Java Fern ImageAquarium plants serve a greater purpose than just keeping up with the fish Joneses. Plants absorb CO2 and toxins from the water while releasing oxygen needed by the living things in the tank. Tall plants make an appealing backdrop, bringing all the good things about plants to the tank without blocking your view of your beautiful aquatic friends.

Knowing which plants to choose can be overwhelming, though, especially if you’re new to aquarium keeping. These reviews are here to help you make informed decisions for the health of your tank without losing sight of aesthetics.

After all, don’t we all love to sit and experience the joy of our tanks while making the best decisions for our pets?

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A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites

Image Product Details
Best Overall
Winner
Hornwort Hornwort
  • Good choice for beginners
  • Rapid growth rate
  • Can be planted or floated
  • Best Value
    Second place
    Bacopa caroliniana Bacopa caroliniana
  • Flowering
  • Great choice for beginners
  • Color variations depending on light conditions
  • Premium Choice
    Third place
    Java Fern Java Fern
  • Good choice for beginners
  • Widely available
  • Low light requirements
  • Anacharis/Elodea Densa/Egeria Densa Anacharis/Elodea Densa/Egeria Densa
  • Rapid growth rate
  • Widely available
  • Hardy and lush
  • Ludwigia Ludwigia
  • Colorful and lush
  • Easy to propagate
  • Rapid growth rate
  • The 12 Best Tall Aquarium Plants – Reviews 2021

    1. Hornwort

    Hornwort

    • Growth rate: Fast
    • Max height: 10 feet
    • Light demands: Moderate
    • CO2: Environmental
    • Difficulty: Easy

    Hornwort is one of the best oxygenators for freshwater aquariums, grows quickly, and absorbs nitrates, making it one of the most popular aquarium plants. It is low maintenance and hardy, which makes it an excellent choice for beginners in aquarium plant care. Most aquarium residents will leave Hornwort alone but even if you do have some particularly gluttonous goldfish, the growth rate of Hornwort is so rapid that anything eaten will likely grow back in no time. Be aware, though, that if you do happen to have gluttonous goldfish or other aquarium pets, Hornwort can shed its small needle-like leaves into the tank and require some cleanup. Hornwort can be planted in the tank substrate or it can be left floating in the water, making it a diverse option for many aesthetic preferences.

    In the best conditions, Hornwort can reach heights of 10 feet, but it will grow successfully in everything from cold water to tropical tanks and indoor tanks to outdoor ponds. It provides nice cover for fry or small fish, and as a bonus, if Hornwort is particularly happy in its environment, it will produce small flowers.

    Pros
    • Good choice for beginners
    • Rapid growth rate
    • Can be planted or floated
    • Widely available
    • Unappetizing to most aquarium pets
    • Provides cover to small animals
    Cons
    • Moderate lighting needs
    • Sheds and can become messy

    2. Bacopa caroliniana

    Bacopa caroliniana

    • Growth rate: Fast
    • Max height: 2 feet
    • Light demands: Moderate
    • CO2: Environmental
    • Difficulty: Easy

    Bacopa caroliniana is an outstanding aquarium plant option for mid-height and tall-height needs. Bacopa goes by many names and you may see it sold as Water Hyssop. Bacopa is both an aquatic and land plant, making it a good choice around home ponds. It thrives underwater and can survive a large range of water conditions. In fact, it’s hardy enough to survive brackish water and a variety of pH and temperature ranges. It is easy to propagate from cuttings and develops beautiful blue flowers.

    Ideally, this plant should be planted into substrate, but it can survive if left floating. It prefers moderate lighting but can survive low light environments and will thrive in high light environments. The amount of light it receives will directly affect its coloration, changing it from green in low light to red or pink in high light conditions. It may require trimming to keep it from becoming tall and leggy if you prefer a bushier appearance. Bacopa is one of the best aquatic plant choices for beginners due to its low maintenance nature and is one of the best oxygenators for tanks.

    Pros
    • Great choice for beginners
    • Flowering
    • Hardy and can be planted in or around water
    • Does not require CO2 supplementation
    • Can be tall and lanky or short and busy
    • Color variations depending on light conditions
    • Rapid growth rate
    • Propagates easily
    • Excellent oxygenator
    Cons
    • May be difficult to control
    • May require frequent trimming

    3. Java Fern

    Java Fern

    • Growth rate: Slow
    • Max height: 12 inches
    • Light demands: Low
    • CO2: Environmental
    • Difficulty: Easy

    Java Ferns are the best friend of fish keepers with grazers since most species of fish and other aquarium life will not eat Java Ferns. They can be planted in substrate but grow best when attached to surfaces like driftwood and rocks so they can absorb nutrients from the water. Java Ferns have a slow growth rate, but this shouldn’t be an issue with fish choosing not to munch on the plant. Java Ferns naturally occur in shaded parts of rainforests, so they do best with low light and can tolerate moderate light. High light will cause the leaves to turn brown, which is a common issue in most species of ferns.

