10 Tall Aquarium Plants (Background & Centerpiece Species)

When planting an aquascape you’ll need to spend time considering how to arrange the individual plant species. Shorter carpeting plants in the front, gradually building up to tall aquarium plants in the rear or center stage.

So which taller species should you be using? As it turns out there are plenty of tall aquarium plants worth growing, most of which are very easy once established!

10 Tall Aquarium Plants

Here are 10 of our favorite tall aquarium plants:

Vallisneria

Vallisneria Spiralis

Jungle val, Giant val, Zebra vallisneria…There are a few species and quite a bit of crossover so it’s best if we just consider Vallisneria as a group. They also go by many common names, including Eel Grass and Tape Grass. While not a true grass, it’s easy to see how they get their name!

Vallisneria are the inspiration for many of the plastic aquarium plant designs manufacturers use. It has a natural seaweed-like appearance. Fortunately, it’s extremely easy to keep and does well in nearly any water conditions.

Vallisneria likes light but doesn’t need much in the way of fertilization or carbon dioxide to thrive. However providing both will cause it to spread much faster. The plants send lateral runners through the substrate that quickly grow into clones of their parents.

You can get a whole curtain of Vallisneria growing in just a few months in the right conditions! Vallisneria are also undesirable to most plant-eating fish, including Barbs, Goldfish, and Mollies.

Their roots are also quite firm once established and resistant to most casual burrowing fish. A large Cichlid might still rip one up if they’re determined enough, though!

  • Scientific Name: Vallisneria sp.
  • Origin: Worldwide
  • Height: 3-6 feet
  • Light Needs: Moderate
  • Nutrition: Low
  • Ease of Care: Easy

Giant Hygrophila

Whenever you see the name “Hygrophila,” you can expect to find an explosively fast growing stem plant that is hardy in a wide range of conditions.

Giant Hygro are true to the nature of this Southeast Asian group. They need little attention and aren’t fussy – simply give them as much light as you can and loads of space because they can reach 8 inches across as they fill in.

Being very light-hungry, they have the tendency to drop their lower leaves if kept in low light settings. Providing both a rich substrate and intense lighting helps keep them looking their very best.

  • Scientific Name: Hygrophila corymbosa
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Height: Up to 20 inches
  • Light Needs: Moderate
  • Nutrition: Moderate
  • Ease of Care: Easy

Amazon Sword Plant

Amazon Sword plant

It’s hard not to recommend the Amazon Sword plant each time we discuss plants but it’s just such a marvelous species that I can’t resist! It’s the quintessential show plant: bold in color, with giant leaves. Perfect for center stage of your planted aquascape.

It does require moderate to bright lighting and a nutrient rich substrate, though. Carbon dioxide is also helpful but not necessary. The pH should be around 5.5-7.0; alkaline conditions tend to hinder their growth. In the wild, Amazon Sword plants are found in blackwater environments alongside Discus and Angelfish.

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So long as you provide these parameters and equatorial temperatures (75-84℉) your Amazon Swords are sure to thrive. Several cultivars often have red marbling or even solidly red leaves as well.

  • Scientific Name: Echinodorus sp.
  • Origin: South America
  • Height: Up to 3 feet
  • Light Needs: Moderate
  • Nutrition: High
  • Ease of Care: Easy

Asian Ambulia

Cabomba is one of my favorite plants. However it’s not nearly as easy to keep as you might think, given how cheap it is. Fortunately, Ambulia is a much hardier alternative that’s also a very tall aquarium plant! 

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Ambulia loves light as well but can get by with moderate intensity rather than the high intensity light Cabomba demands. It does appreciate a rich substrate or water fertilization as well as carbon dioxide supplementation but can do without in most settings.

Ambulia will grow up to 18 inches tall and can fill in explosively, spreading across the gravel in just a few months. It will need regular trimming unless you want to keep your fish hidden from view!

  • Scientific Name: Limnophila sessiliflora
  • Origin: Southeast Asia, India
  • Height: 18 inches
  • Light Needs: Moderate
  • Nutrition: Moderate
  • Ease of Care: Easy

Cryptocoryne Balansae

Crypts as a whole are very easy low light plants to keep and Cryptocoryne balansae is no exception. The tradeoff is that while they don’t need much lighting or carbon dioxide they grow very slowly without them. 

It can take years for a C. balansae plant to fully fill in if not well fed. However they make excellent mid to background plants alongside other low light types like Java Fern and Anubias.

Most Crypts are medium sized but C. balansae can reach up to 3 feet in height. The leaves are dark green with a crinkled, wavy character and tips that often corkscrew back onto themselves. 

They are a very unique looking plant and a thicket of them provides an interesting focal point in most aquariums! Beware moving them once they’ve been established though. Crypts hate sudden changes and tend to lose leaves through “Crypt melt” if disturbed.

