Popular and easy aquarium plants for Aquascaping
Anubias species and its many varieties, especially the smaller-leaved types are an incredibly popular and easy aquarium plants suitable for almost any aquascape. Anubias is an epiphyte plant, which means it grows attached to wood or rocks in nature. It should also be attached to hardscape in the aquarium with the rhizome (the part where the roots grow from) exposed to open water. If the rhizome is buried in the substrate then it can rot. It does well in shaded areas where light levels are limited and it’s a very slow grower. In high levels of lighting algae growth on the leaves is likely, so consider your plant positioning. Anubias leaves are very tough and can even withstand some herbivorous fish so you can potentially use it in goldfish and African cichlid aquariums. Because it is a very slow growing plant it does not require high nutrient levels or CO2 injection, making it suitable for low-tech aquascaping. Maintenance levels are very low with most species only producing a new leaf every month or so. You can attached to plant to rocks and/or wood using a variety of techniques such as tying with cotton thread, cable ties or even gel-type superglue. You can also simply insert the rhizome and roots in-between wood or rock nooks and crannies. The roots will eventually creep along the hardscape and self-attach. The most popular species is Anubias nana and its smaller leaved sub-species such as A. ‘Petite’ and A. ‘Pangolino’.
Bacopa comes in two popular species - B. caroliana and B. ‘Compact’. It’s a bright green stem plant that’s easy to grow and suitable for most levels of aquascaper. It’s a fast-grower and therefore a great option for a new set-up where algae is more likely. The compact variety is a slightly slower grower and remains shorter than B. caroliana cousin, with brighter green leaves. In good lighting the growth is even more compact and attractive. It is tolerant of lower lighting and non-CO2 injection so is another ideal option for the low-tech aquascaper. In higher energy systems it can grow very quickly and will be in need of frequent trimming to keep it in check. Off-cuts can be replanted to provide more plant biomass and new shoots will readily grow from the old stem where the plant was trimmed. Bacopa is best planted in groups of stems - typically three stems can be inserted into the same point in the substrate. Pale growth is often a symptom of a nutrient deficiency so simply add more liquid fertiliser such as EA Aquascaper Complete Liquid Plant Food or Tropica Premium or Specialised Nutrition.
Cryptocroyne species or “crypts” as they’re commonly known are a classic aquarium plant species suitable for most aquarium conditions. They’re available in a huge range of sizes, colours and textures and you could feasibly create an entire aquascape using just crypts! They are typically undemanding of light and most don’t require CO2 injection. They do best with a nutrient-rich substrate or root capsules and liquid fertiliser will also promote healthy growth by feeding their leaves. They are usually a slow grower but once established can dominate an aquascape unless kept in check. They can suffer from something known as, “crypt melt”. This is where the plant struggles to adapt to its new environment, or a sudden change in aquarium conditions. The leaves will start to disintegrate or melt, hence the name. Do not worry if this happens. The root stock is usually perfectly healthy and generate new growth in a matter of days, where the new leaves will be adapted and robust. Crypts come in a wide variety of sizes from the smallest - C. parva to huge specimens such as C. usteriana. Very popular species include C. wendtii and its many varieties such as C. wendtii “Tropica”, “Green”, “Brown” and “Mi Oya”. They typically grow in a rosette fashion meaning new leaves emerge from a central rootstock. Some species will occasionally send out runners and new plants will pop up along the substrate, creating a potential carpet effect. Crypts are the perfect addition to a long-term and sustainable aquascape and will reward you if given the patience they deserve.
Amazon swords (Echinodorus)
The Amazon sword is probably one of the most well-known aquarium plants and has been available in the hobby for decades. The most popular sword, Echinodorus bleheri, named after Heiko Bleher’s mother remains one of the most commonly sold aquarium plants to this day. With its sword-shaped leaves it’s obvious where the common name originated. Bright green in colour and growing 45cm+ in height it’s an ideal background plant for larger aquariums or a focal point plant for medium-size tanks. It is very hungry for nutrients and will quickly turn a pale green/yellow colour if there aren’t sufficient nutrients available either through its roots or leaves. Ideally it should be fed by nutrient-rich substrate with root capsules and a good quality liquid fertiliser. Amazon swords will adapt to a wide variety of water parameters and are also tolerant of warmer water making them a popular choice for planted discus aquariums. There are a large variety of other Echinodorus species available from the smallest Echinodorus tenellus to huge E. ‘Rose’. There are species rich in red colouration making them ideal as focal point plants. They typically have soft tissue leaves making them an ideal target for some fish to nibble. Also beware that many species will outgrow all but the largest of aquariums if given the opportunity.
