EXTREME Aquarium Plants

Posted by Augusta Hosmer on

Read Time: 5.5 minutes

Aquarium plants for cold water, crazy pH, giant tanks and nano tanks, evil fish, too little or too much light, and any other extreme you can throw at them

Overall Tips for "EXTREME" Aquarium Plants (AKA the biggest piece of advice for planted tanks)

The single most helpful tip we can give you on growing these plants, and any plants, really, is to study and imitate nature. If you're not sure if you can keep a plant in a certain tank environment (we're pretty awesome, but we can't list out every plant, here) look up where the plants are native and thriving. If a plant is native to the northern waterways of North America, for example, you can assume they can withstand cold temperatures. If you only ever see a plant growing in shallow water in the wild, it's safe to say they'll thrive in extremely high light. Pick plants and/or change your tank with this info; get the temp, pH, light, etc. as close to nature as you can; and your plants will be gorgeous. 

Also keep in mind that most plants will go through an adjustment period after their environment changes, especially if the change is drastic like it probably would be in these cases. Even if they can survive in extreme environments, if they haven't been grown in one, they may melt when you first put them in your tank. If plants turn transparent and wilt shortly after planting, it's most likely melt. Your tank might look a little rough for a while, but the plants will come back with a vengeance once they adjust. Think of it like going back and forth between a hot tub and a cold pool: the first seconds after you jump in are always the worst, and then it's smooth sailing. 

Plants for Cold Water Aquariums

"Cold" is subjective, but we're talking plants that can grow in water temps in the 60's Fahrenheit (~16C). So if you're keeping axolotls (they're cute, but they want basically the opposite of what most plants what), white cloud mountain minnows, or other coldwater aquarium species, these are the plants for you.

Java Ferns

Some of the toughest species that will show up in just about every category in this post are Anubias and Java Fern (Microsorum) varieties (like the Windelov Java Fern in the cover photo). Bacopa monnieri is another rugged choice that Dustin's Fishtanks has grown successfully in cold water. For a foreground option, Dwarf Chain Sword can handle temps in the mid 60's up to around 80. 

You can also keep some warm-colored plants in the chill if you want a splash of contrast without a heater (Come on. Who doesn't?). Ludwigia repens is a hardy, deep red species that can handle the cold and the abuse of a beginner. For a subtler red color gradient, Ammania senegalensis will also work in a cold setup. Or, toss in a cool-looking red/yellow plant, another Bacopa called "Yellow Flame." 

A few stems of Ammania senegalensis, a red aquarium plant

Ammania senegalensis

Just know that in nature, 99% of the time, heat = speed. Your plants can survive and even thrive in colder temperatures, but they will not grow as quickly as they would in a warmer tank. 

Some Like it Hot: High-Temp Aquarium Plants 

On the other end of the scale, some fish (like discus and other cichlids) prefer warmer temperatures and need plants that can handle temps into the 80's Fahrenheit (we wouldn't recommend keeping plants above 82). 

In this category, crypts and swords are your friends. Echinodorous, Cryptocoryne, Hygrophila, and Vallisneria species will all perform well in higher temps. Even picking just one or two of these genuses will give you tons of variety to choose from to give your aquarium a diverse look. Red Tiger Lotus (Nymphaea zenkeri) will also do well in warmer water. And, of course, Java ferns can adapt to these temps, too.

A bunch of different Cryptocoryne species arranged in a line and in a planter

Again, look at nature. Crypts are native to warm, tropical environments like Indian/Southeast Asian rivers and streams, and swords (Echinodorous) can be found in tropical and subtropical waters of the central US down to Argentina and throughout the Amazon. 

Plants for Low/High pH, Hard/Soft Water

Most aquarium plants naturally prefer a pH between 6 and 8, but can adapt well to more extreme parameters. Java ferns, java moss, and hornwort can tolerate wide pH and water hardness ranges. Most species can also adapt to and like hard water and higher pH, so we won't go into a lot of detail on all the hard water plants or we'll be here 10 years. If you have an aquarium plant, chances are it'll love hard water. If it's very hard water, Anubias and Bolbitus are great options.

But again, if you've got a special snowflake like discus, you want a plant that can handle soft/acidic/RO-filtered water. Adapt your plants to your livestock. Rotala species are a good option for this, and Tonina belem also loves soft water. 

