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Best Low-Maintenance Floating Aquarium Plants For Your Tank

Living plants make a great choice for your fish tank. Plants help to keep your aquarium water healthy, provide protection and shelter for shy fish and fry, and add natural beauty to your aquascaping.

In tanks that house species of fish that like to dig in the substrate, floating aquarium plants are the perfect solution. Surface aquarium plants are also very useful for diffusing light, which can be important if you have other plant species that need low light levels or fish whose natural habitat is dimly lit.

In this guide, you’ll discover the best low-maintenance floating aquarium plants for your tank and learn how to care for them.

What Are The Benefits Of Floating Plants?

Surface living aquatic plants undoubtedly give an aquarium a glorious natural look and can create a beautiful 3-D aspect that really shows off your fish. But there are quite a few other benefits and advantages to growing floating plants in your fish tank.

Light Diffusers

A green beautiful planted tropical freshwater aquarium with fishes

Floating plants live on the surface of the water, helping to diffuse the light from your lighting unit as it enters the water.

Many fish species hail from habitats where the water is heavily shaded by the forest canopy, and floating plants can help to replicate those dappled shade patterns on the water, making the fish feel safe, comfortable, and at home. That’s crucial for keeping stress levels low and promoting good health in your fish.

Plant Magic

All species of aquatic plants bring a plethora of benefits to the water in your fish tank, making the water cleaner and healthier for your fish and potentially lightening the maintenance load, too.

Living Filters

High levels of nitrates in the tank water are bad news for your fish, which is why you need to carry out partial water changes every week to diffuse those harmful chemicals.

How To Reduce Nitrate In Your Aquarium - Aquarium aquascape with fishes.

Living plants make managing the nitrate levels in the water much easier to control by absorbing nitrates from the water column and using them as fertilizer.

Oxygenators

Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the water during the daytime and respire oxygen during the night as part of the process of photosynthesis. That helps to keep the water oxygenated for your fish.

Shelter

Some species of floating aquarium plants with long roots can create the perfect hiding place for shy fish and fry. In nature, many fish seek the shelter of bushy plants when they feel stressed, and surface growing plants can perform the same function in your tank.

Natural Food Source

2 fish swimming in a tank with green plants

Many fish are omnivores, and some like to nibble on plants and algae to supplement their diet. Living plants can help to add nutrition to a standard diet of fish flakes, and that’s great, as long as the fish don’t scoff the whole plant! So, be careful what fish species you choose, as some are more inclined to eat plants than others.

Low-Maintenance

I love floating plants, and I have them in both my fish tanks. I find surface plants to be much lower-maintenance than those that are anchored in the substrate. Also, floating plants tend to grow very quickly, too, so you don’t need to worry about propagating them. To keep the plants tidy, all that’s required is a quick trim every so often to keep the spread of the plants under control.

How To Decide Which Floating Plants Are Best For You

So, you can see that floating plants can have many benefits for your fish tank. Now, let’s find out how to choose the best species of surface plants for your aquarium.

What Livestock Do You Have In Your Aquarium?

Before buying floating plants, consider what you have living in your fish tank and what kind of plants would be best for them.

Nano Fish

If you keep fish that breed readily, such as guppies, mollies, platys, and the like, floating plants with roots that trail down into the water can provide a vital sheltering spot for fry that may otherwise be eaten. Similarly, shy fish may feel safer and less stressed if they can hide among the leaves, stems, and roots of floating plants.

However, if you have labyrinth breathers in your tank, such as bettas or gouramis, you can use floating plants, but do be careful that the fish can still get to the water surface to breathe.

What Size Aquarium Do You Have?

As previously mentioned, many floating plants grow rapidly, and you must take that into account if you have a very small tank.

For example, if you have a tank under 40 gallons, look for smaller species of surface plants. Large plants will overwhelm a smaller tank, crowding out your fish and causing stress, too. However, if you have a large tank, you can have a few floating plants and quick-growing varieties.

Lighting

Aquascaping of the beautiful planted tropical freshwater aquarium

An important consideration when deciding whether floating plants would be good for your tank is the lighting level that you need in your planted tank.

Whereas some fish species will appreciate a lower lighting level, many plants do not. So, if you have other live plants growing in your aquarium, you need to be mindful that floating plants will cut out some of the light that’s available to the flora dwelling at the bottom of the tank. By choosing species, such as Duckweed, that’s very easy to thin out, you can enjoy the best of both worlds without harming any of your other plantings.

Speed Of Growth

Most species of floating plants tend to grow extremely quickly. That’s great news, as it means that you don’t need to buy lots of surface plants to create the effect that you want.

However, fast-growing plants generally cover the water surface very quickly, and those with long, trailing roots can clog up the water with amazing rapidity. So, do be careful what species of surface plants you choose, and be prepared to thin out the plants regularly.

