Top 10 Low Light Aquarium Plants. Pros and Cons

Top 10 Low Light Aquarium Plants. Pros and Cons

Nowadays there is so much conflicting or incomplete information available online that it can be very difficult for beginner aquarists to figure out what they need. Unfortunately, the topic of ‘low light aquarium plants’ is not an exception here as well.

In this article, you will discover some beautiful and easy to grow plant that does not require expensive equipment, high levels of lighting, and co2 injection. Another great advantage of low light aquarium plants is that they can forgive you a lot of mistakes and survive in your learning curve.  

In my experience, I would always recommend to start off with the easy category plants. So, if this is your first low-tech planted tank, and you have never tried it before, this article will help you to make the best choice with some good tips.

Before you start reading, I have to clarify such terms as a low-light tank (low-tech tank) and low light itself. It will help us to be on the same page and avoid misunderstandings.

What are Low-Tech Tanks

A low-tech planted tank means that it is good for low-light demanding plants. It also means that:

  • You will not be using CO2.
  • There is no need to do huge and/or frequent water changes.
  • We can use basic filtration. The system does not require crystal clear water and expensive canister filters.
  • In most cases, the plants will not grow fast. It can take them weeks or even months before they start thriving.
  • We can use a different type of substrate. However, if we use the substrate that does not have a lot of nutrients in it, depending on the plant, we will have to put nutrients by dosing the water column with all-in-one fertilizers.

Important: If you keep shrimp, snails, and even fish in the tank and plan to use fertilizers, always look at the ingredient list for any product to ensure they are copper-free.

The problem is that many plant fertilizers contain Copper of any form. Copper is very toxic, especially for invertebrates.  I would highly recommend reading my articles:
How Copper Affects Dwarf Shrimp
Shrimp Safe Plant Fertilizers
CO2 in a Planted Tank Guide

How Much light is Considered Low Light?

Well, this is a very interesting question. The answer is – it depends on the balance in your tank. It sounds strange but let me explain.

If you have high light (without CO2) in the tank, you will get a lot of algae growth. I mean a lot a lot!

Why? Because plants cannot use all light given to them. As soon as CO2 and nutrients are no longer sufficient, photosynthesis slows down. However, if CO2 is available, plants will use way more light for photosynthesis. As a result, they will also consume more nutrients and inhibit algae growth.

That is why low-tech tanks ‘end’ when, in order to maintain the balance, we have to use CO2. Until then, it is low – medium light tanks.

Below you will see the table of Lumens and PAR for planted tanks. All these numbers are the result of a general consensus that hobbyists figured out over years of experience.

Low light
(per liter/per gallon)
Medium light
(per liter/per gallon)
Lumens 10 – 20/40 – 80 20 – 40/80 – 160
PAR 10 – 30 30 – 60

Lumen tells us how much visible light we are getting from the bulb.
PAR tells us the amount of light that’s applied to plants.

I would highly recommend reading my article “Advanced Guide to Planted Tank Lighting”.

The top 10 Low Light Aquarium Plants include the following species:

10. Java Fern
9. Cryptocoryne Wendtii
8. Java Moss
7. Amazon Sword
6. Dwarf Sagittaria
5. Marimo Moss Ball
4. Guppy Grass
3. Anubias
2. Ludwigia Repens
1. Bacopa Caroliniana

Note: In this list of low-light plants I did not include any floating plants because they will always get more light than other plants. Nonetheless, if you need more information, you can always read “Top 7 Floating Plants for Beginners”. 

10. Java Fern (Microsorum Pteropus)

Java fern care guideJava fern is one of the best beginner plants by far. These plants are quite popular in the aquarium hobby because of their versatility and resilience. This hardy plant does not really require special conditions to grow. You can literally attach it to anything (for example, rocks or driftwood) and it will thrive.

Java fern is an excellent plant for aquascaping, it can be used as a mid or background plant, and even as a feature plant in the display.

Java Fern Characteristics:

  • The plant can have different leaf forms and structures which makes it even more unique.
  • Leaves can change coloration depending on the intensity of lighting. The lower the lighting, the brighter the green coloration.
  • Grows very bushy.
  • Very attractive and can grow up to 15 – 35 cm (6 – 13 inches) in height and 15 – 20 cm (6 – 8 inches) in width.
  • Slow grower. Fertilizers are not mandatory but can improve the growth rate a little bit.
  • Does not need the substrate.

