Thriving Underwater: Best Beginner Plants for a Healthy Aquarium

When I decided to write an article about the best aquarium plants for beginners, first of all I’ve studied the ones that Google search provided me with. You can’t imagine, how I was surprised – it’s been quite a while since I’ve read so many ridiculous ideas and tips. Large part of the plants which are recommended for beginners in those articles, are challenging to keep even for experienced aquarists. I know it, since I’ve tried doing this many times and not always it was a success.

Beginner-Friendly Aquatic Plant Selections

What do I mean when talking about the best for beginner aquarists? These plants should be able to quickly adapt to new tank conditions, show stable growth rate, be able to stand abrupt changes of the water parameters and withstand algae fouling.

Below I will give a list of top-10, which are quite hard to kill and which grow fast provided almost with any tank water parameters, without additional CO2 supply and mineral fertilizers.

These are the most practical aquarium plants for beginners in my opinion. Actually, the list could be much longer, because there are far more unpretentious species. However, not all of them can be found on sale.

Best beginner plants for aquarium

Java moss

All aquarium mosses are rather undemanding, though they have low growth rate. Here you can find the information about the most popular ones.

Nevertheless, the most undemanding aquarium plant for a newly started tank is Java moss. This moss resembles some tangled dark-green filaments, its distinctive feature is its high shade-endurance and simplicity of its cultivation.

The moss doesn’t require to be planted into a substrate, since it doesn’t have roots. Therefore, it can grow on stones, snags and other tank decorations. It sticks to them itself in the wet medium above the water level or under it, which makes the tank look amazingly natural.

To make sure that fishes or water flow won’t move your moss from its place, you can tie the moss with a thin thread or pin it to the tank bottom substrate.

However, very dirty water may ruin the moss, when suspended organics will settle on its leaves and create a thick layer on them. Thus, the moss will be unable to breathe and due to this the photosynthesis process worsens.

AspectDescription
Scientific NameTaxiphyllum barbieri
AppearanceSmall, delicate moss with branching stems and tiny, pointy leaves
Growth RateSlow to moderate growth rate, suitable for low-tech setups
Light RequirementsCan tolerate low to moderate lighting conditions, but thrives under medium to high light
CO2 RequirementCan thrive without CO2 supplementation, but benefits from CO2 injection for faster and denser growth
Water ParametersTemperature: 68-82°F (20-28°C); pH: 5.0-8.0; soft to moderately hard water
AttachmentAttaches to various surfaces like rocks, driftwood, and aquarium decorations
Maintenance LevelLow-maintenance plant; requires occasional trimming to prevent overgrowth
Propagation MethodsEasily propagated by cutting and reattaching stems or removing portions of the moss
VersatilitySuitable for aquariums, terrariums, and paludariums; provides hiding spots for small aquatic species
BenefitsEnhances water quality by absorbing excess nutrients and providing shelter for fry and small fish
Common UsesAquascaping, creating moss walls, attaching to rocks and driftwood for natural-looking setups
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  • Care instructions: place moss on rock, wood, or a structure and then wrap thread…
  • Sunlight exposure: Partial Sun
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  • Gives small fish and invertebrates a place to hide
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Last update on 2024-02-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Vallisneria

Vallisneria is extremely undemanding and grows rapidly. There are lots of Vallisneria species. However, there are only three of them that are used for aquariums decoration. These are: Vallisneria spiralis, Vallisneria sp. Gigantea and Vallisneria nana. You can read about each of them in more details here.

This moss looks good in tank corners or at the background; it very quickly fills the tank. Vallisneria can grow up to 50 cm tall, while Vallisneria sp. Gigantea – up to 2 m tall. If the plant has reached the tank top, it starts to trail along its surface.

However, you mustn’t trim Vallisneria, since tips of its leaves will start to rot! If the vegetation becomes too thick, it is recommended to weed it. At that you should remove its new shoots.

Here’s a comparison table highlighting the key features of different Vallisneria species.

