Best Floating Aquarium Plants

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Floating aquarium plants drift endlessly in our tanks, providing yet another dynamic aquarium element. The variety found in tanks is often limited just because people don’t know about some of the other plants that are available.

So, let’s dive into the best floating aquarium plants and some great ideas to use them, making your tank better than ever before!

hornwort

Best Floating Plants

The following plants are readily available, and I think they’re serious contenders for the best floating aquarium plants. While not requiring extensive care, they are a bit more difficult than some of the other floating plants available.

1. Amazon Frogbit – The Best Floating Aquarium Plant

Amazon Frogbit is a personal favorite. The plant is a relatively small floating leaf, shaped something like a lilypad, that has roots growing directly from the bottom. It has the visual effect of a slightly inverted, bare forest. When it grows thick, the effect can be quite dramatic.

The plant provides a decent amount of shade, but it doesn’t have the light nullifying effects you’ll find with some surface plants. The leaves simply won’t grow in as dense as something like Duckweed that can take over a tank’s entire surface.

Frogbit is a bit more demanding than most floating plants. There are two main things to be concerned with: keeping the leaves dry and further propagation. The leaves will have trouble if they get wet regularly, due to the light burning them and beginning the decay process.

Likewise, propagation is sometimes problematic in the home aquarium. The mature plant flowers and reproduces sexually, but you need soft, acidic water to promote proper reproduction. Bits of the roots will sometimes break off and form more but you may not have luck if you buy a small amount and hope to blanket the surface in a reasonable amount of time.

Overall, Amazon Frogbit looks great and won’t over propagate in your tank. It’s still a bit harder to propagate than many floating plants, but if you can keep normal plants alive you won’t have any issues coaxing your Frogbit into health.

Pros

  • Easy to find
  • Won’t overgrow the tank easily
  • Hardy to water conditions
  • Roots create an awesome surface effect

Cons

  • Hard to propagate in most aquariums
  • Leaves need to be kept dry to avoid problems

2. Dwarf Water Lettuce – Long Roots for a Unique Look

Dwarf Water Lettuce is my Betta plant, I find it hard to call an enclosure complete without it. The plant itself is a small rosette that grows on the surface of the water, with long roots reaching downwards. Unlike Frogbit, the roots of Dwarf Water Lettuce can reach down 4-6”, providing a unique effect.

And this effect is loved by smaller fish. It provides a huge sense of security in addition to any plants that you have growing on the bottom and it can even act as the sole cover provided you have some hardscape elements.

Dwarf Water Lettuce is actually an invasive plant in many areas, it propagates with no intervention. All it needs is nutrients… and a lot of it. A strong colony of Dwarf Water Lettuce may require an uptick in liquid fertilizer usage, especially if added to a tank with a lot of plants already.

They also don’t do well in dry environments. If your home is regularly at low humidity you’ll want to give them a spritz a few times per day from a spray bottle full of dechlorinated tap water, or even run a humidifier. Just check for the outer leaves curling in if you’re not sure.

Dwarf Water Lettuce presents some minimal challenges, but it’s a unique plant that looks great in many tanks. Just be aware it’s a nutrient hog and the top needs to remain moist enough for the plant to thrive.

Pros

  • An awesome, unique look
  • Easy to propagate
  • Long roots for extra cover
  • Interesting basal rosette above the surface

Cons

  • Invasive species, dispose of any extra Dwarf Water Lettuce properly
  • Upper leaves require decent humidity to thrive

3. Ludwigia Repens – The Red Floating Plant

Ludiwigia is usually considered a stem plant to be stuffed into the substrate, but it does quite well as a floating plant. Ludwigia repens is the only red plant I can think of that does well floating, but it still doesn’t make it an easy task.

Ludwigia will form a stemmy mass over time if left floating. With the right lighting and nutrients, you can create a lush, thick, bright red mass of plants. Without them, you’ll still end up with a decent green stem plant that grows at a controllable rate.

The main problem with this plant is just that it’s harder to care for than the majority of floating plants. You need high lighting, frequent fertilization, and usually a carbon dioxide injection to help it grow to its top caliber. Lighting is particularly important if you’re looking for a red floating plant, which can change how well the plants in the substrate are growing.

A bright red Ludwigia repens is an admirable goal, but it’s harder to accomplish than you’d think. Careful study and water condition monitoring may be needed in addition to the more expensive equipment.

