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Best Low Light Aquarium Plants

The Top 10 Best Low Light Aquarium Plants

Whether you are new or an experienced aquariums hobbyist, you’ll be aware that all plants for your aquariums require light from either a lamp or natural sunlight to thrive and grow.

However not all plants have the same lighting requirements, as some need more than other, in comparison  to some that do not need as much light.

For many of you, newbies especially you will be looking to setup a basic setup with some exquisite plants, where you don’t need to setup an expensive aquarium lighting system.

If you’re interested in setting up a basic, low tech and maintenance aquarium with the best low light aquarium plants, the read the article below for the best species of plants that grow and thrive effectively in low light conditions.

How much light do low light aquarium plants require to grow?

Many hobbyists have an understanding that strong lighting is an effective contributor to having quality plants growing successfully in their aquarium. While speaking generally this rule is correct, there are other contributing factors such as water quality, fish compatibility and C02 levels which can have a significant effect on your aquarium plants growth.

Best Low Light Aquarium Plant

Although the question still stands, how much light is required for low light plants? Firstly, most of you are properly aware of the process of Photosynthesis, which involves a plant needing light otherwise the process cannot be performed, which leads to the plant dying.

Some aquarium hobbyists have a lot of success with keeping flourishing plants with the regular OEM stock fluorescent lights that come with a fish aquarium kits. This is because they only provide a low spectrum of light that the plant cannot effectively grow from. This is because these lights are only supplied in order for the aquarium can be lit up for viewing purposes and not enabling the Photosynthesis process happen effectively!

The best light for you and your aquarium plants?

These days, as technology has progressed a lot the most common kind of lights now are LED lights. The alternatively and less popular options are T5 and metal halide lights, which tend to provide a less quality spectrum of light and less efficient.

Low Light Aquarium Plants

When the time comes to choosing the most suitable light for your aquarium, there are a multitude of options available to you on the market with benefits for different tanks or fishes.

Most experienced hobbyists tend to create their own lighting setups and rigs using lights for specialist hardware stores. Ultimately a decent light should ideally have a range of 4300K at least and 10,000K maximum in order to effectively produce a focused spectrum of green and red wavelengths to benefit the plants.

Overall, your fish inside the aquarium don’t really mid which lights you choose to use, although very bright lights may cause your fish to hide as the aquarium will not replicate the natural dark colors of the sea where they originate from in the wild!

Will aquarium plants survive under natural sunlight?

Put simply, they should be perfectly fine in natural sunlight (even if there are a few cloudy days). Although there are issues, with just only using natural sunlight as the source to feed your aquarium plants. These include that natural sunlight is either too much light or too little for the plants in your aquarium.

The problem with your aquarium absorbing too much natural light is the big issue with algae blooms. This is because the light is constant and you cannot monitor and switch off the light when need to do so, meaning the increased chances of developing algae.

The problem with algae develop is that it can strand off to large problems down the line, which can include the algae absorbing all of the nutrients and light from the fish and plants. Furthermore, algae makes the tank look aesthetically unpleasing and can cause a mess with your filters and clog them.

If your aquarium is lucky enough not to have algae issues due to your maintenance to control it, you still may have to worry about your aquarium plants receiving too much natural light! Typically freshwater aquarium plants do not require too much light, as if they absorb too much it could lead to them melting as they do not naturally receive this much in their natural habitat!

Low Light Aquarium Plant


Furthermore having too much natural light can lead to your aquarium’s water temperature being too high, which can lead to your fishes being affected and harmed from overheating.

The other issue with having too much light with your aquarium may be that, if you are located in the mid-east coast of the USA, you will experience four seasons that have different levels of light.

It’s essential that your plants in your aquarium are able to grow and thrive, even with the overcast days. Furthermore it is important that your plants can survive the transition between longer and shorter days, as well as light intensity from different points of the year.

Although, some aquarium hobbyists seem to successfully keep natural fish tanks that have thriving plants without the need of artificial lighting. This is because there are ways to manipulate conditions so that you can successfully grow plants from a natural source of light.

The most effective method of successfully operating aquarium which only depends on natural sunlight, is to look at plants that grow in your natural environment, that proven to thrive in the changing seasons and light intensities.

Planted Aquarium

Although some of you may wish to go further beyond your regional plants, this will be a case of trial and error to see if other plants from different regions will survive. This is because some low light plants for your aquarium may have better growth in higher lighting or lower lighting. However if you have the patience to see what will effectively in your aquarium habitat, then it will be worth it!

What are the best low light aquarium plants?

