It’s no coincidence that many of the best low light aquarium plants are quite popular. Plants that don’t require a lot of light give you the ability to plan your tank entirely around your fish.
And they don’t take up a lot of your time either!
But with so many different kinds of plants out there, it can be hard to know where to start. That’s why we put together this list of the best low light aquarium plants to make your job easy!
Java moss is one of the most common aquarium plants in the trade! With its undemanding nature, it’s not hard to see why.
This plant does exceptionally well in low-light conditions. With stronger light exposure, Java moss will grow quickly and robustly. But, you can easily keep its spread under control by limiting light and regular pruning.
Java moss is also rootless. It latches onto virtually any porous surface. As a result, it’s easy to establish the plant alongside rocks, driftwood, or even plastic decorations.
Its long tendrils are filled with oval-shaped leaves, which the plant uses to absorb the nutrients it needs to flourish. Java moss is a beautiful, low light aquarium plant that’s perfect for beginners and seasoned aquarists alike!
Also known as the roundleaf toothcup, dwarf rotala is another aquarium staple. Super easy to take care of, this plant doesn’t require a lot of fuss. Best of all, its small size makes it a great option for smaller tanks.
Many use it as a small bush for the foreground. But, it can grow slightly bigger for use as a backdrop.
When it comes to lighting requirements, dwarf rotala is quite versatile. It can thrive in strong light. Typically, the rounded leaves will turn bright green. In less severe light, the leaves become yellow.
While the yellow coloration sounds unsightly, it adds a new dimension to your tank decor. Plus, the coloration is not an indication of health. Dwarf rotala can do just fine without a ton of light exposure.
Bacopa plants have a signature look that only gets better with time. It’s a stemmed plant, so it features a thicker stock. Sprouting from the stalk, you’ll see green and yellow leaves that grow opposite of one another.
This unique growth pattern looks like a ladder!
The Bacopa is a slow-grower. It doesn’t require a ton of maintenance. However, you can trim the tops to manage height.
If left unpruned, the Bacopa will grow to about a foot tall! Another cool thing about these low light aquarium plants is their easy propagation. Creating a small bunch of Bacopa plants is as simple as planting cuttings into the substrate for root development.
Officially called green hygrophila, this low light plant is a fast grower. Many jurisdictions classify it as an invasive weed! In a closed aquarium, the plant’s fast-growing nature can be quite useful.
Trimming and pruning encourage leaf production. With regular maintenance, the plant can develop large and colorful leaves that your fish can use for shelter. Furthermore, you can replant cuttings to start new plants.
Like other plants on this list, green hygro does well in a wide variety of lighting conditions. That said, stronger light might be detrimental for the green hygro. Too much exposure often causes large leaves to turn brown.
Measuring about six inches tall when fully grown, Anubias barteri is a good choice for tanks big and small. This plant is part of the larger Anubias genus. Barteri happens to be one of the most popular species!
Known for its large, heart-shaped leaves, Anubias barteri works wonders when creating hiding spots for your fish. It casts a large shadow as well, making it a suitable choice for fish that prefer low light levels.
Anubias barteri is a beginner-friendly plant that doesn’t need much light. But, the leaves do have a penchant for accumulating algae. Luckily, that’s something that a few algae-eating fish or invertebrate species can solve.
This low light plant for aquariums is a subspecies of the standard Bacopa we went over earlier. However, this variant is well-suited for outdoor ponds. It can grow in aquariums. But pond planting encourages bright lavender-blue blooms to appear.
Like the standard Bacopa, Lemon Bacopa is a slow-growing plant. You can encourage it to develop faster with some added CO2 and plant fertilizer. But in a fish-filled pond, it may be better to enjoy the foliage of the plant instead of promoting blooms.
Either way, the Lemon Bacopa is a wonderful addition to any pond or aquarium. Interestingly enough, the leaves produce a strong citrus aroma when crushed.
Want a tall low light plant to add some drama to your aquarium? Check out the Amazon sword! This plant is a bit demanding when it comes to nutrients. But, you can easily give it the nutrient boost it needs with a few root tabs.
