Aquarium Plants

The Best Low and Medium Light Aquarium Plants

Did you know that live plants bring many benefits to the ecosystem of your fish tank? Aquatic plants not only look beautiful in a freshwater aquarium, they are also great for the health of your fish as they remove harmful nitrates and CO2 from the water and oxygenate the tank.

But you do need a well-lit tank for plants to thrive, right? No, it’s not like that!

There are many medium light aquarium plants that thrive in relatively poor light conditions, including beginner low light aquarium plants that are surprisingly easy to care for.

In this comprehensive guide, we give you all the information you’ll need to choose, care for, and propagate these undemanding plants. In addition, we have provided you with a detailed list of 37 of the best low light aquarium plants that you can grow in your tropical tank.

WHAT DO LOW LIGHT CONDITIONS MEAN?

Light is crucial for healthy growth, even for low and medium light aquatic plant species. In addition to extracting nutrients from the water, plants need light for photosynthesis, the process that allows plants to grow and thrive.

More experienced hobbyists consider low-light plants to be those that require 3 watts of light or less per gallon of water; Put another way, low light plants need only 15 to 25 lumens. Medium light plants need a little more brightness, requiring up to 50 lumens.

So what is the difference between watts and lumens, and how are they measured?

WATTS VS. LUMENS

Watts are the measure of electricity used by a device, in this case, your aquarium light. Basically, a watt refers to the use or consumption of a particular device and has nothing to do with the light output of the bulbs.

Lumens are a measure of visible light that is emitted from a light source, which can be measured with a photometer.

LED lighting is the cheapest and most energy efficient option, and is also the best option for a planted tank. This is because most LED lighting fixtures allow you to choose the color and brightness of the lighting effect so you can customize it to best suit the plants in your tank.

So to summarize, plants that prefer low light conditions generally need less than 3 watts of light per gallon of water in the tank.All aquatic plants require between eight and 12 hours of light per day.

COLUMN FEEDERS VS. ROOT FEEDERS

Aquatic plants are divided into two groups, depending on how they obtain nutrients from the aquarium.

COLUMN FEEDERS

Column feeders are plants that can live happily on top of the substrate, extracting nutrients from the tank water through their rhizomes. A rhizome is also described as a «creeping root stem» and, in the case of aquatic plants, the rhizomes can settle on the substrate.

ROOT FEEDERS

Root feeders absorb nutrients through their root systems from what is available in the growing medium. For that reason, you must provide root feeders with a gravel substrate that has room for nutrient-containing pore water between the gravel fragments and provides plants with a firm anchor point.

When planning the perfect aquascape for your tank, you’ll need to know how the plants you’ve chosen get the nutrients they need. That way you can place your plants correctly in the aquarium so they can thrive.

BASIC SUPPLIES NEEDED TO CARE FOR LOW TO MEDIUM LIGHT PLANTS

While none of the plant species we’ve included in our list need a great deal of specialized care, the following items can help your plants achieve optimal growth and also keep them healthy.

  • root eyelashes
  • liquid fertilizer
  • CO2

SUBSTRATE AND LATERITE

When you buy aquarium plants, they usually come in pots or in loose groups, depending on the species and growth habit. The plants can grow in virtually any type of substrate, but the best medium is two to three inches of a nutrient layer, such as laterite (a combination of rock and soil rich in aluminum and iron), below an inch or so. less than a larger regular substrate, such as gravel.

When you plant potted plants, I recommend taking them out of their pots and placing them directly in the soil, as this helps the roots to spread and grow. Larger plants tend to have more complex root systems that require a lot of room to spread out, so you’ll need a slightly deeper layer of gravel to accommodate that.

See the best substrate for your planted tank here.

MAINTENANCE TIPS FOR LOW TO MEDIUM LIGHT PLANTS

If you plant and maintain your aquatic plants correctly, they will flourish. Here are some basic maintenance tips to guide you.