  • Scientific Name: Cryptocoryne balansae
  • Origin: South Asia
  • Height: 2-3 feet
  • Light Needs: Low 
  • Nutrition: Low
  • Ease of Care: Very Easy

Onion Plant

Onion plants are large, showy African natives that are excellent background or centerpiece aquarium plants. It’s easy to see how they get their name but the extremely long, crinkled, looping leaves are even more attractive!

Lighting and fertilizer are most important for this plant to thrive. They also appreciate carbon dioxide and you’ll definitely see a boost in growth but don’t need it.

When planting the bulb of an Onion plant, make sure not to bury it entirely. Only bury it at the most ½ way as it needs water flow and exposure to thrive. If fully buried they tend to rot, causing the entire plant to die off.

  • Scientific Name: Crinum calamistratum
  • Origin: West Africa
  • Height: 2-4 feet
  • Light Needs: Moderate
  • Nutrition: Moderate
  • Ease of Care: Moderate

Tiger Lotus

Lilies are some of my favorite tall aquarium plants. They tend to have visually striking leaves that are broad, space-consuming, and dominate the center stage, much like Amazon Sword plants do.

Tiger Lotus come in both green and red cultivars, with a Dwarf variety being perfect for smaller nano tanks. These East African natives prefer temperatures on the warmer side (75-84℉) and acidic to neutral water conditions (pH 6.0-7.0). 

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They also prefer an enriched planting substrate or one with a high CEC (cation exchange capacity) that can collect floating nutrients and hold them until the roots can uptake them.

As long as you can keep them fed, you’re guaranteed to see explosive growth from this hungry but easy to care for tropical lily!

  • Scientific Name:  Nymphaea zenkeri
  • Origin: East Africa
  • Height: 2 feet
  • Light Needs: Moderate
  • Nutrition: Moderate
  • Ease of Care: Easy

Banana Plant

Banana plants are one of the more visually interesting tall aquarium plants out there! They get their name from the obvious root tubers that are clustered around the base of the plant. They look exactly like a bunch of green bananas!

These “bananas” are actually modified roots that act as nutrient storage chambers for winter hibernation. When planting a Banana plant, make sure you don’t bury the “bananas.” They need to stay above the substrate or they tend to rot, killing the plant.

Being true lilies, they will quickly send broad lilypad leaves towards the surface to collect light. They can do well in low light aquariums but only when they are allowed to grow up towards the light.

  • Scientific Name: Nymphoides aquatica
  • Origin: Southeastern United States
  • Height: Up to 2 feet
  • Light Needs: Moderate
  • Nutrition: Moderate
  • Ease of Care: Easy

Anubias Gigantea

Anubias are very popular for several reasons. These West African aquarium plants can tolerate very low lit conditions and hardly need any special care. In fact, they prefer being attached to rocks and driftwood instead of rooted in sand or gravel.

Most Anubias aren’t especially tall, though. They average around 3-8 inches in height. However the Giant Anubias is different from the rest. It’s classified as either a separate species all its own or as a variety called A. barteri ‘gigantea.’ The botanists have yet to make up their minds.

Giant Anubias can grow stems and leaves that are 2-3 feet in length when fully mature! However they take a long time to grow. The slow growth of Anubias is why they are so easy to care for but you’ll need a lot of patience if you want to grow a Giant Anubias.

  • Scientific Name: Anubias barteri var. gigantea
  • Origin: West Africa
  • Height: 2-3 feet
  • Light Needs: Low
  • Nutrition: Low
  • Ease of Care: Very Easy

Hornwort

This last inclusion might seem a bit strange to beginner aquarists. Hornwort typically grows in compact bunches or even floating masses in most aquariums. However it’s a fast growing plant that will grow as tall as it needs to in order to reach the light.

If planted deep in brightly lit outdoor ponds Hornwort will reach 2 to 3 meters in height before sprawling across the surface. In aquariums it requires constant maintenance to keep in check, otherwise it will eventually fill up all of the available living space!

Fortunately, it’s attractive and very hardy. Planting eating fish and invertebrates also don’t care much for the tough, spiky leaves. Hornwort likes carbon dioxide, fertilization, and full spectrum light, like all tall aquarium plants. 

But it doesn’t really need any of these things to thrive. Be careful, though. Most Hornwort in the trade is pond grown and often carries snail eggs among its leaves. You may end up with a Ramshorn Snail infestation if you’re not careful about where you get your Hornwort from.

  • Scientific Name: Ceratophyllum demersum
  • Origin: Worldwide
  • Height: Up to 3 meters
  • Light Needs: Moderate
  • Nutrition: Low to Moderate
  • Ease of Care: Very Easy

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