AspectVallisneria spiralisVallisneria americanaVallisneria nana
Common NamesStraight VallisneriaTape Grass, American Vallis, Jungle VallisneriaDwarf Vallisneria
Leaf ShapeLong, narrow and straightLong, narrow and straightNarrow
Maximum HeightUp to 2 feet (60 cm)Up to 2 feet (60 cm)Up to 10 inches (25 cm)
Growth RateModerate to fastModerate to fastSlow to moderate
Light RequirementsModerate to highModerate to highLow to moderate
CO2 RequirementCan thrive without CO2Can thrive without CO2Can thrive without CO2
Water Temperature68-82°F (20-28°C)60-82°F (15-28°C)68-82°F (20-28°C)
pH Range6.5-8.06.0-8.06.0-8.0
HardinessHardyHardyHardy
PropagationRunners, plantletsRunners, plantletsRunners, plantlets
Ideal PlacementBackground or midgroundBackground or midgroundMidground
Suitable for Small TanksNot recommendedNot recommendedYes
Ideal for Low-Tech SetupsYesYesYes
BenefitsOxygenates water, providesOxygenates water, providesAdds texture to aquascapes,
Commonly AvailableYesYesYes

Last update on 2024-02-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Hornwort

While Java moss should be fixed to the tank decorations, Vallisneria has to be planted into the bottom substrate, hornwort doesn’t need any of these. Hornwort can be both planted or just left to float in the water. In time you will have so many of its shoots in the tank.

Hornwort acts as a filter in a tank. This plant enriches the tank water with oxygen and absorbs nitrates from it. Also this plant works on principle of mechanical filter – it captures suspended matter. If you see that the roots has become muddy, you should wash it under the running water.

Hornwort grows at water temperature range from 20 to 30 degrees. If the temperature is close to 30 degrees, then hornwort may start growing faster and grow up to 20 cm in a week. The plant doesn’t require mineral fertilizers provided with weekly renew of ¼ of tank water.

The plant propagates by means of cutting its stem. Even if you have a tiny piece of the stem, you can grow the whole plant from it.

AspectHornwort
Common NamesHornwort, Coontail
AppearanceLong, slender, branching stems
Leaf ShapeFine, needle-like leaves
Maximum HeightUp to 24 inches (60 cm)
Growth RateFast
Light RequirementsLow to high
CO2 RequirementCan thrive without CO2
Water Temperature59-86°F (15-30°C)
pH Range6.0-8.0
HardinessVery Hardy
PropagationFragmentation, side shoots
Ideal PlacementBackground or floating
Suitable for Small TanksYes
Ideal for Low-Tech SetupsYes
BenefitsOxygenates water, absorbs excess nutrients, provides hiding places for fry and small fish
Commonly AvailableYes
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Last update on 2024-02-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Java fern

This is not very tall and rather undemanding plant which has rather low growth rate (just like all other fern species). The Java fern doesn’t have roots and it doesn’t require planting into the bottom substrate; however, by means of its root-like formations – rhizoids – it easily sticks to stones, snags, etc. The java fern can be used as a basis for very good looking aquascape compositions.

This fern is easy to keep. It can adapt to various conditions. The plant is not demanding in terms of lighting level, hydrochemical composition of the tank water and it can stand low temperatures up to 4 °C.

It is recommended to fix the plant with a sea-line, special collars or glue on stones, snags and other decorations with rough surface.

If the roots get into the substrate, they will rot. All you can do in this respect, is slightly press the plant with a small stone to the tank bottom, so it won’t float.

Here’s a comparison table highlighting the key features of different Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus) varieties:

AspectJava Fern (Standard)Java Fern (Windelov)Java Fern (Narrow Leaf)
Leaf ShapeBroad, ruffled leavesRuffled and more branchedNarrow and elongated leaves
Maximum HeightUp to 12 inches (30 cm)Up to 8 inches (20 cm)Up to 12 inches (30 cm)
Growth RateSlow to moderateSlow to moderateSlow to moderate
Light RequirementsLow to moderateLow to moderateLow to moderate
CO2 RequirementCan thrive without CO2Can thrive without CO2Can thrive without CO2
Water Temperature68-82°F (20-28°C)68-82°F (20-28°C)68-82°F (20-28°C)
pH Range6.0-7.56.0-7.56.0-7.5
HardinessVery HardyVery HardyVery Hardy
PropagationRhizome divisionRhizome divisionRhizome division
Ideal PlacementMidground or backgroundMidground or backgroundMidground or background
Suitable for Small TanksYesYesYes
Ideal for Low-Tech SetupsYesYesYes
Commonly AvailableYesYesYes
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Last update on 2024-02-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Anubias nana

Anubias species are not the cheap ones to buy, since they grow slowly; however, they are rather enduring and they will do with low light level. Besides, the plant is too tough for many herbivorous fish species.

