While high lighting can help plants grow faster, deepen the red tint to plant leaves, or even allow you to keep some spectacular yet demanding aquatic plant species, a high-light aquarium isn’t the only way to create an attracting aquascape. Those of us preferring a natural look may opt for low light aquarium plants. So instead of filling your planted tank with expensive, highly demanding and slow growing plants, give some of your attention to these following beautiful low light demanding plants.

1.  Dwarf Four Leaf Clover – Marsilea hirsuta

Dwarf four leaf clover

  • Common names: water clover, dwarf four leaf clover
  • Usage: carpet, foreground, nano planted tank
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Growth: medium
  • Height: 2+ inches (5+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

This is a low light carpeting plant that gives an appearance similar to Dwarf Pearl grass and Glossostigma. Dwarf Four Leaf Clover forms a carpet by sending out runners along the substrate. This plant takes on various forms depending on its growing conditions but it will thrive in a relatively low light planted tank and offer an attractive deep-green carpet. Planting this plant can be painstaking, just like it is for other carpeting plants, yet the results are well worth the patience.

2. Pygmy chain sword – Helanthium tenellum

Pygmy Chain WwordPygmy Chain Wword

  • Synonym: Echinodorus tenellus
  • Other names: narrow leaf chain sword
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Position: carpet, foreground
  • Growth: fast
  • Height: 3+ inches (7.6+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

Pygmy chain sword is the smallest of the Echinodorus family growing to three to four centimeters in height and is a great aquarium plant for the foreground of your tank. It originates from North America and is a prolific grower which will quickly multiply under most conditions. It is very low demanding and can live happily under other plants.

3. Staurogyne repens

Staurogyne repensStaurogyne repens

  • Usage: carpet, foreground, midground
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Growth: medium
  • Height: 1.2 – 4+ inches (3 – 10+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

Staurogyne repens is neither difficult nor demanding. Its medium growth rate, it is easy to maintain this plant at a short height that makes it a popular choice for many kinds of planted tanks. You can use it as a carpet plant or plant in spots at the side of driftwood and stones. It makes a fresh green appearance for the fore- to midground of planted aquariums.

4. Pellia – Monosolenium tenerum

Pellia mossPellia moss

  • Type: moss
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Growth: medium
  • Height: 1.2 – 2+ inches (3 – 5+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

Pellia is an attractive liverwort with a very unique appearance. It can be used in a very similar way to aquatic mosses and is similar to Riccia fluitans yet a lot thicker. It can be tied to hardscape or grown on a stainless steel mesh. Either way, it creates a very attractive display and is very easy to look after. Shrimp keepers in particular like this plant.

5. Java moss – Vesicularia Dubyana

Java mossJava moss

  • Synonym: Vesicularia dubyana
  • Type: moss
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Growth: medium
  • Height: 1.2 – 4+ inches (3 – 10+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

It’s impossible to list low light aquarium plants without giving a mention to Java moss, a favorite plant of many aquarists for its versatility, easy of care and overall usefulness. It can be used as a carpet, made into a wall, attached to hardscape, or used in breeding tanks as a place for fry to hide in. Once it gets going, even in low light, you’ll soon find yourself pruning off big lumps weekly.

6. Java Fern – Microsorum pteropus

Java FernJava Fern

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Type: Rhizomatous
  • Growth: slow
  • Height: 6 – 12+ inches (15 – 30+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

Hardy, tolerant and looks great. Java fern can grow into fantastic dense bushes and are super easy to get started. It is totally undemanding in most respects. It can be attached to rocks and wood makes it very useful in aquariums that typically don’t have as much lighting as high-energy aquascapes such as discus and cichlid tanks.

It can grow to a maximum height of 12 inches or so and is exceedingly easy to propagate by splitting up the rhizome. It is important not to bury the rhizome in the substrate to prevent rotting. This plant can be prone to having algae grow on it which can be solved by removing the offending leaves. Other than these minor points there are very few plants as easy to grow and find as the Java fern.

Combo of 4 speciesCombo of 4 species

Variations include the needle leaf, trident, windelov, narrow leaf… All of these are very attractive in their own right and equally easy to maintain in low-light conditions.

7. Bolbitis Difformis

Bolbitis DifformisBolbitis Difformis

  • Difficulty: medium
  • Type: Rhizomatous
  • Growth: slow
  • Height: 12+ inches (30+ cm)
  • Lighting: low-medium
  • CO2: low

Despite being somewhat slow growing and a touch more difficult compared to Java ferns, Bolbitis remains a stable choice for low light aquariums. It can be tied to rocks and wood in the same fashion as Java ferns and has an attractive flame-like leaf shape that I believe is a little more interesting than Anubias.

8. Anubias species

Anubias barteri var. nanaAnubias barteri var. nana

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Type: Rhizomatous
  • Growth: slow
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

Ask somebody for a low light aquarium plant and they will probably mention Anubias. It is very well known for its ability to do well in low-light tanks yet it is rather slow growing.

