Ok, so you've had an aquarium for a while, and you're starting to think that the fake plants you have, while nice looking, don't quite give you the feel of reality that you're going for. You're starting to linger around the planted displays in your Local Fish Store. Face it, you're gonna start buying them and putting them in your aquarium, so it's time to read up. There are good plants to start with and some that are going to be more challenging. Here's three good options for beginner plants; all of them will take a pH between 6 and 7.5, and a temperature pretty much anywhere in the 70s Fahrenheit.
First on our list is the “Amazon Sword.” This is a tough leaved plant that is very durable and adaptable to a wide range of conditions. At least two species are sold as Amazon sword, though all are closely related. The two most common are Echinodorus bleheri (with slightly more broad leaves) and Echinodorus amazonicus (with more slender long leaves). Amazon Swords are most often planted along the back of an aquarium as a backdrop to cover heaters, filters, wires and air lines. They can pretty easily get a foot tall and up to 20 inches or so when very happy. This is an easy plant to maintain. They can be planted in gravel (though a plant substrate will work better in the long run). Like most plants, they like a longer day, in the eight to twelve hour range. When buying Amazon Swords, look for plants with lush green leaves and good root systems. Avoid plants with leaves that are turning clear or yellow as they are on their way out. Also avoid plants that have spotty leaves.
Next on our list is the Java Fern. If we were rating these based on ease and durability, Java Fern would probably have been number one on the list. This is a great plant for your first aquarium plant because they don't need (or even like) super bright light, they can grow free floating or planted, and the reproduce like crazy. It is a very tough leaved plant and as such, most fish won't bother it much. If you're looking for a plant for a goldfish tank, this is the right one to try first. As far as growing the Java Fern, you can just drop it in an aquarium and it should grow. If it is rooted, you can plant these roots in gravel, though they will die out if you plant them too deep. You can even glue this plant to rocks or driftwood and it will take off. The only ways to kill it are to give it too much light (which can melt it) or let it get overrun by algae (also frequently a problem with too much light). Java Fern will reproduce by budding out new plants off the leaves, which can be removed and planted, or left to drop off and plant themselves, depending on how curated the look you are going for is. When happy, they can make a nice middle length forest fairly quickly. They are often used as middle ground plants in large aquariums, or as background plants in smaller aquariums. They'll pretty easily get 10-14 inches long when happy.
There are many “mosses” available to plant in your aquarium, but Java Moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri) is the best choice for beginners. Like the other plants on this list, they do well in environments that weren't necessarily designed for plants. Java moss won't need a specific lighting system or carbon dioxide infusions to grow lush green plants. They will need a bit of flow as they can grow in a quite dense habit, restricting flow to the inner portions of the plant, causing die off. They grow two to four inches high, and could get higher, but should be trimmed to maintain shape and brilliant green coloration. Java Moss will darken if allowed to grow taller. Java Moss does not have proper roots, and needs to be affixed to substrate, rock or wood to keep it in place. Once attached, it will continue to attach itself to a variety of substrates via rhizoids that it grows in lieu of roots. It can grow free floating as well. When happy, Java moss will spread and make a lush carpet across the front of your aquarium-scape.
There are more “beginner friendly” plants for you to head out and get, but in our experience, these are the best three to start with. Once you succeed with these, you'll be ready to start a separate tank for your planted display, and that's an article for another day. For now, head over to your Local Fish Store, ask them about getting you some Java Fern, Java Moss or Amazon Swords from Aquatropic today!