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Live plants look beautiful in aquariums, but they’re more than just decorations. There are many benefits of having aquatic plants in your aquarium that go way beyond aesthetics.
Live plants can benefit your aquarium by providing water oxygenation, filtration, and waste removal, making it healthier for your fish. Plants also provide natural shelter for fish and fry, encourage breeding, keep algae growth in check, and encourage the growth of good bacteria.
A lot of thought goes into making your aquarium a happy place for your fish to live, thrive, and breed in—and live aquatic plants are essential for all of that. After all, it’s going to be a full-blown ecosystem that’s scaled down to fit into your living room.
Are Live Plants Good for Your Aquarium?
Live plants are good for your aquarium. They can provide a happy and healthy environment for your fish and other small aquatic creatures in your tank. Besides providing an ecosystem where your aquatic animals can thrive, plants also add more beauty to your aquarium.
I’ve compiled a list of their scientific and ecological benefits and explained them below.
Live Plants Provide Water Oxygenation
Like all animals on Earth, fish can’t live without oxygen. Your aquarium needs procedures in place to aerate and oxygenate its water constantly.
All plants release oxygen, with some types producing more of it than others. Aquatic plant species also oxygenate the water they’re submerged in through photosynthesis. I’ll discuss this concept in-depth later in this article.
Live Plants Enable Filtration and Waste Removal
Without effective waste removal and filtration solutions in your aquarium, unnecessary pollutants in the water can slowly build up. These include nitrites, nitrates, heavy metals, ammonia from decaying uneaten food, and fish waste.
Fortunately, aquatic plants naturally help address this problem. Their leaves and roots absorb the nitrates, which are unhealthy for the fish but work as a fantastic plant fertilizer for your aquatic plants.
The result is a 3-way win-win; your plants grow more, your fish get a cleaner aquarium, and you get maintenance assistance from mother nature.
Your Fish Can Enjoy an Added Shelter
Simply making sure your fish stay alive doesn’t make you a good fish owner. Instead, you need to make them feel happy, secure, and at home. These feelings come from having places to explore, rest on, and hide under for territorial breeds of fish.
Live plants can provide your fish with an added shelter that they’ll enjoy.
Live Plants Encourage More Breeding and Egg-Laying
Fish naturally seek the safety and shelter of plants to lay their eggs. It’s a habit that comes from years of evolution in their natural habitat. Therefore, aquatic plants encourage fish to breed and lay eggs successfully.
Covering ⅔ to ¾ of the tank’s substrate with dense plants is encouraged for hobbyists trying to spawn egg-scattering fish.
You Can Keep Algae Growth in Check
Algae growth is almost impossible to eradicate as all it needs is some nutrients and light, both of which are essential for your fish. However, careful measures can still manage and keep its growth in check. Natural aquatic plants are one to counter them.
Aquatic plants will assist in absorbing the excess nutrients in your water. Their leaves, substrate, and roots are demanding enough to take in lots of nutrients as food, leaving less behind for algae to thrive and grow.
Live Plants Make Good Fish Food
Here’s an area where live plants have the greatest lead over their artificial counterparts. The reason behind this: like any other living thing on Earth, fish can’t eat plastic.
Live plants, on the other hand, can be a tasty side meal for your fish! They can provide added food variety to the fish and cover for the days you might forget feeding — and that’s a lifesaver!
You’ll especially appreciate this benefit if your fish are herbivores, as they need to eat frequently. However, omnivore fish also eat plants occasionally.
Live Plants Can Mimic Your Fish’s Natural Habitat
When it comes to pet care, the closer their environment can get to their natural habitat, the healthier it is for them.
Almost all popular freshwater fish breeds come from rivers and streams running through the wild. These have lots of naturally occurring aquatic plant species growing and thriving.
Therefore, introducing live plants to your aquarium will go a long way in reconstructing the natural habitat that your fish have evolved in for centuries.
For bonus aquarist points, look up your fish breed’s home environment conditions in the wild and bring in suitable aquatic plant species.
Live Plants Support the Growth of Good Bacteria
‘Bacteria’ is a scary word as humans associate it with diseases, germs, and threats to their health and well-being. However, ‘good’ bacteria are beneficial to your fish and their environment.
The primary benefit of good bacteria is how effective they’re at reducing your aquarium’s ammonia levels. Experienced aquarists know that ammonia is detrimental to fish health, and the lack of control over its rising levels can easily result in their death.
Live plants nurture and promote good bacteria growth and colonization in the aquarium—indirectly protecting your fish from the potential effects of ammonia.
Your Fish Will Have Better Health
The only alternative to live aquatic plants is artificial ones. Over time, they can be harmful to fish health. Initially, the water-friendly material of artificial plants will ensure that it doesn’t inflict any harm to the fish.
However, as pieces get broken off, and the artificial colors fade away, all those chemicals get released into the water. As you can imagine, that’s not a good thing.
Live plants, on the other hand, enrich the water with healthy nutrition for your fish without the risks of causing chemical imbalances in the aquarium.
Do Live Plants Make an Aquarium Dirty?
Live plants can make an aquarium dirty. While they improve your aquarium’s hygiene by absorbing nitrates, nitrites, ammonia and preventing algae growth, they require you to stay on top of cleaning your fish tank.
For instance, the debris and decay should be removed from the aquarium as part of a regular cleaning routine. It doesn’t require any additional or special attention, but skipping the regular cleaning too often can lead to debris waste buildup and harm your fish.
