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Unconventional Aquarium Plants: Beyond the Water’s Surface

Discover a new world of aquatic beauty, as we dive into the fascinating realm of unconventional aquarium plants.

Unconventional Aquarium Plants - Detailed Guide

Aquarium enthusiasts often focus on underwater plants to create beautiful aquascapes. However, unconventional aquarium plants offer a new dimension of possibilities, both aesthetically and functionally. Below, we will explore the world of unconventional aquarium plants, their unique features, and how they can bring diversity, beauty, and functional benefits to both hobbyists and professional aquarists.

Popular Aquarium Plants

Low-Light Options

  • Anubias: A hardy, slow-growing plant with thick, dark green leaves that thrive in low-light conditions. Anubias species are often attached to driftwood or rocks. Another name used for this is: Water Aspidistra


  • Leptochilus Pteropus (Java Fern): Another low-light tolerant plant with long, lance-shaped leaves. Java Fern can be attached to rocks or driftwood and is a great choice for beginner aquarists.


  • Cryptocoryne: A genus of plants with various species that adapt well to low-light environments. Crypts can be planted in the substrate and provide excellent cover for fish and shrimp. Other names used for this are: Water Trumpet, Petchii, or C Becketii


  • Najas Guadalupensis (Guppy Grass): An undemanding, fast-growing plant that offers plenty of hiding spots for fry and small fish. Guppy Grass can be left floating or planted in the substrate. Other names used for this are: Southern Waternymph, Najas Grass, and Common Water Nymph

Medium-Light Options

  • Echinodorus Paniculatus (Amazon Sword): A popular plant with large, broad leaves that can serve as a centerpiece in medium-light aquariums. Amazon Swords require a nutrient-rich substrate for optimal growth. 


  • Vallisneria: A fast-growing, grass-like plant that provides excellent cover and oxygenation. Vallisneria thrives in medium light and can quickly create a lush underwater landscape. Other names used for this are: Eelgrass, Tape Grass or Vallis.


  • Ludwigia: A stem plant that comes in different varieties, Ludwigia species can add color and vertical interest to a medium-light aquarium.


  • Hygrophila Difformis (Water Wisteria): A versatile plant that can be planted in the substrate or left floating. Water Wisteria’s finely textured leaves provide shelter and spawning areas for fish.

High-Light Options

  • Rotala: A fast-growing stem plant that requires high light and CO2 injection to thrive. Rotala species can create beautiful, colorful backdrops when properly maintained.


  • Hemianthus Callitrichoides: A carpeting plant that demands high light and CO2 supplementation. Dwarf Baby Tears create a stunning, lush green carpet on the aquarium floor when conditions are optimal. Other names used for this are: Dwarf Baby Tears or Pearl Grass


  • Alternanthera Reineckii: A vibrant red plant that adds a striking contrast to a high-light aquarium. This plant requires CO2 supplementation and regular pruning to maintain its appearance. Other names used for this are: Scarlet Temple, Reineckia or Ruby Red


  • Micranthemum (Monte Carlo): A popular carpeting plant with small, round leaves. It requires high light and CO2 supplementation to achieve a dense, lush carpet effect.
Ultimate Guide to Aquarium Plants
Ludwigia sp. "Super Red" - under the right conditions, this plant grows with a beautiful red that can add a blast of colour to any tank!

Hidden Gems: Lesser-Known Aquarium Plants

Below are some lesser-known aquarium plants with our Hidden Gems section. Some of these in our list thrive in more subdued lighting conditions, offering a unique touch to your underwater paradise while adding diversity and visual interest to your aquascape. Hopefully some of these plants listed here in our guide give you some inspiration to play around, try something you haven’t yet and perhaps unleash your aquatic green-thumb! You can also have a look at the article “Unconventional Aquarium Plants: Beyond the Water’s Surface“, where we touch base on some other, more unconventional plant ideas for your aquarium or pond.

Low-Light Hidden Gems

  • Bucephalandra: This is a great option for beginners. A slow-growing, low-light plant with unique textured leaves. Bucephalandra can be attached to rocks or driftwood and comes in various species, each with its own leaf shape and color. Other names used are: Brownie Brown, Wavy Green, Titan, Godzilla, Hades, Theia green, Deep blue, Red min, Velvet, Dark wave, Brownie Purple, Super Blue, and Brownie Firebird


  • Bolbitis Heudelotii: An African fern that thrives in low-light conditions. This plant can be attached to driftwood or rocks and provides an interesting texture to the aquarium. Other names used are: African Water Fern, Creeping Fern, and Congo Fern

Medium-Light Hidden Gems Plants

Medium-Light Hidden Gems

  • Pogostemon Helferi: A choice that is unique, requires medium-light and has curly, crinkled leaves. Pogostemon helferi can serve as a stunning foreground plant that adds texture and depth to your aquascape. Another name used for this is: Little Star


  • Hygrophila Pinnatifida: An Indian-origin plant with distinctive pinnate leaves that can grow under medium light. This plant can be attached to rocks or driftwood and offers a unique appearance to your aquarium. Another name used for this is: Indian Swampweed
Low-Light Hidden Gems Plants
Bolbitis Heudelotii (African Water Fern, Creeping Fern, and Congo Fern), great for beginners and has a nice, lush green colour for any setup.