Once the plant gets established, it’s much easier to maintain. The long slender leaves erupt from the base of the plant, creating some dramatic height. The leaves are relatively soft, making it easy to create an exploratory area for your fish to zip through.
Best in the background of your aquarium, Amazon swords take up a lot of space. That said, the sheer beauty they bring is unmatched.
The Ceylon hygro is another great plant that can thrive in low-light conditions. Like the green hygro, it’s highly adaptable. It works well in most tropical tank setups and isn’t affected too much by shadows or strict light schedules.
This plant has slender feather-like leaves. The leaves sway with the water flow, creating a beautiful dance of greenery. Fish can easily swim through the leaves without any issues. But, they also offer ample coverage in times of stress.
Ceylon hygros are capable of getting quite tall. They may require regular pruning once they approach the waterline.
This is an interesting plant that likes to change based on its environment! It’s well known, and one of the best low light aquarium plants you can find. However, its visual changes make it look like an entirely different species.
In low-light conditions, the uniquely shaped leaves get large. This is to help maximize exposure so that the plant can take in as much as it can. The broad shape of the leaves come out in this form!
Once the light levels increase, the leaves shrink. They become thin, fine, and feather-like. In this form, the plant is already getting enough fuel from the light, so it focuses on conservation instead.
Scientifically called Najas guadalupensis, guppy grass is a hardy low light plant that can grow in just about any condition. It’s aptly named for its utility as a nursery plant.
Guppy grass has thin and soft leaves that grow in dense clumps. As a result, many aquarists use it for nursery tanks to support eggs. It’s particularly effective for livebearing fish.
Beyond its use for nurseries, guppy grass works as standard decor, too. It’s very flexible and can be used however you want! Let it float throughout the tank. Or, anchor down in some substrate.
Either way, it will continue to grow into delicate clumps your fish will love!
Pelia Moss is a favorite in the aquascaping community. Thanks to its ability to grow low and wide, Pelia Moss can quickly cover a lot of ground. Many use it to create a living carpet that fish can play in.
Despite its similar appearance to moss, Pelia Moss is in its own class. It doesn’t attach itself to rocks, driftwood, or other structures. Instead, it has a defined base. The plant prefers to grow in thick mats.
It’s fast-growing, so you may need to take some precautions to control growth. But other than that, it’s pretty easy to care for. You can let it float in the water or use some fishing line to keep it anchored. The choice is yours.
Here’s a unique plant that’s easy to identify. The root system of banana plants is thick. They are slightly curved, too, making the roots look like a banana!
Of course, those thick tubers aren’t just for looks. They hold nutrients and food for the plant. It constantly builds a stockpile that comes in handy when growing environments aren’t ideal.
Banana plants prefer to have moderate levels of light exposure. They can still grow in low-light thanks to those roots. But, the plant will benefit from getting more light exposure every once in a while to redevelop those roots.
The Rotala indica is another member of the Rotala plant family. This one is a column feeder. It develops thick steps and thin, needle-like leaves. The stems can grow quite tall.
But it’s the bushy appearance that makes this plant so attractive! In moderate light levels, the Rotala indica will become very dense. The root structure will get stronger, too. This can provide some protection against more aggressive fish.
It can get overgrown in some conditions. In those cases, they require regular pruning to prevent overgrowth.
In low-light conditions, the plant tends to stay on the slender side. It will continue to grow long and tall, but the width of the bush will decrease.
Native to ponds and rivers in the United States, the American waterweed can be a bit invasive. It’s a fast-growing low light aquarium plant that can quickly reach lengths of three feet!
It grows in long stalks. Each stalk sprouts a series of small leaves. Longer stalks can curl up and create dense bundles of vegetation that plants like to hide in.
The American waterweed isn’t just for looks. It can also improve the quality of the water. The plant is revered for its ability to produce tons of oxygen. For this reason, it’s a popular plant choice for aquariums that house oxygen-dependent species.
Next up, we have hornwort. Like guppy grass, this species is perfect for nursery tanks. It doesn’t have thick leaves like traditional plants. Instead, it’s sporting thin outward shoots that look like fur on an animal’s tail!
