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Your Aquarium: Real Plants vs Artificial Plants

Updated on May 16, 2012
The plants, when I first got them.
The plants, when I first got them.

Loving Your Aquarium

I've had an aquarium most of my adult life, going from a quaint 10 gallon tank with a few neon tetras to a more substantial 35 gallon tank that housed giant danios, loaches and a giant plecostomus that I named Buddy. I've weathered successes and failures in my choice of fish or plants and in the maintenance of the tank. It is a learning experience every day, but well worth it when you can sit and admire the beauty and delicacy of your aquatic pets.

My current tank, a mere 20 gallons, houses guppies (and frequent newborn additions), zebra danios, neon tetras, a plecostomus, two types of snails, African dwarf frogs and ghost shrimp. The variety of shapes, sizes and species make for a lovely view, full of energy and movement.

My Biggest Surprise: Real Plants

My biggest surprise came when I made the move from artificial plants to real, live plants. Like everyone, I'd seen many photos of lush, green tanks, teaming with life. They looked natural and, somehow, the fish looked happy. Can fish look happy?

With the help of my local pet store, I chose a few plants and followed the advise of planting them. I've been extremely surprised in how well they've taken and how big they've grown, with no special lighting or fertilizer.


The first plant I chose was Hornwort. While the name makes it sound like it belongs in a witch's brew, I can assure you that it is not only appealing to look at, it is also one of the easiest plants to maintain.

Hornwort is rootless, meaning that it does not need to be planted into the gravel. It may simply float to the top of the water and thrive there. The rate at which it grows is astounding, so you may feel the need to clip it back. I have read that it does grows faster with fertilizers and specialized lighting, but I can't imagine wanting it to grow more quickly than it has without all the extra support.

This plant works well in starter tanks and in low-light tanks.

I have also found this plant to provide the perfect protection for fish fry. It allows the fry to stay near the surface of the water and therefore, not miss out on food.

Moss Ball

One of the other plants I chose was a Moss Ball. And yes, that it just as it sounds: a ball of moss. This beautiful plant is about an inch and a half in diameter and it is fluffy and soft. It sits on the gravel and catches small particles of food and algae in it's coat, which the fish just love to pick at.

The moss ball needs to be turned frequently so that the moss on the underside continues to get enough light and does not die. Also, like other plants, the moss ball can be cut in half when it gets bigger. Both sides will continue to thrive, giving you two moss balls for your tank.

Again, this plant is great for low-light tanks and starter tanks.


In the three months since acquiring the live plants, I've trimmed the Hornwort and turned the Moss Ball many times and they are going from strength to strength with very little input from me. My tank is finally turning into the lush, green sanctuary I always wanted it to be.

My tank, as it is now, 3 months later.
My tank, as it is now, 3 months later.


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    • Olivia-O profile image

      Olivia-O 5 years ago

      Your tank looks lovely!

      I have always had problems with my plants. I am not sure if the damage was caused by the fish eating them, or the suction of my filter, or both, but I always end up with bare stems floating in the water.

      I am hoping to get a larger tank soon and will have to remember these plants when I begin setting up the new tank.