On the other hand, if you have an aquatic green thumb then this plant can add a dramatic splash of red to your planted tanks. In the right conditions, it becomes relatively hands-off, it’s just a matter of getting there.

Pros

  • It’s a red plant that can be left floating
  • Grows as a controllable mass
  • Durable in most water conditions
  • Can be placed in the substrate as stems or left floating

Cons

  • Requires high lighting and nutrients for best coloration
  • One of the harder floating plants to take care of

4. Water Spangles – A Low Tech Option

Water Spangles are another great floater, with a hidden bonus. They’re actually one of the few aquarium plants that can help control heavy metals in the tank. This is… rarely an issue, but it can help a tank become an invertebrate-friendly environment more quickly after using a copper-based medication.

Water Spangles form small complexes of leaves that spread across the surface of the water. These leaves have a bit of texture, which makes them immediately visually distinct from the majority of floating plants. They do well in most tanks, but they’re a bit sensitive to high pH.

We’ve got one big problem: Water Spangles don’t like a high current. It disrupts their growth and over-filtering with a HOB can make it impossible for them to propagate. You need a calmer tank, or at least canister filters that move the current at the bottom more than agitating the surface.

They also don’t play well with high lighting. This limits the tanks they can be put in but makes them a good fit for low-tech tanks. Moderate lighting does well, and low light is almost preferred. But high lighting will cause them to have serious issues.

Water Spangles are an ideal low-tech plant. They look great, spread well, and provide all of the benefits of any other floating plant. They’re just not right for high flow, high lighting tanks.

Pros

  • Grows very well in a low tech setting
  • Textured leaves for a unique surface look
  • Spreads easily across the surface
  • Better than average at uptaking copper and other heavy metals

Cons

  • Doesn’t do well with high lighting
  • Heavy surface agitation will kill the plantlets

Best Low Maintenance Floating Plants

The above plants all require a bit of care to make them into thriving colonies. These little guys will grow pretty much anywhere, any time, and some are even considered a nuisance. That said, there are a ton of options for plants that don’t require any extra work.

5. Java Moss – The Gold Standard for Unkillable Plants

Java Moss is almost impossible to kill. I’ve seen dry fragments emerge from the substrate of old tanks and just continue growing. For that reason, you should remember that once you add Java Moss to a tank… it’s not coming out.

The plant itself is fast growing. I prefer to wrap it around a cork if I’m leaving it floating. This helps keep the plant mass centralized and floating. Just throwing in a bunch of it will quickly lead to multiple masses growing at a rapid rate. It’s extremely versatile when it comes ot aquascaping, it’s far more than just a floating plant.

Java Moss’ seeming immortality is also its biggest downside. I’ve never had success removing it from an established tank. A fragment always lodges somewhere and re-emerges. Removal requires a complete take-down and cleaning, which isn’t always a feasible option.

It also grows ridiculously fast with carbon dioxide injection. You’ll be trimming at least twice weekly if you’ve got Java Moss in a high-tech tank. While the dense, vibrant green growth is attractive, it can become a bit of a problem. That said, it’s rapid growth also cleans water, which is a nice bonus.

On the other hand, Java Moss is a fire-and-forget plant that’s nearly impossible to kill. Keeping it floating is easy, and if you’re a newbie it’s the plant I recommend for starting out.

Pros

  • Nearly complete invincibility for an aquatic plant
  • Usable in brackish tanks
  • Dense, bright growth in good conditions
  • Can be planted, wrapped around objects, or even turned into a carpet

Cons

  • Can grow too fast
  • It will never be completely removed from the tank once added

6. Duckweed – Another Unkillable Specimen

Here’s a simple guide to adding a dense growth of duckweed to your tank’s surface: put it in the tank. Duckweed is about as close to a zero-maintenance plant as you’ll find, but you need to have a plan to control it.

Duckweed is easy to find, and grows rapidly once introduced. I’ve introduced two or three plantlets and watched them turn into a dense green growth on the upper portion of the tank in a month or so. Their exponential growth also means they clean the water well.

Like Java Moss, Duckweed is probably a permanent addition to the tank. You’ll also need some way to control its growth, whether it’s a divider or some other method. It will grow to fit whatever surface the tank has ready for it.

Duckweed is one of the main reasons for plant quarantine. You do not want to add even a single plantlet on accident. Thinning it out is one of the simplest tasks you’ll ever undertake, however, all you need to do is dip a net and remove it to acceptable levels.

