Best Floating Aquarium Plants for Betta, Shrimp, Fry
By Eddie Waithaka @aquariawise
Many freshwater fish tank owners prefer floating aquarium plants, if not for nothing else, for the somewhat straightforward propagation, planting, and maintenance needs.
Moreso, the plants have a couple of benefits over those you have to add in a substrate, but it’s not to say rooting plants are inferior.
The floaters are mostly popular with hobbyists who keep vulnerable aquarium species like shrimp, with the plants providing good cover and hiding spots, but still leave enough area at the bottom of the tank for the shrimp to explore.
Breeders too love floating plants, especially those keeping egg scattering fish because the plants’ foliage plays a crucial part in protecting the fish eggs and new fry.
However, it important to note not all freshwater aquarium fish prefer floating plants.
For instance, fish like Kribensis, a popular dwarf cichlid, are mostly secretive spawners that prefer to lay their eggs in caves.
Moreover, species like Harlequin Rasboras deposit adhesive eggs on the underside of broadleaf plants hence prefer stem plants like Aponogeton and Cryptocoryne which may require a substrate to grow.
That said, this article will take you through 14 floating plants that are easy to start and maintain and fail proof even for new aquarist.
These 14 floating aquarium plants include:
Salvinia Minima(Water spangles) Duckweed Hornwort Amazon Frogbit Java Moss Dwarf Water Lettuce Water Wisteria Brazilian Pennywort Water Sprite Riccia Fluitans(Floating Crystalwort) Rotala Indica Floating Bladderwort Dwarf Baby Tears Green Cabomba
#1 — Salvinia Minima (Water Spangles)
Salvinia minima also called water spangles is a floating water fern particularly useful when you have excess nutrients in your fish tank that you need to remove, which also helps suppress algae growth.
The plant mostly contains a minimum of 5 leaves per cluster that together provides cover for your fish. It also grows in 12 spangles which are perfect when you have small fish, shrimp and other surface fish.
If you are keeping betta or other fishes that don’t like too much light, Salvinia Minima is a great choice. Plus it is a good source of food for both omnivorous and herbivorous fish.
Water spangles are quite strong and can deal with a wide range of water conditions, but you may need to add a special aquarium light for the plant to reach optimal growth.
One other challenge of keeping Salvinia is the plant’s nutrients-hogging tendency, which means you need to add fertilizer, especially in a heavily planted tank.
#2 — Duckweed
Duckweed is a small, floating plant that will virtually grow in almost any aquarium, the same way it can grow over an entire water body in a matter of weeks.
However, it almost impossible to remove duckweed once the plant has grown, so you may want to stay clear until you are sure you need it for the long haul.
Fortunately, it is a good food source for fish like betta, thus depending on the fish you keep, it may just be what you want in your aquarium. Plus duckweed plants provide good coverage even for top dwelling fish.
Duckweed is good when you have new fry in the tank to provide them with shelter and a place to hide from aggressive and predatory fish. Also, if you like a natural look and don’t mind rapid growing plants, then this species is a great option.
To keep duckweed from taking over your tank, make sure you routinely remove excess leaves from the plant.
Overall, duckweed is easy to start and maintain, can grow in low light, and is moderately compatible with other aquatic plants hence not challenging even for beginners.
#3 — Hornwort
Hornwort is probably one of the easiest floating aquarium plants to grow, which is best demonstrated by the plant’s success in the wild.
It is highly tolerant to various water conditions and easy enough even for beginners. Plus its fast growth and ease of propagations means a little will go a long way.
It is possible to start hornwort either as a floating plant or rooted in substrate depending on your preference.
A unique advantage of coontail is that it is an excellent biological filter and collects rubbish on itself including fish waste products, and rotting organic matter.
Hence, like Salvinia Minima, hornwort can pull out a significant amount of nitrates from your aquarium water and discourage algae growth.
Even so, hornwort plant has a couple of downsides which includes dropping pricky leaves in the tank which will require clean up. Plus the plant will lose its beauty under bright light conditions since it grows stingy and long in appearance.
#4 — Amazon Frog Bit
Limnobium laevigatum commonly called Amazon frogbit or smooth frogbit is a floating aquarium plant that can easily be mistaken for water hyacinth.