Java Fern Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 6.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 20 – 28 C (68 – 82 F)
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate lighting. 

Java Fern Propagation:

There are two types of propagation:

  • by rhizome, split the rhizomes into desired sizes, and attach it to a surface.
  • through the production of plantlets on the tips of its leaves.

Care level: Easy.

Java Fern
PROS CONS
Very beautiful and decorative.
Can be used in aquascaping.
Grows very slow
Easy to care for and maintain. Blocks waterways, thereby restricting the movement of inhabitants.
Dense shade cover for shy fish and shrimp. Can block nutrient and sunlight absorption for lower-dwelling plants in the tank.
Can survive in a wide range of temperature conditions.

For more information, read the article “Java Fern Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

Java Fern – check out the price on Amazon

9. Cryptocoryne Wendtii

Cryptocoryne wendtii 'Tropica'
Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘Tropica’

Cryptocoryne Wendtii is a very common species found in the aquarium hobby. One of the reasons for its popularity is because this is a very easy and beginner-friendly plant.

There are several forms of this plant that differs in color and leaf shapes. For example, there are three types that are most common, these are:

  • Wendtii ‘Green’ which possesses oblong dark green leaves.
  • Wendtii ‘Brown’ type has more bronze highlights.
  • Wendtii ‘Red’ with elongated reddish-brown leaves.

Because of their relatively small size, Cryptocoryne Wendtii will be a good choice for foreground and mid-ground plants.

Cryptocoryne Wendtii Characteristics:

  • Under low light they will stand up and have a more vertical structure.
  • Can grow up to 10 – 15 cm (4 – 7 inches) in height.
  • Slow to moderate grower.
  • Need nutrient-rich substrate. Root tabs and fertilizers are appreciated to increase growth.
  • Can also grow above the water.

Cryptocoryne Wendtii Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 6.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 18 – 27 C (68 – 80 F)
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate lighting. 

Cryptocoryne Wendtii Propagation:

There several types of propagation: splitting, cutting off daughter plants or by runners

Care level: Easy.

Cryptocoryne Wendtii
PROS CONS
Easy to care for and maintain. Slow growth rate.
Can survive in a wide range of temperature conditions. Melt in a new environment.
However, they do not die! Do not throw them away. Just give them time.
Root system prevents gas pockets. A huge root system makes it hard to relocate.
Looks great.

8. Java Moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri)

Java Moss - Taxiphyllum barbieriJava moss care is super easy because the plant can adaptable to a huge range of water parameters. The mere fact that this plant can grow even in brackish water should tell you how hardy it is.

Java moss can thrive where it will be certain death of the most aquarium plants. Without any doubt, this is an excellent choice for low light planted tanks.

In addition, Java Moss will let you create some nice aquascapes. Aquarists use these plants to make moss balls, moss walls, moss trees, etc.

Java Moss Characteristics:

  • Its dense structure is ideal for baby shrimp and fry. In fact, Java Moss is considered the best plant for shrimp keeping.
  • Can grow up to 5 – 10 cm (2 – 4 inches) in height.
  • Slow to moderate grower.
  • No need for fertilizers but they will increase the growth.
  • Does not require any substrate for planting. It can be attached to any driftwood, stone, or decoration.

Java Moss Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 6.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 21 – 24 C (70 – 75 F)
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate lighting. 

Java Moss Propagation:

There are several types of propagation:

  • Splitting.
  • Cutting off daughter plants.

Care level: Easy.

Java Moss
PROS CONS
Very easy to care for and maintain. Slow growth rate.
Very hardy. It is not the best looking moss.
An excellent breeding place for shrimp and fish.
Excellent as a foraging and hiding place.
Its structure catches all free-floating debris.
Does not require substrates for its growth.
Great for nano tanks.
It is cheap.

For more information, read the article “Java Moss Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation”.

