In natural freshwater environments plants float along the water’s surface. We have all seen a lake or pond with a dense mat of greenery along its surface.
When designing a fish tank the goal is to create an environment that is as close to nature as possible.
What better way to do this than to include some floating plants?
These will not only provide a natural shelter for your fish, but can serve as a shield against intense light. Some species even act as a buffer for excess nutrients.
This list features over 15 of the best floating aquarium plants that you can use in your tank, paludarium or pond. Keep reading as there are so many fabulous ones to choose from…
What Makes A Good Floating Aquarium Plant?
Floating plants are found in freshwater environments all over the world, in all kinds of temperatures and water conditions.
There are two different types of floating plants that you can grow in your tank or your pond:
- Free floating
- Emergent (i.e. submersed)
Free floating plants do not need any substrate to grow. They will grow as the light hits them when you place them along the water’s surface.
These species have roots that float along the water’s surface instead of growing rooted to the substrate. This means they can grow along the surface of your fish tank without any substrate to plant them.
Duckweed and Frogbit are two of the most famous examples.
Emergent or submersed plants must be planted in the substrate, but will float or trail along the surface when they reach their full height.
The beautiful Parrot Feather is a type of emergent plant.
Floating plants are often regarded as nuisance weeds in the wild. But when raised and tended carefully, they can be both decorative and beneficial to your tank.
To start with they can provide shade and shelter for fish on every level of the tank. They also act as a supplementary food source for surface dwellers like clownfish.
Finally, as the plants decay, tannins are added to the water column which makes the tank better for fish that prefer slightly acidic waters.
While there are many benefits, there are a few downsides too.
Floating plants may shade out the rest of the tank if grown too densely.
Plus, they tend to attract a lot of algae especially in high light environments.
Dense mats of greenery can clog filter intakes and even tangle up any poor fish that happen to get caught in them.
They are also not particularly good at oxygenating the tank, unless they grow submersed or float slightly below the surface.
Fortunately for the best floating aquarium plants the benefits outweigh the downsides. Check out of favorite species in the table below:
|Anacharis||Yes||$6 to $15||11|
|Azolla||Yes||$7 to $15||12|
|Bladderwort||Yes||$8 to $10||6|
|Brazilian Pennywort||No||$7 to $15||7|
|Duckweed||Yes||$3 to $10||1|
|Frogbit||Yes||$5 to $15||4|
|Green Cabomba||Yes||$10 to $20||10|
|Hornwort||Yes||$5 to $10||3|
|Ludwiga Palustris||No||$5 to $10||14|
|Ludwigia Repens||No||$6 to $20||13|
|Moneywort||No||$10 to $40||8|
|Parrot Feather||Yes||$10 to $15||2|
|Redroot Floater||Yes||$7 to $20||5|
|Salvinia||Yes||$4 to $10||9|
|Water Hyacinth||No||$15 to $30||15|
|Water Lettuce||No||$7 to $25||16|
|Water Wisteria||Yes||$8 to $15||17|
Duckweed is one of the most famous floaters of all! It is found in freshwater habitats all over the world.
This opportunistic species grows absolutely everywhere, even where other floating plants will not grow. In aquariums and paludariums it provides a fresh and natural look.
Duckweed grows in all light intensities, but must have exposure to natural sunlight for at least six hours every day.
Surface dwelling fish can use duckweed as a supplemental food source and there is always enough of it to go around. The major disadvantage to Duckweed is its ability to get everywhere.
Duckweed is easy to grow and to manage.
Simply float it along the surface of your tank and let it grow on its own. In just a few weeks, you will have a dense mat of floating aquarium plants. The plant will propagate itself by dispersing seeds and offshoots across the water’s surface.
2. Parrot Feather
Parrot Feather is one of the most spectacular floating aquarium plants that you can grow.
The aqua colored, feathery leaves are both beautiful and beneficial. It adds extra oxygen to your water column when rooted and grown as an emergent plant.
When at its full height the plant can float along the surface and create long trails for your fish to make themselves at home in.
Parrot Feather needs a moderate to high light intensity, a temperature between 60 and 80°F and a tank size of 55 gallons or more.
Hornwort is one of the most popular floating plants and is one of the easiest to grow.
It is not very picky about temperature or light and can grow in a cold water tank just as well as in a tropical environment.
Aquarium Hornworts should not be confused with bryophyte Hornworts. Aquarium species are plants from the Ceratophyllum genus.
Hornwort has a similar formation to the Anacharis floating plant, though its leaves are thinner and longer.
In a well fertilized substrate Hornwort can grow up to five inches a week!
It grows very tall when it is planted in fertilized substrate, but it can also grow free floating along the surface of your tank. When it grows too long, you can simply trim it back from the top.
Frogbit is a large leaved alternative to Duckweed.
