Angelfish are truly beautiful fish. These elegant creatures are super popular, and chances are you’re keeping them as well. But what are the best aquarium plants that are most suitable for angelfish? To understand that, we first need to briefly cover the needs of freshwater angelfish.
What makes an aquarium plant suitable for angelfish?
There are several factors that are very important for angelfish. The first one has to do with the sheer size of these cichlids. They don’t necessarily grow big, but they do grow super tall. They can grow between 6 and 10 inches (15 and 25 cm) tall when they’re fully grown.
One common mistake many novice fishkeepers make is keeping angelfish in a tank that’s not tall enough. When a fish can grow 10 inches tall, it needs more space to move around in the tank. When it comes to plants, we are therefore looking for tall plants that can grow to the top of the tank.
Next to picking some tall growing plants, there are some perks of keeping a pair of angelfish. One of them is getting eggs and potentially even fry. Breeding your angelfish is super rewarding and great fun to watch. With that said, due to many many years of breeding in captivity, angelfish aren’t great parents and are likely to eat the eggs the first couple of tries.
To encourage breeding, plant choice is critical. You’ll need some plants with big leaves for them to stick their eggs to, and you want plants that create thick bushes that provide cover and privacy.
1. Amazon Swords
The must-have plant when keeping (a breeding pair of) angelfish, is an Amazon Sword. It’s very fitting, because angelfish are from the Amazon river too. This plant grows the perfect leaves for the angelfish to lay eggs on.
These plants also grow very tall, and are able to reach 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm) under the right conditions. In moderate lighting, these plants do well, but when provided with bright lights and additional CO2, they can grow real rapid.
To properly plant an Amazon Sword, make sure to root the plant in the substrate. It’s a heavy root feeding plant and needs additional nutrients in the soil. You can do this by adding root tabs.
2. Water sprite
The second plant that’s a real recommendation when keeping angelfish: water sprite. This plant is on all the list available and gets recommended by many angelfish keepers. The reason for this is because it can grow to be a thick and dense forest, composed of its many fine leaves. It’s absolutely perfect for angelfish to swim through, hide, get some privacy and prepare to lay eggs.
The plant can reach 13 inches (33 cm) tall, making it a great background plant in many tanks. The water parameters coincide with the requirements of angelfish which is perfect. It’s known as a slow growing plant, but the right circumstances can speed this plant up.
When trying to breed angelfish, a thick bunch of Water Sprite is a real must-have. Combine this with Amazon Sword and you’re good to go.
3. Java Fern
An all-round banger plant is Java Fern, which is extremely popular in the hobby. Due it’s simple care, larger leaves and slow growing rate it’s perfect for beginner fishkeepers. It’s also on top of my list of great aquarium plants for beginners, which you can find here.
When it comes to an angelfish aquarium, the thin but sturdy leaves are great for them. They can lay eggs on them, but due to the bushy growth of this plant the fish love them to swim through. It provides great cover, which is something angelfish really appreciate.
To take good care of your Java Fern, there is one thing you need to keep into account: don’t bury the roots. While I must admit the roots look really plant-able it’s best not to bury them, as this can cause the root system to rot. Instead, attach the plant to a piece of driftwood or a rock. This will fixate the plant and weigh it down.
Java Fern needs low to moderate lighting, is slow growing so does not need many additional nutrients and does great without additional CO2.
4. Jungle Vallisneria
Another plant recommendations tailored especially for angelfish! Jungle Vallisneria, or jungle val in short, grows very tall. It’s essentially tall, lush, green grass that you can grow in your aquarium. The long halms can grow tightly together, which makes the perfect playground for angelfish.
But how tall does this plant grow? It could grow to be 6.5 feet (2 meters) tall, which is going to be way taller than your aquarium. What happens in that case is that the highest parts of the eelgrass floats at the surface of the aquarium. If it’s growing too tall, simply trim the tops of the plants.
Jungle val propagates by shooting out runners and growing new plants from there. When positioned nicely, it’s a stunning plant especially for angelfish aquariums.
5. Dwarf Tiger Lotus
I’m still unsure of this plant’s name. It’s often referred to as dwarf tiger lotus, red tiger lotus, dwarf tiger lily and any combination between those. What you should know about this plant is that it’s able to shoot stems up, reaching for the water surface. It’s able to grow beautiful lily pads, as well as flowers.
You buy this plant as a small bulb, which you then plant in your substrate. Only bury the roots of the bulb, and leave the rest uncovered. When the plant’s starting to root, it creates pretty red leaves. When it’s doing well it’s going to try creating some lilies.
Before you order some bulbs on Amazon, you need to know how to contain this plant. When left alone, the roots of this plant can take over the entire aquarium. Therefore, I recommend planting the bulb in a plastic container, which you then bury in your tank. Also, cut off the flowers before they wilt, because they are able to drop seeds that land all over your tank.
6. Water Wisteria
A stunning plant that’s hardy and versatile is called Water Wisteria. It’s a great plant that can grow like crazy under the right conditions. It’s a perfect background plant for your angelfish aquarium, that can give your elegant fish something to swim through.
The plant’s easy to propagate by trimming the tops and replanting this again in the substrate. You’ll only need to buy a couple of stems that over time can provide you with all the plants you need. In nature, the plant grows so tall that parts of the plants break off, which then would turn out to be the new plants.