    These plants not only grow tall, reaching around one foot or more, but they also are bushy and can reach widths of around 6 inches. Java Ferns bring a tropical feel to any tank and are extremely low maintenance, surviving in a wide variety of water conditions. They come in a variety of types with different leaf shapes and maximum heights, but Narrow Leaf Java Ferns are ideal as tall aquarium plants.

    Pros
    • Good choice for beginners
    • Widely available
    • Most aquarium life will not eat this plant
    • Hardy and lush
    • Low light requirements
    • Good choice in bare bottom tanks
    • No supplementation required
    • Highly reviewed
    Cons
    • Slow growth rate
    • Too much light will damage the plant

    4. Anacharis/Elodea Densa/Egeria Densa

    Anacharis/Elodea Densa/Egeria Densa

    • Growth rate: Fast
    • Max height: 3 feet
    • Light demands: Moderate
    • CO2: Environmental
    • Difficulty: Easy

    While this plant’s current name is Egeria Densa, Elodea Densa and Anacharis are both previous scientific names that it still frequently goes by. Don’t let the complexity of this plant’s name fool you though, Egeria is easy to grow and is another excellent choice for beginners. Its dense foliage is beautiful and like Hornwort, Egeria will also flower under the right circumstances. This prefers tank temperatures in the 70˚F range but will grow in cold to tropical tanks. It has moderate lighting needs but with appropriate lighting, it will often grow well without additional fertilizers or CO2.

    Egeria can be propagated from cuttings and small roots may even be spotted hanging from outgrowths of the plant. It should be planted in substrate, but with temperature fluctuations, the plant itself may be seen falling to the tank floor or rising upright. This plant has tender foliage that many fish enjoy eating, but the rapid growth rate and easy propagation mean it will be difficult to run out of.

    Pros
    • Good choice for beginners
    • Rapid growth rate
    • Widely available
    • Good plant choice for grazers
    • Hardy and lush
    Cons
    • Can take over tanks and ponds if left unchecked
    • Difficult to get rid of
    • Moderate lighting needs

    5. Ludwigia

    Ludwigia

    • Growth rate: Fast
    • Max height: 20 inches
    • Light demands: High
    • CO2: Environmental, Supplemental
    • Difficulty: Moderate

    Lugwigia is a lovely aquarium plant that can function as a mid-level or tall-level plant. It grows quickly and comes in green, red, purple, and brown varieties. This plant can grow tall as well as wide and can take over large amounts of aquarium space if allowed to, so it may need routine trimming to keep it in check. It requires a high light level and does best in a nutrient-rich substrate. It can survive without added CO2 in the tank, but it does prefer it.

    Lugwigia grows best in tanks that stay around 75-80˚F but it is easy to propagate from clippings. It may even flower under the right lighting and nutrition conditions. It prefers slightly acidic water but can survive in neutral or slightly alkaline water as well. If cared for properly, this plant makes a colorful and beautiful addition to a tank.

    Pros
    • Colorful and lush
    • Easy to propagate
    • Does well in acidic water
    • Rapid growth rate
    • Can serve as mid-height or tall-height plant
    Cons
    • Prefers warmer water
    • Needs nutrient-rich substrate
    • High lighting requirements
    • May require CO2 supplementation
    • May require routine trims

    6. Anubias barteri

    Anubias barteri

    • Growth rate: Slow
    • Max height: 16 inches
    • Light demands: Low
    • CO2: Environmental, Supplemental
    • Difficulty: Easy

    Anubias come in a wide variety of sizes, but when looking for a tall aquarium plant, Anubias barteri is the best option. This plant is nearly foolproof for beginners and its beautiful, broad leaves make a nice aesthetic addition to any tank. Anubias plants do not need to be planted in substrate but can tolerate gravel or sand. These plants have rhizomes versus true roots, so they are happiest when they are not planted but instead attached to a hard surface like driftwood.

