One day, I saw a betta peeking out from floating aquarium plants in a nearby pet store. For years, I had been searching for live plants that would fit the one gallon tank I had for my male betta.
A one gallon tank can be very challenging to take care of. Live plants either get too big and crowd the tank, or they die when I trim them back.
Since I had already figured out that plastic plants were no good, my betta tank was very bare. While Aponogeton bulbs grew well in larger tanks, they failed in my 1 gallon betta tank. I simply couldn’t find a plant that grew well in such a small amount of substrate, plus withstand intense pruning!
That all changed the day I saw Duckweed floating lazily at the surface of one pet shop’s aquarium. The store clerk explained that aquarium surface plants literally “float” at the water surface or around the tank.
I was amazed to find out that even floating aquarium plants with long roots can keep the water clean.
Assured that the plants did not need substrate, I decided to give them a try.
My betta grew happy and calm within minutes of seeing the plants.
As promised, within a week, the floating plants also improved the water quality in the tank.
5 Reasons Why Floating Aquarium Plants are Essential for a Healthy Aquarium and Fish
Will Not Injure Delicate Fish Scales and Fins
When I bought my first 10 gallon setup, I chose a kit that had a cover, pump, filter, and “starter” plastic plants. After the break-in period was finally over, I eagerly added six tiger barbs and anticipated watching their antics for years to come.
Sadly, my first school of fish didn’t live more than a month. Within just a few days, I noticed the fish were rubbing against the plastic plants. Horrified, I watched as cotton fungus and other diseases robbed my fish of their lives.
Never one to quit, I got some more tiger barbs and tried again. This time, I saw one tiger barb damaging his scales as he rubbed against a plant.
I removed the plastic plant immediately, and noticed that the edges from the molding process were quite sharp.
After removing those deadly plastic plants, I turned to live ones. I was very happy to see that my fish no longer had injuries caused by sharp surfaces.
Leave More Room for Swimming in the Center and Bottom Areas of the Aquarium
Many fish spend their time at the center of the tank or along the bottom.
Because many fish either dart or swim very fast, it is important for them to have a lot of swimming room.
Floating freshwater aquarium plants take up less room where the fish swim. This makes floating plants ideal for smaller tanks.
Creates a Place for Nitrogen Fixing Bacteria in the Water, Where it is Needed Most
Just about every aquarium keeper has suffered losses from ammonia spikes, or excess nitrates.
Gravel, sand, and other media give nitrogen fixing bacteria a lot of room to grow.
The problem is waste doesn’t sit in the gravel and wait for the bacteria to consume it.
Rather, waste floats in the water and can make your fish very sick or kill them. Aquatic plants with roots in substrate aren’t as effective as roots adapted to taking waste from the water. This is why having fish tank plants at the surface is better than plants growing in the gravel.
Provides a Calming and Relaxing Environment for Fish
Did you know that aquarium lights can stress fish to the point where they succumb to opportunistic infections?
How would you feel if you could never get away from light when you want to rest?
Live floating aquarium plants blend shade and filtered light similar to what fish are used to in the wild.
As an added bonus, fish that scare easily, or who aren’t feeling well, can hide in dense foliage located away from the main swimming area. The calmer your fish are, the healthier they will be.
Tasty and Nutritious Snacks for Your Fish
Aside from staple dry foods, there is no getting around the fact that fish need extra nutrients in their diet.
I will never forget the day I introduced three big plants to my Buenos Aires Tetras.
As you may know, these are feisty little fish that cause bettas, barbs, and other aggressive fish scream for mercy.
Buenos Aires Tetras also have a tremendous appetite for vegetation. Within just one hour, those two Buenos Aires Tetras completely decimated the Aponogeton plants. I was very happy when I found out that floating aquarium plants could keep up with them!
Top 10 best Floating Aquarium Plants
Over the last few years, I tried dozens of floating aquarium plants, including some rare specimens.
Here are my top 10 picks for beginner and advanced aquarium keepers. No matter how many years go by, these will be the plants you return to time and again for tropical or cold water aquariums.
When it comes to easy care floating aquarium plants, few can rival Marimo Balls.
They grow very slowly, but can live well over 100 years.
