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Cory catfish are cute, peaceful, personality-filled bottom dwellers that need live plants in their aquarium to thrive and feel safe. Whether you’re new to taking care of fish or are a seasoned Cory caretaker — it’s important to know what plants are the most suitable for your catfish.
Also known by their genus name of Corydoras, the South American cory catfish has over 160 species, such as the bronze cory, albino cory, peppered cory, and the panda cory (yep–panda cory fish are black and white!). They prefer to live in groups of at least five, are shy, and like to take cover under the protection of plants if they feel threatened.
That is why it is crucial to understanding which plants are most suitable for your adorable little bottom-dweller. We’ll discuss what makes an aquarium plant suitable for your cory catfish and which plants are best to include in your tank.
What Makes An Aquarium Plant Suitable For Cory Catfish?
Because corydoras are bottom-dwellers, it’s a good idea to include at least 2 inches of fine sand as the substrate of your tank, as well as different varieties of live plants to mimic their natural environment.
Live plants in your aquarium are important for your cory catfish because they give them a safe place to snooze, explore, or hide should there be any perceived threats. Live plants also help oxygenate fish tanks and act as a bonus filtration system by utilizing the nutrients in the aquarium water.
But what makes an aquarium plant suitable for a corydora catfish?
Corydoras like live plants which they can forage off of and plants that are large enough to act as hideaways. Be it a big bush or a big plant with broad leaves, a corydora isn’t super picky in what it likes, but some live aquatic plants are better suited for the catfish than others.
1. Echinodorus Tenellus
A carpeting grass that can give your aquarium a straight-out-of-nature vibe, the Echinodorus tenellus is a great live plant for your corydoras.
Also known as the Narrow Leaf Chain Sword or the Pygmy Chain Sword, the echinodorus tenellus is one of the smallest species of water plantains in the Alismataceae family. This plant creates a soft and soothing atmosphere for your tank, and your corys will enjoy weaving through its coarse, ribbon-like leaves.
Because it’s leaves are more narrow than broad, the Echinodorus tenellus may not provide as much protection for your corydoras as some of the other live plants on this list, but it makes for a fun plant for your cory to explore.
Taking care of echinodorus tenellus isn’t too difficult and it’s an easy plant to propagate. To propagate, cut the roots apart once the “baby” shoots become about half the size of the “parent” plant, and plant those in your tank’s sandy substrate. You may find some seeds too. Be sure to plant those!
The echinodorus tenellus grows well in water temperatures between 68 degrees and 84 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a perfect underwater companion for corydoras who thrive best in temps between 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep the plant submerged in a sandy substrate with moderate lighting. Though Corydoras prefer low-light environments, they are highly adaptable fish, so don’t be put off by aquatic plants that require more light — just make sure you provide your cory catfish with enough dark spaces to rest from the light.
A little cave or some of the larger plants below are good options for your corydoras too.
2. Cryptocoryne Parva
If you’re looking for an easy-to-care-for foreground plant, then stick the attractive Cryptocoryne parva into your aquarium. Also known as the Dwarf Water Trumpet, this aquatic plant is a luscious addition that your corydoras will love.
There are more than 60 different species of Cryptocoryne plants, and cryptocoryne parva is one of the smallest, originating from the island of Sri Lanka in Asia. It grows slowly in relatively still waters along rivers and streams and can be about 2-4 inches tall.
The Cryptocoryne parva is well suited for corydoras-filled fish tanks. It prefers a temperature range between 68-84 degrees Fahrenheit and also requires low to moderate lighting, which is perfect for corys.
Corydoras also enjoy Cryptocoryne parva because its leaves provide refuge for the small scavengers and eventually can grow to blanket the tank. Energetic and hungry corydoras will love searching through the grass to find food.
Once it’s rooted in the sand, the slow-growing Cryptocoryne parva can grow to carpet any tank given the right lighting and water parameters, even in low-tech setups. Keep it growing by cutting the runners and replanting them in nutrient-dense substrate.
Even if you have other plants in your tank that could overshadow a Cryptocoryne parva, it will still grow. Just be sure to leave it alone and let it become established.
3. Lobelia Cardinalis
The Lobelia cardinalis, or Cardinal Flower, is a wetland wildflower indiginous to North America that is primarily located in the Adirondack Mountains along upstate New York. It can be found on the shores of lakes, ponds, and streams and well as in marshes.
Though it’s a little more care-intensive, the Lobelia cardinalis is a versatile foreground and middle ground freshwater plant that boasts gorgeous bright red flowers and reddish-purple leaves, though sometimes they may be green depending on the tank’s water level. When kept submerged, the leaves tend to be a vibrant green on top with red hues on the flip side.
This plant requires moderate to high lighting, which isn’t a problem for versatile cory catfish. They won’t feel the need to retreat from the light as much as they would with a plant that has high lighting requirements.
In fact, naturally-social corys will love playing around the plant’s colorful flowers and tall stalks, which can grow up to 12 inches high and produce thick side shoots which the fish can readily seek shelter underneath.