Duckweed is a great plant for beginners, but they need to be aware that it will take over a tank’s surface. It’s unkillable, omnipresent, and looks great with almost zero effort on your part, just be aware of the drawbacks.

Pros

  • Looks great, small green leaflets spread over the surface
  • Creates a lot of shade
  • Grows to fit an area
  • Huge nutrient sink, especially with regular thinning

Cons

  • Needs physical controls to not overtake an entire tank’s surface
  • Can overgrow and not let light reach plants underneath

7. Green Cabomba – Easy Green Mat

Green Cabomba is often planted, but it’s seen extensive use as a floating plant as well. It’s among the easier plants to care for when floating, and it’s able to take high lighting without becoming a nuisance. Keep in mind this only applies to Green Cabomba, the rarer red variant should be planted and is among the harder plants to keep healthy in captivity.

Green Cabomba doesn’t care what the water it’s in is like. In the wild, even in its native range, it’s a weed. Hard, alkaline water? No problem. Soft, acidic water? Even better. Brackish water? Green Cabomba doesn’t care, it’ll just keep thriving. Floating Cabomba in ideal conditions will also grow flowers at the surface.

Green Cabomba’s main problem is that some fish and invertebrates love eating it. Limit your snails to small species like Ramshorns for the best results, and try to keep it with fish that don’t have a taste for greenery. Goldfish and some others will make short work of it.

Green Cabomba tends to grow very quickly, but not quite in an unmanageable way. High lighting and CO2 can make weekly trimming of the mat necessary, but it’s not going to reach an insane rate of growth like Anacharis and Hornwort in a high-tech tank.

Cabomba is an excellent option for a floating mat. Just make sure that you don’t keep it with anything that will eat it faster than it grows. It’s easy to control and grows well in all conditions, including brackish water!

Pros

  • Can be used in brackish tanks
  • Doesn’t care about water conditions
  • Remains manageable in high-tech tanks
  • Creates a rich, thick, green mass when floating

Cons

  • Some fish and invertebrates like to eat it
  • May require weekly trimming in some high tech tanks

Best Planted or Floating Plants

The following plants are more versatile than most and can be planted in the substrate or floated in the tank. They don’t top the list because they have a big problem with growth rates, requiring frequent trimming in most cases, but they’re still solid options for those who don’t mind breaking out the scissors and want a versatile plant.

8. Anacharis – The Classic Aquarium Plant

Anacharis is easy to love. It grows easily, it’s hard to kill, and it can be planted in the substrate or floated depending on the effect you want. Selective pruning of Anacharis can create dense hedges or floating mats with little effort. It’s the second plant I’d recommend to a beginner, just behind Java Moss.

Anacharis’ growth pattern depends on the lighting. Weak lighting and low fertilizer levels lead to a spindly, long plant while the opposite results in tight, emerald green growth. It grows well in brackish tanks as well, making it another of the few floating plants that are suitable to handle a bit of salt.

The problem is that Anacharis can achieve growth rates measured in inches per day. If you’re not mindful of the floating mat in a high-tech tank it can get out of control very quickly. It’s best to keep just one or two bunches that have been selectively pruned to branch out, each stem will have the same growth rate once roots are established.

Anacharis will also take in a lot of fertilizers and may require you to up the dosage of broad-spectrum fertilizers in the tank. It also has a tendency to get trapped under rocks and decorations in the tank, preventing it from floating. You can avoid that by carefully placing your hardscape, but that’s hard to do in an established tank.

Anacharis is a great beginner plant, but if you run a tight ship with your tanks then you may want to find something that grows a bit slower. It’s a great way to dip your feet into aquatic plants, however, especially due to how versatile its planting goes.

Pros

  • Grows quickly and easily in all conditions
  • Easily observed for health to determine tank health
  • Suitable for brackish tanks
  • Good nutrient sink in tanks with high nitrates

Cons

  • Can grow too quickly to be manageable in high tech tanks
  • Large masses tend to get caught on decorations, watch the current

9. Hornwort – A Textured Anacharis Alternative

Hornwort is a longish plant with skinny needles instead of the usual leaves. The plant looks great and tends to remain a lighter shade of green than the majority of aquatic plants. It’s able to grow in most conditions, but it will not grow in brackish water. It can be planted in the substrate and does well, but it’s better to leave it floating.

Hornwort is thick and makes a great cover for fry and very small fish like Celestial Pearl Danios and Endler’s Livebearers. It’s my preferred plant for fry protection, especially since it grows quickly in moderate lighting. Toss a few sprigs in and in two weeks you’ll have a thick mass of plants that small fish love.

