Red Root Floater: An In-Depth Plant Care Guide

The red root floater is a popular aquatic plant that you see in freshwater tanks all around the world. It’s known for being low-maintenance, pretty, and beneficial to the health of an aquarium.

This guide goes into everything you need to know about this plant. From care to propagation, we have you covered!

Species Summary

The red root floater (Phyllanthus fluitans) is a beautiful floating fern that can add a lot of life to your aquarium. It’s vibrantly colored and responds well to a wide range of growing environments. The plant’s floating nature results in some unique aesthetics both above and below the water’s surface.

Red root floater plant in a freshwater tank

This plant is native to South and Central America. It’s most common in the Amazon River Basin, where it grows in channels and ponds with stagnant water.

In the aquascaping and fishkeeping communities, red root floaters are in high demand! They flourish in most habitats and don’t require a ton of experience to keep healthy. With the many benefits they provide, caring for this plant is a no-brainer!

The Benefits of Having It In Your Tank

Beyond the aesthetic perks, red root floaters have a lot to offer aquarists.

No Spam, Subscribe for Cool Fish Stuff!

* indicates required

First and foremost, this plant provides some much-needed shelter in the aquarium. Whether you have shy fish or small creatures vulnerable to larger tank mates, red root floaters can provide some safety. While thin, the roots are dense and dangle into the water column.

Small fish can swim into them for some cover and protection. Even playful fish will get a kick out of them! If you plan on breeding fish or shrimp, a floating aquarium plant like this can also maximize survival rates.

Another notable benefit is the plant’s surface coverage. Red root floaters are fast spreaders. They don’t take long to cover the entire surface of the water.

This process diffuses the light, creating a better environment for many fish species and invertebrates.

Author Note: Not only that, but the filtered light can also manage algae growth. Algae need sunlight and nutrients to flourish. Red root floater deprives it of both!

Finally, there’s the matter of water improvement.

When this plant grows, they pull nutrients through the roots like any other plant. Because the roots are submerged into the water, they directly impact the closed habitat. Floating plants can help to oxygenate the water while also removing toxins that could harm your fish.


On the surface, red root floaters look like a delicate “ground” cover. It features petite, heart-shaped leaves. Each one is rounded and sports a deep pocket to create a distinct shape.

The leaves are water-phobic. Any water that splashes onto them will slide right off!

Author Note: The most remarkable aspect of the leaves is the color. In standard lighting, they may appear light green or yellow. But in high lighting, they will transition to a deep and vibrant red! The change is completely normal and doesn’t reflect the health of the plant.

If water conditions are pristine, you might see tiny flowers appear! They’re white, six-petal flowers with tiny visible stamen. Flower blooming is rare, but it’s a sight to behold nonetheless.

Down below, the red root floater is just as beautiful. The plant gets its common name from the rich red color of the root system. 

The individual root tendrils are tiny and delicate. However, the roots grow in large clumps to create beautiful masses that fish can swim through.

Size & Growth Rate

Red root floater plants have a moderate to high growth rate. In good water conditions, it can spread very quickly! 

If you’re not vigilant about upkeep, you may end up with a thick carpet of leaves floating on the surface. It catches many inexperienced aquarists by surprise. Luckily, controlling the growth of the plant isn’t too tricky with pruning (more on that later).

The individual leaves of the red root floater start small. But, they have the potential to grow to about an inch long. 

Author Note: As mentioned earlier, the roots are thin. Most don’t get any thicker than about a millimeter or so. As for depth, healthy root systems can hang five or six inches below the surface.

Red Root Floater Care

Whether you’re new to aquascaping or you’re a skilled hobbyist, red root floater care is a breeze to manage! It’s one of the easier aquatic plants to grow and cultivate. 

That said, there are still some basics to cover. The red root floater can adapt to most aquarium conditions, but if you want to give it the best possible chance to thrive you should stick to the recommendations below!

Tank Size

Red root floaters adapt to the size of the aquarium, so you can be pretty flexible. With that being said, we recommend growing them in a tank that holds no less than five gallons.

For the most visual impact possible, focus on length and width rather than depth. Obviously if you have fish in your aquarium then their needs should be the priority, but a long tank would be ideal.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a super deep tank to help this plant flourish. In the wild, they can grow on muddy surfaces!

Author Note: Having a large amount of water surface area available for this plant is the most important thing here. The red root floater is fully capable of spreading to fill even massive tanks! 

Water Parameters

This blushing-red plant is highly adaptable and does well in a wide range of conditions. That’s one of the many reasons why red root floater care is so simple!

As always, getting as close to its natural growing conditions as possible is best. That means focusing on tropical biotypes. The water should be warm and nutrient-rich.