CLEAN PLANTS BEFORE PLANTING

Anything you put in your tank can potentially carry harmful bacteria or parasites. So before adding plants to your aquarium, rinse the plants under tap water, prune off any dead leaves, and remove any snails.

Prepare a solution of tap water and distilled white vinegar in a ratio of 1 part vinegar to 1 part water, and soak the plants for five minutes, then rinse with running tap water. That will remove bacteria, parasites, and algae spores before adding the plants to your tank.

CLEAN ALGAE FROM AQUARIUM PLANTS

Algae can be a problem if they establish themselves on the leaves of your live plants, and it’s worth adding some algae-eating species to your community to keep the problem in check.

Alternatively, you will need to remove the plants from the tank and soak them in a solution of 1 part distilled white vinegar to 1 part tap water for five minutes. Rinse the plants under tap water and return them to the tank.

ELIMINATING SNAILS

Snails can be a problem in a tank as they can eat your plants. You can get rid of snails by preparing a solution of tap water and kosher salt at a ratio of one cup of salt per gallon of water.

Rinse the plants in the solution, taking care to keep the roots above the water. Rinse the plants with non-chlorinated water and replace them in your tank.

TRIM YOUR PLANTS

Some species of aquatic plants grow very fast, so you’ll need to trim them from time to time so they don’t invade the tank.

Invest in a set of water gardening tools for the job and remove overgrowth by carefully trimming the stem of the plant close to the substrate. Floating plant species can be spruced up by trimming untidy areas of the plant. Use the tweezers from your kit to remove dead or damaged leaves.

37 BEST LOW AND MEDIUM LIGHT AQUARIUM PLANTS

When choosing plants for your aquarium, it pays to have a clear idea of ​​the whereabouts of the tank you want to place them in. You will need a few taller species for the back of the tank, a few mid plants, and a few small or carpet cover plants for the front of the setup.

1. CRYPTOCORYNE BALANSAE

  • Full name: Cryptocoryne crispatula “Balansae”
  • Care Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
  • Light level: medium

Cryptocoryne Balansae is a large plant that comes from Southeast Asia and India. These plants are ideal for background plants in a medium to large tank or as a centerpiece in a smaller setup, as they have large, unusually textured leaves that develop an attractive red underside.

These plants require stable water conditions and thrive in hard water. With that said, Cryptocoryne Balansae is a very hardy plant that can even withstand the attention of boisterous fish, such as cichlids. This is a slow growing plant that prefers low to moderate lighting. Once planted, the species takes a while to become established and does not like to be moved too much. The plant propagates by producing runners under the substrate that eventually develop into new plants.

You can encourage the plant to grow faster by adding liquid fertilizer to the tank water once a week or so.

2. ANUBIAS

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  • Full Name: Anubias Nana
  • Difficulty of care: Easy
  • Light level: low
  • Anubias is a hardy, broad-leaved aquatic plant that comes from Africa, specifically Nigeria and Cameroon.

    This plant grows to a maximum height of around 7.5 inches, making it an ideal choice for a middle or foreground plant in a medium sized tank. The plant does not require any special supplements to thrive and will happily grow in low light conditions. You can plant Anubias in the substrate or attach it to driftwood or rocks with twine. Although you can leave it free-floating, the wide leaves can cut off too much light for plants that live below.

    Propagation occurs by division of the rhizome. Simply cut back new plants as they appear on the rhizome and replant them in the aquarium.

    3. AMAZON SWORD

    • Full Name: Amazon Sword Plant (Echinodorus bleheri)
    • Care Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
    • Light level: medium

    The Amazon sword is a kind of tropical broad-leaved plant that grows up to one meter tall in the wild. Fortunately, the plant does not reach such dizzying heights in an aquarium setting. However, I recommend that you use these plants for medium to large tanks, rather than small setups.

    Although the plants grow easily once established, you will need to securely anchor the plant in the substrate, as the wide leaves tend to catch the flow of water in the tank, which can uproot the plant. Finally, Amazon Sword ships a long root system that will hold it firmly in place.