Anubias should be planted so, that its roots are in the substrate and the stem is above it. You can fix the roots to a snag or a stone and leave some of them out of the substrate. Even in this case the anubias will grow successfully.

The most popular Anubias species is anubias nana. It grows good at moderate lighting, doesn’t react to changes of water pH and hardness. Anubias has coarse leaves, that’s why fishes and snails can’t do them any harm.

As for the demerits, we should mention its low growth rate and the fact that it can’t stand algae fouling.

Scientific NameAnubias barteri var. nana
GenusAnubias
FamilyAraceae
Common namesAnubias Nana; Dwarf anubias; Nana; anubias petite
Plant TypeRhizomatous
Lighting NeedsLow to Moderate
Growth rateSlow
CO2Not required, but beneficial
Temperature Required22-28 °C (72-82 °F)
pH Level6.0-7.5
KH3-10
Care LevelEasy
Minimum tank size10 gallons
Maximum plant sizeUp to 4 inches (10 cm)
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  • Will thrive attached directly onto hardscape such as driftwood and stones using…
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Last update on 2024-02-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Amazon sword

If you wish to have not just chaotic tangles of small leaves in a tank, but some large plants with rather wide leaves, then Amazon sword is a perfect for you. In general, there are many nice and undemanding kinds among Echinodorus species, but Amazon sword is the most popular one.

It is easy to take care of, grows very fast and becomes a rather good-looking. It may appear rather spectacular, if you plant it in a proper place.

Amazon sword may grow up to 40 cm tall, that’s why it is better to plant it in the middle of the tank or in the back.

Due to its rather significant size, the Amazon sword is a good decoration for large sized tanks.

FamilyAlismataceae
Scientific NameEchinodorus grisebachii; Echinodorus amazonicus; Echinodorus bleheri
Common NamesAmazon sword, Sword plant,
OriginBrazil, South America
PlacementMid ground or Background Plant
Maximum Sizeup to 16 Inches
Care LevelEasy
Growth RateModerate
PropagationVegetative; runners
Feed TypeRoot Feeder
CO2 RequirementNo
LightingMild to moderate
Flow RateLow
Temperature Range60.8-82.4°F
pH Range6.5 – 7.5
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Last update on 2024-02-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Amazon frogbit

All fluctuant plants are rather undemanding and they require only bright light. It is hard to choose just one, since all of them have rather significant decorative properties. I prefer Amazon frogbit for a couple of reasons – it has long and nice roots, which decorate the middle water layer in a tank and the plant grows new shoots extremely quickly.

Like most of fluctuant plants Amazon frogbit requires bright light, though for some period of time it is able to dwell in shadowed areas. It doesn’t need mineral fertilization.

The plant propagates by growing the new shoots at the end of its branch-shoots. Once these new shoots grow at least three leaves and a root, you can separate them from the parent.

Scientific NameLimnobium laevigatum
FamilyHydrocharitaceae
Common namesAmazon frogbit
Smooth frogbit
West Indian spongeplant
South American spongeplant
Native ToUSA
Lighting NeedsHight
Growth rateHight
CO2No
FertilizersYes
Temperature Required20-30 °C
pH Level6.0-7.5
Care LevelModerately demanding
Placement in TankFloating plant
Maximum plant sizeleaves are 1,5-3 cm long and up to 0,5 cm thick
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Last update on 2024-02-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Cryptocorynes

Cryptocoryne is a very widespread aquarium plant, but various kinds of the plant require different tank conditions. It is quite challenging to recommend some specific Cryptocoryne species to keep in an aquarium, therefore try to read about the most renowned species of the plant and choose the one you like yourself.

Cryptocoryne species don’t like replanting, since in a new place will grow new leaves only in a several months, even provided with proper care.

Cryptocorynes propagate by means of trailing and some of their new shoots may be in the substrate. A small leaf that forms at the end of the shoot grows into a small bush in time. Once the bush has 5-6 leaves in it and it is several weeks old – you can replant it.

