I really love live plants in an aquarium, and when researching Discus fish the first thing you find is how warm their water should be. It can be tough finding plants that will thrive in a Discus tank, however there are plants that will do great. But first, which plants work in a Discus environment?
What makes an aquarium plant suitable for Discus?
Discus fish love their higher temperatures, and most people keep their water between 82°F and 88°F (28°C – 31°C). While aquarium plants are great at adapting to new environments, temperatures this high can be severely limiting their growth.
When you’re looking to create a planted Discus plant, the thing that most people do is making a temperature compromise. They keep their fish in a temperature that’s a bit lower for them but a bit higher for plants. Many experienced Discus keepers keep their fish at 82°F or even at 80°F and have managed to breed them at that temperature too.
For a planted aquarium, between 82°F and 84°F should give you plenty of plant choices. The plants on this list all work in Discus tanks, and I’ve made sure to check first hand and create the list based on the experience of others. In my opinion this is always the best way to learn in our hobby.
1. Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)
The first plants on this list that’s extremely popular among Discus keepers are ferns. The Java Fern (microsorum pteropus) is a great plant, but the’re also other varieties of this plant that work well. I did not want to give each variety its own number, because that would make the list artificially long.
Varieties you should definitely check out are the “narrow leaf java fern”, as well as the “java fern windelov”. Together with the more common Java Fern you’ll be able to add phenomenal background plants to your aquarium. If you’ve got a bunch of driftwood, I recommend attaching the ferns to it using superglue.
Java Ferns are great beginner plants too, which makes their care super easy. They are slow growers and require low to moderate lighting, little additional ferts and not necessarily additional CO2. They make great plants for a low-tech planted Discus aquarium.
The Madagascar Lace Fern is also suitable for discus tanks. They’re easily recognizable by their stunning and interesting leaf texture:
2. African Bolbitus
While this plant’s a fern too, it deserves its own number. The African Bolbutus, often called African Water Fern, shares similar characteristics with Java Ferns. It’s a slow growing plant that must be attached to some sort of wood or porous rock.
In the wild, this plant can often be found in fast moving, shady rivers and streams. These parameters can easily be replicated in our aquarium by placing this plant in a darker spot in the tank, potentially close to a wavemaker or filter output.
As these plants are slow growers, its requirements are easy to meet. It does not require strong lighting, additional fertilizer or injected CO2. A great beginner plant, but also great for Discus aquariums.
Number three on the list is another plant genus instead of a specific variety. There are many people recommending specific crypt varieties that are suitable for Discus, but the truth is that they all work.
Cryptocoryne plants are beautiful plants that should be rooted in the substrate of your aquarium. They love a nutrient rich aquarium soil, but will be satisfied with root tabs too. They need moderate lighting and from experience propagate quickly.
When it comes to a planted Discus aquarium, you’ll want to buy many Crypts because they are superb when looking to create a pretty but hardy scape.
The most common Crypt variety undoubtedly is called C. Wendtii, but here are some other names that I’ve heard Discus keepers specifically recommend:
- C. Parva
- C. Spiralis
- C. Wendtii
- C. Undulatus Green
- C. Bullosa
Know that there are way more varieties that will also work great in Discus aquariums.
4. Echinodorus (Swords)
From doing my research, I must say that Amazon Swords (Echinodorus Bleheri) plants are probably the most common. They grow super tall and broad, which is perfect in a large Discus aquarium. They are able to withstand the higher temperatures, and can be the best ingredients for a simple and clean planted aquarium.
But just like Cryptocoryne plants, there are many suitable Echinodorus varieties. To not artificially raise the number in the title of the article to “The best 43 plants for discus!” I will now list a number of Echinodorus plants that other experienced Discus keepers recommend. If you’re wondering what mysterious Discus keepers I’m talking about – I mostly got my information from Simply Discus, a well-known forum.
- Ruffle Swords (Echinodorus martii)
- Jade Swords (Echinodorus uruguayensis v. “green”)
- Rangeri Swords
- Red Melon Swords
- Ozelot Sword
- Red Flame Swords
You might have noticed that plants that are suitable for Discus are the same plants that everyone is recommending to beginner fishkeepers. That’s because plants need to be hardy and withstand tough circumstances in both scenarios. Taking care of Echinodorus plants is easy.
Make sure the plants get moderate to bright light and have access to a fertile soil. You can either grow them in nutrient rich aquarium soil or chuck in a couple of root tabs every three months. Without CO2 Echinodorus plants will be able to survive, but you’ll be able to see them take off once you start adding some CO2. You don’t have to go overboard.
A great hardy plant that can be used to create accents in your planted Discus aquarium is called Bucephalandra. This plant comes in many different shapes and sizes, but they are all able to withstand the high Discus temperatures.
It’s a slow growing plant that creates thick leaves. Due to its capacity to suck nutrients straight from the water colomb you’ll be able to stick this plant anywhere in your aquarium that you like. I would recommend using the smaller varieties as foreground plants.
That’s really all there is to say about taking care of Bucephalandra plants. Due to the slow growth they don’t necessarily need a whole lot of additional fertilizer. No additional CO2 injections is fine, and they like moderate to low lighting. You can also place them in a shaded part of your tank.
Dwarf Hygro (Hygrophila polysperma), the Temple Plant (Hygrophila corymbosa) and Hygrophila Pinnatifida (on the picture) are all great for a Discus tanks. From the list, these ones are a bit tougher to keep alive, but it can’t all be easy. I’ve read various stories that cover a range of success.
