There are great aquarium plants that don’t need substrate, and they are very easy to care for. What makes aquarium plants so great isn’t just how beautiful they make your tank look, but also how easy it can be to care for them in general. Many species of aquarium plants don’t need substrate to root in, and even those that do often don’t require as much fertilization as you might think!
Getting these plants for your aquarium can be tricky, as most of the plants sold at pet stores need to be planted in some sort of substrate that you have to maintain and replace regularly. However, there are lots of great plants that you can plant directly into your tank without having to worry about substrate or root tabs, or any other maintenance tasks.
The following 15 best aquarium plants don’t need substrate, making them great options if you’re limited on tank space, you want to be able to move them around without having to worry about uprooting all your substrate, or if you’re simply looking to cut down on the time and maintenance involved with keeping plants in your tank.
Can you grow aquarium plants without substrate?
Yes, of course! Floating plants are also an option! With floating plants, live plants can be kept in your tank without requiring a substrate.
It is common to find floating plants like water lettuce. You can also add to your aquarium a number of other options that are also great.
There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to floating plants. There are great floating aquarium plants on my list titled “22 Floating Aquarium Plants“.
More options are discussed here, along with tips on proper care for them. If you are considering buying floating plants, I strongly encourage you to check that out first.
Aquarium plants that don’t need substrate
Java Moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri)
Java moss is one of the most popular aquarium plants that doesn’t need substrate. It’s an easy plant to grow and is usually available in most pet stores. It attaches itself to rocks, driftwood, and other decorations in the tank with a natural adhesive that it creates. It grows best when there’s low light, moderate water flow, and good water quality. It does not require high maintenance and will do well without frequent trimming or pruning.
Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)
Java fern is a popular aquarium plant because it’s easy to grow, doesn’t need substrate, and can be found at many pet stores. It’s an excellent beginner plant and will thrive in most aquariums with or without CO2 injection. This hardy plant is often overlooked because of its delicate appearance, but it’s actually quite hardy and easy to grow.
Java fern attaches itself to rocks or driftwood with small root-like structures called rhizoids. The rhizoids are designed to anchor the plants into crevices so they won’t wash away. The roots also have tiny hairs that capture oxygen from the water and deliver it to the rest of the plant; this helps keep Java Fern healthy even when there isn’t any substrate for the roots to attach themselves too.
Anubias (Anubias nana)
Anubias nana is native to Africa and should be planted in the substrate. This plant is a good choice for beginners because it’s easy to grow, does not need any special lighting or CO2, and can tolerate a wide range of water conditions. It can also be propagated by dividing rhizome sections.
Anubias nana forms a dense colony that helps keep other plants out of the gravel and will easily spread over a rock or driftwood branch if it has something to attach to. The sword-shaped leaves grow up to six inches long, and are thick and leathery with sharp edges.
Plant leaves require weekly feeding during the spring and summer when growth is active and monthly feeding during the winter when growth slows down.
Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)
Water lettuce is a common aquarium plant that does not need substrate. It can grow up to three feet tall and is best for large aquariums or ponds. The leaves are wide and float on the water’s surface, providing shade for fish. Water lettuce comes in many colors including green, brown, red, and yellow.
It’s important to note that this plant needs almost no care other than an occasional pruning of dead or dying leaves. However, it’s difficult to find since it has been overharvested in some areas of the world. You can also find water lettuce available as an easy-to-grow plant kit with instructions on how to grow it without soil.
Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)
Hornwort, also known as the duckweed plant, is an aquatic plant that does not require a substrate for growth and is a common ingredient in fish tanks. Hornwut may be one of the most popular and well-known aquarium plants because of its compatibility with other water plants and hardiness.
It can grow at depths between 0.6m to 3m and is found in many places including Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. The natural habitat of hornwort ranges from still lakes to moving streams where it attaches to rocks or wood by means of threadlike roots called rhizoids.
Anacharis (Elodea Densa)
Anacharis, also known as Elodea densa, is a species of plant that is well-known for its ability to grow in both freshwater and saltwater. In the wild, it’s most often found growing in still or slow-moving water near the shoreline. It has long leaves that are green on top and underneath with a white stripe running down the center of each one.
The leaves grow close together at an angle from the stem and are pointed at their end. Depending on how much light there is, the color will vary from pale to dark green. When happy and healthy, this plant can grow up to 10 inches tall but when grown in low-light conditions will be smaller.
Duckweed (Lemna minor)
Duckweed is a common, aquatic weed that can be found growing in ponds and slow-moving bodies of water. Also known as the mother of all plants, this plant has many benefits for both freshwater and saltwater aquariums. Duckweed is great for providing cover for small fish, and it also helps to keep algae levels down by competing with other vegetation for nutrients.