Here’s a comparison table highlighting the key features of different Cryptocoryne species:

AspectCryptocoryne wendtiiCryptocoryne balansaeCryptocoryne spiralis
Common NamesWendt’s CryptocoryneBalansae CryptocoryneSpiral Cryptocoryne
Leaf ShapeBroad, elongated, wavyLong, narrow, undulatedNarrow, spiral
Maximum HeightUp to 6 inches (15 cm)Up to 20 inches (50 cm)Up to 12 inches (30 cm)
Growth RateModerate to slowModerate to slowSlow to moderate
Light RequirementsLow to moderateModerate to highModerate to high
CO2 RequirementCan thrive without CO2Can benefit from CO2Can benefit from CO2
Water Temperature72-82°F (22-28°C)72-82°F (22-28°C)72-82°F (22-28°C)
pH Range6.0-7.56.0-7.56.0-7.5
HardinessVery HardyHardy to Very HardyVery Hardy
PropagationRhizome division, runnersRhizome division, runnersRhizome division, runners
Ideal PlacementMidground or backgroundBackground or midgroundBackground or midground
Suitable for Small TanksYesNoYes
Ideal for Low-Tech SetupsYesYesYes
Commonly AvailableYesYesYes
Bestseller No. 1 on Amazon
Marcus Fish Tanks – 3X Cryptocoryne Wendtii Green Pots Crypt Wendtii Easy Live Aquarium Plants…
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Last update on 2024-02-13 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Marimo moss

This is one of the most popular aquarium plants for beginners. Really, we can name only its advantages – the plant cleans water, has unusual shape, stable growth rate and serves as a shelter for shrimps.

However, there is one sufficient drawback, which made me doubt if I should include Marimo Moss into my list.

The moss likes cold water and in warm water it starts to fall into pieces and divides into parts. This way the plant propagates in the wild. Yet, I decided to include it into the list, since according to my experience of keeping Marimo moss balls in my tank, the marimo moss adapts quite well and maintains its attractive shape.

AspectJapanese Marimo Moss Ball
Common NamesMarimo Ball, Moss Ball
AppearanceRound, ball-shaped moss
TextureSoft and velvety
Size RangeTypically 0.6 to 2.4 inches
Growth RateSlow
Light RequirementsLow to moderate
CO2 RequirementCan thrive without CO2
Water Temperature68-82°F (20-28°C)
pH Range6.0-8.0
HardinessVery Hardy
PropagationDivision, cuttings
Ideal PlacementFloating or anchored
Suitable for Small TanksYes
Ideal for Low-Tech SetupsYes
BenefitsNatural filtration, oxygenation, low maintenance, unique and charming appearance
Commonly AvailableYes
Bestseller No. 2 on Amazon
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Last update on 2024-02-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Egeria densa

In the wild you can encounter Egeria densa in waters of North and South America. However, when the plant grows widely it becomes rather aggressive and pushes out the rest of the flora representatives. Due to such behavior the plant got its name ‘Waterweed’.

In a tank Egeria densa feels rather comfortable as well, it cleans water and upgrades the space in the tank. The plant is rather unpretentious, therefore it’s not difficult to take care of it. Both beginner aquarists and professionals like it.

Egeria densa grows quickly and its shoots my be up to 2 meters long. You can trim the shoots up to the length proper for your tank. The roots are thin, fragile and long.

AspectEgeria densa
Common NamesBrazilian Waterweed, Anacharis
Leaf ShapeElongated, narrow leaves
Maximum HeightUp to 3 feet (90 cm)
Growth RateFast
Light RequirementsModerate to high
CO2 RequirementCan benefit from CO2
Water Temperature59-86°F (15-30°C)
pH Range6.5-7.5
HardinessVery Hardy
PropagationStem cuttings, side shoots
Ideal PlacementBackground
Suitable for Small TanksYes
Ideal for Low-Tech SetupsYes
BenefitsOxygenates water, absorbs excess nutrients, provides hiding places for fish and fry
Commonly AvailableYes
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  • It Grows Both with CO2 and without CO2.
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Last update on 2024-02-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

How to select plants for beginner aquarists?

Let’s distinguish some criteria, which the aquarium plant should correspond to. Unpretentious tank plant species can dwell in a wide range of water parameters. They will do both with 4 and 20 degrees of water hardness. Inexperienced aquarists don’t measure this parameter and they don’t know water hardness level in their tanks. The same is about the tank water temperature.

