If you are an aquarist that is experienced with an aquarium full of fish or you’re a neophyte aquarist, the environment you provide will yield a hobby that is enjoyed around the world. Watching and caring for fish during the stressful time we went through, and which is challenging us today, is a great stress-relieving hobby.
By providing the right water temperature to acclimating your fish to keep them thriving is a rewarding experience. One step in helping you to eliminate a maintenance chore is to introduce underwater plants that do not require substrate.
Substrate helps to increase beneficial bacteria to the water, but it must be used carefully and with knowledge so that it does not upset the water’s quality. For this reason, inserting aquarium plants that don’t need substrate into your fish environment is a good healthy idea.
Aquarium plants that grow without substrate are hardy, colorful, and they are natural purifiers that help to remove nitrates and other compounds from the water environment.
Plants used inside a fish tank can not thrive only on fish waste. Most plants used in aquariums require additional nutrients to thrive. Some nutrients do come from the substrate compounds. But if you are using aquarium plants that don’t need substrate, additional nutrients may be required.
When aquatic plants receive all their nutrient needs, they will grow better and exhibit richer coloration. An enclosed nutrient-rich fish environment includes the following:
- Magnesium – boosts the health of the plant
- Manganese – helps in the photosynthesis process
- Nitrogen – helps in the formation of chlorophyll
- Phosphorous – provides energy for plants
- Potassium – keeps plants whole and healthy
- Calcium – needed for new growth
- Small amounts of trace nutrients like copper and boron (structural component of plant cells).
Many aquatic plants absorb nutrients through their leaves and/or roots. Not all plants that do not require the substrate to grow will not always need additional nutrients added to the environment. Remember, however, only use nutritional supplements that are only designed for aquariums, not houseplants.
Aquarium Plants That Don’t Need Substrate
Aquarium plants that don’t need substrate are known as water column feeder plants. These plants can float or be affixed to hardware in your aquarium, as easily as the Java Fern does. Non-substrate plants shown below are species that have been transplanted from all around the world from varied natural environments like rivers, lakes, and ponds.
There is a symbiotic relationship between fish and plants which allows both to thrive, especially in an enclosure. Simply put plants rely on fish waste as a nutrient and food. These plants work naturally to keep the fish tank clean by filtering the water. The plant species below help to remind us how amazing plant life really is.
They exist mainly on light, oxygen, and minute nutrients that are present in a watery environment. The term for plants that don’t require a fertile substrate is known as “epiphytes”. This means that they can adhere to rocks, stones, or wood below the surface. They can also grow aerial roots to extract nutrients from lights and air on the surface of the water.
Below the surface, they receive nutrients from fish waste. Let’s look at the following amazing 10 aquarium plants that don’t need substrate to thrive:
1. Ludwigia Repens (Red Repens, Red-leaf Ludwigia, Creeping Primrose-Willow)
Ludwigia Repens is also labeled as a Water Primrose or Red Ludwigia. The Ludwigia Repens is a beautiful reddish plant that can grow up to 19 inches. It does not need a lot of attention because it thrives well in a variety of water conditions, both soft and hard, with a temperature range of 60 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. It will grow fully submerged or simply bloom near the top of your fish enclosure.
The Ludwigia Repens coloring (green and red) adds dimension and beauty to any aquarium. The Ludwigia Repens can also handle varying lighting conditions. If you plant it among rock, stones, or driftwood, it will plant itself as a beautiful floating plant. In other words, it is a flexible aquatic plant that will do well wherever you place it in your tank.
But because this plant species floats, additional liquid fertilizer and C02 can be added to help it keep its coloring. Note that its pH acidic tolerance is from 5 to 8: Adult fish, fry, and juveniles enjoy this background-inspired plant.
Also, your fish species will receive lots of health benefits from the Ludwigia Repens vegetation. Fish enjoy playing in and around this plant, plus it serves as a great cover for shy fish, juveniles, and fry fish.
2. Duckweed (Lemnoideae)
Duckweed is so named because waterfowls like ducks love eating this plant. The Duckweed is very tiny but it grows heartedly. For this reason, this aquatic plant has a reputation for being a pest because it grows rapidly. Yes, to enjoy the Duckweed requires a little maintenance to keep it controlled. An overabundance of Duckweed will block lighting and impede oxygen levels.
But its existence in your aquarium comes with health benefits for your fish. Duckweeds are natural purifiers for your water environment. It keeps the water clean, lessens the excess growth of algae, and there is plenty of foliage for fish to nibble upon. This aquatic plant thrives in different types of water conditions.
It thrives well in both high (91.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and low (42.8 degrees Fahrenheit) water temperatures. Monitor its growth which, unlike its pond environment, will grow slower in an enclosed fish environment.
3. Water Wisteria (Hygrophila Difforms)
The Water Wisteria is fondly known as the carpeting plant for aquariums. Its leafy green foliage looks great at the bottom of your tank. It provides a great shelter for your fish, except Goldfish because they voraciously eat this plant. Water Wisteria aquatic plants are very easy to maintain in an aquarium. There is no need to spend lots of time keeping this plant healthy.