High-Light Hidden Gems Plants

High-Light Hidden Gems

  • Limnophila Hippuridoides: A beautiful stem plant with red-violet leaves that requires high light and can benefit, (although not necessary) with CO2 supplementation. Limnophila hippuridoides adds a splash of color and vertical interest to your aquarium.


  • Utricularia Graminifolia: A fascinating carnivorous plant that forms a lush carpet under high-light conditions. This plant traps and digests microorganisms, making it a unique addition to a high-light aquarium. Another name used for this is: Grass Leaved Bladderwort

Planting & Caring for Aquarium Plants

Substrate Selection & Preparation

1.) Choose the right substrate: Opt for a nutrient-rich substrate that supports plant growth, such as aquatic soil or specialized plant substrates.


2.) Ensure adequate depth: Provide a substrate depth of at least 2-3 inches to accommodate plant roots.

Planting Techniques

1.) Rooted plants: Gently insert the plant roots into the substrate, ensuring they are properly anchored.

2.) Rhizome plants: Attach plants with rhizomes, such as Anubias or Java Fern, to rocks or driftwood using thread or glue.

3.) Stem plants: Plant individual stems into the substrate, allowing enough space for growth.

Maintenance & Care

1.) Lighting: Provide appropriate light levels based on each plant’s requirements, adjusting duration and intensity as needed.

2.) Nutrients: Understand your plants’ nutrient needs and supplement with fertilizers if necessary.

3.) Pruning and propagation: Trim overgrown plants to maintain their shape and propagate healthy cuttings to encourage growth.

Planting Techniques

1.) Rooted plants: Gently insert the plant roots into the substrate, ensuring they are properly anchored.

2.) Rhizome plants: Attach plants with rhizomes, such as Anubias or Java Fern, to rocks or driftwood using thread or glue.

3.) Stem plants: Plant individual stems into the substrate, allowing enough space for growth.

We should mention, you don’t always have to “plant” your plants. You could choose to do what we have done with many of ours, which is to leave them free floating in the aquarium. This can give a neat look and they grow just as well as planting them and tend to naturally stay together and create good areas for fry and fish to use.

Benefits of Aquarium Plants

Aquatic life support:

Plants provide shelter, hiding spots, breeding grounds, and food sources for fish and invertebrates. Besides loving the look of a planted tank, we like having bunches of plants everywhere for the fry to hide in and to feel safe. Most newly born fry don't have the best swimming capabilities yet and they need to take a first gulp of air for their swim bladder, so plants give them a resting spot to lean on until they do this and start becoming stronger swimmers as a whole.

Water quality improvement:

Aquatic plants absorb excess nutrients, control algae growth, and produce oxygen through photosynthesis. We have experimented with having tanks with and without plants - the results were the water clarity and overall tank health was far superior in the tank setups with plants. It gives the water a "crystal" like appearance.

Aesthetic appeal:

Aquarium plants create a natural-looking environment and add visual interest to your aquascape. With all the shades of green (as shown in below photos), reds, yellows and even some purple, you can make your tank exactly how you dream it to be!

Planted tank

Floating Plants: A Unique Addition to Your Aquarium

Floating plants are a fascinating and versatile addition to any aquarium, offering numerous benefits while creating a distinctive look. For some reason, I always feel that when a non-hobbyist sees a tank setup with floating plants, they are that much more amazed and fascinated with it! These plants float on the water’s surface, with their roots submerged and leaves floating freely. Let’s explore some awesome floating plants with the advantages they provide.

Spangles - Floating Plant

Benefits of Floating Plants

  • Water Quality Improvement: As with the other plants listed above, floating plants absorb excess nutrients directly from the water, reducing nitrates and phosphates that can contribute to algae growth.


  • Shade and Shelter: By creating a canopy on the water’s surface, floating plants offer shade for fish and invertebrates, helping to maintain a stable water temperature and reduce stress for light-sensitive species. We found most of our fry use our floating plants for cover in their first bit of life rather than the plants deeper in the tank. They eventually make their way down to the others, but always start off utilizing the floating Salvinia Natans we have.


  • Spawning Sites: Many fish species appreciate floating plants as spawning sites or nursery areas for their fry, offering protection and a source of food.


  • Aesthetic Appeal: Floating plants add a unique, natural touch to your aquarium, creating visual interest and a sense of depth.

Selection of Floating Plants

  • Duckweed (Lemna minor): Duckweed is a small, fast-growing floating plant that creates a green carpet on the water’s surface. It’s excellent for absorbing excess nutrients and providing shade for fish and invertebrates.


  • Frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum): Frogbit features round, lily pad-like leaves and long, dangling roots. This attractive plant can help improve water quality and offer hiding spots for small fish and fry.


  • Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes): Water Lettuce is a larger floating plant with thick, velvety leaves that form a rosette shape. It can provide shade, improve water quality, and create an appealing natural look in your aquarium.


  • Salvinia: Salvinia is a genus of small, fern-like floating plants that can create an attractive, textured surface. They are efficient at absorbing excess nutrients and can help control algae growth.

When incorporating floating plants into your aquarium, it’s essential to monitor their growth and prevent them from covering the entire water surface. This can reduce light penetration and oxygen exchange, potentially impacting the health of your aquatic life. Regularly thin out your floating plants to maintain balance and ensure a thriving, diverse aquarium environment.

In Conclusion

Aquarium plants play a crucial role in establishing a healthy and visually appealing underwater environment. By exploring both popular and lesser-known plant species, you can create a stunning aquascape that caters to your specific needs and preferences. Proper planting techniques and care are essential for ensuring the well-being of your aquatic plants, ultimately leading to a thriving and beautiful aquarium. Embrace the world of aquatic plants and transform your fish tank into a lush, vibrant underwater oasis.


What type of lighting do I need for my aquarium plants?

Generally, low-light plants can grow under standard aquarium lighting, while high-light plants may require specialized LED or fluorescent lighting. Research your plant species’ specific needs to provide the appropriate light intensity and duration. We use just basic, inexpensive LED strip lights on our setups. We use alot of AllPondSolutions products such as this exact light, and if you wish to have a full spectrum LED light, we have one similar to this one.

Can I grow plants without adding CO2?

Absolutely! As discussed above, none of our tanks use CO2 and they do so well, I don’t see us changing that any time soon. At some point down the road we may attempt it just to say we have, but for the moment, we produce the most beautiful looking plants that thrive without it.

Can I grow terrestrial plants in my aquarium?

Some terrestrial plants, like Pothos and Peace Lily, can adapt to grow in an aquarium with their roots submerged and leaves above the water’s surface. Have a read through “Unconventional Aquarium Plants: Beyond the Water’s Surface” which talks about and goes into more detail on this subject. Definitely a must read if you have interest in the plant world and finding other aquatic plants that not everyone else has going.

Are all aquarium plants safe for fish?

Most aquarium plants are safe for fish. However, always ensure plants are free of pesticides or harmful chemicals, and avoid species that may be toxic to your specific fish species. We grow all our plants submerged and without chemicals and pesticides. Have a look, we have made sure to offer plants that are perfect for beginners and experts!

How do I create depth & visual interest in my aquascape?

To create depth and visual interest, use a mix of plants with varying heights, leaf shapes, colors, and textures. Arrange plants in groups, with taller plants in the background, medium-sized plants in the midground, and short, carpeting plants in the foreground. You can read more about this topic in “Aquascaping with Aquarium Plants: Background, Midground, and Foreground“, where we go into detail about these exact specifics.

Can I grow aquarium plants without a substrate?

Yes, some plants, like Java Fern and Anubias, can be grown without a substrate by attaching them to rocks or driftwood. We also have chosen to let alot of different species grow “free floating” to see how they do, and they have always thrived with doing that. Additionally, floating plants don’t require a substrate, as they grow on the water’s surface.

How can I promote healthy plant growth and prevent melting?

To promote healthy plant growth and prevent melting, ensure proper lighting, and nutrient levels. Gradually acclimate new plants to your aquarium conditions and maintain stable water parameters.

Can I propagate aquarium plants, and how do I do it?

Yes, most aquarium plants can be propagated. Methods depend on the plant species and may include dividing rhizomes, cutting and replanting stems, or separating daughter plants from the mother plant.

How do I create a balanced ecosystem in my planted aquarium?

A balanced ecosystem involves maintaining stable water parameters, providing appropriate lighting and nutrients, and incorporating compatible fish and invertebrates that contribute to the overall health and harmony of the aquarium. Regular water changes and maintenance are also essential.

Do I need fertilizer for my aquarium plants?

Fertilizers can help provide essential nutrients for plant growth. However we have grown plenty of beautiful plants without the use of fertilizer. Research your plant species’ needs and consider using liquid fertilizers or root tabs as needed.

How can I control algae in my planted aquarium?

Maintain a balance between lighting and nutrients. Avoid overfeeding and overstocking, perform regular water changes, and incorporate fast-growing or floating plants.

Example Site - Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ) for Aquarium Plants

If you have any other further questions about anything aquatic related, please do not hesitate to contact us right away! Stay tuned – we will be starting to load incredibly helpful and useful videos on the AquaManLife.com YouTube channel and Facebook page, so keep a look for that coming!