Low light aquarium plants are the best bet for hobbyists who don’t want to deal with setting up a lighting system in their tank.
You won’t get the same lush growth and coloration as with high light plants, but plenty of low light aquarium plants look great in tanks with no additional lighting.
Plus, you won’t have to worry about getting algae as much.
Algae blooms happen in aquariums when there is an imbalance between the light coming into the tank and the nutrients available for plants to grow.
Without enough plant growth to use all of the light coming into the tank, algae will grow instead.
Low light aquariums generally only need a minimal amount of fertilizer to help promote plant growth in your tank.
This means that these tanks won’t be prone to algae growth since fewer nutrients are present for algae to use.
What is a Low Lighting Aquarium Plant?
Low lighting is a term used by aquarists to describe light intensity in an aquarium system.
We use this term primarily for planted aquariums, and it’s essentially the opposite of high-tech, high-light systems.
High-tech systems require additional lighting fixtures such as T5 or LED lights that provide enough intensity for high-light-loving aquarium plants.
These lights are usually installed on plant tanks containing fast-growing species such as stem plants, which have higher light requirements than other types of plants.
Usually, high-tech setups also use CO₂ injection tanks to help their plants absorb nutrients better and grow faster.
How Much Light Do Low Light Aquarium Plants Need?
In a low-light aquarium, the plants cannot perform photosynthesis at their highest capacity.
The plant does not outpace algae growth and algae problems in many cases.
However, certain plants can thrive in these conditions, and some survive under the stock lights of a new fish tank.
The most important thing is to research the light requirements for the plants you are interested in keeping and ensure that your aquarium’s lighting can meet those requirements.
In terms of PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation), be aware that plants only use wavelengths between 400 and 700 nanometers in their photosynthesis process, so only PAR from this range will be used by your plants.
What Are Some Good Low Light Aquarium Plants?
Java fern (Microsorium Pteropus) is a plant that is easy to care for and spread out all over the aquarium.
It thrives in low light and can survive in many conditions.
Because of its ease of care, it is a good choice for beginners who are just getting into planted tanks.
This plant can be grown on rocks and driftwood and in the substrate.
It is a versatile plant that can grow in many types of tanks.
Although Java fern is pretty resilient and can handle a wide range of water conditions, it still prefers soft water with a neutral pH.
As with most plants, you should also keep the temperature in the 72-80°F range to prevent any issues.
One thing to note about Java fern is that it’s a relatively slow-growing plant and can be outpaced by algae and other faster-growing plants.
Because of this, you may need to keep a close eye on your tank and manually remove algae and other plants competing for space.
Java moss comes from the Hypnaceae aquarium plants native to Southeast Asia.
It’s used for various purposes, including decorating fish tanks, providing cover for fry, and absorbing excess nutrients.
This plant overgrows in freshwater and saltwater setups by attaching to rocks, wood, and other hardscapes.
If you have an aquarium substrate of sand or gravel, you can still grow Java moss by placing it on top of the tank décor and burying the base in the substrate.
When kept in low light conditions, Java Moss grows slower, but it will grow faster under high lighting.
If you want Java Moss to grow faster, you might need to provide it with CO2 supplementation and a good fertilization regimen.
Java Moss does not require any particular substrate for its growth – it grows fine on most types of substrates or even without a substrate at all.
Java Moss is one of the few plants that do not require trimming, but some aquarists trim Java Moss anyway because they do not like its appearance by default.
Amazon swords are native to tropical regions in South America, like Brazil and Peru, where they grow along riverbanks and in marshes.
So naturally, these plants require high levels of calcium and magnesium to thrive.
If you want Amazon swords to take off, they need a steady supply of these nutrients, which is best accomplished with root tabs that release all the essential minerals your plant needs over time.
Hygrophila difformis, also known as water wisteria, is a species of aquarium plant that belongs to the family Acanthaceae.
This species is native to Southeast Asia and is commonly cultivated in the aquarium trade.
It is a fast-growing, undemanding plant that prefers warmer temperatures and high lighting conditions.
As with most aquarium plants, Hygrophila difformis has two different varieties: long, delicate leaves and short, broad leaves.
The type of leaf you get depends on the amount of light it receives: low light results in short, broad leaves; high light results in long, delicate leaves.
Because of this, this species may be mislabeled in aquarium stores — even when sold under the same name.
Hygrophila difformis is an easy plant to keep and requires minimal care.
Although it prefers warmer water (around 77°F), it can tolerate temperatures ranging from 68°F to 82°F.
It will grow well in any pH between 5 and 8 and tolerates hard or soft water equally well.
Anubias are the hardiest of all aquarium plants.
They can be grown emersed or submerged (below the water), produced under any light level, and raised on any substrate.
Anubias will grow new leaves and roots no matter where you put them.
If you want to grow Anubias submersed, attach it to a piece of driftwood or rock either with thread or fishing line.
Make sure, however, that the wood is already covered in algae so that it’s not able to leach tannins into the water.
If you want to grow Anubias emerged, set it on top of a pot of soil and add water until it starts growing out of the pot.
You can also take cuttings from your Anubias stems by cutting just below a leaf node.
Anubias prefer low light, but they can handle high lighting if necessary.
The only thing they don’t like is being moved around too much, so once you have an Anubias planted where you want it, leave it there!
Cryptocoryne wendtii is an aquarium plant native to Sri Lanka.
It is popular in the aquarium trade.
Crypts are named after the type of leaf they have, called a crypt.
This species is commonly available and relatively hardy. It can be used as a background plant or a mid-ground accent plant.
The leaves are often variegated with white and green stripes or spots, but many solid green varieties exist.
An aquarium does best with medium light and a nutrient-rich substrate containing laterite (a mineral-rich clay).
Crypts grow poorly in standing water and require regular changes to ensure healthy growth.
They can handle most water conditions except incredibly soft or alkaline water, which they do not tolerate well.
The expected water temperature range is between 21°C (70°F) and 27°C (80°F).
Cryptocoryne wendtii comes in several varieties that grow more slowly than others.
The variety “Tropica” has been bred not to melt when first placed in an aquarium, and it will adapt faster than other varieties.
Rotala rotundifolia is not a complex plant to grow, but it will grow much better if you take the time to prepare its environment.
Rotala rotundifolia prefers an acidic pH and soft water like most aquarium plants.
If you have complex or alkaline water, it may be necessary to use CO2 to maintain this plant.
In addition, you should try to provide it with a nutrient-rich substrate that is well illuminated.
Without these conditions (or supplementation), you will quickly notice your Dwarf Rotala begin to fade.
Dwarf Sagittaria is a perennial grass-like plant that grows in clumps.
It has narrow, strap-shaped leaves that are light green to reddish.
If you look closely, you’ll see the leaves have a fine ribbed texture and a sharp point at the end of each leaf.
These points can be very sharp, so use caution when reaching your aquarium to avoid getting cut!
It’s important to note that these plants can grow up to 12 inches tall and one foot wide depending on conditions, so be sure you have adequate space in your tank.
Dwarf Sagittaria can make an exciting addition to the aquarium as it will create a lawn-like appearance with a bit of maintenance.
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