The plant makes a good floating addition in aquariums growing in rosettes that lie on the water surface and a spongy tissue on the underside of the leaves.
The sponge plant is exceptionally-beautiful hence a common ornamental choice for aquarists.
Amazon frogbit is quite easy to grow and nature, can withstand a wide range of temperature and is especially useful if you need to provide your betta with cover.
However, a floating smooth frogbit may not be ideal for fish that prefer lighter biotopes, plus some species of freshwater aquarium snails largely feast on this plant.
Moreover, the roots of frogbit plants get tangled in fish tank filters, for this reason, consider binding your plant to one side of the tank using angling wire or suction cups.
That said if you like the natural look of floating plants but want a species that does not take up a huge part of your water column, then Amazon frogbit is your best bet.
#5 — Java Moss
Java moss is indisputably the most common freshwater aquarium plant, it is conveniently low maintenance, easy to start and establishes quickly.
The plant is also versatile and can be used to create a range of aquascapes including carpets, trees, walls and moss balls.
Due to its famous floating nature, it is a popular spawning plant with fish breeders and also forms a good shelter for newly hatched fry and fish that prefer less light conditions.
Java moss will grow in low light, but if you want it to establish quickly, use a medium-light bulb (about 1.5 Watts of fluorescent light per gallon) in your fish tank.
In case you don’t want to float your Java moss freely, you can use it to decorate aquarium rocks, driftwood, and even your substrate.
#6 — Dwarf Water Lettuce
Dwarf water lettuce is a super easy floating plant for an aquarium and reproduces rapidly by sending out daughter plants.
The plant does not need anything special to thrive and will help reduce nitrates build-up in your fish tank.
Also called Nile cabbage or water cabbage, this plant grows in soft to moderately hard water in an attractive maze of hanging roots which create the perfect environment for fry and skittish fish.
However, as with all floating aquarium plants, there is always a downside, wherein the dwarf water lettuce the plant is considered an invasive species.
This means you will need to check local regulation before sourcing your Nile cabbage, especially because it is illegal to own or transport it in certain states and countries.
Even so, if it is Ok to grow the plant in your area, be sure to provide it with enough light. Preferably, use a full spectrum bulb with medium to high intensity.
You will, however, want to start it in low-light and slowly introduce full light because strong lights will most likely scorch leaves on the young plant and general stunt the growth.
#7 — Water Wisteria
Water wisteria (Hygrophilia difformis) is another species that will cause you a little hassle, but the results are quite rewarding.
It is hardy and undemanding and can tolerate a variety of conditions with only a small amount of maintenance needed. Thus the plant is sufficiently beginner friendly.
Like hornwort, you can choose to either float your water wisteria or grow it rooted in gravel or sand.
Floated plants will take up most of their nutrients from the water column and don’t require CO2 addition or a lot of light, but they do require NPK and micronutrients dosing.
Consequently, if the plant growth stunt, its most likely due to lack of nutrients.
When not rooted, the plants leaves normally turn upright, and the roots will hang in the water reducing high nitrates and provide cover for fry and surface fish.
#8 — Brazilian Pennywort
Named after its penny-shaped leaves, Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephala) is floating aquarium plant that is widely available throughout the aquarium industry.
It’s round, dense to half sized leaves growing alternately along a vine-like creeping stem make Brazilian Pennywort a great contrast plant in a live planted aquarium.
This plant is also versatile and will grow whether planted in the substrate or as a floating plant. Normally, it will grow a couple of inches each week as long as it’s provided with enough light and plenty of Nitrogen in the water.
Brazilina pennywort will grow much slower when nutrients and lighting are low.
When planted as a floating plant, pennywort plants form perfect hiding spots for young fry as well as an excellent medium for infusoria to grow.
It is also not unusual for the plant to create a cover for surface and skittish fish species. Plus portions of the plant at the surface of the water may produce small white flowers that spruce your fish tank more.
#9 — Water Sprite
Water sprite is a common aquarium plant that is available in every pet store. Often, the plant is available under different names including water fern, Indian fern and Indian water fern.
