5 Easy, Low-Light Aquarium Plants Even I Can’t Kill ©

Java Fern Lace Microsorium pteropus WindelovPlants are an important part of the natural aquarium, but to say I have low-tech fish tanks would be an understatement.  Most of my aquariums are built for natural function, not beauty.  We breed aquarium fish and require plants that will provide security to fry (fish babies) and eggs.  They also create territories, give harassed fish a hiding place, assist in keeping the aquarium water clean, and provide a more natural aquatic habitat.

As much as I would love to have one of those gorgeous, high-tech planted aquariums, it simply doesn’t work with my schedule.  We do have a 90 gallon display tank in our living room, however, and I like to spend a little more time on making it look nice.

When I walk into an aquatic plant store, I do so with these limitations in mind:

  • My aquariums all have standard, relatively low lighting.
  • I rarely remember to fertilize, so the plants usually only receive the natural aquarium fertilizer that the fish and decaying plants provide.  They do get a mineral boost from the Calcium Montmorillonite Clay in Bottom Bites fish food.
  • I do not supplement CO2.
  • My water supply is soft.
  • My fish tanks usually have very little or no aquarium gravel, so my plant choices are often limited to those that do not require substrate.

I have killed many, many aquarium plants over the years, including those that were supposed to be easy.  These experiences have left me with a few aquatic plants or plant species groups that appear to be bullet-proof:

Bolbitus heudelotii – It can be slow to establish, but Bolbitus heudelotii is an easy aquarium plant to keep happy.  I use fishing line to tie Bolbitus to cactus wood.

Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus) & Anubias aquarium plants

Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus) peeks out from behind an Anubias plant.

Java Fern Species (Microsorium pteropus) – I’ve yet to find a Java Fern variety that I couldn’t keep alive.  There are several to choose from, including Java Fern ‘Narrow Leaf’, and Java Fern ‘Lace’ (Microsorium pteropus v. ‘Windelov’).  My favorite is Java Fern ‘Lace’, with it’s leaf tips that split into lacy groups of green.  Java Fern spreads horizontally and is easily propagated by snipping a piece off a runner, or by floating a mature leaf until it sprouts plantlets.  I attach them to long Tufa Rock, drift wood, cactus wood or large seashells.

Anubias Species – This is such a classy group of plants, with many species and varieties available to aquarium plant hobbyists.  From rock-hugging, small aquatic plants to giants, they bring an elegant beauty to low-tech aquariums. I attach them to Tufa Rock, seashells, and small caves.  Many aquarists attach them to driftwood.  The Anubias group is so easy that I started collecting them, and now grow Anubias barteri, Anubias ‘Nana’, Anubias lanceolota, Anubias coffeefolia, Anubias hastifolia, Anubias minima, Anubias congensis, Anubias gigantea, Anubias ‘nancon’, and a few more that I haven’t identified.  Fish that like to spawn on broad-leaf plants often favor Anubias.

Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘Green’ – You may read that all Cryptocoryne (often called ‘Crypts’) are low-light plants, but they certainly aren’t always easy to grow.  Cryptocoryne are not big fans of change, be it environmental changes in the fish tank, aquarium lighting changes, or relocation.  When they’re unhappy, they ‘melt’, simply disappearing only to pop up again later (theoretically).  While Cryptocoryne wendtii will melt sometimes, it isn’t as sensitive as some Cryptocoryne and it has always come back for me.  Cryptocoryne wendtii is one of the few aquatic plants I keep that has to be planted.

Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demursum & Ceratophyllum submersum)– This is a floating (rootless) plant that will usually grow fast and furiously with minimal care.  A tangled mat of Hornwort is a perfect place for fish fry or small fish species to hide in.  I love it’s wild, natural look in my 90 gallon aquarium.  Growth does slow to a crawl if the fish tank light is dim, but it requires only a reasonably bright, standard aquarium light to thrive.  The ends closest to the light may become tinged with maroon, pink and red.  Hornwort doesn’t require much for aquarium plant fertilizer if you do regular water changes (and you should), but it really goes nuts if you do add some aquatic plant fertilizer.  Even a water change will cause a growth spurt.  Hornwort naturally inhibits algae growth both by hogging nutrients and through a chemical it produces.

Red Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demursum & Ceratophyllum submersum)

Red-tipped Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demursum & Ceratophyllum submersum)

These aquarium plants are usually easy to find in stores, or check out your local fish club auction.

