11 Awesome Floating Aquarium Plants: The Complete Species Guide

When first buying an aquarium and looking to set up a diverse and attractive ecosystem, there are several questions most people ask themselves. Many of these have to do with what in the world they should actually put in their aquarium.

To help clear up some of that confusion, we have compiled a little list of seven floating aquarium plants that are both easy to maintain and easy on the eyes for first time fish tank owners.

best floating aquarium plants

We recently published a complete, step-by-step guide on setting up and maintaining a planted aquarium. Check it out if you are interested in keeping plants in your new tank!

11 Best Floating Aquarium Plants

Let’s take a look at some of our favorite floating plants. These are ranked based on easy of care, required light level, and growth speed:

1. Hornwort

hornwort
Image by Bernd Haynold

Hornwort is one of the toughest aquarium plants of them all. It will grow well in conditions that may kill weaker plants, and it’s still a pretty attractive option for most aquariums.

One thing that I really love about Hornwort is its flexibility of use. While it is usually planted in the substrate, it can also be floated in the water column to provide shade and cover for your fish.

Many planted aquarium owners panic when their plants uproot, but now you know that there’s no need to worry if you suddenly find you Hornwort taking a ride around you tank!

The only slight downside to this plant is that it sometimes sheds needles (which can make a bit of a mess in the aquarium). It also becomes a little less attractive under high lighting conditions, since it grows long and stringy in appearance.

  • Light level required: Low/Moderate
  • Level of care: Easy
  • Compatibility: Excellent

Buy Hornwort


2. Duckweed

duckweed
Image by bastus917

Duckweed is a little bitty floating plant that will grow in almost any aquarium. In fact, it is nearly impossible to remove duckweed after it’s become established in its environment.

For some planted aquarium owners, Duckweed’s resilience is great (since it’s nearly impossible to kill). For others, it can actually become something of a nuisance as it grows extremely fast and can take over the top of a tank.

As long as you are willing to routinely remove excess duckweed from the aquarium, it is an excellent little plant that can help to grant surface cover for fish that prefer aquariums with dimmer lighting.

It can also offer shelter for newborn fry, who use it to hide from more aggressive tank mates.

If you like a natural look and don’t mind how quickly Duckweed grows, this plant can be a great option for those new to the plant game!

  • Light level required: Low
  • Level of care: Easy
  • Compatibility: Moderate (can sometime overgrow tanks and snuff out other plants)

Buy Duckweed


3. Dwarf Water Lettuce

water lettuce
Image Source

In my opinion, water lettuce is one of the most appealing species of floating plants. It has bigger leaves than most other species but they bunch up slightly to create a nice flowery (but natural) appearance.

Dwarf Water Lettuce is a rapid grower, so care needs to be taken if you don’t overrun your aquarium.  Regardless, water lettuce is relatively easy to just scoop out and throw away -much easier than duckweed listed above.

One this to keep in mind is that you should never release any plants – especially water lettuce – into local water systems. Doing so can have a detrimental effect on native plants.

Due to the size and quantity of their leaves, water lettuce tends to block out a good amount of light from reaching the water below.

This should only be a problem if the aquarium becomes overrun, and it would really take some serious overgrowth before you start to experience any problems.

The long branching roots of Dwarf Water Lettuce make ideal homes and hiding places for many species of small fish.  These roots also aid in the aesthetic and natural look of an aquarium, adding something to that top third of the space that’s often very difficult to make appealing.

Due to the size of the water lettuce, it is best suited to slightly larger aquariums. Make sure you give it enough space- maybe 100 liters, roughly depending on length and/or height.

Overall, the Dwarf Water Lettuce is a beautiful plant that, once established in its aquarium, nicely adds to the aesthetics of a tank.

  • Light level required: Moderate
  • Level of care: Moderate (requires a slightly larger tank)
  • Compatibility: Moderate (can sometimes block out light)

Buy Dwarf Water Lettuce


4. Amazon Frogbits

frogbits
Amazon Frogbits

The Amazon Frogbit is a beginner friendly, floating aquarium plant that has a long history in the aquaria hobby.

It has rather broad leaves, large rosettes, lengthy branching roots, and is often used in Amazonian style setups or biotopes.

Frogbits are a forever in-style classic that has been on the market for a long time. It’s very popular amongst hobbyists, being  reliable, easy to grow, and less likely to take over a tank that other species (looking at you, Duckweed….).

Frogbits will, however, block out a good deal of light.

If you are creating a biotope, this should not be an issue (especially since most fish and other flora from this area prefer slightly darker, murkier waters anyway). Imagine an isolated pocket on the bed of a tributary of the Amazon river – that’s a typical example of a ‘murky’ biotype set up.

That being said, Frogbits can sometime block out a bit too much light if you’re also keeping more demanding species. Just make sure you take out a good chuck every now end then and you won’t have to worry.

If you like the natural look of floating plants (but require a species that won’t take up any of the water column), Amazon Frogbit is great, beginner friendly choice!

