One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish — that’s not just the title of a Dr. Seuss book, it’s also just a few of the near endless number of possibilities for your freshwater aquarium. There are also yellow fish, black fish, purple fish, shrimp, eels, and thousands of other freshwater aquatic species. But what about plants? I know that picking the right selection of fish can be pretty exciting, but are there really that many options for plant species?

Hottonia Palustris Freshwater Plant

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Actually, yeah. You’d be surprised by how different aquatic plants can be. Becoming an expert on aquarium plants can be particularly troublesome because most of them have complicated names like green cryptocoryne, and some of them are difficult to tell apart. I suspect that some of my readers might already have a head start if you’re really into veganism or herbal medicine, but for the rest of you — fear not! Today we’re going to examine the intricate world of aquatic plants to give you a better understanding of freshwater aquascaping.


Plant size is probably the single most important consideration for your freshwater aquarium. First of all, plants that grow to be too big will quickly dominate your aquascape (don’t think that fish are the only things that qualify as tankbusters). Second, the size and arrangement of plants help to establish depth.

Short and Tall Freshwater Plants

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The most popular strategy in aquascaping is to create a foreground, a middleground, and a background. The plants in the picture above are a pretty good example. The plants closest to the viewer are small and stout; the frilly plants in the middleground serve as a transition to the massive plants near the back of the aquarium. You definitely don’t want to mix up tiny carpet plants like hemianthus callitrichoides with the massive limnophila aquatica. Your ambitious limnophila will swallow up your tiny carpet plants, leaving your aquascape flat and uninspiring.


There aren’t many color options when it comes to freshwater plants. You’ve got green, red, and green-red. Fortunately, there are countless variations within these three colors. You can create subtle changes of color by combining gentle light-green plants with rich dark-green plants. Mixing the two colors will create a strong contrast and add to that feeling of depth.

Light and Dark Aquarium Plants

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Red aquarium plants really pack a punch, so you have to be careful with how you use them. You might think, “Wow, these red plants are gorgeous! I’m going to fill my aquarium to the brim with these!” That’s probably a bad idea. Keep in mind that red and green are complementary colors, so they stand out against each other in stark contrast. Use green plants to highlight the fiery beauty of plants like the rotala macandra or the rosaefolia.

Rotala Macandra Freshwater Plant

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Texture is a much subtler plant feature when compared to size and color, but it still has a major impact on the overall aesthetic of your aquascape. What do I mean by texture, exactly? Well, look at these three plants.

Aquarium Plants with Three Textures

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The one on the left is delicate and frilly, the one on the right is thick and leafy, and the one in the middle is a combination of the two. As you can see, the texture of a plant can have a dramatic impact. Delicate plants tend to make an aquarium more intricate and visually complex, while large, leafy plants make the aquascape appear more dramatic and bold. Be sure to consider plant texture in your aquascape or you may end up with an aquascape that isn’t quite what you envisioned.

So, do you feel like a true aquatic botanist yet? There are still a hundred other minor details that you need to keep in mind with freshwater plants, but hopefully this crash course will give you a better understanding of aquatic plants. Stay tuned for much more in-depth looks at freshwater aquarium plants!