The plant attitude to the tank lighting. Actually, to the lack of lighting. Commercial aquariums are initially equipped with low power lamps, which just can’t supply the tank with proper level of lighting. But this fact allows to decrease their price.

Endurance to abrupt changes of tank conditions. Very often beginners can forget about their tank for a month or two. During this time the tank water will change its parameters essentially and its pH value will decrease.

Then they recall that they have a tank and start to wash and clean it, renew a large amount of water. Only undemanding will stand such an abrupt change of pH level.

Absence of regular care. In two months of such independent life plants for beginner aquarists won’t die due to thier uncontrolled growth, shadowing, thickness, lack of fertilizers and other factors depending on presence of regular care.

Endurance to algae fouling, etc. Beginner aquarists may not be able to see the problem timely. So, the plant species simple in care should be able to wait till the owner sees the problem and does something about it.

Aquarium plants fade slowly and if you try do at least something, you will be able to save them.

Why do we need aquarium plants?

Despite the fact that these are live plants and they are fascinating, their presence in a tank gives you a lot of bonuses:

  1. They act as «lungs» in a tank, since they naturally enrich the tank water with oxygen;
  2. The plants don’t let excessive amount of carbon dioxide accumulate;
  3. Serve as an indicator of tank water state: the plants appearance shows if there are any problems in the tank;
  4. Absorb substances which are toxic for the fish: such as nitrites, nitrates and phosphates;
  5. They are a plant supplements to the fish diet, which helps to avoid diseases of the fish digestive system as well as to diversify their diet;
  6. Compliment into the tank biological balance and help to maintain it. Sometimes experienced aquarists achieve such success, when their tanks don’t require artificial aeration and water filter, due to the presence of aquarium plants in them;
  7. Serve as shelters and create shadow for those tank inhabitants who need them;
  8. Some tank dwellers use them while spawning and to grow their juveniles.

Attributes of successful keeping of plants in a tank

The most crucial feature of plants as well as all living creatures is their metabolism. All living creatures need nutrition they get from the existing organic substances.

The plants can synthesize organic substance from non-organic substances. To do this they need water, carbon dioxide, K+, Ca++, Mg++, and Fe++ cations, NO3, SO4, PO4 anions and small amounts of borium, vanadium, iodine, cobalt, manganese, copper, molybdenum and zinc, which are called micro-elements.

At that successful growth is defined by the minimal amount of one of these substances. For example, at lack of ferrous iron the leaves become yellowish and the plant itself starts growing slower; in this case neither perfect lighting, nor the most favorable tank water and substrate composition will help.

Tap water, in which aquarists keep the tank plants, almost always contains all necessary nutrients (in solubilized form) the requires. Aquarium plants unlike terrestrial ones can absorb water not only with their roots, but also with their whole surface.

According to the type of their absorption process the plants are divided into:

  • Absorbing water mainly with by means of their root system. Such plants require a bottom substrate rich in nutrients.
  • Absorbing water both with their roots and leaves. Such plants require the substrate with low content of nutrients.
  • Aquatic plants and fluctuant ones absorbing water mainly and solely by means of their leaves.

In case of rather intensive photosynthesis process in a thickly planted tank, CO2 content in the tank water significantly decreases and, correspondingly, pH level rises. At that its daily pH change may be 1-2 units a day, which should be taken into account when selecting plants for such a tank.

Photosynthesis occurs in a leaf, in its chloroplasts containing green pigment called chlorophyll. Photosynthesis process consists of light-dependent and light-independent phase.

During the light-dependent phase the primary products appear; they are transformed into the end products with the help of ferments during the light-independent phase of photosynthesis. Intensity of the process is effected by many factors such as: lighting intensity, spectral structure of the light, tank water temperature and amount of carbon dioxide.

All these factors act together and lack of one of them can not be compensated by the excessive amount of the other.

Different kinds require different level of illumination to grow and perform photosynthesis process successfully. There are light demanding, shade-requiring and shade-requiring plants. The plant requires energy to grow.

In case of lack of oxygen the plant can breathe and produce energy for some period of time and use for this the oxygen from carbohydrates and water molecules. However, at that ethyl hydroxide appears in the water and it is poisonous for plants.

The process of a growth involves reproduction of its cells and increasing of their amount. On the top of the stem there is a vegetation cone, where the process of cell fission occurs. Tropical and subtropical plants grow mainly at night.