When I came into the hobby, I was all about finding plants that would tolerate my black thumb. Over the years, I have compiled a list of some of the easiest aquatic plants to be kept in a planted aquarium. This post is me putting those plants into a list with a few pointers about growing them. Hopefully this will help you make good decisions when it comes to selecting and growing your first aquatic plants!
Java Fern (Microsourum Pteropus)
Microsorum pteropus (commonly referred to as java fern) is arguably one of the hardiest aquatic plants in the hobby. The leaves of java fern grow off a rhizome, which is sort of horizontal tuber. It is very important to not bury the rhizome when planting java fern. Burying it will cause it to rot, killing the plant. Java fern does best when it’s roots are attached to driftwood, rocks or lightly placed above the substrate of the aquarium. It is a relatively undemanding plant, requiring very low amounts of light to thrive and no CO2. Although high intensities of light, fertilization and CO2 injection is preferably, it is not necessary.
Java fern makes a perfect plant for decorating setups that have destructive fish or burrowing fish. This is because it is often not planted in the substrate, burrowing fish do not affect it. They are also very resistant to the herbivorous fish that tend to turn aquatic plants into snacks. This is partly due to the leathery and tough texture of this fern’s leaves. Another factor could be that the taste of the plant wards of adventurous snackers. I have heard rumors that chemicals in java fern keep hungry fish at bay, but this may be more skepticism than anything.
I will note that there are a couple different variants and species that fall under the term “java fern.” These include Microsorum pteropus ‘windelov,’ ‘narrow leaf’ and ‘trident.’ Each of these have a different leaf shape than normal java fern, and are great plants to aquascape with.
Anubias is just about as hardy as java fern. Like java fern, Anubias grow via a rhizome, which means that it does best when attached to driftwood and rock-work. The leaves of the this plant are very rough and leathery, which allows it to, with some luck, be kept with certain herbivorous or boisterous fishes. Anubias barteri requires low intensity levels of lighting, no CO2 injection and little fertilization (though the addition of those things will increase its growth speed).
Anubias barteri is native to rivers and streams in Africa. Even so, it is often wrongly used in African Cichlid (Malawi, Tanganyika, etc) biotopes. There are many, many different variations of this plant. Though they all have the same basic needs, they very greatly when it comes to the size and shape of their leaves. A few examples of pretty common Anubias barteri varieties include: Anubias barteri, Anubias barteri ‘nana’ (or simply Anubias nana), Anubias barteri ‘coffeefolia’ and Anbuias barteri ‘petite.’
Anubias barteri ‘nana’ and ‘petite’ are very common in aquascapes (nano especially), and are usually found surrounding rock and driftwood outcroppings. This is mostly due to their small size, and ability to grow in the shade of larger plant specimens.
Cryptocoryne wendetii, although not as hardy and forgiving as the above two specimens, still easily makes this list. This Cryptocoryne (mercifully abbreviated “crypt”), is an example of a rosette plant as its leaves grow out from one central root crown. This plant requires l0w levels and lighting, no CO2 injection and little fertilization (though the addition of those things will increase it’s growth speed).
Wendetii is great for adding color and texture to an aquascape. Although this crypt is endemic to Sri Lanka, it often finds its way into many an “Asian” biotope. Like most common aquarium plants, there are many different varieties of Cryptocoryne wendtii, including: ‘green gecko,’ ‘brown’ and ‘tropica.’
Just a small warning: As with all Crypts, Wendtii suffers from what some refer to as “crypt melt.” This is a small window of time when a newly planted or moved crypt will melt back. Often losing it’s leaves. Do not worry if this happens to your new plant. As long as the root system remain healthy, you are golden!
Amazon Sword (Echinodorus amazonicus)
Amazon swords are the monsters of the aquatic plant trade. Their large size makes them really only suitable for 20+ gallon tanks. Amazon swords require low levels of lighting and no CO2 injection. They do require however a good root fertilizer, as they are heavy root feeders. Amazon swords are also often prone to iron deficiencies, so the addition of an iron rich fertilizer is commendable.
These swords are also a type of rosette plant, and have two leaf forms: ovular and elliptical. The ovular leaf shape can really only be obtained when the plant is grown emersed (out of water) or in an aquarium with high levels of lighting and CO2 injection. The elliptical leaf shape is often achieved when a sword is grown in low lighting conditions.
Rotala Indica (or Rotala rotundifolia)
Rotala Indica is often mistakenly named Rotala rotundifolia, even though these two are different species. The differences between indica and rotundifolia are very few, with the only really noticeable alteration being their flowering pattern. With that in mind, I will be talking about both plants synonymously from here on out, due to their great similarity.
Indica is a stem plant, meaning that the leaves, root system and flowers grow off of a single, main stem. Like most other stem plants, this Rotala can be propagated via cuttings. This plant requires low to medium levels of lighting, no CO2 injection and little fertilization. To bring the leaves of this plant from the normal green to a beautiful red, it is necessary to grow Indica in an aquarium with high levels of lighting, CO2 injection and a decent amount of fertilization (especially potassium).