Indian fern is also one of the most versatile aquarium plants and can grow as a floater or rooted in a substrate.
Healthy water sprite plants generally develop fern-like, thin, light-green leaves, but the stem color may be a bit darker than the leaves. However, stems are still on the light-green side compared to deep-green plants.
A floating water sprite will add beauty to you’re tank by providing a green hue near the water surface. Also, the plant can grow against other plants or decorations instead of free-floating which adds zeal to your aquarium.
Usually, your plant will develop wider leaves when floated than when planted because it will be closer to light. Your plant will develop thin and fine roots as well, which trap little bits of solid debris and also provide a great space place for shrimp especially Amao and Cherry breeds to feed.
Freshwater communities will love having water sprite plants around for the cover they provide and an ideal place to lay eggs for some species.
#10 — Riccia Fluitans
Riccia fluitans, whose common name is floating crystalwort is an aquatic plant of the liverwort genus Riccia, which is popular among aquarist as a retreat for young fry and particularly useful in livebearers fish tanks.
Floating cystalwort is also used by most shrimp keepers especially those maintaining Amano shrimp in their tanks.
The plant prefers medium light conditions and thrives best with added CO2. In proper growing conditions, small oxygen bubbles will form on the leave tips.
As a traditional floating plant, Riccia fluitans plants offer good protection for young fish, plus individual plants form beautiful, thick mats on or under the water surface, meaning you can use it to spruce your fish tank.
For the same reason, you can use the plant to decorate driftwood and rocks in your fish tank.
However, floating cystalwort grows fast and can take over your aquarium quite easily, so don’t plant it with other vigorous aquarium plants like Duckweed.
Lastly, if you keep your Riccia too close to a light bulb it will form a bright-green, dense mat, with each branch producing a large colony and that may become a challenge if not checked.
#11 — Rotala Indica
Rotala Indica, also called Indian toothcap is mostly popular among planted-aquarium enthusiasts because it adds color and depth in tanks over and above providing cover for shrimp, fry, and surface fish.
The plant features thin, fragile leaves that transform from green into pink or red under high-intensity light, though the leaves largely remain green under low to moderate lighting.
Therefore, when you want to use rotala as a centerpiece in your tank, grow the plant under high light conditions as well as supplement it with CO2 and nutrients. This way, it will outshine all green plants with its red hues.
That said, although Indian toothcup is easy to grow, the stems and leaves are a bit delicate and are easily damaged by some fish species.
Moreover, the plant can grow quite dense, so you may have to prune it every once in a while.
Lastly, it is important to note that although you can float your Rotala Indica, the plant is generally a rooter which means it will develop roots even when floating and the roots may look off while floating.
#12 — Floating Bladderwort
When stocking your planted aquarium, it pays to think outside the common cryptocoryne and anubias box. Explore new plants like carnivorous species which can be pretty unique additions for most fish tanks.
One of predatory plant that is easy to keep in a tank is floating bladderwort.
The plant is a type of floating plant that forms large mats on the surface of the water and produces bright yellow flowers that are stunning inside an aquarium.
Intriculari gibba (floating bladderwort) is quite easy to cultivate with adequate light, unlike other carnivorous plant species which are less beginner friendly.
Floating bladderwort is largely available in pet stores or from an online aquarium supplier along with other popular predatory aquarium species like purple bladderwort, waterwheel and common bladderwort.
Even so, it is important to note that although floating bladderwort is a carnivorous plant, it mostly feeds on microorganisms like zooplankton and daphnia.
Some larger plants in the family can consume a few newly-hatched fry, but for the most part, you do not have to be worried about the safety of fish larger than brineshrimp.
Floating bladderwort will also not compete with other plants for nutrients, plus you can grow it in a nutrient-poor condition where other species won’t survive.
That said, as it is with any live aquarium plant, you need to do your research before adding floating bladderwort to your aquarium to make sure you can meet the plant’s needs.
#13 — Dwarf Baby Tear
Dwarf baby tear is a popular aquarium plant used as a foreground or carpeting plant.
It is native to Cuba hence also called Cuba or the initials H.C from its scientific name Hemianthus callitrichoides.