Its appearance in a fish tank is great because many of its stems will grow upward to fill out the middle of your aquarium. Its leaves will change colors depending on the water temperature (74 degrees Fahrenheit and 82 degrees Fahrenheit), lighting conditions, and pH acidity of 6.5 to 7.5.
The Water Wisteria will propagate.
Simply plant it between rocks or pieces of wood for a striking appearance. You will only need to purchase a small portion, plus you will not need to replace it. Trim it occasionally to ensure that light and nutrients will be able to reach its stems and roots.
Water Wisteria aquatic plants are compatible with fish species and other plants that you place within the tank. This plant is flexible, it can be grown to float and it can be grounded. Depending on your fish species, floating the Water Wisteria will provide great shade.
4. Indian Toothcup (Rotala Indica)
Experienced aquarists are very familiar with the Indian Toothcup. The Indian Toothcup is fragile, thus it should not be used in tanks containing fish (Oscars. Jack Dempsey, etc.) that will not damage it. It does not require any substrate because its nutrients are provided through its leaves.
The Rotala Indica floats and grows in your aquarium with the proper lighting and water temperature (72 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit). The Indian Toothcup thrives in a pH acidic range from 6.5 to 7.5. As a typical aquatic plant, the Rotala uses nutrients in the water to flourish.
It absorbs carbon dioxide and transforms it into useful oxygen which is then dispersed within the water’s environment. This plant does need a little nutrient help with fertilizers containing iron and potassium. It helps to keep its green leaves and flowers blooming Its maximum size for your tank is 2 inches tall. Maintain its growth by pruning or trimming occasionally.
5. Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocotyle Leucocephala)
The Brazilian Pennywort floats and grows fast inside your tank. Many aquarists enjoy tying it to ornaments like rock or driftwood. When it takes root, its stem will propel it upwards toward a light source. The Brazilian Pennywort is also a floater whose leaves will also grow upwards which creates shade down below.
Young fry and juvenile fish enjoy hiding and moving in and around this plant. Lighting is important to this plant, from moderate to strong light because it will grow as much as 2 inches a week. The right temperature involves 68 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit with a pH tolerance level of 6 to 7.8.
Yes, the Brazilian Pennywort requires liquid fertilizer to keep its lovely round flat floating leaves healthy and green. Don’t be concerned when its leaves fall off as it grows toward the surface.
6. Floating Crystalwort (Riccia Fluitans)
The Floating Crystalwort is a part of the “moss” species like the Java Moss. It is a hardy plant that thrives in varying water temperatures and conditions. It is great for all levels of aquarists. The Crystalwort does not need any substrate. It will grow either floating or planted on the bottom. Normal or moderate lighting will help it grow and float within your tank.
It thrives well in tank temperatures of 56 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit with a pH tolerance from 6 to 8. If you don’t want to feed it fertilizer it will grow okay but adding a little liquid fertilizer will help it grow lush and green for fish to hide and rest in. The Floating Crystalwort will widely branch out with lots of pretty green shoots that appear in a Y-shape forked appearance.
7. Crypts (Cryptocorynes)
Crypts are another favored aquarium plant with their thick bushy leaves and are easy to grow. They do not require substrates but will root quickly when attached to the bottom of your tank. It will thrive very well in varied water conditions, and semi-bright to dim lighting.
Crypts add beauty and intrigue to your tank since they come in varying sizes, colors, and varieties. For example, other Cryptocorynes include the Wendtii, the Undulata, the Parva, the Beckettii, the Balansae, Spiralis, Lucens, and the Lutea. All of these Crypt species are amazing inside an aquarium. This plant species is very safe for your freshwater fish.
Their coloring range includes varying greens, bright pink, olive, and mahogany brown. Their leaves are lush and tempting to goldfish. If your fish are prone to eating plants, use the hardier form of the Crypt, such as the Anubias.
The Cryptocorynes roots remain strong which means that if are raising fish like the Cichlids that can uproot plants, you are in good hands with the Crypts. The Cryptocorynes has been used by aquarists of all levels for more than 60 years.
8. Buce Plants (Bucephalandra)
This wavy green leaf plant is also popular among fish hobbyists. It is available in a variety of leaf bending species. The Bucephalandra features a tropical look, giving your aquarium an intriguing appearance. Its distinctive appearance is its brilliant white and yellow spots on its leaves, as a result of photosynthesis, which also varies from Buce Plant species.
They will propagate quickly as they adhere to rocks or driftwood accessories within your tank. Buce plants are colorful and as such can upstage the beauty of your fish. They are cousins to the Anubias and the Java Fern.
Their leaves vary in size, color, appearance, and are the stars of the show. They reflect varying iridescent colors which adorns your aquarium. They thrive in warm and cool waters with a pH level of 6 to 8. They are hardy aquatic plants and will thrive under varying lighting conditions. Buce Plants are nearly maintenance-free.
They can be attached to rocks, stones etc. Bucephalandra grows slowly, but it is worth supplying these plants to your tank. If Buce plants are healthy, they will produce dense forming babies which should be separated to help it keep your tank algae-free and to grow stronger.