    With a new Anubias barteri, you will likely need to attach it to the surface by plant and aquarium safe glue or by gently weighing it down. Over time, the plant will attach itself and will eventually put out new rhizomes that can be propagated into new plants. Anubias do not require additional CO2 in the tank but will grow best with some supplementation. Some of the best features of Anubias are its low light requirement and its hardiness. Be aware that Anubias barteri has a very slow growth rate compared to other hardy aquarium plants.

    Pros
    • Slow-growing and easy to maintain
    • Very hardy
    • No extra CO2 necessary
    • Good for all types of tanks
    • Comes with driftwood attached
    Cons
    • Slow growth rate
    • May require CO2 supplementation
    • If not planted, needs to be attached to a surface to grow

    7. Amazon Sword

    Amazon Sword

    • Growth rate: Moderate
    • Max height: 20 inches
    • Light demands: Moderate
    • CO2: Environmental, Supplemental
    • Difficulty: Easy

    The Amazon Sword is another tall aquarium plant that is great for beginners. It does best with CO2 supplementation but does not require it. Amazon Swords absorb most of their nutrients via their roots, so it is recommended to plant them into nutrient-rich aquarium substrate to maximize health and growth. They will put their roots deep into the substrate, so be aware of this when planting near other plants.

    Amazon Swords are so named because the plant is relatively stout and bushy, but the leaves are long and pointed with a sword-like appearance. They can reach up to 20 inches in height, but most commonly grow to around 12-14 inches. They are a deep green color and will begin to change to brown or red when they lack nutrients. There are other varieties of Swords that come in a wide shade range. When they get tall enough, these plants can serve as a hiding spot for shy fish. These plants can be propagated from runners or rhizomes and are excellent oxygenators.

    Pros
    • Good for beginners
    • Lush appearance
    • Easy to propagate
    • Widely available
    • Great hiding spot for shy fish
    • Excellent oxygenator
    Cons
    • Doesn’t do well in brackish water

    8. Water Wisteria

    Water Wisteria

    • Growth rate: Fast
    • Max height: 20 inches
    • Light demands: Moderate
    • CO2: Environmental
    • Difficulty: Easy

    Water wisteria is one of the most diverse aquarium plants because while it makes an excellent background plant, it can also be used as a tank carpet. Also, the size and shape of its leaves are directly affected by the environment it’s in so it can change appearance over time. Some fish enjoy eating Water Wisteria but it has an exceptionally rapid growth rate so it often grows back before the fish can kill the plant. If allowed to grow without trims this plant can outcompete other plants for nutrients and light, so keep this in mind when considering Water Wisteria for your tank.

    This plant is so readily propagated from cuttings that stems dropped during trims can root on their own. Water Wisteria grows easily without supplementation but may strip nutrients from the water that are needed by other plants, so supplementation may become necessary if this plant is allowed to grow too large. It appreciates slightly acidic, warm water and oxygenates the water well.

    Pros
    • Slow-growing and easy to maintain
    • Very hardy
    • No extra CO2 necessary
    • Good for all types of tanks
    • Comes with driftwood attached
    Cons
    • Can consume nutrients needed by other plants
    • Requires substrate for planting
    • May root in unwanted places
    • May require trims
    • Moderate lighting requirements

    9. Vallisneria

    Vallisneria

    • Growth rate: Moderate
    • Max height: 3 feet
    • Light demands: Moderate
    • CO2: Environmental, Supplemental
    • Difficulty: Moderate

    Vallisneria comes in multiple varieties, all of which make for lovely aquarium plants. Thanks to the diversity of this plant, it can be used in the foreground, midground, or background of tanks. For anyone looking for a tall aquarium plant, though, the Vallisneria gigantea, also known as Eelgrass, makes a great choice. It reaches heights around three feet and makes a nice hiding spot for shy aquarium pets. It does not require CO2 supplementation but grows best with it. However, too high of a CO2 dose can cause the tender leaves of the plant to melt and die.

    Vallisneria leaves damaged by rough handling or fish will die, but the plant is resilient and grows quickly. It reproduces by sending out runners from the mother plant, which can become separate plants once established. Vallisneria gigantea needs to be planted in sandy or other fine substrate and may require planting depths up to six inches. It is important not to plant it past the top part of the roots, called the crown, as this can kill the plant. Vallisneria grows best in slightly alkaline water.