Like I said, Water Wisteria is versatile. You can root them down in the substrate but also leave them floating around the tank. When you’ve got heavy current I would not recommend utilizing this plant as a floating plant. You can always try and see what works best for you.
A great and easy plant that’s a great option for an angelfish aquarium is called Hornwort. If you’ve never heard about this plant, you could assume it’s a difficult plant because of the fine growth. Instead, this plant is suitable for beginner tanks! As long as you have moderate to bright lighting and add loads of liquid fertilizer you will not experience any issues with this plant.
The reason why I’ve added this plant to the list suitable for angelfish is because it’s an easy stem plant that you can grow anywhere in the tank. It can grow very tall, which is something you’d want for background plants in an angelfish tank. If you trim them, you can also grow them as midground plants that don’t grow all the way to the water surface.
When you plant Hornwort densely you’ll find your angelfish swimming in between the stems looking for cover. Overall, a fantastic option!
8. Ambulia (Limnophila sessiliflora)
A plant with a little more requirements than the other plants on this list is called Ambulia. This is my favorite stem plant and has a very iconic look. It’ll also grow to the top of your tank, and shares similar features with Hornwort.
To grow this plant well, you’ve got to add some additional CO2 to your water. The CO2 that’s naturally in your tank is not sufficient for proper plant growth when it comes to this plant. To propagate Ambulia, replant your cuttings in the substrate.
Ambulia is a very fast growing plant, so you’ll definitely need to add liquid fertilizer to facilitate the rapid plant growth. I always recommend Seachem Flourish, which is affordable and available on Amazon. You can check out the current price here. If you’d like some more information on liquid fertilizer, I’ve written about it on my site here.
9. Water lettuce
If your aquarium provides sufficient height for your full grown angelfish to swim around freely, adding floating plants can be an awesome addition. The roots of the Water Lettuce will provide a blanket-like experience for your fish, which gives them a feeling of protection and safety.
The reason why I talk about sufficient swimming space is because the roots can limit the swimming and therefore effectively reduces the height of your tank. If your tank is big enough this is no problem and not something you should worry about.
To keep water lettuce alive, there are three simple things you should take into account. You’ll need an aquarium light to provide light, add liquid fertilizer to keep the aquarium water rich in nutrients, and keep surface agitation to a minimum. Floating plants don’t like fast currents, they prefer being left alone to grow.
Besides water lettuce there are many other great floating plant options. I just chose this because it’s widely available, but I’ve created a list of 6 great floating plants that are available to choose from.
Popular plants in the hobby are all varieties of Anubias plants. They’ve got thick sturdy leaves which are very suitable for angelfish to lay eggs on. Because the leaves and stems are thick, they aren’t suitable for angelfish to swim through, but that’s fine. They also don’t grow that tall, so you can use them as midground plants in your tank.
Anubias plants are super simple to take care of, because they grow slowly and therefore don’t need bright lights, additional CO2 or additional fertilizer. They do best in low lights or a shaded area of your tank.
Because they grow slowly, the leaves will collect some algae over time.
They are also one of the few plants that easily flower underwater. They really are great plant options for any aquarium really. They come in many different sizes, so make sure to pick one that matches your needs.
11. Dwarf Sagittaria
I’ve only really covered background and some midground plants for angelfish. That’s because they are perfect for tall angelfish aquariums, but of course you’re able to add smaller plants in the front of the aquarium as well. A great option is Dwarf Sagittaria, but other options include Cryptocoryne Wendtii or C. Parva, Blyxa Japonica and Echinodorus Latifolius.
When it comes to Dwarf Sagittaria, you have to keep into account they are great foreground plants as long as you provide them with bright lights. They need a lot of light to stay small, and in some situations can suddenly grow tall to reach for more light. In that case, stay optimistic and consider them great midground plants.
It’s best to grow Dwarf Sagittaria in nutrient rich aquarium soil or add some root tabs for more fertilizer.
What’s the best substrate for angelfish?
Most of the plants we’ve discussed need to be rooted in substrate. Because angelfish are cichlids and like to mess around in the substrate every once in a while, it’s best to avoid chunky gravel. The pebbles are too heavy to move aside, and potential sharp edges can hurt the fins of the fish.
Instead, use fine gravel with smooth edges, or potentially even aquarium sand. Both options are great for growing aquarium plants and are safer and more suitable for specific angelfish behavior.
Do angelfish need live plants?
A common question asked about angelfish, but also many other fish that we can keep, is whether they need live plants. The only correct answer is that they can live and grow without live plants, but really benefit from all the good things live plants have to offer.
Plants provide cover which the angelfish need to feel secure. This can be replicated using fake plants, but the angelfish also like to swim through densely planted parts of the tanks. It’s more difficult to recreate this using fake plants.
Finally the live aquarium plants actually assist in cleaning the aquarium water by removing ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. This means that the plants remove dissolved substances that in low concentrations can be toxic to your fish.
One more thing is that we’re always striving to recreate the natural habitat of a fish, and I bet you there are loads of plants in the Amazon river.
Do angelfish eat plants?
While angelfish love to nibble on plants every so often, they will not eat the entirety of it. Make sure they are well fed and have a complete diet by feeding other food. There are stories of breeders who’ve fed vegetables and stopped, where the angelfish supposedly turned to plants. From other stories I can only conclude that it really varies per fish.