9. Red Root Floater (Phyllanthus Fluitans)
The Red Root Floater fern does as its name implies, they float with their attractive red roots hanging down. To start its growth, simply place it in the tank and watch it grow. It makes a great non-substrate aquarium plant that adds colorful beauty to any tank. The Red Root does not like a high heat temperature which means that a simple LED light will keep it propagating.
Simply throw some of the plants vertically into the water and they will start to grow. Their pH level should be between 6.5 and 7.5. Hobbyists and aquarists enjoy the Red Root in their tanks because it requires minimal maintenance yet gives you a beautiful appearance. Fish enjoy it as a hiding environment. The Red Root Floater like most aquatic floaters oxygenates the water.
Floaters also help to remove toxins that are harmful to the fish. In good healthy water, this aquatic plant will grow quickly even without substrates. Pruning and trimming occasionally is a light maintenance task.
10. Dwarf Water Lettuce (Pistia Stratioes)
This is a large plant species family. Other common names for this aquatic plant are known as Nile Cabbage, Shellflower, Water Cabbage, and Water Lettuce. Make sure that the fish species placed in the tank with this plant will not eat it because it is toxic to them in large amounts. Of all the aquatic lettuce plants for aquariums, the dwarf is the most manageable.
They propagate but not at the rate that their sister and brothers do. They can grow under any water conditions and temperatures, but remember their existence is a tropical climate. The Dwarf Water Lettuce is a beneficial aquarium plant because it feeds on nitrates that could be harmful to the fish and they provide shade for small fish species.
As its name implies, it is the smallest of the lettuce plants which makes it more conducive for small to medium tanks. Your fish, especially the fry will love hiding within its stocky florets. Its roots hang down into the bottom of your tank creating soft tendrils for your fish to move in and out of. Remember that the Dwarf Water Lettuce will require minimal trimming and pruning.
Do All Aquarium Plants Need Substrate?
Aquarium gravel, commonly known as “substrate” is the material where aquarium plants root. This is found on the floor of the tank and should not negatively impact the water conditions inside. You want a substrate that will serve as a happy medium wherein the pH level and water hardness is not affected.
However, needing a substrate highly depends on which aquatic plants you are planning to put into your aquarium. Before you even think about the substrate, you must know which plants and what type of plants you are trying to incorporate into your aquarium.
There are a few different ways certain species of aquatic plants grow.
- FREE FLOATERS
Plants that are able to grow just floating around your tank do not need any substrate. (e.g., java moss, amazon frogbit, water lettuce, marimo moss ball, hornwort)
- AQUATIC PLANTS THAT REQUIRE AN ANCHOR
These plants only need some type of wood or rock to anchor to. (e.g., anubias nana, java fern)
- AQUATIC PLANTS THAT NEED A SHALLOW SUBSTRATE LAYER
These plants need at least 2 inches of substrate in depth. (e.g., rotala wallichii, hygrophilia)
- AQUATIC PLANTS THAT NEED A DEEP SUBSTRATE LAYER
These plants need at least 2 and a half inches in depth. (e.g., cryptocoryne wendtii)
Determining what type of aquatic plant you want to place into your aquarium will help answer your question.
What aquatic plants can grow in gravel?
Every fish owner wants aquatic plants that can thrive. Gravel is a stately addition and will add an aesthetic appeal for them. What aquatic plants can grow in gravel? The answer might be simple for the new collector as well. Look for the Java Fern or Amazon Sword if possible. These are lush plant species that can grow in gravel over time.
Add the plants and provide some foliage for the fish that are in the tank as well. The cost of the aquatic plants might seem prohibitive at first. But consider the new plants to be an investment in style and theme. What aquatic plants can grow in gravel? Go to an aquatics store and procure the right species for the tank.
The fish will appreciate having the plants in the tank, which makes the plants a long-term investment. Price the plants and do extra research for them.
As you can see, aquarium plants are vital to a tank’s ecosystem. Therefore, you need to do your homework when choosing the right fauna without substrate is best for your fish and its environment. An important piece of information when choosing the right non-substrate plant is to quarantine them first.
The reasoning behind this is to leech out chemicals and/or pesticides and to get rid of piggy-back parasites or insects.
If you are a fish hobbyist choosing plants that do not need substrate material is one of the best and easiest decisions for your tank’s healthy environment. Non-substrate aquatic plants require little effort or skill to thrive. As we have discussed, these plants will thrive under even the toughest conditions.
If you have any comments, please feel free to contact us. Sharing information on keeping the fish population healthy and growing is how we all learn. You can not grow wrong with any of the plants reviewed here. Just be sure to consider your specific tank environment and your freshwater fish needs.
Aquarium plants that don’t need substrate to come in varying shapes, colors, and sizes. They can occupy different areas of the aquarium. They provide essential filtration to the tank as well as providing shelter and shade for the aquarium’s inhabitants. The list of plants covered here is all extremely hardy and can tolerate a wide variety of different aquarium conditions.
You will enjoy these freshwater plants and so will your fish environment.