If you’re a beginner with a low tech planted tank then pay attention.
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Low light aquarium plants are useful for a variety of reasons and fairly simple to look after. In addition to being a common aquarium decoration, these plants can serve many other benefits such as keeping algae growth to a minimum.
Compared to most plants, these low light plants are very durable, their lighting needs are minimal, making them ideal for the beginner aquarist. They also have a reputation for being able to get along well, in many different water conditions. The time saved gives tank keepers more freedom to focus on maintaining a healthy environment for their fish.
Below, we’ll give descriptions and care instructions for some of the best low light aquarium plants.
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Growth Rate: Rapid. Depending upon the aquatic environment, some Sagittaria plants have a tendency to undergo rapid bursts of growth. When planting, they should ideally be 2-4 centimeters apart from one another, to ensure the healthiest grow.
Max Height: 50cm
Light Demand: Low Light
The Sagittaria is a good plant for low light aquariums, it’s a beautiful plant, that often displays a vibrant forest green tone. They develop in rosettes, and are native to the Americas at large, but have also been less commonly found in Asia as well as Europe. They’re known for being relatively undemanding.
Low-light aquariums are ideal for Sagittaria.
Growth Rate: Medium. Female Vallisneria plants grow very differently than males. Females will often send stalks up to the surface of aquariums. Dwarf strains, however, seem to be more controllable, making them a better fit for smaller aquariums.
Max Height: Smaller strains such as the Vallisneria Tortifolia can reach up to 20cm. Larger strains such as the Vallisneria Gigantea can exceed a meter in length.
Light Demand: Medium
CO2: Not Required. Liquid dosings of CO2 have been known to be harmful to Vallisneria plants.
Although often confused with Sagittaria, Vallisneria plants is another easy low light aquarium plant.
Among aquarium enthusiasts, they are often referred to as “eelgrass” and used to like an aquarium grass to carpet the bottom of the tank. Depending on the size of your aquarium, you will want to choose Vallisneria plants wisely. There are a number of different strains, many of which fluctuate greatly in size.
Low light situations, can actually slow down the growth rate, which can decrease the amount of maintenance required.
3. Java Moss
Growth Rate: Moderate. The growth rate of java moss depends entirely upon it’s aquatic environment. Low light situations do tend to create lengthier java moss plants in the long run.
Max Height: 4in. Trimming your java moss regularly is usually necessary.
Light Demand: Low-High.
CO2: Not Required
Java moss is one of the best and most popular plants for aquariums with low light, especially ones containing fry.
Many adult fish, such as guppies, will actually feed upon their fry. Java moss, however, can serve as protection for the young. It also adapts to low-light settings very naturally.
Growth Rate: 2-4 leaves on a yearly basis
Max Height: Anubias Barteri, which is one of the most popular Anubias aquarium strains, can grow up to 12in.
Light Demand: Low
CO2: Not Required
Anubias plants feature some of the loveliest leaves in the aquarium trade. They are native to Africa and prefer shady places. One of the reasons that Anubias are easy plants for beginners, is the fact that substrate isn’t necessary to plant them.
This is because Anubias plants draw nutrients from their leaves. Fish that depend upon a tank’s multiple hiding places have been known to do well alongside Anubias plants.
5. Java Fern
Growth Rate: Rapid. This, of course, depends on a variety of factors. High CO2 mixed with highlighting conditions, for example, have been shown to speed up the growth of java fern. But like algae, java fern has a tendency to grow in any environment it is placed in.
Max Height: Standard varieties usually reach up to 12in
Light Demand: Low. Java ferns are generally a very low-maintenance plant.
CO2: Not required. Although CO2 has been shown to speed up java fern growth rates.
Java ferns are easy to identify, based on the unique structure of their leaves. They get along well in low-lighting environments, and in the wild are frequently found to the side of waterfalls and rivers.
Like Anubias plants, java fern prefers for their roots to be exposed, rather than placed in the substrate.
6. Green Hygrophila
Growth Rate: Rapid.
Max Height: 24in
Light Demand: Low. A green Hygrophila will do well with any amount of lighting. But low lighting is best to prevent them from overrunning a tank. Owners will definitely have to get used to pruning when looking after a green Hygrophila.
C02: Not Required.
Green Hygrophila plants are very hardy. Originally, they were primarily found in Asia. Being, for the most part, a background plant, you won’t need many of them to quickly populate an aquarium.
Unlike some of the rarer plants on this list, they grow in a traditional manner after being substrate planted. Keep in mind that they do require a fair amount of space. They like to stretch their leaves far, and when fully formed, can be pruned to plant a new Hygrophila.
Growth Rate: Rapid. If the aquatic environment is favorable, moneyworts can grow at a rapid pace. If you’re looking for a less aggressive species, the golden creeping jenny might be worth checking out. Their leaves are yellow, and they tend to be more passive in nature.
Max Height: 12in. The moneywort (bacopa monnieri) can reach its full length in a short amount of time. Things like liquid fertilizer, can promote a healthy rate of growth and full color.
Light Demand: Low.
C02: Small amounts of CO2 can be beneficial to moneyworts.
The Moneywort, also commonly known as the creeping jenny, is a native European plant that is becoming more common in the aquarium trade. It’s rounded, coin-like leaves, serve as the reason behind the name “moneywort”.
Due to their size, they serve as a powerful addition to the background of an aquarium.
8. Waterwheel Plant
Growth Rate: Rapid. Japanese strains tend to grow the fastest, sometimes growing over 1/3 an inch daily.