Overall Hygrophila is known to be hardy and able to withstand a broad range of water parameters. The temperature of a Discus aquarium is something that the plant should be able to withstand. It’s a fast growing plant, which might be the reason some people are not able to keep up.
Fast growing plants need a lot of nutrients, which is up to you to add in the form of liquid fertilizer. These plants do like to be rooted down in the substrate, but I’ve found them to not rely on its roots for nutrients much. I never gave them any root tabs, and they always seemed to thrive on the liquid fertilizer alone.
Leaves that are left floating at the surface will turn into new plants. Although this plant’s a stem plant, new shoots will appear on various places along the stem, creating a tangled bushy look. This is a great look that you surely can incorporate in your scape.
7. Dwarf Tiger Lily
The next plant is a lily plant that’s often called Dwarf Tiger Lily, Red Tiger Lotus or any combination in between. It’s a bulb plant that grows pretty red leaves and occasionally shoots up stems to the water surface to grow lily pads and flowers. It’s often used in Discus tanks, which can also be seen in this youtube video.
Although that video is German, the beauty of the scape speaks all languages. It’s made by Adrie Baumann, a world famous professional aquascaper.
The Dwarf Lily is perfectly able to withstand Discus temperatures, and can be rather invasive if you don’t take the right precautions. The roots of this plant are able to spread rapidly in the substrate, so I always recommend burying a plastic container that prevents the roots from doing so. Also, you should cut the lily flowers before they wilt so they’re not able to spread seeds.
If you’ve looked around for some plants before I’m sure you’re familiar with Anubias plants. These plants have beautiful sturdy green leaves and are a great addition to any aquarium, also for planted discus tanks. The dark leathery leaves will look absolutely phenomenal in any tank.
There’s a range of varieties available, from smaller leaved plants like the Anubias Nana to taller ones like the Anubias Barteri Barteri. And yes, I typed Barteri twice on purpose. This plant has a thick rhizome where both the leaves and the roots start. Instead of burying the roots, you should attach the rhizome to a piece of wood or a rock.
The temperature will be not a problem for Anubias plants, and they do best in low light or shaded areas of your tank. Additional CO2 is not required and due to the slow growth you don’t have to worry keeping up with the nutrients it desires.
To propagate this plant, you can split the rhizome. Make sure both parts have enough leaves and roots to survive. It’s actually really easy to propagate Anubias plants, it’s just that they don’t grow that fast. The last thing you should know is that Anubias plants are part of a few aquatic plants that are able to flower underwater in our aquarium. To be honest, that’s a great feature!
9. Jungle Vallisneria
Another plant that’s gotten the benefit of the doubt is called Vallisneria. There are multiple varieties, but the Jungle Val grows the tallest. I figured this is something you’d want in your Discus aquarium. I’ve read many forum posts where people were asking how to trim and tame this plant, but other people have mentioned they could not get their Jungle Val to survive.
I would argue all plants kept in our aquarium hobby are killed by some people, including myself. I’ve ready success stories in Discus tanks with Discus-temperature and that makes me want to recommend this beautiful plant to you.
Just know that this plant is able to grow over 6 feet (1.8m) tall. When it reaches the water level it will continue to grow with its top part floating. It will not grow out of the water, the leaves are way too weak for that.
This plant grows lush green grass-like halms that can form a beautiful forest for your Discus to swim through and hide in when they’re startled. The plant requires root tabs or aquarium soil and propagates through shooting out runners at its base from which new plants emerse.
Before doing my research I’d never heard of Spatterdock before. It’s a water lily plant, and you’ve probably seen this often in ponds. Turns out you can also grow it in Discus tanks and see success. It’s a lily plant that, unlike other lilies, is able to continue growing lush underwater leaves for many years before shooting up runners to create pads.
The rate at which this plant grows is moderate, and its leaves are known to need little algae scrubbing. Some people suspect it has a coating that’s fighting off algae. Because this plant is a primarily root feeding plant, it benefits greatly from a nutritious soil or additional root tab fertilizer.
Instead of showing you a picture, I want to show you this Youtube video where someone is trimming a Heteranthera zosterifolia. No worries, you can watch it without sound, there is no audio present. It really shows how beautiful this plant from South America can become.
Heteranthera grows quickly and creates a lot of side branches, which makes the plant turn bushy fast.
Stems of this plant can grow up to 15 inches (38cm) or more, but you’ll need to trim them sooner because the bottom leaves need to get light. If you’ll allow this plant to grow to the surface, it is able to grow tiny blue flowers. This is always a pleasure to witness.
Do Discus fish eat aquarium plants?
Whenever we’re putting in lush green fresh aquarium plants, we can’t help ourselves but wonder if the fish are going to eat them. You’re potentially wondering the same when it comes to Discus.
No, Discus do not eat live plants. From the experience of many fish keepers, Discus never even nibble on the plants. Instead, they love protein rich food like bloodworms, beefhart, white worms or brine shrimp.
Luckily for you, this means you don’t have to worry your Discus fish will eat your live plants.
Do discus need live plants in their aquarium?
You might have looked around online and saw people keeping discus in an aquarium with and without plants. For me, this raised the questions whether they needed plants in their tank.
No, discus do not need live plants to thrive in an aquarium. Many people are keeping and breeding discus in a bare bottom tank without plants. However, adding plants can benefit the fish by removing toxins from the water.
People still often think you can’t add plants to a discus aquarium because the temperature requirements do not match.