We’re going to jump right into this one.
I give you, my top 26 low light aquarium plants.
Just quickly before we get into this, if you don’t know this, read quickly before you continue:
Column feeders: they take in nutrients from the tank’s water through a set of rhizomes. Often they’ll sit above the substrate, which means you can get away with having a less nutrient rich substrate.
Root feeders: they take in nutrients through their roots, from the pool of nutrients available in the interstitial water in the substrate. They’ll anchor in your substrate and you’re better of getting a nutrient rich substrate.
Okay, let’s get back to the plants.
1. Anubias Barteri
This lush green plant is a favorite among aquarists because of how easy it is to care for. It can thrive in a wide range of water temperatures, can be fully or partially submerged, and is tolerant of low to moderate lighting conditions.
The bright pointed leaves make it a good choice for both foreground and background landscaping in your tank.
Anubias barteri is a root feeder, so you will need a substrate that allows plenty of space for its roots to grow through. The plant grows quickly, but has a modest maximum size of about 16 inches.
2. Anubias Nana
Anubias nana is related to Anubias barteri and sports the same dark green pointed leaves that grow in a tight formation just above the base of your tank.
Like A. barteri, A. nana is simple to care for and is ideal for beginners because it can grow in most standard tank conditions and is tolerant to shifts in temperature and light.
Anubias nana is a root feeder and does grow better with fertilizer, especially if there is not a lot of organic detritus falling to the bottom of your tank. You’ll also want to plant it in a substrate of gravel rather than sand so the roots have room to grow.
3. African Water Fern (Bolbitis heduelotii)
This fern is native to the Congo River Basin in Africa and is suitable for medium to large tanks as it has a maximum size of 22 inches.
However, the plant grows slowly, especially under low light conditions. The African Water Fern also requires slightly warmer freshwater than other similar plants to thrive.
While the African Water Fern is not difficult to care for, this column feeder requires more attention than simply planting it in the substrate at the bottom of your tank.
You’ll need to use fishing line or thread to attach the fern’s roots to a piece of driftwood or a rock. In addition, you can’t place this plant in a tank with goldfish, koi, or cichlids.
4. Java Moss (Vesicularia dubyana)
Java moss is an extremely hardy and easy to care for plant that can be used to blanket the bottom of your freshwater tank in a green landscape.
This column feeding plant attaches it to gravel substrate, driftwood, and rocks using its rhizomes, but takes nutrients from the water column through its fern-like leaves.
Java moss is very tolerant of a range of temperatures in freshwater tanks and can be grown in patches or as a lawn across the entire bottom of your tank. While it grows quickly, especially as more light is added, it reaches a maximum length of just a few inches.
Another advantage to Java moss is that it is compatible with almost every common freshwater aquarium fish.
5. Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)
Java ferns have broad and pointed green leaves that stick up into the water column to allow the plant to feed. Meanwhile, the base of the plant is anchored to your tank’s substrate or driftwood thanks to a set of rhizomes.
Java fern is a popular plant among beginners because it is compatible with almost any freshwater tank and will grow across a wide range of temperatures and lighting conditions. The plant grows slowly and reaches a maximum height of 13.5 inches, and thus requires little to no maintenance in most tanks.
That said, the appearance of Java fern will change based on the lighting. In high light conditions, the leaves will darken and the plant will grow in dense clumps. In lower light, the leaves will be a bright green and will be more spread out from the base of the plant.
6. Green Hygro (Hygrophila polysperma)
Green hygro is known as an extremely easy to grow and hardy freshwater aquarium plant, although it requires a decent amount of trimming because of its fast growth rates.
Trimming green hygro will also cause it to grow more, so you can use this as a way to encourage renewed leaf generation in areas that are starting to brown.
The plant is rooted in the substrate at the bottom of your tank, but you can use just about any type of substrate since it takes its nutrients from the water column.