    The plant can be propagated by pinching off new plants from the submerged flower stems and simply repotting.

    4. CRYPTOCORYNE SPIRALIS

    • Full Name: Cryptocoryne Spiralis or Spiral Water Trumpet
    • Difficulty of care: Easy
    • Light level: low to medium

    Cryptocoryne spiralis is also known by its common name spiral water trumpet. As the name suggests, the plant has tall, narrow, spiral-shaped leaves with wavy edges that are brownish-green in color.

    The tropical plant hails from India, but has proven to be a favorite with hobbyists looking for an attractive low-light plant that can be used in the center area of ​​the tank.

    This species is known to be highly resistant to many common aquatic plant diseases, including Cryptocoryne rot. The plant prefers medium to hard water and grows most vigorously when provided with a nutrient-rich substrate and some liquid fertilizer.

    Cryptocoryne spiralis is propagated by cutting new seedlings from the parent plant and placing them in a pot of aquarium soil.

    5. CRYPTOCORYNE USTERINA

    • Full name: Cryptocoryne Usteriana
    • Difficulty of care: Easy
    • Light level: low to medium

    Cryptocoryne usteriana is a tall plant whose broad leaves can reach more than 20 inches in length. Therefore, these plants are best suited for life as background plants in your aquarium.

    These plants are perfect for the beginner as they are undemanding in terms of maintenance, even tolerating alkaline water with no ill effects. Even if you don’t add fertilizer to the water or growing medium, Cryptocoryne usteriana grows well, producing broad leaves of a beautiful dark or bronze-green coloration with an unusual embossed surface and a beautiful burgundy red color on the back of the leaves.

    If you choose to supplement the plant’s nutrition, you can expect to enjoy a good growth rate and exceptional color. You can easily propagate the plant by removing new plants from the long runners that the plant places under the substrate.

    6. ROTALA ROTUNDIFOLIA

    • Full Name: Rotala Rotundifolia
    • Care Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
    • Light level: low to high

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    Rotala Rotundifolia’s name translates from Latin as «the plant with round leaves,» though that only applies to the wild marshland variety of the plant. The variety you will find at your local fish store comes from Southeast Asia and is also sometimes advertised as Rotala Indica, although it is a different variety. The plant has long, narrow leaves on 15 to 30 long stems.

    The plant is relatively undemanding and can happily survive in medium light conditions. It is worth noting that the plant will produce red leaves if given bright light levels. You will need to perform some Rotala Rotundifolia maintenance as if you left it to its own devices; the plant will produce many side shoots.

    That results in compact, bushy growth, making it difficult for light to reach the lower leaves. Therefore, the lower leaves may die. To keep the plant healthy, be sure to prune the lower leaves of the plant once a week or so to keep it tidy.

    7. ROTALA INDICA

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  • Full name: Rotala Indica
  • Care Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
  • Light level: low to high
  • Rotala Indica comes from the same family as Rotala Rotundifolia above. The plant has long stems with 15 to 30 small, round leaves that are pale green to brown in color. The stems of the plants are long and can creep if not pruned regularly.

    Like other variants within the species, Rotala Rotundifolia grows well in medium light conditions, although it will produce better coloration if the lighting is reasonably bright. Regular pruning is necessary to prevent the plant from becoming too bushy and producing too much lateral growth, depriving the lower leaves of light. Too little light causes the plant to become spindly and the lower layers of leaves eventually die.

    8.vallisneria

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  • Full name: Vallisneria
  • Difficulty of care: Easy
  • Light level: low to high
  • Vallisneria is a very popular tropical aquarium plant that is extremely useful in the aquarium to cover filtration equipment or simply to provide an attractive backdrop.

    The plant grows into long, single leaves that resemble sea grass. When it comes to maintenance, Vallisneria is fairly easy to care for, making it perfect for a beginner. To keep the plant in good shape, all you need to do is cut off the excess growth with a pair of aquascaping shears.

