 in (30 cm) in height.
- WATER: Temperature 68–79°F (20–26°C); hard (100–150 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.5).
- PROPAGATION: Can be grown either from cuttings or by transplanting runners.
The stems of this plant, which grows upright when submerged, are thick and robust. The tooth-edged, oaklike leaves vary in color from light to dark green. Groups planted near the back of the tank look very attractive. Easy to establish, the Mexican Oak-Leaf Plant thrives not only in brightly lit conditions but also under more subdued lighting.
Twisted Vallisneria (Vallisneria tortifolia)
- ORIGINS: Probably southern Europe. Now occurs widely in tropical and subtropical localities.
- SIZE: Leaves typically measure up to 8 in (20 cm) long.
- WATER: Temperature 72–82°F (22–28°C); hard (100–150 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.5).
- PROPAGATION: Split off the runners produced by established plants.
It is unclear whether this plant is a hybrid or a natural variant of the Straight Vallisneria (V. spiralis). Allow space between the plants so that light can penetrate: this is vital for their growth. A larger form is the Asiatic Vallisneria (V. asiatica), which has serrated leaf edges.
Giant Vallisneria (Vallisneria gigantea)
- ORIGINS: Mainland Southeast Asia and various islands, including New Guinea and the Philippines.
- SIZE: Leaves may be up to 40 in (1 m) long.
- WATER: Temperature 72–82°F (22–28°C); soft (50–100 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.2).
- PROPAGATION: Split off and transplant the runners produced by established plants.
This large, straight-leaved Vallisneria species makes a striking centerpiece for a large aquarium. Cultivated strains that develop a reddish hue under bright light are particularly attractive. Changes in water quality may cause this sensitive plant to die back.
Pygmy Chain Swordplant (Echinodorus tenellus)
- ORIGINS: Occurs widely through the Americas, from the state of Michigan to southern Brazil.
- SIZE: Grows to a height of about 6 in (15 cm).
- WATER: Temperature 59–79°F (15–26°C); hard (100–150 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.2–7.0).
- PROPAGATION: Separate and transplant runners. Can also be grown from seed.
Groups of these small swordplants form attractive foreground cover in the tank. Cultivated strains vary in height, so adjustments may be needed once the plants are established. If allowed to grow above the surface in shallow water, the leaves will be broader, and flowers will be produced and may give rise to fertile seed.
Dwarf Sagittaria (Sagittaria subulata)
- ORIGINS: North America, where it occurs on the eastern side of the continent, down the Atlantic coast.
- SIZE: About 6 in (15 cm) in height.
- WATER: Temperature 55–79°F (13–26°C); hard (100–150 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.5).
- PROPAGATION: Split off runners produced by mature plants and transplant them elsewhere.
A large expanse of this hardy, adaptable plant resembles a grass lawn and provides a safe retreat for fry. To achieve this effect, place several plants in the mid-ground area, with gaps between them. They will soon spread out and fill in the gaps, especially on a coarse gravel substrate.
False Tenellus (Lilaeopsis novae-zelandiae)
- ORIGINS: This plant is native to Australia and New Zealand.
- SIZE: Can grow to 3 in (7.5 cm) in height.
- WATER: Temperature 64-82°F (18–28°C); soft (50–100 mg/l) and acidic to neutral (pH 6.4–7.0).
- PROPAGATION: Readily produces runners that can be split off and transplanted elsewhere.
Similar in appearance to the Pygmy Chain Swordplant (see above), False Tenellus is a popular choice for the foreground of the tank, partly because it grows well in a wide range of water temperatures. This plant establishes itself readily and spreads well, especially when planted in a substrate that contains added nutrients. In fact, False Tenellus can be so prolific that its growth may sometimes need to be curbed to prevent it from dominating the tank, since this could impair the efficiency of the undergravel filter and lead to a deterioration in water quality. False Tenellus is often sold in bunches, with each plant consisting of one to three narrow leaves that taper to a point and lack a petiole (the part that usually connects a leaf to the stem). Other Lilaeopsis species may also become available to aquarists from time to time, but they all look very much alike and have similar growth characteristics and requirements.
Lizard’s Tail (Saururus cernuus)
- ORIGINS: Range extends down the eastern side of North America, from Canada to Florida.
- SIZE: Leaves may grow to 8 in (20 cm) in length.
- WATER: Temperature 64–75°F (18–24°C); soft (50–100 mg/l) and around neutral (pH 6.5–7.2).
- PROPAGATION: Divide the rhizome, take cuttings, or split off and transplant runners.
The name of this swamp-dwelling plant derives from the spiked arrangement of its yellowishwhite flowers. The leaves, which are a variable shade of green, appear slightly hairy at first, but they become smoother as they age. Lizard’s Tail grows from a rhizome but thrives only when it can spread both above and below the surface. It is a temperate plant so must not be kept too warm. In a pond, it should be containerized so that it does not damage the lining.