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Bad Case of Strep Float: Floating Aquarium Plants That Are Absolutely Sick

Posted by Augusta Hosmer on

Red and green floating aquatic plants just beneath the water surface. Text: Floater PlantsIf we had to pick the easiest category of aquarium plants to grow, it'd be this one. Floating aquatic plants grow quickly, they propagate quickly, they come together quickly, they don't need a lot of work...you don't even have to plant them since you can just toss them into your tank. It doesn't get much better than that. Not sure which one you want? Welcome to Floating Plants 101.

The Do's and Don'ts of Floating Aquarium Plants

DO:
--Imitate nature when trying to grow them. Most of these grow on or close to the surface of the water, so they like a fair amount of light. But you probably won't have to worry about getting better lights for your setup since floating plants are so much closer to the surface and it's easier for them to get what they need. They likely won't need CO2 supplementation either for the same reason. Make sure you plant them at the temp/pH they like if you want to see them go crazy.
--use them for excellent filtration, algae prevention, and pond covers

DON'T:
-Plant recklessly in outdoor ponds or introduce to natural waterways. Most of these plants are easy and fast to grow, so they've taken over ecosystems as a result. Some of the species on this list are illegal in several states, so double check your ag laws before you order any of them. We've marked the ones that are currently invasive.
-Let them grow so thick they shade out other plants you have growing deeper in your tank. Usually it's not a problem, but if you have more sensitive plants in your substrate it could be an issue. 

Easy Floating Aquarium Plant Species

Azolla
*invasive in some states*
Azolla floating aquarium plants
Azolla filiculoides, AKA fairy moss and duckweed fern, is the first of our floaters. It's a ridiculously easy plant to get going, and can form a green sheet on your water surface before you know it. Goldfish like to snack on it, too. It often gets confused for the common duckweed (next on our list), but this one gets a little bigger and can have red and purple shading on the edges of its leaves.

What the Duck: Duckweed
*invasive in some states*

Duckweed, a floating aquarium plant

Duckweed (Lemna minor) is similar to Azolla but smaller, and it doesn't tolerate higher temperatures as well. Like azolla, it makes a great snack for goldfish, and it feels like you blink and it's multiplied. 

Flame On: Flame Moss

A ball of Flame Moss

Flame Moss (Taxiphyllum sp. "Flame") is the brighter cousin to Java Moss. It can be glued and tied to decor, or you can float it freely. They have rhizoids and will eventually latch onto their surroundings, but they make an epic floating plant, too. You can't go wrong with moss when it comes to invertebrate tanks. 

Frogbit

*invasive in some states*

Frogbit floating aquarium plant

American frogbit (Limnobium spongia) has thicker leaves and is a good option if you want a floating plant that doesn't take over like duckweeds can. Unlike duckweed and azolla, the leaves stay attached as one unit, which makes it a lot easier to remove if you grow too much of it. 

Hornwort

Hornwort, a fluffy green aquarium plant that can be planted or floated

Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) is also called coontail, and you can see why. This plant has finer leaves than most of the ones on this list, giving it that fluffy look. This is one of the best filtering plants out there and it's fantastic at natural algae control. Fish fry also love it. Because of its finer leaves, though, it will drop them more easily in shipping and other types of stress. They grow back quickly, but just something to keep in mind if you're cleaning a tank with hornwort or ordering this plant. It also may not stand up to plant eaters like goldfish and cichlids because of those finer leaves, too. 

Java Moss

A ball of java moss, a dark green, brown, and yellow aquarium moss

Java moss (Vesicularia dubyana) is one of those plants you could stick in a tank, leave it for 20 years, and come back to find it still kicking. Even though you can just let it float, it's different from the other floating plants in that you can also tie or glue it deeper in the tank to your hardscape if you want. It's very similar to flame moss, but is a bit darker and browner. It can handle the bright light at the water surface or the low light at the bottom. Great, versatile, insanely hardy little plant, and a must-have for a shrimp tank. 

Hell Yes: Pothos

A bunch of variegated Pothos in a grey plastic container
AKA Devil's Ivy, Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) are some of the easiest plants in the world, inside or outside aquariums. These guys should be grown mostly out of the water, with their stems/leaves above water and their roots growing below the surface. They're golden on the back or the sides of your tank. Some of the pothos might grow submerged once you get it going, but it's not aquatic, and those parts will grow significantly more slowly than the rest of the plant.