While green hygro is compatible with just about any freshwater tank and is usually not touched by herbivorous fish, it can be disturbed by goldfish or digging cichlids.
7. Hornwort (Ceratophylum demersum)
Hornwort is a fast-growing plant that can reach maximum heights of up to 10 feet, so it is best for aquarists with large tanks and plenty of patience for trimming.
In addition, hornwort can produce chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants, so it’s possible that you will see other plants begin to die off after you add hornwort to your tank.
That said, hornwort is extremely hardy and can fill the landscaping of a tank thanks to the multiple stems that a single plant puts up.
Hornwort feeds from the water column, and can be anchored loosely to the substrate with rhizomes or left to float freely at the water’s surface. Helpfully, hornwort can grow across both cold water (60 degrees F) and tropical freshwater tanks without an issue.
8. Sunset Hygro (Hygrophila polysperma “Rosanervig”)
Sunset hygro is a green leafy plant that looks almost as if it is flowering thanks to purple and red leaves at the top of the plant’s stalk.
This fast-growing tropical freshwater plant can be either anchored to the substrate or free-floating at the top of your tank, and reaches maximum lengths of up to 16 inches. When planted in the substrate, sunset hygro will take in nutrients through both its roots and leaves.
Sunset hygro is native to southeast Asia, and as a result strongly prefers warm water tanks. Otherwise, this versatile plant has few requirements – it is quite hardy, requires very little maintenance, and can handle a range of lighting conditions.
9. Rotala Rotundifolia
Rotala rotundifolia is a column-feeding stem plant with short needle-like leaves that grows steadily towards the top of your tank and is rarely limited by its maximum length.
While this plant is quite hardy and can be maintained by beginners, it is best for more experienced aquarists because it is well-adapted to a combination of low to moderate lighting and nitrate limitation.
That said, it is compatible with a wide variety of freshwater fish and is able to thrive under a range of water temperatures.
Rotala rotundifolia requires extensive trimming and can grow into dense bushes with proper care. Eventually, you will need to replant the entire stem from the top sections as the undergrowth begins to die off.
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10. Rotala Indica
Rotala indica is a stem plant with needle-like leaves, much like Rotala rotundifolia. However, the leaves on this column-feeding plant are not a uniform color, but rather green on the top and red on the bottom.
Rotala indica is somewhat fragile and requires a moderate level of care to keep it growing consistently.
It requires waters warmer than 72 degrees F – and preferably closer to 80 degrees F – a substrate that it can solidly anchor itself to, and a tank without digging cichlids that can damage its root system.
Even then, this plant will be especially fragile under low-light conditions and may not grow into a dense bush without additional lighting.
11. Parrots Feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum)
This beautiful plant has a lush set of blue and green leaves that extend from stems anchored to the bottom of your tank. Parrots feather is ideal for fish that like to hide among plants given the density of its foliage.
This root-feeding plant grows under a wide variety of temperature conditions, but requires a high level of nutrients in your tank’s substrate so you will typically want to add fertilizer to your tank to grow it.
It does especially well in fine-grained substrates that mimic its natural soil and mud substrates on the edges of ponds.
12. Moneywort (Bocapa monnieri)
Moneywort (unfortunately it’s not the money tree we were all hoping for) is ideal for smaller tanks because it grows to a maximum of 12 inches in height and is able to extend above the water surface of your tank under moderate light conditions.
The plant is bright green with small, rounded leaves that allow it to take nutrients directly from the water column.
Moneywort is easy to care for because it can be left to grow until it reaches its maximum height, or takes well to trimming if you want to keep it contained within a smaller area. This plant prefers moderate temperatures between 72-82 degrees F, but is relatively tolerant of all lighting conditions.
13. Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocotyle Leucocephala)
The Brazilian pennywort (again, no free pennies) is a colorful green plant with rounded leaves, each about the size of a penny, that grow along a creeping vine.