In order to help you on the journey to finding the best low light aquarium plants, we’ve created you a list with 15 perfect plants species that would be suitable for your low light aquarium, which include Java fern, Amazon sword, dwarf Sagittaria, and several others:

Best Low Light Aquarium Plants for Beginners

Java fern (Microsorum pteropus)

The best low light plants for a beginner aquarium are the Java Fern’s. This is because it is one of the most commonly used plants by aquarium keep both for experts and beginners as it’s a robust and durable plant that does best when attached to pieces of wood or rocks.

Java fern

A good tip for when you’re using it is to use a fishing line cut off and use it to secure the Java fern to the object.

A Java ferns typical appearance is that of a long, sharp leafed plant this is great at filling spaces in a tank. Below the green of the leaves, you should expect to find rows of brown/black spores that are rounded which are a characteristic of Java ferns(so don’t mistake them for algae!) Ferns typically produce plantlets that you can replant for a fuller and more green environment look in the aquarium.

Anubias (Anubias barteri)

Another great low light plant of a beginners aquarium is the Anubias. This can be down to its renowned status as a staple plant, which thrives in many low-tech tanks. Furthermore it requires very little attention and can be tolerant of a wide range and transition of conditions.

The Anubias plant can be naturally found in its habitat of Western Africa, with its appearance being a rounded broad leaf. Similar to the Java fern previously mentioned, it thrives at its best whilst attached to an object such as a piece of driftwood, or alternatively a rock(especially considering it hasn’t evolved enough to grow well in a substrate).

Low light aquarium plant Anubias

A tip you should consider is that it doesn’t grow well, whilst being under harsh light. So factoring this in you should maybe create a shaded environment for it be placing floating plants on the surface of the tank to keep it happy!

Due to its more robust leaves, the Anubias plant is a favourite for the Labyrinth and Betta fish type as they like to rest among the leaves towards the top with the cover.

Java moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri)

Another durable and great low light plant for a new-starters aquarium is the Java Moss. This is because the Java Moss is a robust that can similarly as previously mentioned, does great at attaching itself to rocks and wood, which can be above or below water for a more natural habitat.

In addition to the Java Moss being an popular aquatic plant, it’s always widely used in terrariums and palladiums too. A big tip for when attempting to grow Java Moss is to allow it in its emergent form to have a very tight fitting lid. This is because it keeps all the moisture in, which then in return creates a humid environment.

Java Moss Aquarium Plant

Moreover, the Java Moss is very beneficial for fish fry or shrimps that require hiding places in a breeding tank. Furthermore it’s a fine-leaved stringy fronds are perfect for a wealth of edible biofilm and offers excellent cover.

The only annoying part about keep Java Moss is that it’s can be a magnet for debris in the tank, so you need to be extra careful for maintenance.

Best Low Light Carpet Species Plants

Crypts (Cryptocoryne wendtii)

The best low light carpet species plant is the Crypts plant. This is down to the fact that it is great plant for filling out the floor space of an aquarium. Moreover there is so many varieties of Crypts for different sized tanks, as they can be suitable enough for very large aquariums or even tiny nano-tanks!

Crypts (Cryptocoryne wendtii)

Also another tip when it comes to Crypts is that they can be punctilious during their acclimation development. Moreover when it comes to aquarium plants, many can suffer from discoloration and die as they struggle to acclimate to a new environment. However with a Crypt plant its more of a quicker process, but resist trying to replant them as once it settles after a week it should start to grow comfortably.

Additionally if you have a small aquarium, a Crypts plant is a safe species to grow as it does not tend to get larger than 6 inches tall and across, which means it can easily fit into a 10 gallon tank.

Staurogyne Repens

A great low light carpet plant species is the Staurogyne Repens, which has a unique presence of providing you with leaves that have a starburst shape and grow in huge clusters!

While they do brilliantly in low light, they do require at least 10 hours of exposure to ensure health growth to form a trailing carpet.

Staurogyne Repens Aqua Plant

In terms of tips, it must be planted into enriched nutrient soil so that in can grow proactively. Additionally you may need to provide it with extra C02 and liquid fertilizer if it seems to struggle.

A great fact about Staurogyne Repens, is that it will actually grow larger than most other low light aquarium carpet plant species, but this does mean that you will have to trim it back occasionally.

Fast Growing Low Light Aquarium Plants

Amazon Sword (Echinodorus sp.)

The best fast growing low light aquarium plants is the Amazon Sword species. The Amazon Sword is an excellent species to start off with as from the get go it’s a big and tall plant. The leave come in a variety of sizes and shapes.

Amazon Sword (Echinodorus)

The Amazon Sword is known for being a plant that requires a lot of nutrients in the substrate in order for it be healthy and thrives. One factor to bear in mind is that because the plant requires a large substrate, given their sheer size they don’t tend to do well in Nano-tanks.