    There are several varieties of Vallisneria, including Vallisneria spiralis which has corkscrew-shaped leaves and Vallisneria gigantea which can grow so large that it eventually covers the entire surface of the water.

    9. LUDWIGIA NETWORK

    • Full Name: Red Leaf Ludwigia, Red repens
    • Difficulty of care: Easy
    • Light level: medium to high

    Ludwigia grows partially or fully submerged in the aquarium. Underwater, the leaves vary from dark green to deep red, the underside of the leaves is red, while the upper surface of the leaves is olive green.

    The plant can grow 12 to 20 inches tall, making it a perfect background specimen in smaller aquariums or mid-plants in larger setups. Prune the plant regularly to encourage bushy growth. During spring and summer, Ludwigia produces small bright yellow flowers on the surface of the water. The flowers develop seeds, which fall to the substrate, where they develop into new plants.

    Propagation is simple. Simply remove the branches from the top of the plant and place them in the substrate. Remove the leaves from the last node of the plant’s stem to ensure that the roots grow vigorously.

    10. JAVA REMOTE

    • Full Name: Java Fern (Microsorum Pteropus)
    • Difficulty of care: super easy
    • Light level: low to moderate

    Java fern is a very easy plant to grow that is a favorite with experienced hobbyists, and is also ideal for a beginner. The plant is easy to care for, as long as the rhizome remains above the substrate.

    I have kept Java Ferns very successfully in a tank with low lighting. I love these plants because they can be tied to a piece of driftwood or rock with twine. Ferns grow very well and you can move their house around the tank to ring in changes to your design with minimal fuss. Vacuuming your tank is also easier, as you simply lift the plant up onto its base and vacuum under it.

    The plants grow slowly, producing baby ferns on the leaves from time to time. To propagate the ferns, simply remove the new ones and attach them to any hard surface in your tank.

    11. java moss

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  • Full name: Java Moss (Taxiphyllum Barbieri)
  • Difficulty of care: super easy
  • Light level: low to moderate
  • Java Moss is another Southeast Asian plant that is extremely popular with aquarists. Beginners also love this plant because it is so easy to care for and looks stunning in the tank.

    The plant is extremely versatile. You can grow it planted in the substrate, where it forms a stunning bright green carpet, attach moss to driftwood, or allow it to grow as a free-floating plant on the surface of the water.

    Java Moss grows well in low to medium light environments and does not require any additional fertilizer to be added to the tank. You can find Java Moss at most good fish stores and online.

    12. LEMON BACOPA

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  • Full Name: Lemon Bacopa, Bacopa Caroliniana
  • Difficulty of care: Easy
  • Light level: low to moderate
  • Lemon Bacopa is a pond plant that grows well around the edges of your pond or as a trailing plant in a stream bed or waterfall. The plant also spreads very quickly, making it perfect for use as a ground cover in a boggy area of ​​your garden.

    The plant produces bright blue flowers and has lemon-scented foliage during the summer months. The plant dies over winter, so you’ll need to take some cuttings and grow them in water in a sunny spot indoors.

    13. DUCKY DUCKS

    • Full name: Duckweed (Lemna minor)
    • Difficulty of care: Easy
    • Light level: low to medium

    Duckweed is very easy to grow in the aquarium and is excellent for helping to maintain water quality by absorbing excessive amounts of nutrients from the water.

    Although surface-growing duckweed provides a great hiding place for timid fish and fry, it can be a nuisance because it grows so quickly and vigorously. When you consider that duckweed can grow up to three times its original size in just one day, you can see that it needs ongoing maintenance to keep it under control. If left running, the plant will cover the surface of the water, cutting off the light that plants in other parts of the facility need to grow and preventing surface-feeding fish from eating it.

    The easiest way to curb duckweed overgrowth is to place a ring of plastic tubing on the surface of the water to contain the plant.