The Lobelia cardinalis is also well suited for temperatures that corys like, between 72-82 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the flower planted in nutrient-rich sand substrate and trim off the tops to replant and grow your collection of Lobelia cardinalis.
As with most plants, it does benefit from a healthy dose of plant supplement, so you may want to add that in once in a while. I always recommend buying API Leaf Zone, a simple all-in-one liquid fertilizer. You can check it out here on Amazon.
You may know this jungle-looking background plant as eelgrass, tape grass, or vallis, but it’s genus classification name is Vallisneria, and many aquatic hobbyists call it by this name too. Whatever you want to call it, this freshwater aquatic plant is a perfect plant for corydoras and beginner hobbyists alike.
Vallisneria is known for its ability to thrive under low and medium light conditions, it’s easy propagation, and variety of leaf sizes. It’s native to Africa, Asia, and Europe.
To keep the Vallisneria plant alive and make more of it, you don’t have to do much–the plant does most of the work for you. It enjoys water temperatures between 63-82 degrees Fahrenheit, which are prime cory catfish temps.
It may take two months or so for the Vallisneria to become established, but once it does, it can propagate very quickly, spreading out baby runner plants. Even as often as every three days, an established Vallisneria plant can grow a new shoot.
If you’re at a beginner skill level, this is a good choice because you also don’t have to regularly cut back the shoots. If you do cut them, you may start to have yellowing, rotting leaves. Wait until the Vallisneria is almost too large for your tank and carefully split the plant at the roots to relocate it.
We think the Vallisneria is a top choice for your corydoras too. This plant can grow up to almost two feet tall, around 20 inches. These long, tall leaves usually drape over the top of a tank and serve as a secure safe spot for your corys. They are social little fish, if sometimes shy, but they must have a safe spot to retreat to and rest.
5. Marimo Moss Balls
Unlike most of the plants on this list that provide protection and safety to corydoras, moss balls serve a different function. Marimo moss balls are one of the best naturally growing filters for aquariums because they take out much of the contaminants that end up in the tank, like nitrates, and improve water quality by producing oxygen. They are extremely popular in the aquarium world.
But what exactly are they? Marimo moss balls are naturally-formed unique balls of rare algae. They can grow to be about 8-12 inches in diameter, though many have been found in the wild to be much bigger.
Marimo moss balls come from lakes around the world in places like Iceland, Scotland, Estonia, and Japan. In fact, it’s popular in Japan to keep Marimo moss balls as jarred ornamental plants and good luck charms.
So how does the plant do its thing? When parts of an aquarium’s plants or any uneaten food is left floating in the tank, a moss ball is there to collect it with it’s fuzzy, velvety-soft texture.
Moss balls are perfect for corydoras because they provide a readily-available collected stash of food to sift through with their whiskers to discard or eat. The algae ball also provides stimulation for corys and acts as a socialization tool too. They may even nudge the moss ball around like a soccer ball!
Fortunately, Marino moss balls are very easy to take care of. They are naturally found at lake bottoms, preferring dimmer light just like corydoras, though they do tend to grow well with most other aquarium lights. Brown spots may develop if the tank light is too intense, so regularly check for those. Remember to rotate the moss ball every so often as well to ensure all of it receives enough light.
6. Blyxa Japonica
You may know Blyxa japonica as Dwarf Asian Grass or the Japanese Bamboo plant. The Blyxa japonica is a popular midground or background option for aquascape enthusiasts because of its grassy, hedge-like appearance and relative ease of maintenance. It’s popular with cory catfish owners too of course.
Corys like Blyxa japonica because the blades can grow to be about 8 inches tall, providing thick safe haven for them and other small fish and fry in the tank.
The plant will carpet any space available in an aquarium, but don’t worry, because corydoras will like that even better with more places to dig into and scavenge for flakes and bits of food.
Aquascape hobbyists like the Blyxa japonica because it has a moderate growth rate and requires moderate lighting. The grass flourishes best in corydoras-friendly water temperatures between 73-80 degrees Fahrenheit, so all in all, it’s a win-win for both you and your corys.
The stem of a Blyxa japonica plant usually grows to around 4 inches tall, covered with light green leaves and small white flowers on the ends of its stems. It does look like a bush, but that’s just because the Blyxa japonica have very thin leaves and grow super close to each other.
The plant’s colors vary from reddish gold to green, though the more intense a tank’s lighting, the more red the leaves may be.
To continue growing Blyxa japonica, trim off any spurs and plant them in your tank’s 3-5 inches of substrate. Once the plant develops a root system, more spurs will grow, forming another aquatic bush plant for the tank.
7. Sagittaria Subulata
Also known as Tall Narrowleaf Sagittaria, the Sagittaria subulata is a fast-growing grass-like plant originating from South America. It’s very hardy and grows well in a nutrient-rich environment, whether fully submerged or not.
Living up to its “Tall” name, the Sagittaria subulata can grow up to 20 inches high, making the plant a great option for both medium and larger-sized aquariums. Use it as a middle or background plant depending on how high you want to cultivate it.
