For me, there is something special about any aquarium that features thriving plant life. Not only do such tanks look more natural and inspire a greater sense of peace, but they offer their inhabitants a richer environment. Moreover, growing plants produce oxygen and function as a natural “sponge” for nitrogenous waste, which complements your bio-filter as well. Of course, many people struggle with growing aquatic plants, even those with substantial experience. However, there are a few species that I would encourage anyone starting out to try (either together or by themselves) for a greater chance of success. Here they are, in reverse order.
#3: ANACHARIS (Egeria densa)
Anacharis is found all over the Americas and is probably the most well known and used aquarium plant around the word. Indeed, it is typically the plant of choice for science classrooms during photosynthesis demonstrations as it produces copious amounts of oxygen bubbles when subjected to high light levels.
Anacharis is typically reported as a medium to high-light plant, but I think it grows more sustainably in medium light levels at best. Sure, under bright light it will grow very quickly, but like many other already fast-growing stem plants, it will soon exhaust growth limiting nutrients and trace elements (especially without substantial ongoing fertilization) and then crash and “melt” away (this also happens with hornwort, but much faster).
This plant can be anchored to the bottom with a weight, or allowed to float and drift. In my experience, floating plants tend to grow best, but this may be because they are closer to the light source in such cases.
Regardless how it’s used, it’s a fairly hardy plant and, because it does grow quickly, does well in heavily stocked aquariums where a lot of waste is produced. Like most plants, though, it’s best to start out with a large bunch of the material and let an equilibrium within your tank to be reached (some material will grow and other stems may die depending on light/nutrient levels).
#2: JAVA FERN (Microsorum pteropus)
Java fern is darn near indestructible, although in poor conditions can be rather ugly or ragged-looking. Still, it is a near bulletproof option for those new to aquatic plants. I thing this plant looks and reacts best to being anchored to rocks or, better yet, driftwood. It can tolerate all sorts of light levels, but in my opinion is better suited to relatively lower light tanks, as it is a slow grower and can be quickly overtaken by algae under higher light conditions.
At any rate, it’s very hard to go wrong with Java Fern and I recommend trying a few plants as their long, broad leaves are a nice complement to virtually any aquarium.
#1: JAVA MOSS (Vesicularia dubyana)
OK, this is my all time favorite newbie plant species and possibly my favorite aquatic plant of all time, period. For the sake of convenience, I am also including in this discussion a myriad of other loosely related mosses as well, which in large part can be cared for similarly.
Java Moss is a relatively cool water plant, but can also do well in typical tropical warm water aquariums. It is a very slow-growing plant (when not subjected to high light and CO2 injection) and can be floated or attached to the substrate, rocks or driftwood.
In my opinion, Java Moss and it’s relatives grow and look the best when attached to driftwood. Basically, you can wrap the moss around any sinking driftwood with thin fishing line and just let it go. This moss should do well under even weak lighting, but don’t push your luck. For example, if you have a 10 gallon tank that’s illuminated by a 15-watt or similar weak florescent tube, make sure to leave the light on for at least a few hours a day. If, on the other hand, your tank is situated right next to a bright window (your tank should never receive direct sunlight), then you might be able to get away with no supplemental light all.
If using Java Moss as a spawning medium or hideout for baby fish (for which it’s perfect) or freshwater shrimp, floating the stuff is fine, and the moss will spread throughout your tank’s water column. And if it starts to get a little crowded, just remove some and move it to another tank, or sell/give some away. Further, if you’ve got a terrarium with land areas that are constantly moist, Java Mass will grow terrestrially too, and form a beautiful green carpet. Truly wonderful stuff.