Note:  NEVER release aquatic plants into the wild either directly or by flushing them.   Share, sell or destroy unwanted aquarium plants.

Do you know of any aquarium plants that are super-easy for folks like me?  Please add your comment below.

Amano, Takashi. Nature Aquarium: Complete Works 1985-2009Nature Aquarium: Complete Works 1985-2009. 2011.
Barber, Terry Ann. Wilson, Rhonda. The Simple Guide To Planted AquariumsThe Simple Guide To Planted Aquariums. 2005.

You may also be interested in reading:
6 Fast-Growing Plants for Natural Cleaning in Standard Aquariums
DIY Natural Fertilizer Balls for Aquarium Plants (Infographic)
Natural Remedies for Aquarium Hydra or Planaria Infestation
Natural Fish Food for Fancy Fins

Natural Aquarium Fish, Shrimp, Snail Food Supplies


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21 Responses to “5 Easy, Low-Light Aquarium Plants Even I Can’t Kill ©”

  1. Kevin Schwartze says:

    Hey you were right! Calcium montmorillonite clay is getting rid of the algae and the plants are taking off! Now I’m going to take this list and make a fish store very happy! LMAO

  2. Madeleine says:

    The hornwort in my aquarium just dropped its leaves too……maybe its a spring thing?? Maybe I’ll try guppy grass to float next time…..any other suggestions??

    • Melody - Admin says:

      Guppy grass does OK in my tanks but it doesn’t compete well with other fast-growing plants, at least in my aquariums.

    • Jackie says:

      The only plant I’ve had trouble with on this list is hornwort dying back sometimes. The rest are aesy plants. I wish anubias grew faster but theyre a nice aquarium plant.

  3. Noonan says:

    Hornwort drops its leaves sometimes so I stopped adding it to my aquariums. Java Moss grows madly in all of my tanks and it saves a lot of fry.

  4. Sandra says:

    Java Fern has been my loyal friend….and algae LOL but I love planted aquariums so I keep trying new species.

  5. Howie says:

    My favorite of those is Java Fern Windelove. It looks amazing in large patches or as single plants and they’re easy to take care of.

  6. Mr. Jones says:

    Anubias are my favorite aquatic plants. Beautiful and almost indestructible and they come in all sizes. I grow crypts in pots to avoid the melting issue but they’re still delicate.

  7. Carol, Surrey, BC says:

    Now this is a handy list for us normal aquarium hobbyists. I have a lot of java fern plus hornwort and java moss to hide newborn fry.

  8. Edwinna says:

    I’m getting a nice collection of low light aquarium plants. It’s a fun challenge to find them!

  9. Allen says:

    I have good luck with dwarf Sagittaria in my low light aquariums. I hope that helps!

  10. Daphnia says:

    Thanks, I’m really bad with aquarium plants too.

  11. Dana Floran says:

    😀 This is a great post for people like me who want a few plants in their normal aquarium without gadgets or expensive lights.

  12. Aaron says:

    I like the idea of writing about things I’m bad at, that’s brilliant! LOL Thanks for the low light plant suggestions. I’d love to have pretty aquariums but I don’t want to spend a fortune on lighting.

  13. Myrna Maria says:

    I went out and bought every damn one of these plants after reading this post LMAO I’m a total brown thumb with aquarium plants so thank you!!!

    I’m almost out of bottom bites and will be ordering soon. My fish and shrimp go crazy for them and they’re so nutritious I don’t even bother with flakes anymore. Another thank you!!!

  14. Love them! says:

    I have three high tech planted aquariums and want more.

  15. Oliver says:

    Fish stores should use this list to recommend plants to people with average fish tanks. I have been sold so many plants that just die when I get home. Then I look them up and find out they’re totally unsuitable. It’s hard to research plants before you go because you never know what plants you’re going to find. I’m going to bring my new ipad from now on and hope there’s a wireless connection around.

    • admin says:

      I am admittedly not much of a plant person and can’t imagine keeping up with all of the latest species. Maybe fish stores could consider keeping a good aquatic plant species book chained to a wall for shoppers to reference? It would also save staff time in answering questions. Thanks for commenting!

  16. PRawat says:

    Keep writing about fish keeping! There is too much bad or uselless information online. Love love love my fish!

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