That fast growth is also a problem when the tank has high lighting and nutrient levels. Add carbon dioxide as well and you have a plant that’s unstoppable and you’ll be trimming far more often than you’d normally like.

It also drops needles when unhealthy. Just… everywhere. It gets unsightly. In extreme cases, it can cause problems as the leaves rot faster than the plant can uptake the nutrients.

Those small problems aside, however, Hornwort is an ideal floating plant. It takes to selective pruning well, just be mindful of how much light and carbon dioxide it gets or you may have to deal with an incredible growth rate.

Pros

  • Easy to grow in most water conditions
  • Looks different than most aquatic plants
  • Can be grown in the substrate or floating
  • Provides dense cover for small fauna

Cons

  • Drops needles when unhealthy, creating a mess
  • Can grow too quickly in high tech environments

10. Water Wisteria – An Introduction to Emergent Growth

Water Wisteria has two different forms: emergent and submersed. Growing it floating creates a totally different visual effect and makes this one of the best plants to use both planted and floating in the same tank. It’s also remarkably easy to care for.

Water Wisteria’s leaves taking on a different form is awesome, and it can even be used as a carpet plant in the right tanks. It’s durable and hardy, growing well in almost all conditions. The only place it lags behind is brackish tanks, where it often ends up stunted and isn’t the best choice.

The main problem? It grows really quickly in high-tech conditions. The leaves also have a tendency to block light more than many other plants, so you’ll want to keep an eye on how much shade it’s producing.

Neither of these disadvantages is that big of a deal. Water Wisteria is usually used in tanks with middling lighting, where it thrives without taking over the entire tank. It’s also great in jungle tanks, where it can help to create the “overplanted” effect many of us aim for.

Water Wisteria is a versatile, easy plant as long as conditions are right. High tech tanks may want to think it over twice, but its doubling leaf forms make it a bit hard to turn down even with the insane growth rate.

Pros

  • Has two leaf forms depending on whether its completely submerged
  • Does well in most tanks
  • One of the most versatile plants in aquascaping
  • Perfect for jungle tanks where it can be allowed to grow out

Cons

  • Can grow too fast in high tech tanks
  • Leaves can provide too much shade due to thick growth

Why Use Floating Plants?

Floating plants provide an extra way to get some greenery into your tank. Many of them are low maintenance and can produce dramatic visual effects as well when they’re cared for properly.

Floating plants are easy to care for most of the time, needing little in the way of fertilizers or regular maintenance. Most will just require that you remove some of the plants, like duckweed, or that you trim them back on a regular basis.

They offer plenty of advantages:

  • Most floating plants are fast-growing, which means they clean the water efficiently as they uptake the nutrients required for their growth.
  • Overhead foliage is one of the best ways to make fish and shrimp feel safe in their tank. Many of the fish in our tanks come from lush waters, and floating plants are a natural part of their ecosystem.
  • You can use floating plants to shade portions of the tank if you corral the plants. This is great for some plants, such as Anubias sp. that don’t do well in strong, direct light.
  • Placement of plants in the tank’s substrate, especially in a well-established tank, is kind of a pain. Floating plants can just be dropped in, and don’t require the time and mess of getting them in the “ground.”
  • Some floating plants can flower above the water or have an emergent growth pattern. This can add an extra decorative element to your tanks.

The only real problem with floating plants is that they float. That means you need to put in some effort to corral them if you don’t want them taking over the surface of the tank.

Some of the stem plants you can grow floating, such as Hornwort, can also get caught under the surface when they move underneath a HOB filter. Knocking them loose is simple, but if you have a lot of them you may need to do this frequently.

How to Use Floating Plants in Aquascaping

Floating plants lend themselves to some unique uses in the aquarium. While you can certainly just throw a bunch in and call it good, there are some better ways to do things.

That said, if you’re running a jungle tank with heavy foliage then by all means just get them in there and let them do their thing.

