What Are Aquarium Plants and Are They for You?

Have you seen those beautiful plants in aquariums? They are amazing, no doubt about that. But what are they? Are they algae? Has somebody just chopped the grass in the backyard and thrown it inside the tank? And more importantly, would those plants be a good fit for you?

Aquarium plants, also known as hydrophytes or macrophytes, are plants that thrive in watery ecosystems. These plants can offer a suitable habitat and food supply for any species in a tank. They can be classified as emerged, submerged, or floating plants.

There are many varieties of aquarium plants that can bring benefits and beauty to your aquarium. In this article, I will show you the general parameters and other insights to help you have healthy and thriving aquarium plants!

What are aquarium plants?

Aquarium plants are species that have adapted to watery environments. These plants are macrophytes, so they can grow emersed, submerged, or floating. They have become prominent in aquariums for their versatility and benefits. These plants can be fresh- or saltwater species.

Aquarium plants are different from seaweeds and marine algae. These two enter a different classification and are rarely regarded as macrophytes. 

There is also an important difference between macrophytes and microphytes. Microphytes are microscopic algae found in fresh and saltwater. They are also known as microalgae.

These plants can have a variety of colors and shapes. They are a great addition to any tank because they can bring beauty and contrast. However, aquarium plants are not only about the looks. 

These plants can offer many a benefit to aquariums. Let’s look at them in detail:

Filtration

Aquarium plants can help filter the water in an aquarium. They act as filters, transforming the CO2 into oxygen. Apart from CO2, plants can also absorb other contaminants from the water, helping it remain clean.

Some aquarists have unfiltered tanks, using lots of plants as their only filtration equipment. The more plants, the cleaner the tank, and the more oxygen. This practice is proof of the filtration effectiveness of aquarium plants.

These plants can even remove nitrates and phosphates from the water and prevent algae growth. This will help maintain healthy water parameters and a clean tank. 

Having aquarium plants can provide the conditions your other species need to thrive in your tank. Your fish will thank you for it.

Habitat

Aquarium plants can serve as habitat for the species of your tank. Shrimp and fish love living in environments with lots of plants. These species make aquarium plants their home.

Several fish and shrimp species like hiding, and aquarium plants can provide a great hiding spot for them. Your fish will look brighter and more colorful when living among plants. Moreover, knowing they can hide whenever they want makes fish remain out in the open for longer. 

Plants can improve the health of your fish and strengthen their immune system. With plants in your ecosystem, your fish are not likely to stress and get sick. 

Food supply

Apart from providing filtration and a habitat, aquarium plants can also supply food for your species. Some fish feed on the microbes that grow on the plants’ leaves. Some others can even eat little parts of the leaves.

That is not to say that you don’t need to feed your species if you have plants. It is just that fish can profit naturally from having plants around.

Types of aquarium plants

Aquarium plants are divided into emersed, floating, and submerged plants. Each one of these types can have its benefits and preferences. Let’s look at them in detail.

Emersed plants

Emersed plants are species that grow on the waterline, with their roots and stem usually underwater. They are also known as emerged or partially submerged plants. In most cases, the leaves and the flowers grow over the waterline.

These plants can be acquired in pet stores or specialized stores. One of the advantages of these plants is that they are not likely to have snails inside when you buy them. Snails can be problematic to your tank, so being free of them is a great benefit.

These plants can provide awesome conditions to your aquarium and beautify any room with their parts over the waterline.

Some popular species of emersed plants are anubias, java fern, and Sagittaria subulate.

Floating plants

As their name indicates, floating plants grow floating on the surface of your tank. These species can grow without substrate because they take their nutrients from the water. Yet, you can plant them in the substrate and their leaves will grow floating.

Floating plants can have beautiful flowers to embellish the surface of your tank. They can, moreover, provide stunning looks to your aquarium.

Some fish species like to snack on floating plants, so it is always nice to watch your fish roam the surface of your tank looking for a quick bite.

Due to the closeness of this species to the surface, a good lighting source is crucial for their healthy growth. 

Most floating species grow considerably fast, so it is important to keep them in control to avoid overspreading. If they completely take over the surface of your tank, they could affect the conditions of your ecosystem. 

Be careful with the spreading and trimming and you will be good to go with these plants. 

Some popular species of floating plants are mosquito fern, duckweed, and water lettuce.

Submerged plants

Submerged plants are species that live completely underwater. Their roots, stems, leaves, and flowers are submerged. Some species might grow over the waterline, but they can perfectly grow healthy without leaving the water. These species are often called submersed or immersed.

Submerged plants require a substrate that is rich in nutrients. In many cases, they might even need extra CO2 and root tabs. 

These species come in a huge variety of shapes, colors, and even uses. There are carpet-like submerged plants that can form the base of any aquarium. Among these, we find species like the dwarf hairgrass. They can create a grass-like surface for your tank.

Since these species grow completely underwater, they are the best habitat providers among the three types of aquarium plants.

Each type of aquarium plant can offer different benefits, so they are a great addition to any tank. Be attentive to the type of plant you choose and learn as much as you can about it. Knowing your plants will give you the upper hand when caring for them.

Requirements of aquarium plants

There are many species of aquarium plants, and each one of them can have different requirements. However, there are some ground rules and general requirements to consider when you want to add aquarium plants to your tank.

Most aquarium plants have specific needs regarding water parameters, nutrients, lighting, and substrate.

Let’s take a closer look at these requirements.

Water parameters

When adding aquarium plants to your ecosystem you need to consider the pH, GH, KH, and temperature. These parameters are paramount for ensuring the health and adequate growth rate of your species.

There are many hardy species that can tolerate wide ranges of water parameters. Any pH that is neither too acidic nor too basic should sit well with most plants. Aim at pH around 6.0 and 8.0.

Regarding the hardness of the water, most hardy plants can tolerate hardness from soft to hard and KH from 3 to 8. The temperature, on its part, will depend on the place the species come from. However, temperatures around 22 to 28 degrees Celsius (71 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit) should be perfect.

The specific needs of your plants will be determined by the species you have. Researching will be your greatest ally to provide optimal care for your plants.

Nutrients

Adding extra nutrients to your plants can help them grow faster and with brighter colors. Some species might need nitrogen, root tabs, CO2, copper, and other nutrients to grow healthy. In some cases, these nutrients are absorbed through the leaves; in others, they need to be given to the roots.

Lighting

Aquarium plants need a quality lighting source to thrive in a tank. High-quality lighting will help them grow, reproduce, and live happily in your ecosystem. LED lights are probably the best option for most aquariums. 

Different plants have different lighting requirements, but most species profit from 10 to 12 hours of lighting a day. Be sure to provide a stable cycle to your plants. 

Substrate

For species that need to be planted, choosing the right substrate can ensure their healthy growth. Aim for a substrate without crushed coral, dolomite, and crushed oyster shells. These components are calcium carbonate-based and could cause unwanted rises in alkalinity and pH.

Coarse sand and medium-grade gravel might be the most effective substrate for your tank. Other combinations can be done to alter the looks and the properties of the substrate. Avoid any substrate that is too compact.

Ensure these conditions to your plants and they will grow happily in your tank. Remember that it is crucial to research your species!

Aquarium plants are a delight for the eyes and a helping hand at keeping your tank healthy, clean, and effective. What is there not to like? 

If I were you, I wouldn’t hesitate!

Bart Sprenkels

I have been keeping multiple aquariums since I was 18 years old. Just like many of you, I started with two goldfish but quickly learned they were not suitable for aquariums. Later, I switched to a tropical community tank and I also have two pet musk-turtles in a bigger aquarium. You can read more about me here.

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