While they can survive in temperatures as high as 80 degrees F, they prefer much closer to the 70s. Insofar as pH is concerned, they do well in both acidic and alkaline water. It is best to keep the pH between 6 and 8.
These floating aquarium plants also tend to prefer low to medium indirect light. Marimo Balls float at all levels of the tank and are excellent for removing nitrates.
Best Fish to Pair With Marimo Balls
Small sized Marimo Balls are very light weight and can be pushed around easily by bettas. This helps the Marimo Balls stay round, and also provides an ideal toy for agile minded bettas.
Marimo Balls will also do well in tanks with fan tails and other fancy style goldfish. You can expect fan tails to nuzzle the Marimo Balls and bat them around.
This floating aquatic plant will also work well with barbs, most tetras, and angel fish.
Marimo Ball Care Notes
Marimo Balls are very sensitive to excess light and heat. They will quickly turn brown if the temperatures go much over the mid 70’s, or if the light is too bright.
Once the Marimo Balls are 1” or larger, you will need to bathe and rinse them so that algae inside the ball has a better chance of receiving nutrients.
Marimo Balls are my absolute favorite floating aquarium plant. They are perfect for tanks of all size, never get too big, and are ideal for maintaining water quality.
Individual Azolla or Mosquito Fern Plants usually don’t grow more than ¾”.
They grow faster than Marimo Balls, but not as fast as many other floating aquatic plants.
Azolla prefers full light, and temperatures between 59 and 79 degrees F.
This plant originates in North America, however it is considered an invasive species that cannot be sold or grown in some states.
Best Fish to Pair With Azolla
Azolla does best in pH ranges from 4.5 to 7, which makes it very compatible with fish that do well in acidic water such as some species of angel fish.
It is also edible to fish and provides more protein than other plants.
Azolla Care Notes
Because Azolla grows very quickly, you will need to prune it often. If you do not, fish can suffocate because the mats created by this plants can prevent oxygen from getting into the tank.
I ranked Azolla so high because it provides very important proteins. If you keep up with the pruning, it is a very easy plant to care for. Azolla is also one of the best aquatic floating plants for removing nitrates.
I recommend using Azolla in situations where:
- You have breeding angel fish or others that prefer acidic water.
- The tank is very large and you need a significant amount of surface cover.
If you want to change up the pace in live floating aquarium plants, there is nothing like Bladdeworts.
These are carnivorous plants that originate in Asia and Europe.
There are several species available that do not have roots. Some produce beautiful flowers, while others have wheel-like structures.
When choosing Bladdeworts for your aquarium, always ask about their expected size at maturity. Some may only reach 8” in size, while others can grow 10 times that size. Their growth rate will depend on the nutrients and light available.
Bladderworts need full sunlight and temperatures ranging from 65 – 75 degrees F. Unlike other floating aquatic plants, Bladderworts will trap floating algae and use it as food. This makes it an ideal plant for aquariums with free floating algae blooms.
Bladderworts will also eat mosquito larvae and other insects that require water for hatching. This makes them ideal for controlling unwanted insects indoors as well as in outdoor ponds.
Best Fish to Pair With Bladderwort
Even though they may not need to be rooted in substrate, Bladderworts do need tannin rich, or acidic water. They will do well with bettas, some angel fish, and tetras.
It is best to keep Bladderwort away from fry, as the plants can trap and eat them. Once the fry are larger than adult brine shrimp, they should be safe enough from smaller plants.
Bladderwort Care Notes
Bladderwort will not need pruning as much as other floating aquatic plants. Most people pair Bladderwort with Azolla or Hornwort because both plants shed a lot. These plants also make an ideal habitat for Dapnia and other organisms that Bladderworts feed on.
Bladderwort comes in at number 3 because they can consume insect larvae and other pathogens. They also don’t grow as fast as other surface aquarium plants and require less pruning.
I recommend using Bladderwort in situations where:
- You have mosquitoes that may try to lay eggs in the aquarium.
- In tanks where algae is floating freely in the water and poses a more serious risk to the fish.
- An aquarium infested with Daphnia sized worms or other disease bearing organisms.
Even though Water Spangles didn’t make it into my Top 3, it is a very attractive plant with plenty of benefits.
First, the leaves for Water Spangles range from ½ to ¾”, which makes for a pleasant surface cover. Water Spangles remove nitrogen from the water and grow very fast. They prefer medium light, and temperatures ranging from 70 to 80 degrees.