If you’re looking for some more structured ways to handle your floating plants then here are some ideas:

  • Corralling floating plants can be done easily. You just need to use a thin piece of clear plastic to separate the sections at the top. You can notch the sides of the plastic to fit the rim on most tanks.
  • Zoning different floating plants with the above dividers is a great way to go for large tanks to get a diverse look. It also makes maintenance a little bit easier.
  • Lighter stem plants, like Water Sprite or Hornwort, can be manipulated to provide movement in a tank with a HOB instead of a canister filter. The HOB will push the plants down and bring them back up, usually in a fairly predictable manner. Trim when necessary.
  • For smaller tanks with plants like duckweed you can also simply add a ring of a material that floats to the top of the tank. This allows the plant to grow in, providing shade and water cleaning, but keeps an area clear for food and interacting with your fauna.

There’s a lot of potential here, and not many people experiment with them. It’s just too attractive to play with hard-to-keep stem plants and ground covers, both of which require tight control of floating flora if they’re going to prosper.

The main disadvantage in aquascaping with floating plants has to do with shade. While it’s great for Anubias sp. or the ever-popular Java Fern, it will prevent some ground covers from coming in. It’s also not feasible to keep red plants, with their high lighting requirements, where floating plants are creating shade.

Picking Out Your Floating Plants

Finding the right floating plant for your tank is essential. Not every plant is a good fit for every tank, after all, and there’s a little bit more to take into account than just the aesthetics.

Space Requirements

The size of your tank is important: you don’t want the plants to take up all the room in the tank. For nano tanks this is a particular concern, but for anything bigger than 20 gallons you really don’t have to worry about it.

For smaller tanks, you may also want to consider the size of the plant. For many, aquascaping can also deal with the scale at which the tank appears and plants that are too large can break that up and ruin the illusion.

Maintenance Levels

All plants require a bit of care.

Well, except for Duckweed and Java Moss. Those two are harder to get out of a tank than into one by a good margin.

Floating aquatic plants are pretty maintenance low, even in cases where they’re considered harder than the rest. This is because they uptake nutrients directly from the water column, so you don’t have to worry about root tabs.

That said, some can be finicky about water conditions and parameters. Most will do fine, but our goal as aquarists should be to make fish and plants thrive instead of just surviving.

But… there’s hidden maintenance that you should also keep track of. Plants like Anacharis and Hornwort grow pretty much no matter what you do. The problem is that in a well-balanced tank with proper nutrients and CO₂ trimming them can become an every other day affair.

In other words, a plant that’s low maintenance may not be a good fit for a high-tech, well-balanced tank. They simply grow too fast, with Anacharis being able to grow at least an inch per day. The stems will also begin to split, creating huge masses of plants.

It’s unsightly and a pain.

So maintenance will change from tank to tank, even with the same plants. In general: if you’re able to grow red stem plants or ground cover in the tank, nominally “easy” plants can grow out of control. 

Aquascaping Potential

Remember that purchasing plants is just the beginning, but different types of floating plants can lend themselves to different aesthetic uses.

The biggest choice to make here is between floating plants that stay on the surface, like lilies or frogbit and those that create a floating mass of some sort. This latter bit includes both stemmed plants like Anacharis and those that will float in a mat, like Java Moss.

It always helps to have a plan of action for your aquascaping from the start of creating a tank. That said, often the plan becomes emergent as the tank matures.

In either case, carefully consider how you’ll use the plants before you purchase them. Corralling floating plants takes more than a quick decision so knowing if and how you plan to do so is important.

Water Conditions

While the majority of plants will thrive in a cycled tank, and even an uncycled one, provided they’re given the correct nutrients… this isn’t true for outliers in the world of aquatic chemistry.

In particular, brackish tanks are very limited in the number of plants they can use. Of those listed above, I’ve only had success with Java Moss and partial success with Duckweed.

Other tanks that may have issues are very alkaline tanks, such as those usually used to house African cichlids.

Just be aware if you might be in an outlying situation, it’ll help you make sure to bring home only the right plants.

Potential Problems

Some floating plants create more shade or take up more room than others. Because of that, you should double-check to make sure that what you’re working with isn’t going to cause any issues to crop up during its growth.

It’s important to have a clear area at the top of the tank for feeding, many floating plants can trap food at the surface and keep it from bottom-dwelling fauna like catfish or shrimp. You should have a solution to the problem before you buy the plant, especially for fast-growing “blanket” plants like duckweed.

Just think ahead and you’ll be fine! Even the worst problems caused by floating plants are easily fixed.

Floating Plants For a New Dimension

Floating aquatic plants allow you to add another dimension to your tank. They create shade, cover, and make your animals feel more comfortable. They often end up being a defining feature of the tank overall! Finding the best floating aquarium plants is

So, which floating plants are you planning to add to your next aquatic venture?