The plant can grow extremely quickly under high light and nitrogen conditions, but is also adaptable to growing at a slower pace under low light conditions. While it prefers warmer water temperatures, it also tolerates relatively cold tropical freshwater tanks.
Brazilian pennywort is a column feeder and can actually grow either rooted into your tank’s substrate or free-floating near the surface of the tank.
This property makes it extremely versatile, although the vine can also be somewhat choking in smaller tanks.
14. Cryptocoryne wendtii
Crypt wendtii is an easy to care for plant that prefers highly stable conditions.
This plant is uniquely suited for low light tanks because it responds to having less available light by growing longer, rather than shorter, leaves. The leaves themselves form broad fingers that reach up to 18 inches in length.
The main challenge to Crypt wendtii is that it can initially appear to die off when planted in a new tank because it does not take well to new conditions.
However, the plant typically bounces back within a week or so. Also note that this is a root feeding plant and requires a higher grain size substrate for the roots to propagate.
15. Cryptocoryne Balansae
This large Crypt plant forms broad, fingered leaves that stick up into your tank and wave with any currents present in the tank.
While Crypt balansae typically prefers high light conditions, it will adapt to low light conditions but will not form the ridges that distinguish this plant’s leaves.
Crypt balansae is a root feeding plant that thrives in tanks with high nitrogen and phosphorous concentrations. Under ideal conditions, it can grow up to three feet long, although it can also be trimmed back in smaller tanks.
You will especially need to take care to trim the runners along the bottom of your tank, as these will otherwise allow the plant to spread horizontally.
16. Cryptocoryne Spiralis
Crypt spiralis forms long, narrow leaves, similar to a grass, that reach upwards through the water. Crypt spiralis actually grows best in low-light conditions, but it’s not necessarily the most beginner friendly plant because of several other requirements.
This root feeding plant requires an iron-rich substrate, which usually means adding fertilizer to your tank, and is best as a solitary plant or in bunches of Crypt spiralis.
In addition, Crypt spiralis has a narrow acceptable temperature range between 75-82 degrees F. The leaves can reach up to 16 inches in height under stable and favorable tank conditions.
17. Cryptocoryne Usteriana
Cryptocoryne usteriana is ideal for adding layers to your tank thanks to its broad leaves that grow into a dense bunch. The tops of the leaves are dark green, while the bottoms of the leaves can turn bright red.
This root feeding plant requires a substrate with a medium grain size and responds well to fertilization. While it grows slowly, even under optimal conditions, the plant can reach a maximum height of up to 20 inches.
While trimming can be employed to keep Cryptocoryne usteriana from taking over your tank, it is not necessary and the plant overall requires very little maintenance.
18. Guppy Grass (Nahas Guadalupensis)
Guppy grass is commonly planted in breeding and shrimp tanks because its long, tangled stems and narrow leaves provide plenty of places for small critters to hide.
Guppy grass is highly tolerant of a wide range of lighting conditions, although under low light you should expect a darker green color than is typical of this plant.
As a fast-growing column feeder, guppy grass can require frequent trimming if you don’t want it to fully take over your tank. Otherwise, this plant is extremely easy to care for and can grow in freshwater tanks up to 85 degrees.
19. Pelia (Monosolenium Tenerum)
Pelia, also known as Pelia moss, is a bush-like moss that sits on the bottom of your aquarium without putting down roots or rhizomes.
Because the plant is delicate, many aquarists choose to anchor Pelia with nylon or cotton, especially in the days after a transplant.
This column feeding moss is tolerant of a wide variety of conditions, including temperature and nutrient levels, and has a very low impact on your aquarium’s water chemistry.
While Pelia can require some trimming to keep its size appropriate for your tank, it is otherwise extremely easy for any aquarist to care for.
20. Waterwheel Plant (Aldrovanda vesiculosa)
The waterwheel plant is one of the few carnivorous aquatic plants, which allows it to be grown in low light because it does not rely on photosynthesis.