Multiple red root floater aquariums plants with fish swimming underneath

CO2 is not needed like some other plants, but the red root floater can benefit from natural supplements like iron. Just make sure that the fertilizers are safe for any aquatic creatures you have in the tank!

Here are some baseline parameters the red root floater needs to thrive. In addition to the following, make sure that the tank has very minimal water flow! Strong currents will only disrupt the growth cycle.

  • Water temperature: 70°F to 82°F
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 7.5 (neutral conditions)
  • Water hardness: 0 to 30 dHG

Author Note: In case you don’t have one already, an accurate water test kit will go a long way in helping you manage the overall health of your aquarium.


Red root floater plants require a normal day and night cycle to stay healthy. About six to eight hours of light is the bare minimum!

However, you can also increase the exposure to get your desired look. The ability to achieve the aesthetic you want with lighting is just one of the many reasons why this plant is so popular.

In low to medium lighting, the leaves remain vibrant green. You may notice some hints of red around the edges, but standard light exposure makes the plant look like your average floater.

To make that red coloration come out, increase the amount of light it gets. High lighting turns the leaves into the signature blushing red!


Here’s some good news: red root floaters don’t require any substrate!

As we’ve mentioned already, this is a floating plant. The root system stays suspended in the water and doesn’t make contact with the bottom at all.

Now, red root floaters can grow in mud and sand-based substrates in some instances. But in a typical aquarium setting, this isn’t something you have to worry about.

How To Plant It

Planting the red root floater is as easy as simply placing the young plant in your aquarium. Most pet stores sell them as small dime-sized root masses. They may only have two or three leaves on them.

Once the water conditions are right, the plant will quickly grow and spread.

Author Note: Some aquarists like to use clear plastic tubing to keep the plant contained. This technique can create a window of open water. However, the confinement technique is temporary at best. The plant can still spread beyond the confines quite easily with time.

Before you introduce the plant into your tank, don’t forget to quarantine it first. Never add a red root floater, or any plant for that matter, directly into your main aquarium without quarantining it.

This is because plants can come with chemical pesticides or preservatives that are toxic to your fish.

Even worse, it may be harboring some hitchhikers. Infected plants are among the most common ways aquarists introduce pest snails, parasites, and predatory insects into the mix.

Trimming & Pruning

Pruning is one of the most important parts of red root floater care. The spread is so prolific that the growth pattern can easily get out of control!

Make it a habit to trim overgrowth. Focus on leaves that are starting to submerge. You can also pinch off leaves that are approaching the one-inch range.

Trimming the plant should be a regular thing. If you let the plant flourish too long without intervention, the foliage on top will overcrowd. Not only is this not healthy for the plant, but it could cause too much light diffusion for life below.

Invest in some simple pruning shears to get the job done. Simply snip the entire leaf off at the base, then dispose of the trimmings outside of the tank. You don’t want to leave clippings behind, as they will only decay and cause extreme water condition fluctuations.

Author Note: You can also trim the roots if they start to get unruly. We recommend keeping at least a few inches behind for good measure.

Tank Mates

This plant can do a lot to enhance any tank! Most fish will appreciate the coverage and the influence the plant has on the water. However, there are some exceptions.

The red root floater is a plant that’s best for fish that enjoy having natural coverage and light diffusion. Because of its fast spread, it’s best to stick with smaller aquatic animals. Larger fish can get entangled in the roots, which poses a severe health and safety risk.

It’s also a good idea to avoid fish that might view the plant as food. Goldfish and oscar fish are both notorious for ruining red root floaters.

Fortunately, the list for compatible fish and invertebrates is much bigger! Here are some good tank mates that can live peacefully with the red root floater plant:


There are a few different ways to propagate red root floaters.

Like many other plants, the red root floater can spread naturally through seed. This occurs when the flowers bloom and get fertilized. You can easily remove the new plant that results from this event. 

Natural blooming and seed production is a beautiful sight to witness. However, it’s also very rare. The conditions have to be pristine to trigger it. Most plants will spread through the roots.

You may see small “daughter” plants appear next to the bigger ones. If you look under the surface, you’ll see a horizontal rhizome root that eggs from the primary stalk. To propagate the plant, snip the root and grow it elsewhere.

Finally, there’s stalk propagation. This method is ideal if you have a larger plant that you need to scale back.

Cut the plant’s stalk between a leaf cluster and a root. Moving the cut piece to a separate tank will result in a brand-new plant.

Closing Thoughts

As you can probably tell, red root floater care is something that anyone can do. You don’t need to be an experienced aquarist or an aquascaping master, simply pick up this plant and add it to your tank!

Let us know if you have questions about anything that we didn’t address in the care guide. We’re more than happy to help!

You May Also Like