Furthermore, the less light the Sagittaria subulata receives, the more the leaves will try to grow upward to reach the light, so medium lighting works best. The plant can also spread quickly along an aquarium bottom, providing a naturally grassy carpet that bottom dwellers like corys will just love to scavenge.
For propagation, the plant does the heavy lifting by sending out runners with small plantlets. These plantlets fall off from the mother plant once they have developed a strong root system, becoming independent and ready to start the cycle over again. To keep this plant from overtaking your tank, gently pinch off the runners before plantlets form.
Regarding physical appearance, the Sagittaria subulata closely resembles grass, with thin green leaves and rounded tips. If it’s submerged in water the leaves may be wider towards the base and have a sharper point, resembling little swords.
Corydoras will have a blast zipping through the leaf strands of the Tall Narrowleaf Sagittaria, swimming and socializing with the other fish in their school.
8. Micro Sword
Another popular choice is the Micro sword, or lilaeopsis brasiliensis. It can be found in most pet stores today though it may be under a different name, such as Brazilian micro sword, micro sword grass, carpet grass, or copragrass. It’s best as a foreground plant.
In a tank with optimum conditions, the Micro sword can grow to about 2 to 5 inches in length, resembling a plush dense grass that corydoras can get into and hide around, as well as look for food. It’s a light and airy plant that prefers water temperatures between 70-82 degrees Fahrenheit, fairly warm just like the corydoras like it.
In low-tech tanks, the Micro sword’s growth can be slow, whereas in high-tech tanks paired with strong lighting, growth can be faster. Expect a grass carpet to form on top of the sand substrate after it has established roots. Expect however, that Micro sword plant roots are not very hardy or durable, so when propagating the plant use extra gentle care to plant any runners that shoot off of the roots back into the sandy substrate.
9. Amazon Sword
The Amazon Sword, or echinodorus amazonicus, is another freshwater plant that does well under the same water parameters and tank conditions that a cory catfish needs — dark and fairly warm.
That’s not to say that the Amazon sword doesn’t grow in well-lighted conditions, because it does grow faster with more light, it’s just that this plant can survive living in darker conditions like the corydoras.
It can grow pretty tall under the proper water conditions too, reaching approximately 20 inches in height. That’s a lot of plant for your small corydoras to swim through!
If you’re looking for narrow leaves to add to your tank, try the Echinodorus amazonicus, or for wider leaves to add more space for your cory catfish to hide, opt for the Echinodorus bleheri, which totes broader, more rounded leaves.
Maintain Amazon sword by regularly giving the tops a good trim. Not much else maintenance is needed!
You can probably find this plant at your local pet store as it’s pretty popular for aquascapists, though it may not always be under the same name because there are more than 30 species of Amazon sword. Echinodorus bleheri and echinodorus amazonicus, as mentioned above, are the most common.
10. Java Fern
Our last recommended live plant for corydoras is the Java fern, a sturdy aquatic plant that is extremely tolerant of most light conditions. It’s a pretty common plant to find in a pet store.
With a medium growth rate, the Java fern’s leaves can grow to about 12 inches tall. The leaves are a pretty bright green, so it adds a nice dose of color to any aquarium and makes an eye-catching midground or background plant.
But what makes Java fern a good choice for corydoras? It’s their large, broad leaves that are perfect for protection. You already know that corys love to seek shelter if they feel threatened, so it makes sense that the Java fern’s bright green leaves are prime privacy blockers for cory catfish. And similar to corydoras, the Java Fern can also survive in dim light conditions.
Enjoy the Java fern without the need for much care. Just trim back the leaves if they become too big, and replant them in your tank’s substrate to encourage more growth.
My Favorite Fishtank Products to Make Life Easier
Over the years I’ve found a variety of products that make the fish keeping life so much easier. Whenever someone asks me what products I recommend buying, these are the first 5 items that come to mind. I’ll briefly list them below and state why I love them so much. I’m 100% sure you’ll love them!
1. A good gravel vacuum; Without a gravel vacuum, cleaning the substrate of your tanks is near impossible. Whenever I want to remove some of the sunken detritus from the bottom of my tank I’m happy I’ve got one of these. They’re available here on Amazon and I highly recommend them!
2. Liquid plant fertilizer; It’s no secret that I do not like nutritious aqua-soil. It makes a mess and only works a given amount of time. Instead, I always use a liquid aquarium plant fertilizer. Everyone who keeps live plants needs it, it’s not that expensive and makes your plants grow better. This is the one I use and recommend.
3. A set of aquascape tools; I love keeping plants, but planting and reorganizing my aquarium was difficult until I got a set of these tools. It’s much easier to plant any kind of plant compared to using my thick fingers. They’re also available here on Amazon.
4. A liquid-based water test kit; ever since I’m able to accurately test my water parameters, keeping fish became less stressful. Before I was always stressed that my water parameters were wrong, but using a kit such as the API Master kit, which is available here, I can measure this. It really is essential to successful fishkeeping.