A bunch of yellow Rotala aquarium plants growing submerged in water


(I've got a more detailed post that explains how all the water chemistry stuff goes together in the works for next week, so stay tuned!)

Low-Light Aquarium Plants, High-Light Aquarium Plants

Okay, yes, all aquarium plants will grow more quickly with higher light (as long as you don't give them too much and damage them). But if you have a bunch of light and you're worried about algae or damaging plants, or you don't have a lot of light to work with but still want nice plants, there are species that can thrive at either extreme. 

For low light, we have banana plants, Java ferns, Anacharis, most Hygrophila, mosses, Bacopa, and Anubias. Floating plants that can access light more easily due to being closer to the surface will also grow well in low-light tanks.

For setups with a lot of light, you can try all kinds of species (see if you can get a carpet going!) A heavily planted tank can help prevent algae and other problems caused by resource imbalances (high light, too many nutrients, etc). If you have experience combined with your high lights, give some more difficult species like Pogostemon helferi (Dr. Seuss Plant) or some Rotalas a shot. 

A few Dr. Seuss Plants (Pogostemon helferi), ruffled, light green aquarium plants

Dr. Seuss Plant

Red plant species are also great choices for extreme high light since the red coloring acts as a kind of sunblock for the plants. The Ludwigia repens we mentioned in the coldwater section is a fantastic option, and there are several others like Ludwigia palustris "Triple Red," and Myriophyllum tuberculatum that really come into their own in a high-light environment. Here's another blog post on tips and tricks for these epic red aquarium plants if you want to give them a shot. 

Regardless of how intense the lights you're running are, we recommend a light timer so your plants get adequate light but not too much (Most plants need ~6 hours of light per day). 

Damage-Resistant Aquarium Plants for Evil/Messy/Herbivorous Fish (Cichlids, Goldfish, Axolotls, etc).

We actually have a whole blog post just dedicated to aquarium plants for plant killers, so be sure to give that a read HERE if you want more detail! But just for an overview, you want to look for plants with broader, thicker leaves that can withstand herbivorous species' attacks (think Anubias, Bolbitus, and Aponogeton). You can also try floating or other rhizome plants (like java ferns) so that fish that dig in substrate and like to redecorate their tanks can't uproot them to begin with. 

A lot of Bolbitus heudelotii (African Water Ferns), green aquarium plants, arranged on a white background
African Water Ferns (Bolbitus)

Since goldfish are absolute pigs, looking into tough, filtering plants like hornwort, java moss, Anacharis, and duckweed is also a good idea to help your water chemistry out (and maybe give a snack to the goldfish). 

Plants for Giant and Tall Fish Tanks, and Plants for Nano Tanks

If you have a huge tank or a tall tank with a lot of space to fill, check out some epic background plants. Giant Jungle Val (Vallisneria americana) is a beast of a plant that gets absolutely massive. Aponogeton species also rock in big tanks. For the really deep/tall tanks, you can refer to the low-light section, too, because the deeper the water, the less available light for the plants in the substrate.

Some huge Giant Jungle Val (Vallisneria americana), tall, green aquarium plants, laid out under lights in a large basin of watee

Plants for nano tanks, obviously, have to be a lot more compact (if you've found a way to keep Jungle Vallisneria in a nano tank, I am begging you to send a picture). Fortunately, they're also easier to handle when it comes to lighting because the light doesn't have as much water to travel through to get to the plants. Banana plants, AKA big floatingheart and banana lilies (Nymphoides aquatica), are a unique-looking, amazingly easy option for tiny tanks. Carpeting/foreground species like dwarf hair grass (Eleocharis parvula), Dwarf Chain Sword (Echinodorous tenellus), and Dwarf Sagittaria subulata (Dwarf Sag) work well, too. 

A Banana Plant (Nymphoides aquatica), a unique, green aquarium plant with banana-like roots

Banana Plant

We also really like Red Tiger Lotus and Hygrophila corymbosa "Compacta" for nano tanks. 

Check out some of the Species Sunday videos from Dustin talking about these plants, see if you're lucky and one of them is on sale as a Plant of the Week, and let us know if you know of some other extreme plants you want to see. Tank on!

Aquarium Plants that Can Handle the Cold

Aquarium Plants to Try with Axolotls, Goldfish, and Cichlids - in which Dustin roasts people like me who love axolotls, the roasts are completely true, and I still plan on getting one anyway ;)

Aquarium-Plant-Eating Fish Combinations for The Planted Tank

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