Whilst not similar in appearance to Java ferns, Anubias does still consist of a rhizome with stems and leaves protruding from it. It can be attached to rocks or wood in the aquarium, or even a coconut shell and is equally intolerant of having its rhizome buried.

Anubias has several varieties too, many of which are particularly suitable for aquariums containing fish that would eat many softer plants. Anubias has a waxy texture to its leaves and is rarely nibbled on by the majority of fish.

Its large attractive leaves are great for providing shelter and shady areas in the tank too. Reproduction occurs by rhizome division and one plant can eventually expand into a fairly large plant once established.

9. Cryptocoryne species

Cryptocoryne wendtii 'Green'Cryptocoryne wendtii 'Green'

Cryptocoryne wendtii 'Brown'Cryptocoryne wendtii 'Brown'

  • Usage: midground
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Growth: medium
  • Height: 4 – 12+ inches (10 – 30+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

A fantastic champion for all low-light aquarium plants, there are many Cryptocoryne species ranging from the tiny C. parva to some of the massive C. aponogetifolia which can exceed half a meter in length.

They are very happy in low-light tanks and, once established, can put on quite an impressive display. After having gone through the crypt melt stage they will thicken up and send out new stems on a daily basis. The majority of Cryptocoryne species are fairly fast growing too.

There is a good variety of leaf shapes and a few brown-colored crypts are available too. They are very easy to propagate, in fact small plants often break off of their mother plant of their own accord.

More Cryptocoryne species here: https://lovefishtank.com/cryptocoryne/

10. Marimo moss ball – Cladophora aegagropila

Marimo moss ballMarimo moss ball

  • Usage: carpet, foreground, nano tanks
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Growth: slow
  • Height: 1.2 – 4+ inches (3 – 10+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

These cute moss balls are not really a plant, they are clusters of filamentous green algae that is naturally found in many lakes in Japan, Russia, Iceland, United Kingdom, and Northern Europe. The water currents in the lakes keep them continuously move, and thus forming the ball shape. So, they need to be turned regularly to keep the spherical shape when kept in aquarium environments.

11. Hornwort – Ceratophyllum demersum

HornwortHornwort

  • Usage: background, floating
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Growth: fast
  • Height: 12+ inches (30+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

Hornwort is a rootless plant that can be found floating at the top of the aquarium. Some people choose to bury one end in the substrate. When planted like this it will develop root-like organs called rhizoids. Whether floating or buried, it creates nice areas of safety for fry and baby shrimp.

This plant is a great nutrient sponge and can be used to absorb nitrate in fish tanks for manual removal. Hornwort will grow in just about any conditions. Good health is possible in hard water or soft water. Water temperature and pH are acceptable within in a very wide range. It also tolerates brackish water.

12. Elodea densa

Elodea densaElodea densa

  • Usage: background, floating
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Growth: fast
  • Height: 8 – 12+ inches (20 – 30+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

Like Hornwort, Elodea densa is one of the easiest plants for beginners. It is called water fever due to its super fast proliferation, multiplication being performed only by cutting. It’s a very popular aquarium plant and searched by many hobbyists because it produces lots of oxygen and provides a favorable ecological balance in the aquarium.

13. Vallisneria spiralis – Jungle Val

Vallisneria spiralisVallisneria spiralis

  • Usage: background
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Growth: fast
  • Height: 8 – 12+ inches (20 – 30+ cm)
  • Lighting: low
  • CO2: low

There are a variety of Vallisneria species from Vallisneria nana for small tanks to Vallisneria gigantea for extra large tanks. These plants are very popular in the aquatic hobby because they don’t have much requirement and is very easy to grow. Vallisneria spiralis is a species of Vallisneria that features narrow and long leaves making it an ideal choice for the background.

14. Hygrophila polysperma

hygrophila-polysperma

Whilst not able to cope with lighting levels as low as some of the aforementioned plants, Hygrophila polysperma is still a very good choice of plant and can look fairly attractive when in healthy condition.

Even in low light, with neither CO2 nor fertilizer, this plant will still grow at a surprising rate. It is normally considered a background plant and will require frequent trimming to prevent it smothering the rest of your tank.

Some varieties develop a pink tint on the upper leaves and the majority have distinctive white veins running through their leaves. It is far from being ugly yet has the advantage of making little demands. In fact, this plant is listed as an intrusive species owing to its fast growth rate and easy of propagation.

15. Naja grass (Guppy grass) – Najas guadalupensis

najas-guadalupensis-naja-grass

Another species considered to be a pest in the wild, this plant will have very little difficulty growing in your aquarium. It takes on a fairly spindly appearance but it can grow into a fairly dense tangle of stems and leaves suitable for providing cover to small fish and fry. Najas guadalupensis is a stem plant that readily propagates itself as well as producing multiple side shoots. It is a fairly fast-growing plant with very few demands.

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  1. Hygrophila polysperma is a great plant. I enjoy it very much. American aquatic gardeners should note though that it is on the Federal Noxious Weed List, and is illegal to import and sell in a number of states including Kansas and South Carolina. Thank you for your articles, they are very helpful.