10 Awesome Plants for Discus Tanks (Species Guide)

Unlike most cichlids, Discus are actually very easy going when it comes to plants. They don’t eat, bite, or uproot even the softest live plants. Even when spawning; in fact, they prefer laying their eggs on vertical, broad-leafed plants.

What makes plants for the Discus tank challenging is that Discus have very specific water needs that many plants won’t do well in. They require soft, acific water that’s equatorial warm.

Even many tropical plants don’t do very well at 82-86F, which Discus do best in, especially if you’re looking to breed them.

Some aquascapers who keep Discus use 80F as a “compromise zone” for their fish and plants. Instead, why not choose some of the following plants that will thrive in warmer conditions?


10 Best Discus Plants

Here are 10 of our favorite plants for Discus tanks:

Amazon Sword Plant

Of all the species here, Amazon Swords may be the most common live plant used in Discus tanks. This is because these plants are found in precisely the same region as Discus: warm, shallow waters in the Amazonian rainforest.

They are also some of the largest aquarium plants around. Their individual leaves change in size and color depending on the variety.

Some are capable of growing nearly 2 feet in length and are extremely broad, making Amazon Swords more of a central show plant in your aquascape.

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Light (3 Liter/Approx 7 Lbs) Normal Type
  • With its natural earth color, it shows aquascapes...
  • Rare japanese plant-based black soil is used in...
  • Contains rich organic ingredients and nitrogen...

Sword Plants not only grow large but they are relatively fast growers as well. They need nutrient-rich substrates as a result. The acidifying agents and rich nutritional profile of ADA Aquasoil helps make it one of the best substrates around for planted Discus tanks.

Deep substrates, warm temperatures, and medium to high light will encourage it to send runners throughout the substrate that sprout new Sword Plants. Iron supplements are also recommended.

  • Scientific Name: Echinodorus grisebachii
  • Origin: South America
  • Height: Up to 24 inches
  • Light Needs: Moderate
  • Nutrition Needs: High
  • Ease of Care: Moderate

Micro Swords

If you’re already keeping Amazon Sword Plants, Micro Swords are a great foreground filler that thrives in the same conditions. Despite their name they aren’t especially closely related to Amazon Sword Plants, they simply have a similar leaf shape and shared native range.

While they are common in pet stores Micro Sword Plants are actually a pretty difficult plant to grow. They are demanding because they are so low to the substrate. You need more intense lighting to provide the same illumination that a taller plant would receive growing in the midwater zone.

They are also heavy substrate feeders and need a mature, rich substrate to encourage their spread. And even if you provide it all they aren’t especially fast growing plants. It will take months of patience and good conditions to get a proper carpet going.

But the results are definitely worth the effort. Micro Swords have a distinct grassy appearance that looks incredible when kept tidy. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) injection substantially speeds up their progress as well.

  • Scientific Name: Lilaeopsis brasiliensis
  • Origin: South America
  • Height: 3 inches
  • Light Needs: High
  • Nutrition Needs: High
  • Ease of Care: Difficult

Java Fern

Java Fern are some of my favorite aquarium plants for several reasons. They can thrive even in low light aquariums without expensive, specialized lighting systems.

Also, they are epiphytes, meaning they can be attached to rocks and driftwood. This means that Java Ferns don’t need a rich substrate to grow in; they pull all of their nutritional needs directly from the water column.

They also have large, broad, dark green leaves and come in dozens of varieties. Some have forked tips while others have flame red mixed in with their green!

Being a tropical species they do well in the extremely warm water Discus require. While they can grow and even reproduce without much light, like all plants, extra light, nutrition, and CO2 will boost their growth rate. But only so far; Java Fern are relatively slow growing even in the best of conditions.

Java Ferns reproduce by budding off young plants directly from their leaves! These young ferns can then be glued or tied to new areas within the aquarium, where they will eventually anchor themselves and expand.

  • Scientific Name: Microsorum pteropus
  • Origin: Southeast Asia & Indonesia
  • Height: Variable
  • Light Needs: Low
  • Nutrition Needs: Low
  • Ease of Care: Very Easy

Bucephalandra

Bucephalandra are kind of like flashier Anubias: broad-leafed epiphytes that do well in low light conditions. Their price often reflects this but they are definitely worth the premium.

Many varieties have subtle purple, maroon, and brown colors, with faint silver spots that pepper their leaves. They also come in mini varieties as well as larger broad leafed types to suit any aquascape design.

Being mostly from Borneo, they thrive in extremely warm temperatures (82-86F) right alongside Discus. Best of all, they have very low light needs so if plants aren’t your main focus they will still do well in a Discus tank dedicated to fish.

Like all epiphytes they get their nutrition directly from the water column so specialized plant substrates aren’t needed, either. Bucephalandra do get a boost from CO2 but are still very slow growing plants no matter what you do.

  • Scientific Name: Bucephalandra sp.
  • Origin: Indonesia
  • Height: 6 inches
  • Light Needs: Low
  • Nutrition Needs: Low
  • Ease of Care: Very Easy

Hygrophila

Hygrophila are often collectively known as “swampweed,” which tells us that they are perfect for the conditions Discus thrive in.

Most Hygrophila tend to be needier than plants like Java Fern or Anubias but still fairly hardy. They are some of the least demanding stem plants you can buy but should still be given ample lighting and a rich substrate.