Although these are great plants for large low light aquariums, they do better when they have a light

Sagittaria Subulata

A very fast growing low light aquarium light species is the Sagittaria Subulata. This is because they will spread much faster on average than any other low light aquarium plant.

Sagittaria Subulata

In fact with just one Sagittaria Subulata plant, it will only take a few weeks to cover a large aquarium. Hence this is the reason why it is very popular among aquarium hobbyists.

Furthermore the Sagittaria has leaves that grow in all different directions. This can mean controlling the growth range can be diffiuclt and you will have to maintain it.

Easy Maintenance


If you’re looking for an easy to maintain low light aquarium plant, then the Bucephalandra is perfect for your tank! This may be a rarer type of plant species but they’re extremely easy to care for.


The Bucephalandra tends to slowly grow, hence the easy maintenance. When they sprout their leaves, they offer a shiny green deep colour and love to grow attached to rocks and logs.

The one downside to them is that they can be relatively expensive in comparison to other plants. Although they do not rival the Bucephalandra in comparison to easy maintenance.

African Water Fern

A great species of fern that makes for an easy to maintain low light aquarium plant is the African Water Fern. This can be also being known as the Congo Fern, which hails from Zimbabwe wetlands.

African Water Fern

It has a very similar care needs to the Java Fern and requires similar maintenance. Moreover it loves to grow attached to rocks and other decorations in aquarium such as wood. The only difference between a African Water Fern and a Java Fern is that the African Water Fern can be more sensitive to light and temperature changes.

Overall the African Water Fern is a very easy to maintain plant in the long run, as it grows at such as slow rate and does not require pruning unlike other fern species. Just ensure that water quality is normal and temperature does fluctuate too much and you’ll be okay.

 American Waterweed (Elodea Canadensis)

Another great low light aquarium plant species that is easy to maintain is the American Waterweed. This is because it grows in stalks and shoots up into over three feet in length. It has small sprouting leaves that are protruding off each stem and the American Waterweed can grow in a wide spectrum of conditions.

A great benefit of the American Waterweed is that it produces a surplus amount of Oxygen and provides as a great shelter for those fish fry and small critters in your aquarium. Although an important factor to not with the American Waterweed is that it is not the preferred type for if you have smaller fish. This is because it has a closed structure and can quickly grow to overtake space in your tank.

Purchasing a low light aquarium plant species

Once you’ve found a perfect plant species that you have made the decision that would work best for you low light fish tank, now it’s time to purchase it. But the first hurdle you may encounter is that what if the lighting in the aquarium weaker or stronger than expected.

This means that the initial few weeks of owning new low light plants for your aquarium can be challenging. This is because the plant needs to time to adapt and there is a strong possibility it can die.

One method of helping your plants is by quarantining it for a few days. This is because it allows for you to maintain pests and prune the initial waves of plant growth, until the plant is healthy and strong.

Acclimation & Adaption of low light plants

Firstly you should ensure that you place your new species in a space which it naturally would grow with, such as against rocks or driftwood. Once a positon has been located, try to avoid to moving it away. This can be an issue as moving it away can mean the plant goes from a low amount of light to high, when it should kept in the shade and vice-versa.

Low Light Planted Aquarium

One thing you should look out for is that when your plant begins acclimate itself is that some leaves may turn yellow or begin to fall off. This is because the plant may be lacking lighting or because of other favourable habitat factors. This can include C02 and Ammonia levels.

Furthermore you should ensure that you plant that you’re about to purchase, is to check the leaves. You should check if they’re not rotting and have a full, vibrant color. Finally ensure that the plant you’re purchasing is compatible with the fish you have in your aquarium.


Overall, it’s not necessary to have to have the top of the line equipment to have flourishing low light plant species in your aquarium. One important maintenance area you should consider is the water quality to ensure the low light plants in your aquarium as nutrients play a huge role in their health and ability to thrive.

Generally speaking, some low light plant species may prefer a range of medium to high light output and there are some discussions of people being able to grow the same species under low light conditions. However this is something you’ll have to trial if you wish to do so.

Although even if you find a great low light plant, there still can be a chance it will like the conditions due to lighting and other contributing factors. This could even be true for someone who has the best equipment; there may always be a plant species that simply does not like your aquarium environment.

About The Author

the aqua guru author

Jon is an aquarium keeper of over 15 years and the owner of Guppy's, Betta's and other marine life. He always likes to make changes to his aquarium for the benefit of his marine life's well-being and health using the best aquatic products on the market. You can read more about us here.