Max Height: 16in
Light Demand: Low. Although in their natural habitat they’re traditionally are exposed to higher levels of lighting, a variety of lighting conditions are tolerated by waterwheel plants in aquariums.
C02: Necessary. Waterwheel plants depend upon regular CO2 injections.
The Waterwheel plant captures food just like a venus fly trap. For food, it prefers tiny insects, including most aquatic invertebrates. They can be challenging to find in certain regions, but in terms of appearance, they are quite the sight to see.
These plants are floaters, preferring to be nearby light sources, although those sources do not need to be powerful. Small petioles, which are thin stalks, keep the traps attached to the plant’s stem. Within these are air sacs, which help to keep the plant afloat.
In terms of care, waterwheels might not be the best plant for beginners. They are carnivorous, so dietary needs alone separate them from the average aquarium plant on this list. Mosquitoes and daphnia are a waterwheel plant delicacy.
If you’re prepared for a challenge and keep relative algae free, clean, soft water tank, then taking care of a waterwheel plant can be a rewarding hobby.
9. Sunset Hygro
Growth Rate: Rapid. Upping a tank’s phosphate level could go a long way to slow down a sunset hygro’s growth.
Max Height: 12in
Light Demand: Low.
C02: Not Required.
There are some minor differences between sunset Hygros and green Hygros. Similar to green Hygros, sunset Hygros have white veins on their leaves, but the leaves are red and pinkish.
Although they do require regular pruning, they are beautiful plants with their uniquely colored leaves. Maintaining adequate iron levels is essential, to make sure a sunset Hygro displays it’s most beautiful leaves. Ultimately, the sunset Hygro is known for being one of the easier red-stemmed plants to look after.
Sunset Hygros are a hard plant to neglect. Although they will grow well in a variety of water conditions, they have a tendency to quickly overrun aquariums. Sometimes weekly pruning is required.
10. Rotala Indica
Growth Rate: Rapid.
Max Height: 24in
Light Demand: Low-High
C02: Semi-regular CO2 injections do help assist rotala growth. They can also help maintain good color.
The Rotala Indica is a Southeast Asian plant, with beautiful leaves that intersect perpendicularly. Its leaves will only occasionally break out in pinks and purples, so if you’re looking for a more guaranteed colorful Rotala, than the Rotala Rotundifolia may be right for you.
Like many Rotalaa, the Indica will quickly become oversized if it is allowed. This is seen especially when CO2 and extra levels of lighting are involved. When pruning, it is important to cut out excess foliage that isn’t always the plant’s side shoots.
These side shoots protect the plant, keeping the lower portion well shaded. This may vary in low light scenarios. Its stems can be fragile, so do keep this in mind if housing with a rather boisterous school of fish. A Rotala Indica can quickly become shredded just from excessive fish activity.
11. Rotala Rotundifolia
Growth Rate: Rapid. One of the reasons this plant grows so rapidly, is to shield the base from excess light. Stems shooting up and off to the sides, are a common defense mechanism that this plant uses as a barrier from light. This truly makes it a natural low light aquarium plant.
Max Height: Submersed Form- 6ft : Emergent Form- 6in
Light Demand: Low-High. Like the rotala indica, this plant gets along well in a variety of lighting levels.
C02: CO2 injections can assist in growth and color vibrancy
The Rotala Rotundifolia, being closely related to the Rotala indica, more easily produces pinkish leaves than the indica strain of the plant. Sometimes, especially in their natural habitat, these plants prefer to be semi-immersed.
Whether or not they are willing to be in an aquarium, depends entirely on a tank’s conditions, as well as your pruning habits as an aquarist.
If you do intend to buy a Rotala Rotundifolia, make sure you specify whether you want a submerged or emergent form. Each form differs widely, especially in height, with the submersed form sometimes reaching 6ft.
The submerged form also features the lush reddish leaves, that many people have come to expect from the Rotala Rotundifolia. The light green leaves, of the emergent form, are beautiful in their own right as well.
Growth Rate: Rapid. The hornwort can either remain free-floating, as it often is in the wild, or it can be planted. If it is planted, the root and the base of the plant closest to the substrate, will eventually die off, giving many people reason to simply not bother by allowing for it to float from the beginning.
Max Height: 6ft
Light Demand: Low.
C02: Not Required.
The Hornwort is known for the shape of its foliage, which is similar to that of a raccoon’s tail, oddly enough. Another significant feature of the hornwort is its free-floating status.
In the wild, it’s frequently seen in marshes, but in an aquarium, it will often be attached to objects including rocks and substrate. Due to a bushy structure, it can act as a great hiding place for young or smaller fish. Regular pruning will surely be required because this plant grows fast. It also has a tendency to shed needles.
Many people use hornworts as a maintenance plant. The hornwort has the ability to stabilize a tank’s nitrate and ammonia levels. This makes it a valuable plant for new aquariums that need to build a healthy ecosystem, and active aquariums on the verge of crashing.
A Few Final Thoughts About Low Light Aquarium Plants
These are just a few selections of low light aquarium plants. It’s important to find the plants that fit your aquarium best. What makes each individual plant succeed, is another important factor to keep in mind when you’re looking for low-light aquarium plants.
In other words, your Rotala Rotundifolia may do well in low-light situations, but this could suppress the development of its beautiful pinkish leaves.
We’ve found some great LED lights that can provide a full spectrum which does wonders for these low light plants, check out these reviews for more info:
The most important thing is to continually gauge the status of your aquarium. A lot of plants are eager to overrun aquariums regardless of lighting conditions. So get your hand-pruners ready, and take pride in keeping your aquarium as healthy as it can possibly be!