Java moss – check out the price on Amazon

7. Amazon Sword (Echinodorus sp.)

Amazon Sword Plant (Echinodorus genus) hugeThese plants have been in the aquarium hobby for decades and they are a still super popular choice for beginner and experienced aquarium hobbyists alike. There are many species of Amazon sword but they are all very adaptable to a wide range of water conditions.

These plants also thrive under various light conditions, including low light.

The only thing that you need to keep in mind is that these plants are heavy root feeders. Amazon sword will grow in low-light tanks as long as you are giving it a lot of nutrients to the roots. This big plant is best suited to the background or as a focal point in the mid-ground of the aquascape.

Amazon Sword Characteristics:

  • Large leaves will make a good contrast to other plants and provide shelter for fish and shrimp. They are also great to cover all equipment in the tank.
  • The leaves have a rich green coloration.
  • Can grow up to 30 – 50 cm (~12 – 23 inches) in height.
  • Moderate grower.
  • Requires nutrient-rich substrate. Root tabs and fertilizers are greatly appreciated to increase growth.

Amazon Sword Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 6.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 22 – 27 °C (72 – 82 °F)
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate lighting. 

Amazon Sword Propagation:

There several types of propagation:

  • Splitting.
  • Through adventitious plantlets (submersed stalks).

Care level: Easy.

Amazon Sword
PROS CONS
Very beautiful and decorative.
Great for aquascapes.
Not for nano tanks.
Easy to care for and maintain. Need deep substrate.
Hardy. Absorbs a great deal of nutrients, thereby starving other nearby root-feeder plants.
Good as hiding places. Can block sunlight absorption for lower-dwelling plants in the tank.
Moderate growth rate. A huge root system makes it hard to relocate.
Provides a lot of surface area for shrimp and fish to feed on. Can melt in a new environment.
However, they do not die! Just give them time.
Root system prevents gas pockets.

For more information, read the article “Amazon Sword Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation”.

Amazon Sword Plant – check out the price on Amazon

6. Dwarf Sagittaria (Sagittaria Subulata)

Dwarf Sagittaria (Sagittaria Subulata)Dwarf Sagittaria is another beautiful plant that has been dominating the aquarium hobby for decades. This probably one of the most common species of plants, pretty much every fish store has some sort of variation in this plant.

This is a relatively fast-growing plant and it is perfect for filling in the foreground of your planted tank. Dwarf Sagittaria is extremely hardy and can survive in both unstable and hot, and cold environments. This is a great beginner plant.

Dwarf Sagittaria Characteristics:

  • It has green arrowhead-head shaped leaves.
  • This small plant usually does not exceed 5 – 10 cm (2 – 4 inches) in height, making it possible even to use a carpet plant to some degree.
  • This plant grows like weeds.
  • It can use a wide range of light except for high light, they can turn yellow.
  • Requires nutrient-rich substrate. Root tabs and fertilizers are appreciated to increase growth.

Dwarf Sagittaria Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 6.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 20 – 28 °C (68 – 82 °F)
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate lighting.

Dwarf Sagittaria Propagation:

There are no special requirements on your part to propagate this plant. Dwarf Sagittaria sends long runners and creates another plant often 5 – 10 cm (2 – 4 inches) away from the mother plant.

Care level: Easy.

Dwarf Sagittaria
PROS CONS
Very beautiful and decorative. Need deep and nutrient-rich substrate.
Easy to care for and maintain. A huge root system makes it hard to relocate.
Hardy.
Good as hiding places.
Moderate growth rate.
Great for nano tanks.
Root system prevents gas pockets.

For more information, read the article “Dwarf Sagittaria Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation”.

5. Marimo Moss Ball (Aegagropila Linnaei)

Marimo Moss Balls (Aegagropila linnaei) and shrimpI cannot make this list without Marimo Moss balls. Although technically, it is not exactly a plant, but a rare form of filamentous green algae. Nonetheless, it is still a very popular choice for low-light planted tanks.

These equally strange and charming balls will catch attention and beautify any tank. But what is even more important, they are so easy to care for, that you do not have to worry about planting them, just toss them in the tank and … this is it.