One of the most popular is the Sunset Hygro (Hygrophila polysperma), which is harder to acquire now that it’s illegal to transport across state lines as it’s quite invasive. However if you find an in-state grower, it’s not only one of the easiest to keep but also one of the most beautiful!

The Giant Hygro (Hygrophila corymbosa) is easier to find and very impressive when fully grown. If your lighting is on the lower end, try Hygrophila pinnatifida, a sawtoothed species that’s slower growing but does well in dim conditions.

  • Scientific Name: Hygrophila sp.
  • Origin: Subtropical & Tropical regions worldwide
  • Height: Variable
  • Light Needs: Moderate to High
  • Nutrition Needs: Moderate
  • Ease of Care: Easy to Moderate

Rotala Indica

With its average height, attractive growth pattern, and relative ease of care, Rotala indica is a popular midground plant for aquascaping. While Rotala can establish itself in low light, nutrient poor tanks it really shines when given better conditions.

With a little extra light the growing tips often turn red as the plant climbs towards the light. Rotala indica also grows significantly faster with extra nutrition and CO2 injection but doesn’t require them to stay healthy.

It has a tidy, vertical habit of growing that is very low maintenance. But be careful when keeping it with larger fish like Discus because the stems and leaves are fragile and easily broken.

Fortunately, these broken stems can be planted back into the substrate. The stems will eventually sprout roots and you’ll have a brand new Rotala to enjoy!

  • Scientific Name: Rotala indica
  • Origin: India, Southeast Asia
  • Height: 10-12 inches
  • Light Needs: Moderate to High
  • Nutrition Needs: Moderate
  • Ease of Care: Easy

Red Root Floater

Red Root Floaters are like a classier Duckweed. They are larger so they spread across the surface without making a weedy mess. They also have a large, feathery rootstock that trails many inches down into the aquarium, providing a place for shrimp and fish to explore!

Being water column feeders they will get all of the nutrition they need from ammonia and other fish waste byproducts. They can drink in unlimited CO2 right from the surface and they love as much light as you can provide.

When given intense lighting they take on delicate red tones that many floating plants lack! They also grow quickly, locking away nutrients to help keep your Discus’s water pure.

The only thing you need to watch out for is current because Red Root floaters need stagnant water with little surface agitation. Being continually submerged by a powerful filter outflow or powerhead can kill them over time.

  • Scientific Name: Phyllanthus fluitans
  • Origin: South America
  • Height: n/a
  • Light Needs: Very High
  • Nutrition Needs: Low
  • Ease of Care: Easy

Brazilian Pennywort

Brazilian Pennywort is an unusual looking and highly versatile plant that deserves a place in any aquarium.

It really looks its best in moderate to high lighting, where it takes on a delicate lime green tone and allows its lily pad-like leaves to broaden. However it can be kept even under standard aquarium light in shallower tanks.

It can also be grown either rooted as a stem plant or allowed to float freely. But if you try to root it in low light conditions, Brazilian Pennywort tends not to root or create many leaves, instead spending all of its energy growing straight towards the light.

CO2 isn’t required but it certainly benefits from injection if you’re going to grow it rooted. Otherwise, it can get all of the CO2 it needs when floating at the surface.

  • Scientific Name: Hydrocotyle leucocephala
  • Origin: Brazil
  • Height: Variable
  • Light Needs: Moderate
  • Nutrition Needs: Low to Moderate
  • Ease of Care: Easy

Onion Plant

Like the Amazon Sword, Onion Plants are large, spectacular show plants that should be sitting right in the middle of your Discus tank. They not only have long, crinkled leaves but an impressive white bulb that needs to remain uncovered to avoid causing fatal rot.

Onion Plants need occasional fertilization and at least moderate light to do well. They also benefit from CO2 injection but don’t need it nearly as much as light and fertilizer.

When well cared for they grow both tall and wide, often trailing across the surface like Vallisneria tend to. Onion Plants also taste particularly bad to most herbivorous fish.

While Discus don’t eat plants, they are also good with Barbs and other fish that like to nibble live plants!

  • Scientific Name: Crinum calamistratum
  • Origin: Central Africa
  • Height: Up to 2 feet
  • Light Needs: Moderate
  • Nutrition Needs: Moderate
  • Ease of Care: Moderate

Vallisneria

Vallisneria are an aquarium classic for very good reasons! They thrive in the majority of tanks, in a wide variety of water conditions, and readily propagate throughout a mature substrate.

There are several species available, including V. spiralis and Jungle Vals, but they all have similar acr requirements.

Even if your aquarium uses regular gravel or sand instead of a planting substrate if it has some nutrients Vallisneria will do just fine. This plant prefers at least moderate lighting to really take off but will also reproduce (slowly) in lower light tanks.

When given CO2, a good substrate, and decent lighting this plant takes off like a weed, though! It can be hard to keep Vallisneria properly aquascaped as it will aggressively send runners out, looking to colonize new ground.

Since they can quickly shade out smaller plants you’ll want to keep these tall, elegant plants in the background of your Discus tank!

  • Scientific Name: Vallisneria sp.
  • Origin: Worldwide
  • Height: Up to 4 feet
  • Light Needs: Moderate
  • Nutrition Needs: Low
  • Ease of Care: Easy

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