In a tank you can use it as a substitute for floating plants that are better suited to ponds. In ponds it makes an excellent companion to the Water Hyacinth and Water Lettuce.
Frogbit looks like tiny ‘lily pads’ whose roots float along the surface.
There are many different species, including Amazon, American and European.
Each species has its own variation of tank conditions and care requirements. All Frogbits need a light intensity between one and three watts per gallon and exposure to direct sunlight for eight hours a day – this is a low light aquarium plant.
5. Redroot Floater
Redroot Floater is a slower growing alternative to Duckweed or Frogbit.
You do not need any substrate at all for this floating plant, but it should be floated in an open tank without a hood or lid.
In at least 5 watts of light per gallon the leaves can turn red to match the roots. In lower light the leaves are green or yellow.
A few fish may nibble on the leaves or the roots, but the plant will grow thick enough to compensate for this. When the mats of Redroot grow too thick and dense, you can collect the excess.
The excess can be placed in another tank and new plants will grow as the light hits them.
The sight of floating Bladderworts on the surface of a lake or pond is a very common one.
When grown in outdoor ponds or in exposure to direct sunlight, they will flower in the late spring to early summer. The flowers can be purple, pink, or bright yellow.
Bladderworts can grow in just about any tank size and you can even grow them in pots.
To grow Bladderworts your light should be low to moderate and your pH should range from 6.0 to 7.0.
Bladderworts feed on live prey, just like Pitcher Plants and Venus Flytraps. They use the small ‘bladders’ on their stalks to trap tiny insects and zooplankton! You will need to provide water fleas and insect larvae for them to eat.
7. Brazilian Pennywort
Brazilian Pennywort is a trailing plant than grows very quickly.
When floated along the surface it creates a beautiful ‘waterfall’ effect. Its leaves are shaped like large coins, giving it its pennywort name.
Brazilian Pennywort looks spectacular when well-tended, but its fast growth may be difficult for beginners to keep up with.
At three watts of lighting per gallon Brazilian Pennywort grows at about two inches per week. To control the growth rate keep the light down low and skip the extra CO2.
Moneywort is an aquatic vine that can be used for a rainforest themed tank.
It is not one of the best floating plants for first timers as it requires weekly maintenance.
If the vines grow too long, they can clog your filter intakes.
Growth rate should be manageable at 2 to 4 watts per gallon, but the plant will still need regular trimming and shaping. Cuttings can be propagated in the substrate or floated along the surface to form new plants.
When floated on the surface of the tank Moneywort will grow in the direction that the light hits it.
Avoid direct sunlight or high light intensities to prevent overgrowth.
This water fern is a low maintenance floating plant that can be used as a substitute for water primroses.
There are many different species of Salvinia to choose from. The most popular species for aquariums are Salvinia minima, Salvinia auriculata, and Salvinia natans.
You can tell the difference by looking at the size and leaf shape. For example the S. minima has smaller, rounder leaves.
All Salvinias are free floating plants with roots that trail down from the surface of the water.
Salvinias propagate through offshoots, which you can cut away and float to start a new crop.
To grow them you will need a nutrient rich fertilizer and a little bit of extra CO2. Just keep in mind that CO2 may lower the pH of your water column, and too much of it can lower your water quality.
In a tank you will need at least four to five watts of light per gallon. In a pond ten hours of sunlight per day is necessary for optimal growth.
10. Green Cabomba
The Green Cabomba is an extremely showy aquarium plant with pom pom shaped leaves.
You can use this floating aquarium plant as a showier alternative to the Anacharis.
Smaller tropical fish enjoy this plant because of its effective shading. It can also filter out any excess nutrients that enter your water column.
Green Cabomba is native to the United States and South America.
You can find it in abundance along the surface of a lake or pond. Both submerged and emergent options are available.
When grown emergent the trailing stalks along the surface resemble puffy Waterweeds.
Green Cabombas need a light intensity over four watts per gallon and a pH range starting at 5.0. They must be trimmed regularly from the top when they grow too large.
Anacharis is a type of waterweed that is also called Brazilian Waterweed.
This trailing weed is prized for its elegant formation. It grows either rooted or floating, but will trail along the surface either way.
Anacharis is adapted to warmer water conditions, but grows well in a temperate tank. The best water temperatures are between 60 and 80°F.
It grows very densely in high light or under poor maintenance. It is best to use a light intensity at two watts per gallon for slower, more controlled growth.
Azolla is a floating fern that is also known as Mosquito Fern.
This popular livestock feed makes a great decorative aquarium plant. Its leaves may turn deep red when exposed to iron and full sunlight!
Azolla is much better for ponds and water gardens than it is for tanks, but can grow in a large open tank.
It can also be grown in a paludarium, though you still need a large tank size.
Azolla does not need any substrate to grow and can be grown in moist environments between 60 and 80°F.
13. Ludwigia Repens
Ludwigia Repens is a type of water primrose.