Maintenance and Care

How To Clean a Fish Tank With Vinegar - Man using magnetic aquarium cleaner to clean aquarium.

Although floating plants are pretty easy to care for, there are a couple of important things to know.

Firstly, if you have a tank with a hood, it’s crucial that you maintain a high humidity level above the waterline. That prevents the leaves of plants, such as Water Lettuce, from dehydrating and turning brown.

All species of floating plants are quite fragile, so it’s vital that water movement is kept moderate to slow. A very powerful current will buffet and batter the plants, breaking them up and bruising their delicate leaves.

Types Of Floating Plants

Floating aquarium plants grow in freshwater, varying widely in leaf shape and size. Also, some varieties of floating plants grow on land, too, primarily as shoreline plants in certain habitats.

Duckweed aquarium plant.

Some species of surface plants, specifically Indian fern, can also be grown anchored to the substrate or fixed to pieces of driftwood and rocks, providing ample opportunities for some imaginative aquascaping.

How To Propagate Floating Plants

Floating plants reproduce in several ways.

  • Some plants send out runners, which can be divided once the daughter plants reach a suitable size. Water Lettuce is one such plant.
  • Other species, such as the Butterfly Fern, produce many branches that you can break off to create new plants.
  • Liverworts branch into thick forks that form dense clumps. To propagate the plant, simply break up the clumps and use each piece to form a new plant. In nature, liverworts send out spores, which eventually germinate and grow into new plants.
  • Plants like the Indian Fern produce adventitious buds that grow into daughter plants on the mother plant’s older leaves. Once the buds reach around 1.5 inches in size, you can either allow them to float free or plant them in the substrate.
  • Duckweed is an extremely prolific grower, reproducing vegetatively to produce a new plant approximately every couple of days.

Best Low-Maintenance Floating Aquarium Plants

In this part of our guide, we introduce you to 17 of the most popular, low-maintenance surface growing plants.

1. Hornwort

Hornwort

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Hornwort is extremely hardy and can be grown grounded in the substrate or free-floating on the water surface. To propagate, the plant sends outside shoots.

There are a couple of drawbacks to growing Hornwort. Sometimes, the plant sheds its needle-like leaves, which can clog your filtration system. Also, if the lighting in the tank is too bright, the branches become too long and stringy in appearance.

Also, some fish species, especially goldfish, love to graze on Hornwort and can quickly leave the plant denuded of leaves and looking somewhat straggly.

2. Java Moss

Java Moss
Image Source : instagram.com
  • Easy to grow
  • 70° to 90° Fahrenheit
  • Standard lighting

Java moss is an extremely attractive plant that’s very versatile, as well as being very easy to grow.

The plant can be fixed to a rock or piece of wood where it will grow quite happily, or you can simply allow it to roam around the tank and grow on the water surface. The thick, fluffy foliage that the plant produces makes it perfect for growing as a carpet across the substrate of your tank or as a wall covering.

Many fish breeders use Java moss in their spawning tanks, where it provides a fabulous medium for egg layers and offers an invaluable hiding place for vulnerable fry.

To propagate Java moss, simply cut off a piece from the healthy mother plant and attach it to a piece of wood or a mesh.

3. Red Root Floater

Red Root Floater

  • Easy to grow
  • 70° to 82° Fahrenheit
  • Standard lighting
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Red Root Floaters are delightful little floating ferns that will grow to cover the whole surface of the water in your aquarium if you allow them to.

This is a very fast-growing plant that will take over the tank and block out all the light from the plants growing beneath, so you must be prepared to thin the plants out when necessary.

The beautiful red and green leaves grow on the water surface, sending out long, dark red roots that dangle down to absorb nutrients from the water column. Sometimes, the plants produce delicate white flowers when provided with optimum growing conditions.

4. Duckweed

Duckweed
Source : wikimedia.org
  • Easy to grow
  • 50° to 86° Fahrenheit
  • Standard lighting

Duckweed is commonly seen growing wild in slow-moving waters in most countries around the world, except in extremely cold climates. The plant is also popular as an aquarium plant where it’s used to cover the water surface.

To say that Duckweed is easy to grow is an understatement! Within a few days, you’ll find the plant spreading right across the whole water surface, covering the area with a carpet of tiny, light green leaves. The plant does best in medium light conditions and with minimal to no surface agitation.

5. Amazon Frogbit

Amazon Frogbit
Learn more : flickr.com
  • Easy to grow
  • 64° to 84° Fahrenheit
  • Medium lighting

Amazon Frogbit is similar in habit to Duckweed in that it grows extremely easily and rapidly, spreading its circular bright green leaves right across the entire surface of the water in no time at all. The plant takes very little maintenance other than to thin it out from time to time. However, you must be careful not to let the plant become waterlogged, or it will rot.