The shoots are thin and soft, providing some much-needed support to young fish and eggs.
Hornwort is a fast-growing plant that’s capable of reaching lengths of up to 10 feet! It’s not for small tanks. Not only will it quickly outgrow smaller aquariums, but it can also kill off any other plant species you have.
It produces chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants, so it’s best to keep hornwort in a single species tank.
The parrots feather plant is a standout. It has a unique look compared to other aquarium cultivars. Instead of thick leaves, it’s sporting thin needles. The needles grow in a similar pattern to fir trees on land, allowing you to create a distinct underwater aquascape.
Parrots feather is a good option for tanks that hold shy and jumpy fish species. The thick foliage provides tons of coverage. It makes for the perfect hiding spot for stress-prone fish.
This plant grows in a wide variety of conditions. While it doesn’t need a ton of light, it does require a well-fertilized substrate to truly thrive.
African Water Fern
Native to the Congo River Basin, the African water fern is a gorgeous plant that offers plenty of coverage. Best for the background, this plant can reach up to 22 inches tall. That said, it grows slowly. So, it will take several years for it to get to that maximum height.
You can plant the African water fern directly into the substrate. However, it’s a column feeder. As a result, you can anchor the plant down with fishing wire.
The plant will take in nitrogen through its leaves. It does a lot to remove nitrates from the water and create a conducive living environment for your fish.
Java ferns are a plant cultivar you can find at any fish store! This is one of the most popular underwater aquarium plants. Not only is it easy to care for, but it provides a beautiful look to any tank.
The Java fern has broad pointed leaves that grow upwards to feed on nutrients. The base anchors into the substrate.
Like some other low light aquarium plants on this list, Java Ferns can grow differently based on their light exposure.
In well-lit tanks, the plant grows in dense clumps. Leaves usually darken, too. When grown in low-light aquariums, the leaves stay bright green. However, they will grow more spaced-out.
If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly floating species, duckweed is a good choice. These plants don’t need any additional lighting beyond natural exposure.
Most of the plant structure floats on the surface of the water. It has tiny oval-shaped leaves that can quickly cover the whole tank! The leaves are so abundant that they create a carpet of green.
Underneath the water, duckweed does a lot to improve tank conditions, too. It absorbs nutrients and organic matter to prevent the spread of algae and other bothersome growths.
Duckweed does require some heavy maintenance. The small leaves spread quickly. But luckily, they’re pretty easy to remove.
Marimo Moss Ball
Marimo moss balls offer a whimsical look that’s unmatched by anything else you’d find in the plant world! Contrary to popular belief, Marimo moss balls aren’t really made of moss at all. Marimo is a form of spherical algae that grows radially to produce its signature shape.
The ball requires some consistent water flow to hold its shape. Otherwise, it can flatten out.
But beyond that, marimo moss balls are very low-maintenance. They will sit at the bottom of the tank, sucking up nitrates and producing oxygen the entire time. They don’t do much in terms of enrichment for larger fish.
However, they can entertain small species, shrimp, and invertebrates.
Brazillian Pennywort is an adaptable plant that flourishes in most conditions. It’s a vining plant that develops flat leaves that are roughly the size of a penny. The leaves can grow on the surface of the water or sprout under the surface.
As a column-feeder, Brazillian Pennywort is very versatile. You can plant the roots in the substrate to keep it contained. Alternatively, it does fine as a floating plant.
In terms of light, Brazillian Pennyworts don’t require much to stay healthy. In fact, many aquarists prefer to keep them in low-light conditions. A lack of light slows down its growth a bit, stopping it from getting too big.
Called the Crypt spiralis for short, these low light plants offer a cool look to any tank. It belongs to the Crypt genus of plants, which are identified by their ruffled leaves.
In the Crypt spiralis, the leaves are slender and long. They can grow as long as 24 inches and look very similar to grass. But, those ruffled edges make the species unmistakable!
The blade-like leaves often grow in a spiral pattern, which is how this plant gets its name. It does best in low-light conditions, as the leaves will get longer to reach for the light. That said, they can flourish in most lighting arrangements.
