best low light plants for planted tank

While high lighting can help plants grow faster, deepen the red tint to plant leaves, or even allow you to keep some of the more spectacular yet demanding of aquarium 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 the more low light aquarium plants. So instead of filling your planted tank with expensive and slow growing difficult plants, here is a big list of aquatic plants that can survive and thrive in low-light conditions.

Low light and carpet plants for foreground

Dwarf Four Leaf Clover – Marsilea hirsuta

Dwarf Four Leaf CloverDwarf Four Leaf Clover

Proof that a low light carpeting plant similar to the likes of Hemianthus callitrichoides and Glossostigma actually exists. Dwarf Four Leaf Clover is similar to Glossostigma in that it 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 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.

Pellia – Monosolenium tenerum

pellia-moss-monosolenium-tenerum

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.

For attaching on rock or bogwood and midground

Java moss – Vesicularia Dubyana

Buy java mossBuy java moss

It’s impossible to list low light aquarium plants without giving a mention to Java moss, a firm favourite amongst 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.

Java Fern – Microsorum pteropus

java-fern-microsorum-pteropus

Buy Java Fern

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 and the fact 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.

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

Anubias for small-large tanks

Anubias barteri var. nana petite for small tanksAnubias barteri var. nana petite for small tanks Anubias barteri var. broadleaf for medium to large tanksAnubias barteri var. broadleaf for medium to large tanks Anubias CoffeefoliaAnubias Coffeefolia

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.

Bolbitis

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.

Cryptocoryne

Cryptocoryne Wendtii GreenCryptocoryne Wendtii Green Cryptocoryne parva for low tech tanksCryptocoryne parva for low tech tanks

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-coloured 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.

Low light tall plants for background

Vallisneria

vallisneria

There are a variety of Vallisneria species from Vallisneria nana for small fish 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 nana is the smallest species of Vallisneria that features narrow leaves and medium heights making it an ideal choice as midground plants for a large planted tank or background plants for a small tank.

Ludwigia repens

ludwigia-repens

There is little to complain about with this plant; it is fast growing, tolerant of low light levels and can develop a marvellous red colour. Ludwigia repens is an example of a plant that’s almost impossible to stop once it gets going and attention must be paid not to allow this plant to smother the tank.

Elodea densa

elodea-densa

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.

Indian swampweed – Hygrophila polysperma

indian-swampweed-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 fertiliser, 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.

Naja grass (Guppy grass) – Najas guadalupensis

naja-grass-najas-guadalupensis

Buy Guppy 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.

It is a stem plant that readily propagates itself as well as producing multiple side shoots. Najas guadalupensis is a fairly fast-growing plant with very few demands.

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