Aquarium plants boost the oxygen content in the aquarium and provide hiding places for fish. In this article, you'll learn about the various types of aquarium plants and the two most important factors for keeping them healthy.
As you gain experience in the home aquarium hobby, you will learn various tips and tricks for keeping your tank healthy. While adequate filtration and regular water changes are essential for keeping water quality in your tank high, something as simple as adding a few live plants can also help you achieve this goal. Live aquarium plants are relatively easy to care for and they can boost the oxygen content in your water while also helping to control algae growth. When it comes to aquarium plants there is a wide variety to choose from. Not only are there several different categories of aquarium plants, but there are hundreds of species in each category. Before you make the decision to add some plants to your tank, take the time to figure out what kind of plants are available and which species might grow well in your tank.
Categories of Aquarium Plants
Freshwater aquarium plants can be divided into three main categories: ferns and mosses, rosettes and stem plants. A fourth category, floating plants, is simply an alternative way of categorizing aquarium plants and this group is made up of plants belonging to these three categories. When choosing the plants for your tank, try to select plants from all four categories. This will give your tank a varied and natural appearance that both you and your fish can enjoy.
Ferns and Mosses – The plants belonging to this category are non-flowering and reproduce in the aquarium by producing spores. This category of plants includes various species of mosses, ferns and liverworts which include Java Fern, Java Moss, Water Sprite and Crystalwort. Ferns like Water Sprite form either wide or narrow leaves and grow very quickly. These plants can be propagated easily by dividing the stems or separating and replanting the plantlets that grow on the leaves of parent plants. Mosses – Java Moss or Willow Moss, in particular – are popular among breeders because they provide fry with excellent cover.
Rosettes – Belonging to this category are flowering plants that are often used ornamentally in both indoor aquariums and outdoor ponds. Some of the most popular species belonging to this category include Amazon Swords, Water Lilies and Vallisneria. Other species of rosette plants include Anubias, Sword Grass, Water Hyacinths and the Madagascar Lace Plant. Rosettes generally exhibit a shortened stem axis and are often very leafy which is what makes them popular as ornamental plants.
Stem Plants – This is the largest category of freshwater aquarium plants and it also includes some of the most well-known varieties. Included in this category are plants like Cabomba and Anacharis as well as Hornwort, which can also be used as a floating plant. Stem plants tend to grow fairly quickly and can be propagated by re-rooting cuttings that are taken during pruning. In addition to being fast-growing, many stem plants are also very hardy and can tolerate a variety of water conditions. These qualities make this category of plants very popular among novice aquarists as well as hobbyists who are just beginning to experiment with planted tanks.
Floating Plants – While most aquarium plants must be rooted in substrate in order to thrive, this category of plants includes those species which do best when floating on the aquarium surface. These plants perform the same function as other aquarium plants, increasing oxygen content and competing with algae for nutrients, but they can also provide newly hatched fry with places to hide. Some of the most popular species of floating plant include Hornwort, a slow-growing plant; Anacharis, a quick-growing plant; Water Sprite; Duckweed and Azolla. These last three species, especially Duckweed, tend to grow very quickly and can take over the aquarium if the hobbyist is not careful. In most aquariums, however, they serve as a supplemental food source for fish which helps to keep the growth rate under control.
Tips for Keeping Aquarium Plants Healthy
The two most important factors in determining the health of your aquarium plants are lighting and nutrients. In order for your plants to grow they should have between 10 and 12 hours of full-spectrum lighting per day. The type of lighting you use may depend on how many plants you have in your aquarium but, generally, it is recommended that you have between 2 and 5 watts of lighting per gallon. The "watts per gallon" rule is a general rule, however, and should not be the only determining factor when choosing lighting for a planted tank. The types of lighting recommended for tanks supporting aquarium plants include standard fluorescent, T-5 HO (high output), VHO (very high output), power compact and metal halide bulbs. When using standard fluorescent lighting, an aquarium hood is a suitable mounting fixture, but high output bulbs such as Metal Halide lights put out a significant amount of heat and should be paired with a cooling fan to avoid overheating the water in your tank.
In addition to adequate lighting, your aquarium plants will also need nutrients in order to thrive. Your plants will draw the majority of their nutrients from the substrate and from the organic waste that builds up at the bottom of the tank. Lining your tank with a substrate specially formulated to support aquarium plants is a wise choice, especially if you have a heavily planted tank. Popular types of aquarium substrate for planted tanks include fluorite, eco-complete, laterite and peat moss. Some aquarists mix one of these substrates with sand or gravel and it is also common to put down a layer of nutrient-rich substrate under a layer of gravel or sand.
If you make the effort to supply your aquarium plants with adequate lighting and nutrition they are bound to do well. To give your plants an extra boost, check your local pet store for plant root fertilizer tabs or liquid supplements that you add directly to the tank water. Along with lighting and fertilization, it is important to maintain your routine water changes and water tests to ensure that the water quality in your tank stays high. In combination with regular maintenance and upkeep, aquarium plants can help to keep your freshwater tank a healthy and beautiful environment for your fish.