While the carnivorous nature initially puts off many aquarists, there’s no need to worry that this plant will eat your fish – it primarily feeds on microorganisms and tiny plankton and takes its nutrients from the water column like other plants.
While this plant is rather small and free-floating, it can be hard to care for because you need to make sure that it has a source of food. This may mean adding zooplankton to your tank, which will also impact your water chemistry and may serve as an alternative food source for your fish.
21. Bacopa (Bacopa caroliniana)
Bacopa is an extremely common and versatile aquarium plant that can be easily landscaped with trimming and proper care.
This column feeding plant has a greenish to yellow leaf color and grows relatively slowly, reducing the amount of maintenance that is needed to keep it. It is tolerant of a wide range of lighting conditions and fully tolerates low light.
The stems on this plant can grow up to about one foot in height if left untrimmed.
An advantage to Bacopa for more advanced aquarists is that it is easy to propagate by cuttings, so you can have either a single stalk or bunches of Bacopa growing in your tank.
22. American Waterweed (Elodea canadensis)
American waterweed is an extremely common aquarium plant that closely resembles Brazilian waterweed or Hydrilla.
It grows in stalks and shoots up to three feet in length, with small leaves protruding off each stem. American waterweed is able to grow in a wide variety of conditions and this column feeding plant is very easy to care for.
American waterweed produces an abundance of oxygen and provides plenty of hiding space for fish fry and other small critters.
However, an important thing to note with this plant is that its closed structure does not provide much habitat for larger fish and it can quickly grow to take over your tank.
23. Micro Crypt (Cryptocoryne petchii)
This small crypt plant native to Sri Lanka is ideal for creating groundcover in your aquarium as it only grows to a maximum of six inches in height and does not require much light.
It is extremely easy to care for and the root system allows Micro crypt to quickly propagate itself across the bottom of your tank.
Micro crypt is a root feeding plant and requires a larger grain size substrate, such as gravel, to spread its roots. While it responds well to fertilization, this is not necessary for the plant to grow its broad green-to-red colored leaves.
24. Red Ludwigia (Ludwigia repens)
Red ludwigia is a beautifully colored stem plant with broad leaves that are red to bright orange in color.
While it can be planted standalone, many aquarists choose to plant sets of red ludwigia together because it increases their decorative effect. Frequent trimming is not necessary, but encourages the plant to form a bushy appearance.
Red ludwigia is a root feeder and grows best when the substrate is fertilized, especially with iron-rich fertilizers.
While it grows best in water temperatures above 75 degrees F, it can also grow in conditions as cold as 59 degrees. The stems can grow up to 20 inches in height, making this plant best for medium to large aquariums.
25. Coffee Leaf Anubias (Anubias barteri v. “coffeefolia”)
Coffee leaf Anubias is a hardy and easy to care for pant that forms broad, darkly colored leaves.
This Anubias species is slow growing and performs better under low light conditions, as too much light can actually encourage the growth of algae on the leaves. It grows best in warm waters up to 80 degrees F and the stems can reach up to 16 inches in height.
It’s important to note that Coffee leaf Anubias is a root feeding plant and typically requires the addition of iron-rich fertilizers to the substrate to grow well.
Unlike many other plants, this plant can grow in aquariums with goldfish and cichlids and are not eaten by many herbivorous fish species.
26. Marimo Moss Balls
Marimo balls are essentially fuzzy green balls of moss that sit on the bottom of your aquarium. They are technically a type of algae rather than a true plant, but aquarists love them because they provide a huge range of benefits and are extremely easy to care for.
Marimo balls are column feeders that suck up nitrates from your tank and put out oxygen. While they don’t require much habitat for fish, they can provide a resting spot for smaller fish.
Another advantage to marimo balls is that they require almost no trimming or maintenance. They are almost impossible to kill with changes in aquarium conditions and even tolerate salt surprisingly well compared to most freshwater plants.
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Last update on 2019-09-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API