Marimo Moss Balls Characteristics:

  • Can live in freshwater and brackish water.
  • Growth rate is slow (5 mm or 0.2 inches per year) but can get up to 20 – 30 cm or 8 – 12 inches.
  • Does not like high-intensity lighting.
  • Can grow without an air supply.
  • Does not need filtration.
  • Even if they fall apart, they can be easily re-rolled and growth continues.
  • When you quarantine them, do not use any chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, bleach, etc. Because Marimo Moss balls are algae, it will kill them.

Marimo Moss Balls Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 7.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 5 – 24 °C (43 – 75 °F)
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate lighting.

Marimo Moss Balls Propagation:

It propagates by splitting. Squeeze the water out of the moss ball and divide it in half. Next, re-rolling it. Done.

Care level: Easy.

Marimo Moss Balls
PROS CONS
Has a unique form.
Very beautiful and decorative.
Cannot tolerate warm temperatures.
Easy to care for and maintain. Grows very slowly.
Hardy. Many fake Marimo moss balls on the market.
Great for nano tanks.
Does not require substrate.
Live for dozens of years.
It is cheap.

For more information, read the article “Marimo Moss Ball Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation”.

Marimo Moss Balls – check out the price on Amazon

4. Guppy Grass (Najas guadalupensis)

Guppy Grass (Najas guadalupensis)As the name says for itself, it is called Guppy Grass because it is used by many breeders of Guppies as well as shrimp. This is a good beginner fast growing plant that will cover a whole tank with time.

This plant is very undemanding. It does not require much light or specific water parameters, making it a great choice for low-light aquariums.

Important: In nature, Guppy Grass can be very invasive. That is why it is restricted (banned, illegal) species in some US states.

Guppy Grass Characteristics:

  • Can be planted, or floated, but it does best floating.
  • The stems are pretty delicate and easy to break. However, it really does not matter much because the broken part will develop new side shoots and you will get another plant.
  • Fast growing plant.
  • Because of the fast growth, it is extremely efficient at absorbing toxins from the water column.
  • Tolerates brackish water.
  • Hard to zone in one place. It tends to expand in all directions.

Guppy Grass Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 6.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 20 – 26 °C (68 – 79 °F)
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate lighting.

Guppy Grass Propagation:

It propagates by breaking stems.

Care level: Easy.

Guppy Grass
PROS CONS
Fast growth rate. Fragile, easy to break.
Easy to care for and maintain. Creates a mess in the tank due to its excessive growth.
Hardy. Once established, it can be hard to get rid of.
Great for nano tanks. Can block sunlight absorption for lower-dwelling plants in the tank.
Does not require substrate.
Absolutely wonderful for sucking up nitrates and ammonia.
Provides a lot of cover for small fish and shrimp.
Helps to slow down algae growth in the tank.
It is cheap.

For more information, read the article “Guppy Grass Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

3.      Anubias

Anubias nanoAnubias plants are very popular, easy to grow foreground or mid-ground plants. Personally, they are also one of my favorite plants as well. These plants can live well with lower and moderate light levels.

The Anubias genus includes many species. However, they all share two main features:

  • They are very beautiful and look really gorgeous in any tank.
  • These plants are about the easiest plants to keep in an aquarium. Its adaptability and flexibility make it ideal for aquarium use. No wonder why this is so popular choice for low-tech tanks.

Anubias plants will offer a great contrast to any other plants in the aquarium.

Anubias Characteristics:

  • Thick and tough leaves.
  • Its hardy leaf structure makes it compatible even with big fish like Goldfish, Oscar, Cichlids, etc.
  • Slow growers.
  • Does not require the substrate. Anubias can be attached to any driftwood, rocks, or decoration in the tank.
  • As long as your fish and snails produce enough bioload (waste), you do not even need to add any fertilization.

Anubias Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 6.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 72 – 82 °F (22 – 28 °C)
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate lighting.

Anubias Propagation:

It propagates by cutting the rhizome of the mother plant.

Care level: Easy.

Anubias
PROS CONS
Very beautiful plant. Slow growth rate.
Has many varieties. Prone to algae.
Easy to care for and maintain. Not the best at sucking up nitrates and ammonia.
Hardy.
Some species are great for nano tanks.
Does not require substrate.
Provides a lot of surface area for shrimp and fish to feed on.
Provides a lot of cover for small fish and shrimp.
Easy to propagate.