You can get this in a lot of different varieties, but we like the variegated version the best for some contrast. Also, it's poisonous to cats, so keep that in mind since you're growing it outside your tank. 

Float of Many Colors: Red Root Floater

A bunch of red root floater, a red floating plant, on the water surface
Allow me to introduce you to the easiest red floating plant alive. Red root floater (Phyllanthus fluitans) is a great choice if you want a red plant that keeps its color without having to up your lights too much. Yes, to keep that deep red color we all want, all red plants like more light. But red root floater is on the water's surface right below your tank lights, so it's a lot easier for it to get what it needs.

Salvinia minima

*invasive in some states*

Some Salvinia minima, a light green, floating aquatic plant with hairy leaves

Salvinia, AKA water spangles, is one of the most unique-looking plants on the list. They're rhizome plants that usually grow in groups of three, and like most floating plants, they reproduce quickly. Unlike the others, though, they have larger leaves that are covered in fine, white hairs designed to repel water. They thrive in a wide variety of tank conditions, so check them out!

Water Hyacinth

*VERY invasive in some areas*

A water hyacinth with a purple bloom in a pond

OK, I know I just said Salvinia was one of the most unique-looking plants on this list, but water hyacinth (Pontederia crassipes, formerly Eichhornia crassipes) has earned that title, too. Its bright green leaves are thick and curl in on each other like little dishes. Before they furl out they almost look like a bunch of plant bubbles. And check out those amazing flowers!

A lot of people get this plant and love it overall, but are disappointed if it doesn't bloom. If you want it to look like the one in the picture, try to crowd it with other water hyacinths (shouldn't be hard to, they grow like crazy). 

I know we already marked it as invasive, but just to harp on it again: this is arguably the most invasive species on here, so please be extra careful in checking that it's allowed where you are and handle it responsibly. 

Lettuce Help You Out: Water Lettuce

Water lettuce, a green floating aquatic plant, in a pond
*Invasive in some states*
Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) is a great aquarium plant for so many reasons. It grows and propagates quickly and easily, and it looks even cooler as it gets bigger. It has thick, almost spongy leaves and lives up to its alternate name, Nile cabbage. If you're looking for a good filter plant or a cover plant for a pond, you've found it. 

Keep in mind, though, they can provide a perfect breeding ground for mosquitos if they're in an outdoor pond, so be sure to manage that appropriately.

Fun fact on this one: despite its bad reputation as an problematic plant in some areas, it's showing some promise in medicinal use. There are studies indicating potential use as an allergy medication, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fungal.

Also, yes, apparently you can eat the "lettuce" (if you don't eat too much, since large amounts can be toxic) but it's pretty bitter and kind of burns if you bite into it raw. Don't ask how I know that. It has been used as a crop in times of famine and also may prove useful as a forage for livestock, but just go buy some Romaine if you want green that bad, people. Unfortunately necessary disclaimer: we recommend you do not eat, taste test, and/or otherwise chomp on your aquarium plants. Make good choices.

Water sprite

Water Sprite

Water sprite (Ceratopteris thalictroides) is awesome because you can use it so many different ways. You can float it and let the large roots trickle down, but you can also plant it in your substrate. It's great for beginners, but will flourish even more with advanced hobbyists who put more into it. Like most plants with those long roots, fish fry and invertebrates love it. Don't confuse it with the next one on our list, water wisteria! 

Water Wisteria

 A bunch of water wisteria, green aquatic plants, arranged in a circle

Native to India, Water wisteria (Hygrophila difformis) is kind of a beefier, tougher water sprite. It can also be floated or planted, but it has thicker, more uneven leaves (where the difformis part of its name comes from). Like most Hygrophila plants, it's incredibly hardy and is one of those "can't-kill-it" plants you've been looking for. It doesn't like a lot of water movement, though, so it might drop leaves during shipping or rough handling in tanks. Other than that, though, if you have a tank, you can probably grow it without a lot of work. It adapts amazingly well. 

There are tons of other floating plants out there, obviously, but these are the best "throw them in your tank and enjoy your life" species. We hope you found a few that float your boat. Keep hitting us with blog ideas and questions, and tank on! 


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