The plant is native to South and Central America, but it has recently appeared in parts of North America where it’s regarded as an invasive species. In the aquarium, Frogbit is a hardy plant, although it can be very appealing to snails, which will quickly make a meal out of the underside of the plant’s leaves.

6. Cabomba

Cabomba
Learn more : flickr.com
  • Challenging to grow
  • 72° to 82° Fahrenheit
  • Low lighting

Cabomba is growing in popularity with hobbyists, but it’s not a suitable plant for a beginner, as it can be tricky to grow.

In fish stores, you’ll find Cabomba labeled as Carolina Fanwort, Brazilian Fanwort, or just Fanwort. The plant comes in green or reddish-purple varieties, and the red and purple variety is the most challenging of the two to grow. For the best results, you’ll need to provide the plants with liquid fertilizer or root tabs, and CO2 supplementation is helpful too.

Cabomba is quite a delicate plant, and it’s not recommended to keep it in a tank with goldfish, cichlids, or snails.

7. Dwarf Water Lettuce

Dwarf Water Lettuce
Image Source : instagram.com
  • Easy to grow
  • 64° to 68° Fahrenheit
  • Medium lighting

Dwarf water lettuce is a member of the arum family of floating aquatic plants and is seen in many garden ponds and fish tanks. You may also find the plant for sale labeled as Nile Cabbage and Water Cabbage.

  • The plant is easy to grow and self-propagates quickly, covering the water surface with a mat of attractive cabbage-like rosettes that make an ideal hiding spot for fry and baby shrimp. Although Water Lettuce is reasonably hardy, you do need to provide it with a fairly humid environment if it’s to thrive.

8. Water Wisteria

Water Wisteria

  • Easy to grow
  • 70° to 82° Fahrenheit
  • Medium lighting
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Water wisteria is extremely easy to grow, making it a good choice for a beginner to the fishkeeping hobby. Also, this a versatile plant that can grow floating on the surface of the water or anchored in the substrate.

You need a fairly large tank for Water Wisteria to be happy, as the plant can grow up to 20 inches high and has a spread of up to ten inches. However, if you keep the lighting levels low, the plant most likely won’t grow that large, and moderate pruning will help to keep it under control.

It’s best to avoid this plant if you have goldfish, silver dollars, or snails, all of which will make a meal of the delicate Water Wisteria plant.

9. Anacharis

Anacharis
Source : flickr.com
  • Easy to grow
  • 60° to 82° Fahrenheit
  • Moderate lighting

Anacharis is a very popular aquarium plant that’s easy to grow and thrives in a broad range of conditions. The plant is a lush dark green in color and can be grown in the substrate or floating freely in the water column.

In nature, Anacharis grows perennially in lakes, ponds, and slow-moving waterways. Interestingly, the plant rises and falls in response to the temperature and the time of day. If it’s warm, the plant comes to the surface where it can soak up the sun, sinking again when the weather is cooler and at night.

In summer, the plant puts out a pretty white flower that rises above the water level.

10. Brazillian Pennywort

Brazillian Pennywort
Image Source : instagram.com
  • Easy to grow
  • 68° to 82° Fahrenheit
  • Moderate lighting

Brazillian Pennywort takes its common name from the dime-sized leaves that grow along vine-like, creeping stems. The plant puts out small white roots, and on reaching the water surface, it produces tiny white flowers.

You can grow this plant anchored in the substrate or allow it to float freely on the water surface. When planted in the substrate, the plant will always grow toward the surface, so it can be used to create a very attractive curtain effect at the back or sides of the tank. However, I should point out that as the stems grow taller, the lower leaves drop off, as they are shaded by the foliage above.

11. Rotala Indica

  • Easy to grow
  • 68° to 82° Fahrenheit
  • Medium lighting

Rotala Indica is a species of beautiful flowering plant that is also known by its common name, Indian toothcup. The plant comes from Southeast Asia, where it grows as a weed in rice paddies.

This is a very easy plant to grow, as it is tolerant of a very wide range of water conditions and will be happy in lower lighting levels, too. You can grow Rotala Indica emerged too, when the leaves will be rounder in shape.

If you want the plant to grow into a bushier shape, simply prune it by cutting between the leaf nodes using aquascaping scissors. If the plant gets top-heavy, snip out the original stem and re-plant the cuttings. You can also remove any aerial roots if you want to.

12. Ludwigia Repens

Ludwigia Repens

  • Easy to grow
  • 75° to 79° Fahrenheit
  • Medium lighting

Ludwigia repens is an aquatic plant that belongs to the same family as the Evening Primrose. The plant is also known as Creeping Primrose-Willow and is found growing wild across many parts of the Americas. The plant spreads very readily and has now become a common sight in many areas, so much so that it’s regarded as a weed.

