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Low Light Plants
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 Age of Aquariums > Aquarium Articles


In my business I am daily inundated with questions from people and a question that comes up consistently is What plants can I have in my fish tanks that do not require high levels of lighting or CO2? Well I hope this article will give you a few tidbits on what plants can and will do good in most single-fluorescent-strip tanks.

  •  Java Moss (Vesicularia dubyana)
    Java Moss is a great plant for low to medium levels of lighting. Java moss can be attached to rock, wood, or even a coconut shell. To attach this plant as well as Java Fern or Bolbitis (below) just secure it onto the wood with either fishing line or thread. After 2-3 weeks the plant will adhere to the wood and the thread can be removed or you can let it disintegrate on its own. This plant can also be shoved in any type of crevice or between 2 rocks and work its own magic from there.

  •  Java Ferns (Microsorum pteropus) and Bolbitis Ferns (Bolbitis heudelotii)
    Both of these plants have rhizomes (thick, rounded, horizontal stems) that do not like to be planted into the gravel, they prefer to be attached to rock or driftwood as well with the methods mentioned above. To get new plants, cut a healthy larger rhizome at a 45 degree angle with a sharp straight edge razor blade. Increasing the level of light to 0.8 W/L (3 WPG) can be done with Bolbitis and cause a much faster growth rate with no ill effects.

  •  Anubias (Anubias spp.)
    Anubias sp. There are many varieties of anubias, some great for foreground planting and some for mid to back. This is another rhizome type of plant that is usually more expensive than other plants. With sufficient nutrients these plants can flower inside your tank! With too much lighting these plants will get algae on them that can usually be scraped away from the hardy leaves. These plants are almost impossible to kill. Some stories I have read have stated that the owner left the plants for years in a bag in the closet. After all this time the plants were still OK after replanting. These plants do great with their roots attached to a piece of slate in the gravel at a 45 degree angle as well as letting them root into the gravel. Do not shove the roots in, let them make their own path.

  •  Christmas Moss aka Amano Moss (Fontinalis antipyretica)
    This awesome plant is known by quite a few names. It is featured in many Takashi Amano aquatic landscapes. It is shaped quite differently from Java Moss. The fronds are shaped in a triangular pattern that is quite pleasing to the eye somewhat like a Christmas tree. It appears this plant tend to grow faster under colder water but can withstand a variety of temperatures. This plant will attach itself to rocks or driftwood with the techniques described under Java Moss but can be left to just sink to the bottom as well and it will eventually root itself onto whatever you have available.

  •  Crypts (Cryptocoryne spp.)
    OK I am sure I may take a bashing on this one but please read carefully before you email me asking if I am crazy. Yes Cryptocoryne can stand low levels of lighting and grow sufficiently without any adverse effects. And yes they can grow even better in much higher levels of lighting. The trick is not to change from high to low light or vice-versa once set up. The problem with Crypts are they are susceptible to what is called Crypt Rot. Some people describe this as a quick "melting down" of the plant. There is much speculation as to the exact cause of this phenomena:
    1. Change in lighting parameters;
    2. Change in temperature;
    3. Change in amount of CO2;
    4. Change in salinity;
    5. Change in pH;
    6. Itís a naturally occurring thing.

    As you can see there are many things that may cause crypt rot. It looks like the best bet is to keep a stable environment with very little fluctuations and you should have luck with these. If you do get the dreaded crypt rot just clean up the dead leaves and wait a few weeks. Your plants hopefully will have adapted and start growing new leaves.

  •  Duckweed, Wolfia, Frogbit (Lemna spp.)
    I am not going to go too in-depth on these plants besides to say they are very easy to grow and very hard to get rid of if you decide you do not want them. These plants can clog your filters and block all of the light for your other plants because they are floating plants that are very tiny. The few positive aspects of these are they can suck up excess nutrients, block light and make a great habitat for some fish. Buyer beware on this one though. A better bet would be Salvinia aka Giant Duckweed described next.

  •  Giant Salvinia (Salvinia molesta)
    This is a floating fern like plant that shoots out roots from the underside of the plant. It is great for breeding bettas, blocking light, food for Koi, as well as a nutrient absorber. Another great aspect of this plant is that is very easy to remove unlike the plants in the previous paragraph. This is a great, easy to grow, floating plant.

  •  Water Lilies (Nymphaea spp.)
    Nymphaea daubenyana OK here is another group of plants that can do well. Sometimes called lotus plants, these are usually found in ponds and produce the lily pads we all associate with frogs. My favorite one is the Nymphaea daubenyana. This plant has nice red leaves that makes an awesome addition to any low to mid or high level lighting tank. This is a bulb-type plant and I have had the most success planting it at a 45 degree angle with less than ľ of the bulb in the gravel. These great plants love iron-rich substrates. This is one of the few red plants that do not require intense lighting to grow well. This one is hard to find in the trade though, so keep your eyes open for it. A few other lotus-type plants are available like the tiger lotus, but may not do as well in low light. I have not experimented with them yet.
    Marcus Russo
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