  • Light level required: Low/Moderate
  • Level of care: Easy
  • Compatibility: Excellent

Buy Amazon Frogbits


5. Java Moss

java moss
Image by mbalazs2

Java Moss is one of the most common freshwater aquarium plants. It is low-maintenance, easy to keep, and grows fairly quickly.

In addition, Java Moss is also very flexible in its uses.

If you attach it to a rock on the floor, it’ll expand over the surface of your tank. It has also been known to float, so I would advise you to attach it to something that will at least partially anchor it, so that it won’t roam too freely around the aquarium.

Java Moss has a low, carpet-like growth pattern and appears almost ‘fuzzy’. It tolerates anything between 72-90 degrees Fahrenheit, but has been found to grow fastest around 73 degrees.

Java also grows well in any lighting, making it easy (and affordable) to accommodate. That being said, growth has been measured as fastest in medium-high lighting conditions.

It can be used as decoration, substrate covering and stabilization, even carpeting, protection, and breeding of particular types of fish.

  • Light level required: Moderate
  • Level of care: Easy
  • Compatibility: Excellent

Buy Java Moss


6. Water Wisteria

water wisteria

Water Wisteria is another very easy to keep aquatic plant that will develop even in poor lighting conditions. That being said though, more than any other plant on this list, it appreciates at least a medium lighting arrangement with florescent or LED bulbs.

Much like Hornwort, Water Wisteria can be put in the substrate or left floating up in the water column. If you choose to let it float, growth will most likely slow a bit.

Another great thing about Water Wisteria is that it won’t take over you aquarium. Unlike Frogbits and Duckweed, Water Wisteria grows in a single “stalk” and can be removed in chucks very easily.

That being said, it does grow pretty fast so be prepared to remove pieces frequently if you don’t want an aquatic forest (but if you do, that’s cool too!)

  • Light level required: Moderate
  • Level of care: Easy
  • Compatibility: Excellent

Buy Water Wisteria


7. Green Cabomba

Green cabomba
Photo by Pkuczynski

Green Cabomba is another plant I’ve seen used before and always to good effect.

It’s technically a weed in its native country of America, so that alone suggests it can grow quickly in many different types of environments. Its pale green leaves make it a slightly different color from those I’ve listed previously.

Like a few other species above, Green Cabomba can be planted or left free floating.

I first came across its use as a suspended plant after it kept getting uprooted from the substrate. I then noticed that it also thrived easily just drifting through the current.

Fry and shrimp love Green Cabomba more than others, likely due mostly to the fact that it grows quite densely packed yet has openings into the center for a good hiding space in those specific cases. This is effective style, but an acquired look in a home aquarium that might take some maneuvering.

  • Light level required: Moderate
  • Level of care: Easy
  • Compatibility: Excellent

Buy Green Cabomba


8. Pennywort

Pennywort
Lorenzarius [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Pennywort is a fast growing, beginner friendly plants with a dime size circular leaves. Like a few other species on our list, Pennywort can thrive both when floating or when anchored in substrate.

One unique thing about Pennywort is that when allowed to float, it will often grow a few centimeters out of the water and sprout small, white flowers.

This plants is often popular among new plant owners because of their resemblence to “mini Lily Pads”. Luckily, they are easy to grow and flourish in most conditions!

  • Light level required: Moderate
  • Level of care: Easy
  • Compatibility: Excellent

9. Rotala Indica

rotala indica
Show_ryu [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Rotala Indica is a popular freshwater aquarium plant that does well when anchored or allowed to float freely throughout the aquarium.

It does well in most conditions, but generally prefers an environment with somewhat strong lighting. Under the right lighting, Rotala will grow just as quick as any other species on our list.

If you’re looking for something a little more challenging that Hornwort or Duckweed (but still on the easier side of things), Rotala Indica is a great choice).

  • Light level required: Moderate/High
  • Level of care: Moderate
  • Compatibility: Excellent

10. Ludwigia Repens

Ludwigia
Image Source – Ludwigia

Ludwigia repens is a freshwater aquarium plant prized for its nice red coloration. If you’re looking for something the break up the green in you planted tank, look no further!

Ludwigia can actually grow both in and out of the water. If left to float, Ludwigia may grow above the surface. As long as you trim regularly, this can contribute to a very unique look.

Ludwigia repens grows well in most conditions, but colors up best when kept under moderate to high lighting. Although not the easiest-to-keep plant on our list, the unique look of Ludwigia is well worth the extra effort.

  • Light level required: Moderate/High
  • Level of care: Moderate
  • Compatibility: Excellent

11. Limnophila

Limnophila
Jerzy Opioła [CC BY-SA 4.0]
Limnophila probably isn’t the most well-known species on our list, but definitely shouldn’t be ignored. It is attractive, easy to care for, and offers great cover for small fish and shrimp.

Limnophila does well in low-light conditions (even more so than most of the other species on our list) and can be planted in substrate or allowed to float freely.