This plant must be planted in the substrate, but it forms floating mats along the surface at its full height.
In an iron rich environment it has bright red stalks and deep red leaves. In areas with slightly less iron the leaves are varying shades of green.
For its best colors run an intensity of three watts per gallon or higher.
It slightly smaller than the Ludwiga Palustris reaching just a little under two feet.
14. Ludwiga Palustris
Ludwigia Palustris, or Marsh Seedbox, is another type of water primrose.
Iron is a must for growing this plant. It can grow in low to moderate light, but needs plenty of iron to maintain its best colors.
In an iron rich environment this floating plant has bright red stalks and deep red leaves.
It is recommended for growing in outdoor environments with exposure to direct sunlight.
15. Water Hyacinth
The Water Hyacinth is one of the most popular floating plants for koi ponds.
Unfortunately this popularity has led it to become a nuisance. Water Hyacinth is considered an invasive weed in several states and some jurisdictions have made it illegal to grow.
Water Hyacinth is a showpiece of a plant with beautiful purple flowers.
They will look their best when the plant is fertilized every week and exposed to at least eight hours of sunlight a day.
Water Hyacinth grows fast and spreads wide, so space is the key. You will need at least an 80-gallon tank with no lid or hood. Controlled growth is much easier in a tank with a water temperature between 70 and 82°F.
This plant is free floating, but the roots are very thick.
Every few weeks, you will need to trim the roots along with the rest of your plant.
16. Water Lettuce
The Water Lettuce is a good choice for keepers who do not have the experience to keep a Water Hyacinth. The two are very similar to each another.
Like the Water Hyacinth, selling and growing Water Lettuce is illegal in some states.
Always check your state laws before attempting to grow any non-native plant.
Water Lettuce is a common sight in koi ponds. In some areas it can even be found in the wild.
In an aquarium water lettuce should be planted in mild fertilizer with a temperature at 65 to 80°F.
17. Water Wisteria
You might not have known that the Water Wisteria can be grown as a floating plant.
To grow a floating Water Wisteria simply place the plant at the surface of your aquarium, instead of planting it in substrate.
It is more likely to grow free floating if your light intensity is over three watts per gallon.
Water Wisteria has leaves that are large and very shady.
It provides excellent shelter for your surface dwelling fish.
Water Wisteria grows very quickly and can overpower a tank in no time at all. It will need to be maintained regularly to keep from becoming a nuisance.
Frequently Asked Questions
How To Plant Floating Plants?
Most floating plants do not need any real ‘planting’ at all.
Free floaters can be set along the surface of the water and do not need any additional planting.
It is best to float them in close proximity to your light source.
Fertilizer may be necessary to ensure the best growth. Since these plants do not take in nutrients from the ground, you will need to add fertilizer to the water itself. Use a fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen, phosphate and iron.
Emergent or trailing plants must be planted in the substrate. You should set them in soft, fine grains that will not damage the roots.
Emergents should be trimmed by cutting off excess that grows at the tops of the plant.
In some cases, the cuttings can be propagated in another tank to grow new plants.
What Tank Size Do I Need?
The bare minimum tank size for any floating aquarium plants is 25 gallons.
Species like the Hornwort that grow more rapidly may need 55-gallons or more.
You should try to use an open tank with no hood or lid so that your plants have enough room to grow.
Do Floating Plants Oxygenate The Water?
Some emergent floating plants do have the added bonus of oxygenating the water. Ludwigia Repens and Parrot Feather are two good examples, but this is usually a job for your submerged plants.
In fact, too many floating plants at the surface will deplete the oxygen in the water.
Floating Aquarium Plants For Goldfish
Goldfish are very voracious eaters so it can be difficult to keep any plants with them.
However, there are some ‘Goldfish-proof’ species that you can use to decorate a Goldfish tank.
Water Lettuce and Duckweed are the best for ponds and larger tanks. Cabomba and Hornwort are great for tanks of almost any size.
Floating Plants For Betta Fish
Betta fish appreciate the shelter of heavily planted tanks that resemble their natural environment. After all, they are found living in rice gardens in the wild.
When picking out floating plants for a Betta tank try Duckweed, Frogbit, Bladderwort, Hornwort or Cabomba.
How To Pick The Best Floating Plant
Tank size, skill level and existing fish are all important factors to consider when it comes to picking out the best floating aquarium plants.
Not every plant is right for every fish.
If you have fish that love to graze on greenery then some of the more delicate species may not be able to hold up.
You will also need to consider the space of your biotope in relation to the plant’s size and growth rate. Quick growing floating plants will need larger tanks or outdoor ponds.
Finally, skill level is also something to take into account. Some plants are easy enough for beginners to manage, while others are better left to experienced aquascapers.
Whether you are looking for the best shelter for your fish or just trying to create a beautiful aquascape, these fabulous floating plants should be a big help to you.