    14. HORNWORT

    • Full name: Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)
    • Difficulty of care: super easy
    • Light level: low to high

    There are over 300 species of wild Hornwort on every continent in the world except Antarctica. So, as you can imagine, the plant tolerates most water temperatures, making it ideal for use in an aquarium.

    Hornwort grows easily on the substrate or floats freely in the tank on the surface of the water. This is a tall plant that can easily reach the surface of the water in any size or shape of a tank, which means you will need to trim the stems frequently. On the downside, Hornwort tends to shed its bristle-like leaves, which can be a pain, especially if they clog the filter inlet.

    The plant propagates through rhizomes that are produced under the substrate.

    15. BRAZILIAN PENNYWORT

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  • Full Name: Brazilian Pennywort, Hydrocotyle leucocephala
  • Difficulty of care: Easy
  • Light level: moderate
  • Brazilian Pennywort is a very popular plant for aquarists due to its easy care requirements and versatility. Pennywort comes from southern Mexico and northern Argentina, where it grows in wetlands and swampy areas.

    The plant gets its name from its small, penny-shaped leaves that alternately grow on a trailing stem, quickly reaching eight inches or more in height. Once the plant reaches the surface of the water, it produces pretty white flowers. Pennywort will grow as a floating or underwater species. As well as providing shelter for fish, the plant is edible and can be eaten as a spicy watercress in salads.

    Since the plant lives on the surface of the water, it doesn’t need tremendously bright light to thrive. Keep the plant’s growth in check by trimming it regularly.

    16. ANUBIAS NANA

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  • Full name: Anubias Barteri var. lullaby
  • Difficulty of care: super easy
  • Light level: low to high
  • Anubias nana is very popular with betta owners. The plant is not only suitable for use in a small tank, but it has wide leaves that provide a perfect resting place for a lazy betta fish. The plant is also easy to care for, growing in low to medium light and therefore suitable for a beginning hobbyist.

    Anubias are slow growers and don’t get particularly large at maturity, reaching only seven inches in height, making them ideal for a small tank. If you have ornamental snails, it is worth knowing that they will not eat the tough, bitter leaves of Anubias nana.

    You can grow the plant attached to wood or rocks, or it also grows as a root feeder when planted in the substrate. To create new plants, simply divide the rhizomes and attach the baby plants to a piece of driftwood or rock, or plant them in soil.

    17. MONEYWORT

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  • Full Name: Moneywort, Brahmi, Bacopa monnieri
  • Difficulty of care: Easy
  • Light level: medium to high
  • Moneywort is suitable for beginners as it is easy to grow and requires little maintenance. The elliptical leaves grow alternately along the stem and are bright green, vivid and very attractive. The plant grows partially or totally submerged.

    Moneywort can reach 12 inches tall in medium light conditions, and the branches will grow straight through the surface of the water if left untrimmed. You can propagate Moneywort by cutting the stems where white roots begin to appear at the leaf nodes.

    Alternatively, allow the plant to grow to the surface, where it will begin to grow horizontally along the surface of the water and produce white roots at each leaf node. Once the roots reach two inches in length, cut off each rooted section and plant them in the potting medium.

    18. BUCEPHALANDRA

    • Full name: Bucephalandra, Buce
    • Difficulty of care: Easy
    • Light level: low to high

    Bucephalandra plant is also known as Buce. Buce is a favorite of many aquarists, despite being a relatively new addition to the variety of aquarium plants offered in fish stores.

    There are more than 30 varieties of Buce, each unique in color, shape, and size. These slow-growing plants are easy to grow, although you will need to be patient. Once mature, the plant can reach up to ten inches in height. Buce’s growth rate is directly related to the amount of light it receives. So the lower the light levels in your tank, the slower the plant will grow.

    Unfortunately, Buce tend to attract algae, so you’ll need to clean the leaves regularly to keep the plant looking good unless you have a shrimp cleaning kit in your tank.

