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Low Light Aquarium Plants

Updated on April 12, 2012

What is a Low Light Environment?


A low light environment for a fish tank is anything that is under 2 watts per gallon. The standard fluorescent that comes in the average tank hood runs between 15 and 40 watts. If your tank is 20 gallons with a 40 watt bulb it barely qualifies for the low light threshold. Most plants available in the fish store will not grow below this low light threshold.


Can I Upgrade My Lighting?


Lighting can be upgraded in several different ways. The easiest and cheapest way to upgrade is to buy a higher watt bulb. Check the ballast that came with your hood for the largest watt bulb that it can handle. These bulbs are available at fish stores but can be found cheaper at a local hardware or home improvement store. You can also add a second light if you so desire.


The list of plants that can be grown in a low light environment isn’t as small as most aquarists think. Low light aquarium plants range in style and shape and even in color. Yes there is even a red low light plant!


Ferns and Fernlike Plants

  • Java Fern – The Java Fern is a rhizome plant with large rosette leaves that prefers to be planted on driftwood as opposed to being anchored in the substrate. If anchored it is best to plant it at a 45 degree angle with half of the rhizome above the soil.
  • Bolbitis Fern – Also a rhizome plant this fern has the classic saw like teeth and grows quickly. It should be planted like the Java fern and especially likes the driftwood planting option.
  • Ozelot Sword – The Ozelot Sword has beautiful red and deep green rosette leaves when planted in a rich substrate. This plant will grow quickly in a tank with a CO2 system but will survive fine in a standard aquarium with ample nutrients.
  • Anubias – The Anubias comes in several different varieties, all of which are low light growers. The yare easy to grow and quite hardy, some varieties even survive in Cichlid tanks! The ribbed leaves add a nice dimensionality to any tank and with enough nutrients these will flower in the tank as well.
  • Water Lily – This bulb is the one we associate with lily pads in ponds although it is quite nice in a low light aquarium as well. The bulb should only be planted a quarter of the way into the soil for the best results.


Mosses

  • Java Moss – This moss will grow anywhere on anything. Attach it to wood, rocks, decorations, other plants or just pin it down under a large piece of debris. This one will grow and spread well in a low light tank and could eventually cover the entire aquarium floor if you like.
  • Amano Moss (Christmas Moss) – This is the easiest plant to grow in a low light aquarium. It can just be dropped in and will root itself. The leaves emerge in a triangular pattern reminiscent of a Christmas tree, hence the common name of Christmas Moss. It is said to grow faster in colder water temperatures and is often used as a decoration in Koi ponds and Japanese water gardens.


Other Low Light Aquarium Plants

  • Duckweed – Many aquarists find Duckweed more of a nuisance than a good low light plant. This is a tiny surface floater that reproduces very quickly. If left to its own devices this plant could cover the entire surface of the water in a matter of a few days. It often clogs filters and keeps valuable light from getting to the bottom of the tank for other plants to use. That said, if you have a Betta or Gourami it is a great plant for them.
  • Wendtii – The Wendtii is a Cryptocoryne plant that is very sensitive to water changes. Although it will thrive in low light it is not a plant for the beginner (although some claim it is the easiest of all plants to grow). This one requires strict attention to pH levels, water temperature, and light level. Any changes can result in a quick rotting away of this beautiful plant. It can be green, tan, red or brown or any combination of those colors dependent on the nutrients available in the tank. A really wonderous plant that does great in a tank that is not messed with constantly.
  • Dwarf Subulata – This is a carpet forming grass like plant. It grows in a rosette and looks like a thick leaved prairie grass. It is a quick self propagator.
  • Red Tiger Lotus – Although this is a hard to find plant it’s gorgeous red foliage makes it an amazing addition to any low light set up. Plant the bulb at a 45 degree angle for the best results. This one also works well in non low light situations.



There are low light aquarium plants out there you just need to know what to look for and where to look for them. Know your lighting specs and ask lots of questions before buying anything at the fish store.


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