Best Fish to Pair With Water Spangles
Water Spangles do best in water pH ranging from 6.0 to 7.5.
They are perfect for Buenos Aires Tetras and other fish that love to dine on plants.
Since Water Spangles do not do well in fast moving water, they are not appropriate for inclusion with Tiger Barbs or other fish that need rapidly moving water for good health.
Water Spangles Care Notes
As with other fast growing surface aquarium plants, water spangles can quickly block all light into the aquarium and also create oxygen shortages.
Water Spangles will rot easily if water gets onto the upper surface of their leaves. Do not use them with aquarium hoods or covers that may let condensation drip onto the leaves.
They are very attractive plants, however they can suffocate your fish and other plants if you don’t keep up with their care.
Duckweed has roots that are about ¼ inch long, and tiny leaves that float on the surface of the water.
It is known for its ability to remove nitrates, and will keep your tank clean even if you tend to over feed.
Because Duckweed also blocks out light, it will slow down green algae growth. Be sure to watch for algae types that may proliferate in a darker tank.
Insofar as an aquarium setting, this plant will thrive in temperatures ranging from 45 to 90 degrees F. It will reach peak growth between 70 and 80 degrees.
Best Fish to Pair With Duckweed
You will need to prune the Duckweed every few days because it will cover the water surface very quickly.
Since Duckweed does best in pH ranges between 6.5 and 7.5, it is best suited for use with fish that do well in slightly acidic or neutral water.
This includes angel fish, tetras, and barbs. Do not use with fish that prefer alkaline water such as live bearers.
Duckweed Care Notes
Duckweed’s rapid growth can make the water poor in terms of nutrients for itself and other plants. While the reduction in nitrates is good for the fish, it can cause the Duckweed or other plants to die off.
This, in turn, can lead to massive ammonia spikes if the rotting foliage isn’t removed fast enough.
One of the biggest problems with Duckweed is that it spreads very easily. If you do not have covers on your aquariums, duckweed may show up in tanks that you didn’t plant it in.
I didn’t score this higher, because ease of growth can seem like a good thing until you can’t keep up with it.
I recommend using Duckweed in situations where:
- You need to control algae caused by excess light.
- You have fish, such as Buenos Aires Tetras that consume large amounts of vegetation.
Water Wisteria is an attractive floating aquarium plant that works best in tanks bigger than 10 gallons.
A single plant can grow 12” to 20” high, and approximately 10” wide. It also has long roots that will reach deep into the water. If substrate is available, the roots will anchor into it.
Even though Water Wisteria will remove nitrates from the water, it is may also need extra fertilizer and iron supplementation.
Despite that, it is still good for beginning aquarium keepers because it does well in moderate lighting and will withstand a wider range of temperatures (74 – 82 Degrees F) and pH levels (6.5 to 7.5).
Best Fish to Pair With Water Wisteria
Water Wisteria does not do well when fish eat it or dig it up. Avoid putting this plant in tanks with Buenos Aires Tetras, fan tails, oscars, and goldfish.
This floating aquatic plant does well with most live bearers, cichlids, and most tetras.
Water Wisteria Care Notes
For the most part, Water Wisteria is a carefree plant that will grow well in most aquariums. It may need fertilizer on a routine basis, even if the water is heavily saturated with nitrogen. Choose a fertilizer that provides plenty of iron and other vitamins.
Water Wisteria is great, but remember the additional nutrition requirements. It still has its uses in removing nitrogen from the water, however Marimo Balls or Azolla can do the job without the need for additional fertilizers.
I recommend using Water Wisteria in situations where:
- You are prohibited by law from growing Duckweed, Amazon Frogbit, or other “invasive” plants.
- You want a plant that can be planted in substrate as well as floating at the surface.
Unlike other floating aquarium plants, Java Moss requires a place where it can anchor.
Many aquarium keepers use plastic grids, driftwood, or other materials to anchor the plant. It is famous for creating everything from mats to shrub like extensions outward from the material it is anchored to.
Java moss is one of the easiest floating aquarium plants to take care of. It does best in bright light, and will grow fast in temperatures ranging from 70 to 75 degrees F.