Do Live Plants Add Oxygen to Fish Tanks?
Live plants add oxygen to fish tanks. Like all plants, aquatic plants perform photosynthesis to sustain their life. It involves the use of light energy, CO2, and water to generate and repair cells. Oxygen gas gets released as a by-product of photosynthesis.
Therefore, aquatic plants act as a natural method of oxygenating the water. A lack of oxygen can cause your fish to stick to the surface of the water, visibly gasping for air more often than usual. That’s why air stones and live plants help ensure healthy aeration within the fish tank.
In a research conducted on the Effectiveness of an Aquatic Plant for Fish Preservation, scientists tested a specific aquatic plant called ‘Utricularia Aurea’ (Bladderwort) with several parameters like pH value, temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, nitrate, and chemical oxygen demand.
The research found that Utricularia Aurea (Bladderwort) can behave as a natural source of oxygen in the aquarium. They also compared it against conventional aeration systems and found the aquatic plant to be more effective in increasing the aquarium’s oxygen level.
The plant also comes at quite an affordable cost considering all of the benefits listed in this article. It shows how economical and effective natural solutions can be for setting up your aquarium.
Why You Might Not Want Live Plants
Despite the endless scientific and fish health benefits of living plants, many aquarists also consider artificial plants viable. I’ve already discussed the pros of natural plants in detail earlier, so below, I’ll discuss the cons of adding real plants to your aquariums compared to fake plants.
Live Plants Require Higher Maintenance
It makes sense that something alive requires more care and maintenance than inanimate objects that merely ‘look’ like plants.
Live plants require particular types of substances and fertilizers in the aquarium, which can be complicated for beginner aquarists. Moreover, as live plants grow with time, they might also need an occasional trim.
As artificial plants don’t grow, they neither need fertilizer nor trimming. And because artificial plants are made up of plastic, their initial cost is generally much lesser than live plants.
Live Plants Require Regular Cleaning
As I discussed earlier, as natural plants decay, they produce debris in the fish tank that can build up and harm fish over time. However, regular cleaning can easily address this issue.
If you don’t follow a regular cleaning routine and often put it off, though, fake plants might be better for you and your fish. I recommend choosing live plants and building a habit of cleaning your fish tank regularly, as all the benefits you get from them are lost if you go with artificial ones for lower maintenance.
Why You Might Want To Consider Fake Plants
Fake plants have pros and cons of their own, though the pros won’t be as diverse as their natural counterpart. Most of the benefits that come with artificial plants relate to ease of maintenance. Below are some of the advantages to adding fake plants to your fish tank:
You Won’t Have To Clean the Filter as Often
Live plants produce debris in the form of decay, and leftover leaf pieces that the fish nibble and break off while eating. Over time, these can be sucked into the filter and clog them, requiring an occasional clean-up.
However, artificial plants don’t decay or break off if fish nibble on them as they’re made of plastic. Pieces can break off after months in the water, but they’re not going to be small enough to clog the filter.
Fake Plants Are Easy To Maintain
With live plants, you’re not just taking care of the fish but also the entire ecosystem that aquatic plants need to thrive.
Artificial plants, on the other hand, don’t need to be fertilized or taken care of. Cleaning them is also much easier as compared to their natural alternatives.
Fake Plants Are Cheaper Than Live Ones
Thanks to their considerably lower price, you can add and replace artificial plants in your aquarium as and when you like.
For instance, have a look at this diverse set of best seller CousDUoBe Artificial Aquatic Small Aquarium Plants (available on Amazon.com). You also have many color and style choices to match your aquarium’s overall aesthetic perfectly.
Why You Might Not Want Fake Plants
While fake plants are much cheaper and easier to maintain, the cons might sway you the other way.
Fake Plants Don’t Offer Biological and Scientific Benefits
Fake plants can’t provide most of the benefits I’ve listed and described at the beginning of this article. The stuff you miss out on includes natural oxygenation of the aquarium’s water, warding off algae, a natural fish food source (as fish can’t eat fake plants), good bacteria, waste removal, and chemical filtration.
Fake plants won’t affect fish health. However, they’ll still have some benefits like giving them places to hide, explore, and lay eggs on.
Fake Plants Might Be Harmful to Sensitive Fish Breeds
Like the Telescope Goldfish, some fishes are sensitive and can get hurt by coming into contact with rough plastic artificial plants. Look up the fish breed you have, and if it’s classified as sensitive, you should go with softer artificial plants.
Live plants make aquariums look more natural and realistic. Carefully selected multi-colored plant species, paired with proper lighting, can easily make an aquarium the most stunning decor item in your home. However, that’s the least important benefit they offer.
Most people see aquarium plants merely as decorative elements. However, that’s just a secondary benefit they offer. In this article, I’ve discussed their primary biological and fish health benefits in detail. I’ve also compared them against their artificial alternatives.
Hopefully, you can make an informed decision about the type of plants your fish deserve now.
- Plants University of Florida: Dissolved Oxygen
- PetMD: Using “Good” Bacteria in Your Aquarium
- North American Native Fish Association: Relationships Between Aquatic Plants and Reproduction of Fishes
- Tropical Fish Hobbyist: Types of Aquarium Plants to Encourage Breeding
- Research Gate: Effectiveness of an Aquatic Plant for Fish Preservation
- Wikipedia: Telescope (Goldfish)