One thing to note about duckweed is that it should not be used with goldfish because they will eat it! If you have any extra duckweed, don’t throw it away. The plant is easy to propagate, just put some leaves into a jar of water and wait for them to grow roots before transplanting them into your tank!
Amazon Frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum)
This plant is perfect for aquariums because it doesn’t require substrate. It can grow in a variety of water temperatures and light conditions, making it an easy-to-care-for option. Frogbit has long, broad leaves that provide a nice contrast to other plants like java fern or anacharis.
It also has small white flowers that bloom in the late winter months and early spring. The plant propagates by runners that you can cut off and place in your tank. These runners will form new plants once they have rooted themselves on your gravel or any surface. You should transplant these new frogsbits so they will not outgrow their space too quickly.
Floating Crystalwort (Riccia fluitans)
Floating plants are often a favorite choice of aquarium owners because they provide shade and cover for fish as well as oxygenate the water. It is also very easy to care for a floating plant as you do not need any substrate or soil in your tank.
Floating plants that do not need substrate include Riccia fluitans or crystalwort, which is one of the most popular choices among aquarists because it is so easy to grow and has many other benefits. Crystalwort floats on the surface, providing shade for fish and more oxygenating properties to maintain high water quality.
Riccia Fluitans, also known as Crystalwort Riccia, is a genus of ferns from the family Ricciaceae and is one of the most popular aquarium plants. It is an unbranched plant that grows in mats and has no need for a substrate. The leaves are flat and watertight with long root hairs on their underside to attach to other objects such as rocks or driftwood.
These submerged roots can provide hiding places for fry as well as offer cover against predators.
One drawback is that this plant does not have any colorful leaves; instead, it uses its bright green coloration to produce oxygen bubbles through photosynthesis at the surface of the water which can be appealing in low-light tanks. Another name for this plant is water snowflake because it appears frosty when it floats on top of the water due to this process.
Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephala)
The Brazilian Pennywort is a perfect plant for your aquarium if you have high light because it thrives in these conditions. It’s also an excellent plant for beginners because it can tolerate a wide range of water conditions and doesn’t need substrate.
The Brazilian Pennywort’s leaves are heart-shaped and it has little white flowers that will bloom if left on the stem long enough. Some people use this plant to help create oxygen and cycle nutrients, but it can be invasive so be careful with where you place it.
Rotala Indica (Indian Toothcup)
The Rotala Indica, also known as Indian Toothcup, is one of the easiest plants to grow in an aquarium. It can be grown either submerged or on top of the substrate. The leaves are thin and elongated with a red-green coloration that contrasts nicely with a dark substrate.
The plant will grow up to 18 inches tall, so it’s best for medium-sized fish tanks. Like most other types of aquatic plants, they should be trimmed regularly to maintain their appearance. They are able to tolerate a wide range of water parameters making them easy to care for and a great beginner plant option.
Ludwigia Repens (Creeping Primrose-Willow)
Ludwigia Repens is a low-maintenance, ground-cover plant that’s perfect for planting in the background of your tank. This leafy plant has small purple flowers and grows well in low-light conditions. It prefers to be planted in moist soil and doesn’t need substrate or fertilizers.
Ludwigia Repens is an excellent choice for beginner gardeners who want to start with an easy plant that doesn’t require much care. Once it’s established, you can place it just about anywhere and it will thrive. For best results, try propagating by cuttings rather than seeds.
Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis)
Water Wisteria is one of the best aquarium plants that doesn’t need substrate. This plant can grow in a variety of conditions, whether you have less or more light. It is also easy to maintain and simple to propagate!
The leaves are shiny with dark green veins and it has small flowers that come out in late summer/early fall. In order to thrive, this plant needs moderate light, CO2, and good water quality.
Cabomba caroliniana (Green Cabomba)
For those who are looking for an aquatic plant that doesn’t need substrate, there is the green cabomba. This plant has long thin leaves that grow to a maximum of three inches and only require a small amount of water flow in order to survive. It is an easy plant to take care of and can be found at most aquarium stores.
Although it is inexpensive, it is also common so you will find it on sale often. With this being said, this plant may not work well if you have fish that like to eat plants as they are usually found near the surface which may make them more vulnerable. Another downside with this type of plant is its growth rate which can vary greatly depending on how much light you provide it with.
Elodea (Elodea canadensis)
Elodea, or Canadian Pondweed, is a freshwater aquarium plant that doesn’t need substrate. It can be grown in both fresh and saltwater environments. Elodea is great for small aquatic environments as it has a small root system and stays rather low to the ground.
It’s also incredibly easy to grow which is why it’s one of the most popular aquarium plants on the market. Keep elodea in low-light areas with no more than 2 watts per gallon (4-5 watts per liter) of lighting.
If you’re growing elodea with other aquarium plants make sure there are no large pieces of driftwood around because elodea needs access to the light above water level.