Best Fish to Pair With Java Moss
Since Java Moss does well in pH ranges from 5.0 to 8.0, it will work well in almost any aquarium.
It is ideal for breeding tanks, because fry and young fish can hide in it easily.
Java Moss is also suitable for tanks with goldfish, Buenos Aires Tetras, and others like to consume plants.
Java Moss Care Notes
This floating plant looks very attractive in carpets. Unlike other floating plants, you can avoid problems with oxygen depletion by controlling where it grows in the tank.
Even though Java Moss is very popular, it does not do well in fast water currents. You may need to use under gravel or bubble up systems for filtration.
Just note that Java Moss can become very unattractive if not kept properly. As it grows, it can also clog filter inlets. You may also have problems drawing a balance between reduced water current and making sure that your aquarium has sufficient mechanical filtration.
I recommend using Java Moss in situations where:
- You have a tank with fry or new fish that cannot tolerate fast moving water.
- New tanks that have completed the break in process.
Hornwort is a prolific plant that can grow 5” or more in just a week. It should only be used in aquariums that are 15 gallons or larger. Hornwort prefers moderate light, and temperatures between 59 and 86 degrees F.
Best Fish to Pair With Hornwort
This floating aquarium plant does well with fish that prefer a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. Angel fish and Gouramis will dine on it, as well many other species.
Hornwort Care Notes
In order to thrive, Hornwort must have clear water. Its rapid growth can lead to clogged filters.
Fortunately, it does add oxygen to the water while reducing nitrogen, which makes it useful for cramped tanks.
I love it because it’s attractive, provides a source of nutrition, and is fairly easy to keep. However, Hornwort can produce chemicals that kill off other plants. While these chemicals will also kill blue-green algae, you may not be able to grow other plants of interest.
I recommend using Hornwort in situations where:
- You need to get rid of a blue-green algae infestation
- You have a large tank and need something that grows very fast.
Amazon Frogbit originates in South America. It grows best in tanks 20 gallons or larger, since it can reach 20”. It is an attractive plant that produces small white flowers.
Amazon Frogbit will remove nitrogen from the water, however it can cause oxygen depletion.
For the best growth, keep this free floating aquarium plant in full light. It also prefers a temperature range between 64 and 84 degrees F.
Best Fish to Pair With Amazon Frogbit
Since Amazon Frogbit does best in pH ranges from 6.0 to 7.5, it will do well with tetras and live bearers.
Try to avoid placing this plant near the sides of the aquarium, as it is not tolerant to snails eating it.
Amazon Frogbit Care Notes
As with Water Spangles, Amazon Frogbit will rot if the upper surface of the leaves get wet. Avoid using aquarium hoods to prevent this problem.
You may have a hard time balancing between providing enough light and preventing condensation from hitting the leaves, but it’s a very nice, soft looking plant to add to your tank.
I recommend using Amazon Frogbit in situations where:
- You have a brightly lit area that doesn’t require hood lighting
- You have a community tank with several different kinds of fish that tolerate a wide pH range.
Water Lettuce is a fast growing plant that can reach up to 10” per rosette. It grows rapidly in mats across the water surface, enjoys a temperature range between 70 and 80 degrees F, and a pH between 6.5 and 7.2.
While it is preferred by many home aquarists, it is on the Federal Register of Noxious Weeds and may not be available in some states.
Best Fish to Pair With Water Lettuce
Rapid growth paired with the ability to remove large amounts of nitrogen make Water Lettuce a good choice for tanks with fan tails, gold fish, and other large sized fish.
Water Lettuce Care Notes
Water Lettuce needs partial sunlight, and may not do well with artificial light. It will need time to adapt between different lighting types.
This floating aquarium plant can also clog filters. Prune often to prevent this problem along with oxygen depletion.
You must pay careful attention to the lighting the plant was in at time of purchase. You may need to use special fluorescent plants, or keep them outside in a bowl of water until they can be adapted to the light around and in your aquarium.
I recommend using Water Lettuce in situations where:
- You have large fish that produce a lot of waste
- The tank has medium level lighting, but still suffers from algae blooms.
As you can see, floating aquarium parts are essential for healthy fish and water chemistry.
The ten plants listed in this article have withstood the test of time with millions of aquarium keepers worldwide.
Give one or more a try today and see how they work for you.