Another member of the Crypt genus, the Crypt wendtii has the same iconic ruffles as the spiralis. But, this plant has shorter and broader leaves.
The leaves are still quite long, capable of reaching about 18 inches. However, the wide shape gives them a signature feather-like shape.
Interestingly enough, the Crypt wendtii is a species that’s almost exclusively grown in low-light conditions by aquarists. In softer light, the leaves get long. This is more desirable than the stubby looking leaves that appear on plants grown in strong light.
Crypt wendtii can be a bit fussy when first planted. It’s notorious for losing leaves as it adapts to the new environment. Luckily, most will recover and produce new growth in no time.
If you want a vibrant pop of color in your aquarium, Ludwigia repens may be the species you’re looking for. Rather than the signature green leaves you’d expect with other plants, this one is rocking fiery red foliage. Even the stems are red!
The plant looks best when grown in clumps. Many aquarists also like to pair it with other tall stem plants to create a unique look.
No matter how you plant it, Ludwigia repens will need regular maintenance. It’s a root feeder, so your substrate must stay fertilized to help the plant reach its full potential. Not only that, but the fast-growing steps need pruning to prevent overgrowth.
Another plant with a distinct color, Rotala rotundifolia makes for a beautiful addition to well-maintained tanks. It’s a relatively beginner-friendly plant species. But, seasoned aquarists will have an easier time encouraging full growth.
Rotala rotundifolia has narrow pink leaves that grow around lengthy stems. The stems will continue to grow until they reach the surface of the water. You can prune them to keep the plant shorter, but plants that are free to stretch to the surface are the best-looking.
This plant is tolerant of many light and water conditions. A nice balance of low and moderate light exposure can result in a vibrant pink hue that stands out.
Endemic to the Philippines, the Cryptocoryne usteriana is an aquatic herb that goes through an interesting life cycle. It typically grows in lowland bedrock rivers that experience seasonal flooding. Over the summer, the natural habitat dries out. This forces most Cryptocoryne usteriana plants to die out!
However, remaining rootstocks and stray rhizomes bring the plant back to life during the monsoon season!
In aquariums, the Cryptocoryne usteriana is a popular low light plant that provides tons of coverage for shy fish. It has thick sword-like leaves that are either brown or green in color. Like other plants in the Crypt genus, all the leaves have that signature ruffled edge.
Want something a bit more vicious? Check out the bladderwort. This is a carnivorous plant that feeds on tiny insects!
Found in waters around the globe, bladderworts grow at varying depths. They can even grow where very little light can reach. As a result, they are a perfect addition to low-light tanks.
The bladderwort features small bladders lined with trigger hairs. Whenever an insect passes through, the bladder closes to trap them in. The plant can then absorb the insect to grow even more.
They do require some maintenance to prevent overgrowth. But, the plant is easy to establish. They will get comfortable soon after placing them on the surface of the water.
The Moneywort is a plant that you’ll often see in reptile terrariums and paludariums. It can grow in both land and water. The cultivar is highly adaptable and doesn’t need much to experience significant growth.
Also known in some circles as the Creeping Jenny, Moneywort is a super-fast grower. The vine-like stems quickly spread throughout the tank. Meanwhile, the small broad leaves absorb nutrients to help the plant flourish.
Moneywort is also easy to propagate. Cuttings can develop root systems in only a few weeks, leading to secondary plants that grow just as fast as the original!
Native to Southeast Asia, the Sunset Hygro is a visually appealing low light aquarium plant that’s easy to grow. It prefers to live in warmer bodies of water that are modeled like the tropical environments it’s used to. But other than that, it’s pretty flexible!
The plant features feather-like leaves that grow from a central stalk. On most of the plant, the leaves are green and feature white veins.
However, red and purple leaves can appear at the top of the stalks. While they look like flowers, the Sunset Hygro is not a blooming plant. They are standard leaves, albeit with some unique coloration.
The Cryptocoryne balansae looks strikingly similar to the Cryptocoryne spiralis. Like the Spiralis, it features thin leaves that grow as tall as popular grass species. But, the main difference with the Balansae is that the leaves do not grow in a spiral pattern.