    19. DWARF HYGRO

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  • Full name: hygrophila polysperma, Indian aquatic algae, dwarf hygrophila
  • Difficulty of care: Easy
  • Light level: low to medium
  • Dwarf Hygro is one of the hardiest plants you can buy for your fish tank. The plant does not need any special care and will grow well, even in the most basic settings.

    You can grow the plant as a medium to deep plant in your tank in low to medium light conditions, but the main drawback of this plant is that it grows quickly in a well-maintained tank that contains plenty of nutrients. Therefore, you will need to plan for regular pruning to prevent the plant from overgrowing.

    To propagate Dwarf Hygro, pinch off a segment of the plant and place it in the substrate. The plant is so easy to grow that you can create a whole new plant from a single leaf!

    20. AFRICAN WATER FERN

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  • Full name: African water fern, Congo fern, Bolbitis heudelotii
  • Difficulty of care: Easy
  • Light level: low to medium
  • African water ferns are found throughout the Congo River Basin in Africa, where they grow in swampy areas and streams.

    The plants grow very slowly, but can eventually reach eight inches wide and 9 inches tall. To grow ferns, attach them to pieces of driftwood or rocks with twine. To propagate plants, use a sharp pair of aquascaping shears to remove new plants from the rootstock.

    A combination of mature and young African water ferns creates a beautiful picture, as the older plants are dark green, while the younger ones are a much brighter, more vivid green.

    21. PYGMY RING SWORD

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  • Full Name: Pygmy Chain Sword Plant (Echinodorus tenellus)
  • Difficulty of care: moderate
  • Light level: medium to high
  • If you are looking for a carpet plant, the Pygmy Chain Sword could be what you are looking for. The plants are very easy to grow and tolerant of a wide range of conditions and water temperatures. That said, plants do need medium to high light levels, and the addition of extra nutrients and CO2 will encourage better growth and spread. These plants are best suited to shallow tanks, where they can be grown in the foreground to create a vibrant, lush green lawn.

    Pygmy Chain Sword self-propagates by pushing channels out through the substrate. The runners carry small new plants, which create a grassy effect on the aquarium floor, as the plant spreads. Periodically, you will need to pinch back some of the growth to control the spread of the plants.

    22. PELLIA MOSS

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  • Full Name: Moss Skins, Monosolium Tender
  • Difficulty of care: Easy
  • Light level: medium to high
  • Pellia Moss is a species of liverwort that comes from East Asia. This weedy moss is very easy to grow in virtually any environment, growing in bushy forms and putting out leaves that are similar in shape to deer antlers. The moss is a deep green color which gives a fresh and natural look to your aquarium.

    The plant is robust and easy to care for, requires a medium amount of light and tolerates acidic or alkaline water. Pellia moss is the perfect complement to the yellow, purple and red plants and is placed in the middle of the foreground of the tank.

    23. MARSH SEED BOX

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  • Full Name: Marsh Seedbox, Ludwigia palustris, Water Purslane
  • Difficulty of care: Easy
  • Light level: medium to high
  • Marsh Seedbox is sometimes also known as Water Purslane. Provided the plant receives proper care, it will make a striking addition to the bottom or middle of your aquarium. Water purslane has beautiful red leaves that can become incredibly intense if the plant is supplemented with nutrients, including iron.

    Unlike many red plants, Marsh Seedbox can flourish in only medium levels of lighting, making it a good choice of aquarium plant for small setups. However, it is worth noting that if light levels are too low, the plant can turn more green than red.

    To propagate water purslane, all you need to do is take cuttings and replant them in the substrate.

    24. AMAZON FROGBIT

    • Full Name: Amazon Frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum)
    • Difficulty of care: super easy
    • Light level: low to high

    If you don’t want to put duckweed in your tank, but are looking for a nice surface plant, Amazon Frogbit might be just what you need.

    Frogbit doesn’t take over like Duckweed does. The plant is also larger than duckweed, which makes it much easier to keep the look tidy. Frogbit sends out lon

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