  • Light level required: Low
  • Level of care: Easy
  • Compatibility: Excellent

Benefits of Adding Floating Plants To Your Tank

It’s easy to look at a planted aquarium and get lost in how amazing it looks. Something about real, natural plants in a home aquarium is impossible to match with fake plants. That being said, aquarium plants serve a much greater purpose that just looks!

Now that we’ve looked at a few of our favorite floating aquarium plant species, let’s go over why you would add floating plants to you tank.

1. Plants Provide Shade: Many common fish species such as betas, dwarf puffers, gourami and clown killifish are naturally born into darker waters and prefer a densely planted and shaded aquarium with plenty of places to hide. Floating plants will provide shade and cover and the long roots can help make these fish feel safer, which can help prevent stress among them.

2. Plants Provide Hiding Spots: Floating plants are also a great place for tiny fry and dwarf shrimp to hide and forage. One of the most popular floating plants with long roots such as these is Limnobium Laevigatum, also known as Amazon Frogbit.  You can read more about how easy it is to grow and how low maintenance it is to keep up below.

3. Plants Remove Toxins: Believe it or not, plants actually help remove nitrite and nitrate, both of which are poisonous to fish. Plants will not only give your fish a more natural environment, but a healthier one too!

4. Plants Reduce Algae Growth: Aquatic plants and algae both compete for the same nutrients. When your tank is filled with plants, less nutrients are left over for algae to feed on.


Setting Up A Planted Aquarium

It can seem like a tempting idea to set up everything in your aquarium on the same day as soon as you get home from buying all your exciting new stuff, but in most cases it’s not a good idea and won’t work very well.

Your aquarium needs to go through what’s called a cycling process, where the water quality and parameters and vary widely.

During this time, there are very few fish that can survive as the environment acclimatizes itself. This is why most experienced fish keepers will tell you to wait for a period of time before you put live fish in.

If you wait for the tank to stabilize before adding fish to it, both you and the little fish will be much happier for it.

Luckily, however, plants don’t require this precaution. You’re able to start adding plants as soon you get the water into the aquarium! Just be certain you have the correct plant tools to avoid harming them while you’re planting and organizing everything.

Our Aquarium Cycle Guide is a great reference tool to use for any further questions you might have about setting up an aquarium and the different steps to making your tank the best it can be.

Additional Reading: 5 Best LED Light Fixtures For Planted Aquariums


Caring For Floating Plants

Many fish keepers are also plant enthusiasts, but at the same time (unfortunately) lack the green thumb, the time, or the money that is so often needed to set up a high-tech, more high-maintenance aquascape with plant species that require more rigorous care and upkeep.

Therefore, easy plants that require no extra lighting, nutrients or Co2 are life savers. Luckily, there are plenty of easy floating plants that will thrive and survive marvelously in a lower-tech aquarium as well!

They usually grow very quickly and don’t need too much extra care, aside from the occasional removal of a few plants if things should get a bit too overgrown.

If you’re interested in low-care (floating) aquarium plants, you can find all the information you could possibly want online or in any shops that carry plants and aquarium equipment near you.

Floating Plant Growth

As mentioned earlier, many floating plants grow very rapidly. This makes them a wonderful snack for herbivorous fish besides their typical diet of pellets and vegetables.

You can always grow the plants separately if you’re trying to deal with very destructive fish like vegetarian African rift lake cichlid species or some (fancier) types of goldfish.

One approach would be to go for only the fastest growing floating plants so you never run out and just regularly toss a handful in the fish tank for some variety in their diet. Duckweed is a great option for this kind of routine.

It shouldn’t be too hard to locate a floating plant that will grow quickly and plentifully.

Most floating plant species are very fast growers, which makes them great at reducing harmful wastes such as nitrate in your aquarium, all as a part of their natural functions: these nitrates might hurt other life forms in the tank, but are used by the plants as nutrients.

The only other way to reduce nitrate levels would be by doing a water change, and, although this step will still definitely be necessary at some point, it’s great to have a few little “helping hands” that reduce nitrate levels in between water changes naturally all by themselves.

Aquarium plants are used by the fish they share their space with for any number of things, including safety, comfort, nourishment, and reproduction, so they’re essential to any healthy and balanced aquarium environment.

It’s best to keep all the helpful roles they can play in mind when searching for the perfect floating plants for your aquarium.

Final Thoughts

Creating a piece of art that lives in an aquarium and looks perfectly put together can take many years of practice and can cause several headaches, especially with all the holes it can put in your wallet.

Even a single aquarium can take several hours of planning on paper just to find the right substrate, rocks, plants, fish, and other equipment you might need to construct your dream tank.

If your plant-keeping journey doesn’t turn out quite right the first time, don’t get discouraged.  Give it a little more work, a little more time, and soon you’ll have a tank you’re proud of.

Hopefully, with a few of these tips and suggestions, you’ll find yourself well on your way!

The Aquarium Handbook

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