Cuba grows best under high light with CO2 addition, with each plant portion producing runner which are individual stems that branch off and grow along the substrate.
The plant also grows tiny, bright-green leaves at an amazing speed covering the tank with a lush emerald carpet.
Dwarf baby tear is versatile, so away from floating your plant, you can attach it to driftwood, aquarium rocks or even plant it in a substrate as a foreground plant.
However, DBT (dwarf baby tear) is a fine-stem plant meaning it is not good for tanks stocked with rough fish. Also, keeping snails in a tank planted with Cuba is not recommended because snails usually feed on the soft plant leaves.
#14 — Green Cabomba
Green cabomba is a fairly easy floating plant to maintain, though some hobbyists consider it moderately difficult.
The plant prefers medium light (about 3 watts per gallon) and CO2 addition for best growth, and nutrients dosing crucial especially in heavily planted tanks.
Should you try to grow your green cabomba in low-light, low-tech conditions, there is a chance the plant will look good for a short while, but often, it starts to break apart and die.
Nevertheless, floating cabomba is easy as long as your aquarium has the right conditions, You only need to drop a stem in the tank, and the plant will gradually grow near the surface.
Because floating plants are closer to the light, they usually grow faster than rooted plants and can sprout fine roots from the stem and sometimes even flower.
Floated green cabomba plants will provide adequate hiding spaces for your fish and shrimp, but they are also delicate hence should be planted in aquarium stocked with calm fish.
For this reason, the plant is not a good choice for cichlids, goldfish and other roughens.
Also, some type of apple snails may be interested in eating your green cabomba.
Benefits of Floating Aquarium Plants
Floating aquarium plants come in different shapes and sizes, ranging from small-leaved types to some with fairly broad leaves.
Other plants have roots that hang in the water from the plant floating, while some are hardy than others.
For this reason, each floating species in the list above will serve a unique purpose in your fish tank.
That said, all the floating plants benefit your aquarium in one or all of these five ways.
Floating Aquarium Plants Provide Shade and Cover
Because floating plants mostly grow near the water surface, they provide adequate shade for fish and plants, especially those species that prefer lighter biotopes.
Popular fish species such as betta and gourami prefer darker water with dense plants cover creating shade and hiding place, particularly floating plants with long root structures.
However, plant your tank with floating plants accordingly making sure there is not too much shade rest your ground plants fail to thrive.
Plus too much shade stress some fish and make it harder for fish to locate food inside the tank.
Floating aquarium plants can form an extra source of food in your fish tank for some omnivorous and herbivorous species, although some like goldfish and apple snails can easily destroy your live plants.
Therefore, depending on the fish you are keeping, consider hardy, fast-growing plants for roughens, and for fish that only nibble on live plants lightly, you can use both hardy and soft-stem floaters.
Ergo, usually the main food source for your fish should be the appropriate commercial food with floating plants being for extra nutritional need and a balanced diet.
Hiding and Spawning Spaces
Most fish love floating plants as they provide hiding places, either for the fish to retreat and rest or hide from belligerent species.
If the conditions are right, some fish will also use the floating plants cover as a safe place to lay their eggs.
New fry that hatch cling on the roots as well, and get nourished by the nutrition the plants provide.
Skittish, shy and prey fish and inverts like shrimp particularly find floating plants quite useful, whereas egg-scatterers use floating and carpet plants like Java moss as spawning grounds.
Most floating plants filter harmful nitrates from aquariums and consequently suppress algae growth, even though some filter better than others.
Usually, rapid growing floaters are especially good at filtration compared to plants that grow gradually. They include Salvinia and hornwort with the later able to trap even solid debris.
Even so. it is important to have a filter in your aquarium regardless of the floating plants you’re keeping because, technically, the only tank that would do without a filter is a plant only fish tank. Maybe with a few small and pretty hardy fishes.
Overall, floating plant use nitrates in the tank as nutrients thereby reducing the contaminations found in water, with the only other solution being through water changes.
Some floating plants will help regulate tank oxygen level the same way they would in the wild.
Floaters use up CO2 expelled by the fish and in turn, add oxygen to the water which the fish breathe to stay alive.
All the best, and enjoy your planted fish tank.