Java fern (Microsorum)
Another classic aquarium plant that many hobbyists will recognise is the Java fern. It’s often recommended for beginners due to it being suitable for all types of aquarium from the most basic low light set-up to the most advanced. Like Anubias it’s an epiphyte plant so needs to be attached to hardscape (wood or rock) for best results. It is important that the rhizome is exposed to circulating water otherwise the plant will suffer. This is also the case if/when the leaves become very dense and overgrown. These can block circulating water from reaching the rhizome so it’s important to keep the leaves pruned back, as necessary. The leaves are very tough and apparently bitter tasting making them safe for most herbivorous fish. Thinning the leaves out can be achieved by simply running your finger to the end of the leaf where it’s attached to the rhizome. Then firmly pull away the leaf from the rhizome. Although Java fern is regarded as an easy plant suitable for low light and non-CO2 injection it will definitely benefit from a higher energy system with more light, nutrients and circulation. One variety, Mircosorum “Trident”, arguably the most attractive fern in the author’s experience does need CO2 injection in the longer-term to thrive. Java fern produces new plants on the tips of its leaves. It is recommended to remove these to allow the plant’s energy to grow the main plant, rather than new baby plants. These removed plants can be re-planted if you wish to propagate. Java fern is a great option for adding an instant focal point to a new aquascape so it's really important to consider its position in the layout.
Bucephalandra (or ‘Buce’) is probably the most trendy aquarium plant right now. It’s a relatively new species to the aquarium hobby being commonly available for around 5 years in Europe at the time of writing.
It originates from the jungles in Borneo where deforestation is commonplace due to palm oil production. For this reason we strongly recommend only purchasing Bucephalandra that has been sustainably produced in European nurseries such as Tropica Aquarium Plants and Aquaflora. Buce is very similar to Anubias in terms of its growth rates, demands and its epiphytic nature. It does well being shaded but given high lighting some species will change colour considerably with some stunning varieties available. It tends to be even slower growing than Anubias so a degree of patience is required in order to see this beautiful plant mature into its full potential. Algae growth on the leaves is common so invest in an algae crew, such as nerite snails and Amano shrimp. In larger aquarium Siamese flying foxes are an ideal choice. There are dozens of varieties available but only around 5 produced in Europe. Favourites include B. “Red”, B. “Lamandau Mini Red” and B. “Wavy Green”.
Salvinia auriculata is a floating plant available from Tropica in their tissue-cultured 1-2-Grow! range. Floating plants are a great addition to most aquascapes because they help to keep away algae due to their shading and rapid growth. They are close to the light and have unlimited access to CO2 in the air, so grow super quickly producing oxygen through their roots. This provides for a secure environment for the fish and its rapid nutrient removal ability helps to prevent algae alongside its shading to the lower plants. Care must be taken to avoid it from completely smothering the surface otherwise it can starve the other plants of light. Simply scoop out any excess plants with your hands or fish net and carefully dispose of. DO NOT allow the plant into any outside water ways otherwise it can potentially impact on the natural environment with its invasive growth. It’s a great value plant with just one pot being enough for most systems, due its fast growing nature. It can also be used as an indicator plant, meaning it will turn a pale green or yellow colour before any other plant in the aquarium. If this happens you know you need to add more liquid fertiliser until a rich green colour returns.
Taxiphyllum sp. "Spiky" or Spiky Moss is very attractive, easy to grow and suitable for most aquariums.
Moss adds an immediate sense of maturity to an aquascape and is ideal for all sizes of aquarium. It’s perfect for small aquariums where a sense of scale is required due to its fine texture and trimming can be managed more easily. Consider keeping shrimp in an aquascape with moss, as the shrimp constantly graze the surfaces for biofilm helping to avoid unwanted algae growth. Moss is usually attached to wood or rocks using cotton thread or gel-type superglue. Use only a thin layer otherwise layers underneath a thick layer can be starved of light and circulating water, leading to die-off. Regular trimming will promote healthy and compact growth. It does not require CO2 injection but as with all aquarium plants it will benefit growth. One tip is to add moss to a relatively mature aquascape otherwise it can be an algae trap for new set-ups.
Ludwigia palustris is a fast growing red stem plant suitable for most aquariums. It’s one of the few stem plants that will stay red even in lower levels of lighting, although high lighting will definitely bring out better red colouration. CO2 injection will improve growth and leaf density but it is not essential. Regular trimming will promote bushy growth and re-planting the tips after trimming is a good idea to improve overall plant biomass. If the bottom of the stems start to look unhealthy then consider trimming off the healthiest portion and re-planting, and disposing of the unhealthy plant carefully. Due to its fast growing nature it’s an ideal plant for new aquascapes, helping to out compete with algae whilst adding an attractive splash of colour.
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