In the aquarium, Ludwigia repens is a beautiful and versatile plant. You can grow the plant fully submerged and anchored to the substrate or floating freely on the water surface. Depending on how submerged the plant is, it’s color varies from dark green to red and reddish-brown.

13. Water Sprite

Water Sprite -Water fern (Ceratopteris thalictroides?), The form of above-water under a constant humidity in the home pluadrium.
Source : wikimedia.org
  • Easy to grow
  • 68° to 82° Fahrenheit
  • Medium lighting

Water Sprite is a common aquatic plant that you’ll find in most fish stores. This delicate, pretty plant is also known as Water Fern, Indian Fern, and Indian Water Fern.

You can plant Water Sprite in the substrate or allow it to roam freely as a floating plant. As a planted specimen, the plant can be used as a handy filler plant to plug gaps in your aquascape and is suitable for the background or midground.

The plant is very easy to manage and needs little trimming to keep it under control. Propagation naturally occurs through adventitious shoots, but you can also create new plants by snipping cuttings from the main stem. Either plant the cuttings in the substrate or leave them floating in the water.

14. Riccia Fluitans

Riccia Fluitans

  • Easy to grow
  • 57° to 77° Fahrenheit
  • Medium lighting
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Riccia fluitans is also more commonly known as Crystalwort and is a species of liverwort that originates from Japan.

You can grow this pretty plant across the water surface as a floating specimen or use thread or fishing line to fix it to rocks and wood under the water. When grown at the surface, Crystalwort doesn’t send down roots or put out shoots, so needs very little maintenance. However, if you choose to grow the plant submerged, it will begin to send shoots upward toward the light, and you’ll need to trim them off using aquascaping scissors.

15. Water Spangles

Water Spangles - little leaves of water fern floating on water surface at swamp

  • Easy to grow
  • 65° to 89° Fahrenheit
  • Medium lighting

Water Spangles is a floating plant that’s native to Central and South America. The plant grows to a relatively large size and puts out long, dangling roots that extract the nutrients that the plant needs from the water column. The large, flat leaves of Water Spangles provide an excellent refuge and feeding area for fish, fry, and other aquatic animals.

Care of the plant is very straightforward, and it will tolerate a wide range of water conditions, making it a good choice for a beginner’s tank. The only major issue with Water Spangles is that the plant doesn’t appreciate too much water agitation.

16. Floating Bladderwort

Floating Bladderwort
Source : wikimedia.org
  • Easy to grow
  • 65° to 75° Fahrenheit
  • Medium lighting

If you fancy the idea of introducing something a little different to your aquarium planting, Floating bladderwort might be a plant to consider. Bladderwort is named for the small food traps on its stems that resemble seedpods or bladders.

There are over 200 species of bladderwort, some of which are floating plants. Bladderworts are carnivorous plants. But don’t be alarmed! Your plants won’t make a meal out of your fish. Instead, Floating bladderwort typically feeds on microorganisms and zooplankton, as well as extracting other nutrients from the water column.

The plant is easy to care for and will reward you by producing bright yellow flowers under adequate lighting in the aquarium. Simply remove new plantlets to prevent the tank from becoming overcrowded.

17. Azolla

Azolla-Thai fern mosquitoes are used to make compost. Is a good fertilizer.

  • Easy to grow
  • 59° to 80.6° Fahrenheit
  • Bright lighting

Azolla grows wild in North America, ranging down to Central America, where it is also known as Water Velvet and Carolina Mosquito fern.

This plant is generally cultivated for use as a fertilizer, as it can absorb and store large quantities of nitrogen compounds from the water. The plant is also used in poultry and fish food production.

In the fish tank, Azolla grows rapidly, putting out runers to self-propagate. New plants are situated at the end of the runners, eventually detaching themselves. All you need to do to create a new specimen is snip a baby plant from the runner and allow it to float freely in the tank.

In Conclusion

Floating plants can make a beautiful, functional addition to your aquarium. All the plants that we’ve included in this guide are pretty low-maintenance and are relatively easy to grow. Many of these plants absorb all the nutrients that they need from the water, sucking up nitrates and helping to keep your tank safe for your fish. Also, the shelter that a canopy of foliage provides will be welcomed by shy fish and fry.

We hope you enjoyed this guide to floating plants. If you loved it, please share the article with your friends, and tell us your thoughts in the comments box below.

Alison Page has been an avid fish keeper for over 35 years and has owned many different species of freshwater tropical fish including bettas. Currently Alison has two large freshwater tanks. The first tank has two huge fancy goldfish who are almost ten years old and still looking as good as ever. In the other, she has a happy community of tiger barbs, green tiger barbs, corydoras catfish, platys, and mollies.

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