Not only that, but the balansae reacts a bit differently to low-light conditions. It can still grow in low light. But it prefers to have as much light as it can get!
In dark environments, the Cryptocoryne balansae will still develop its tall slender leaves. However, the leaves will lack those iconic ruffled edges you see with plants in the Crypt genus.
Coffee Leaf Anubias
Coffee Leaf Anubias is a wonderful plant for low-light tanks. Like other Anubias plants, it can grow in brighter aquariums. But the broad shape of the leaves tends to attract algae growth! In low-light environments, algae production is decreased, which keeps the plant much healthier.
This plant focuses on width over height. The small bush can get very dense. Thanks to the large ruffled leaves, it provides tons of organic coverage for your fish.
The Coffee Leaf Anubias is named after the color of the leaves. When they start to sprout, the leaves take on a rich brown color. Over time, the color transitions to the vibrant green Anubias are known for.
Our final Crypt plant is the Micro Crypt! As you would expect, this plant features long pointed leaves with ruffled edges. However, this species is much smaller than any others in the Crypt genus. It only reaches heights of about six inches tall.
Micro Crypts are very hardy and don’t require much light at all to flourish. The only thing they really need is a nutrient-rich substrate!
The plant is root-feeding, so it pulls nutrients from the substrate to stay healthy. A strict fertilizer plan is a must! Well-fed plants will spread along the bottom of your tank. As a result, regular pruning is important, too.
Dwarf Sagittaria is a rare carpet-like plant that you can use to cover the bottom of your tank with! Not too many ground cover plants will tolerate low light conditions, so Dwarf Sagittaria is truly something special.
It should be noted, however, that this plant does require a lot of maintenance. While it quickly spreads, it can get long, too. In some cases, it can reach up to a foot long!
Keeping it nice and low is key here. When “mowed” regularly, it creates a wispy carpet that’s perfect for fish and inverts alike.
The Anubias nana is a smaller version of the Anubias barteri we went over earlier. It still has the same broad green leaves aquarists love. But, the plant grows very low.
It rarely gets more than a few inches tall, making this cultivar perfect for foreground planting. The plant prefers to spread wide while staying low. It’s also a very slow grower, so you don’t have to worry too much about maintenance.
Many aquarists pair the Anubias nana with fish that like to eat other plants. The leaves of the nana are thick and rubbery. They’re tough to eat and have a bitter taste, so most fish leave them alone!
If you’ve never heard of peacock moss before, you’re not alone. It’s a relatively new addition to the world of low light aquarium plants.
Peacock moss has bluish-green coloration. It also has a tidy growth pattern that mimics the look of a pine tree. The greenery is well-kept and easy to maintain. Not only that, but it grows slowly.
You don’t have to worry about overgrowth like you would with other moss species. It doesn’t require a ton of light, either.
The only caveat here is that peacock moss prefers cooler water below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Any higher than that and you may experience discoloration and stunted growth.
The waterwheel is one of the most interesting-looking aquarium plants. It’s a floating plant that features leaves. The leaves grow in a circular pattern from a central stock, creating the silhouette of a wheel!
The interesting thing about waterwheel plants is how they obtain nutrients. They are carnivorous! These plants feed on microorganisms and plankton, which is why they don’t rely on light to thrive.
They catch those organisms on small growths that sprout on the ends of the “wheel spokes.” The growths act like the leaves on a Venus Fly Trap, closing to capture food.
In most cases, waterwheels will float freely to the surface where they are closer to their food source. But, they can also live well when fully submerged.
Time To Pick!
Now that you know all of the best low light aquarium plants, it’s time for you to choose your favorites! Many of these can be used together, so it’s up to you to decide how you want to set up your tank.
Adding some vegetation is a great way to spruce up your tank, and provide your fish with a source of enrichment (or safety). It’s no coincidence that many of the most experienced aquarists prefer planted tanks.
If there are any great low light plants that you think we should include, reach out and let us know. We’re open to adding more to this list in the future!