For more information, read the article “Anubias Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

Anubias nana petite – check out the price on Amazon

2. Ludwigia Repens

Ludwigia RepensThe genus Ludwigia includes almost 40 different species, many of which are present in the aquarium hobby. Among these species, we can find some of the easiest and the most difficult aquarium plants.

Ludwigia Repens is one of the most popular and easily obtained plants in the aquarium hobby. Its reputation as an old standby is well deserved, as it is quite undemanding and the easiest in the genus to care for.

I would definitely recommend any beginner to start off with this plant.

Ludwigia Repens Characteristics:

  • True low-light plant. Under moderate lighting, the leaves will get a nice reddish hue.
  • Fast-growing plant.
  • Grows up to 25 – 50 cm (10 – 20 inches) in height.
  • Can be planted, or floated, but it does best being planted.
  • Usually can grow and thrive without any fertilization. However, if, for some strange reason, you have some problems, you can add iron fertilization.

Ludwigia Repens Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 6.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 68 – 78 °F (20 – 26 °C)
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate lighting.

Ludwigia Repens Propagation:

It propagates by cutting branches off the top and planting the stem in the substrate.

Care level: Easy.

Ludwigia Repens
PROS CONS
Nice looking plant that can change color. Roots overgrowth.
Easy to care. Requires frequent trimming and maintenance.
Hardy. Prefers iron-rich substrates.
Some species are great for nano tanks.
Very good at sucking up nitrates and ammonia.
Provides a lot of surface area for shrimp and fish to feed on.
Provides a lot of cover for small fish and shrimp.
Easy to propagate.
It is cheap.

For more information, read the article “Ludwigia Repens Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

1. Bacopa Caroliniana

Bacopa CarolinianaBacopa caroliniana is a very nice looking, green, stemmed plant that can thrive in any freshwater aquarium. Its undemanding nature makes this aquatic plant an excellent choice for beginners and experts alike

Bacopa caroliniana can grow fully or partially submerged. Therefore, if you are not sure that the plant gets enough light just let it float on top. It will put shoots out even if floating in the water.

Bacopa Caroliniana Characteristics:

  • Produces a lemon-mint smell at the place of cut.
  • Has hairs on the stem.
  • Leaves are fragile and should be handled with care.
  • Can be kept in outdoor ponds.
  • In an emersed state, it has blue flowers.
  • Grows up to 10 – 30 cm (4 – 12 inches) in height.
  • Trimming makes the plant bushier.
  • Does not require a nutrient-rich substrate. It can grow in sand or gravel. As long as your fish and snails produce enough bioload (waste), you do not even need to add any fertilization.
  • Tolerates salinity and can be used in brackish tanks.

Bacopa Caroliniana Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 6.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 68 – 78 °F (20 – 26 °C)
  • Lighting: Low to high lighting.

Bacopa Caroliniana Propagation:

It propagates by cutting branches off the top and planting the stem in the substrate.

Care level: Easy.

Bacopa caroliniana
PROS CONS
Adds great aesthetic value to the tank. May require fertilization.
Easy to care. Can block sunlight absorption for lower-dwelling plants in the tank.
Hardy.
Great for nano tanks.
Good at sucking up nitrates and ammonia.
Medium growth rate.
Provides a lot of surface area for shrimp and fish to feed on.
Provides a lot of cover for small fish and shrimp.
Easy to propagate.
Thrives under various light conditions.
It is relatively cheap.

For more information, read the article “Bacopa Caroliniana Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

Quarantine Any New Plant

Do not forget to quarantine any new plants (except Marimo Moss balls) before putting them into your tank!

  • They can have parasites, pests snails, or even predators (dragonfly, damsefly nymphs, etc.).
  • They can be treated with chemicals (pesticide) to remove parasites, snails, etc. However, these chemicals are extremely poisonous to shrimp and invertebrates.

To find out more, read How to Quarantine and Disinfect Aquarium Plants.

Related articles:

Top 7 Nano Aquarium Plants
Top 5 Plants for Your Shrimp Tank
Top 7 Floating Plants for Beginners
Top 8 Carpeting Plants for Planted Tanks
Advanced Guide to Planted Tank Lighting.

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