    Pros
    • Moderate growth rate
    • Provides cover to small animals
    • Propagates easily
    • Diverse
    Cons
    • May require added CO2
    • Damaged leaves will die
    • Needs adequate substrate for planting
    • Less hardy than some other plants
    • Moderate lighting needs

    10. Rotala

    Rotala

    • Growth rate: Fast
    • Max height: 12 inches
    • Light demands: Moderate
    • CO2: Environmental, Supplemental
    • Difficulty: Easy

    Rotala plants are known for the tiny oxygen bubbles that collect on the leaves, giving a unique and elegant appearance. It can grow out above the top of the water, which also adds to its elegant appearance. This plant is a favorite of many small fish and is often used for shrimp breeding as well. It grows rapidly and gets tall and wide, so it may require some trimming. In low lighting, it will be green or yellow and will eventually drop its leaves.  In high or moderate lighting, Rotala becomes colorful, occurring in shades of purple, red, and pink.

    Rotala plants do not require substrate and will appreciate supplemental CO2, but this is not necessary for it to grow. It comes in multiple varieties with Rotala rotundifolia usually being the most accessible variety.

    Pros
    • Colorful and lush
    • Variable lighting options
    • Elegant in appearance
    • Shelter for small fish, fry, and shrimp
    Cons
    • Substrate is required
    • High or moderate lighting is ideal
    • Grows best with CO2 supplementation
    • May need routine trims

    11. Brazilian Pennywort

    Brazilian Pennywort

     

    • Growth rate: Fast
    • Max height: 2 feet
    • Light demands: Moderate
    • CO2: Environmental
    • Difficulty: Easy

    Brazilian Pennywort is a unique-looking plant and can be planted in substrate or left to float. It is a flowering plant and can grow above the water level. Like Bacopa caroliniana, this plant can also be found growing on the land near bodies of water. Pennywort is extremely fast-growing, up to a few inches per week. It tolerates a broad range of water parameters and while it prefers moderate to high lighting, it will still grow well in low light conditions. It does not require supplemental CO2 but grows best when it is provided.

    Many fish enjoy swimming through and hiding in Pennywort, but goldfish and some cichlids will enjoy eating this plant, so this one may need to be avoided if you aren’t interested in losing your plants to your snacking fish.

    Pros
    • Rapid growth rate
    • Tolerates many water and light conditions
    • Hiding spot for small fish
    • Good choice for grazers
    • Good choice for beginners
    • Unique appearance
    Cons
    • Prefers supplemental CO2
    • Goldfish and cichlids may decimate this plant
    • Prefers moderate to high lighting

    12. Cabomba/Fanwort

    Cabomba/Fanwort

    • Growth rate: Fast
    • Max height: 20 inches
    • Light demands: High
    • CO2: Environmental, Supplemental
    • Difficulty: Easy

    Cabomba is a great tall plant for tanks and ponds, but the first consideration you should have about this plant is finding out if it is legal to own in your area. Because Cabomba can become invasive in the right environment, some states do not allow for its sale or import due to its negative impact on non-native environments. Like Hornwort, Cabomba can be planted in substrate as well as floated and it grows rapidly. It is similar in appearance to Hornwort as well, except it is less prickly and fuller and bushier. In moderate to high lighting this plant can grow in a variety of colors. Even the green varieties of Cabomba can take on a purplish tinge under these lighting conditions. It can tolerate low light but will not be as colorful. It does best in slightly acidic, warm water with CO2 supplementation.

    Cabomba is native to the Carolinas, so recreating its preferred growing conditions of high humidity and warmth will be most successful.

    Pros
    • Good for beginners
    • Attractive foliage and colorful
    • Can tolerate a variety of lighting conditions
    • Full and lush
    • Can be planted or floated
    • Easy to propagate
    Cons
    • Extremely invasive in some areas
    • May require CO2 supplementation
    • Grows best with moderate to high lighting

    Buyer’s Guide

    What to Look for in Tall Aquarium Plants

    When shopping for aquarium plants, make sure to pick plants that are an appropriate color for their species and variety. For plants with roots or rhizomes, look for those that are well-developed and healthy appearing. Pick plants that are full and lush and appear to have good growth. If the plant appears healthy and has offshoots that also appear healthy, then this is likely a plant that has been well cared for.

    What to Avoid

    Avoid picking plants that have brown or black leaves or stems as these may be unhealthy or dying. Knowing which plants change color in different lighting versus plants that should maintain a singular color will help you make the distinction between healthy and unhealthy plants. Make sure to check new plants thoroughly to ensure you don’t have any hitch-hiking snails. Some types of snails can be extremely difficult to get rid of once introduced into your tank and can be detrimental to the health of plants and other aquarium animals.

    When purchasing plants in person, check the tank they are in thoroughly for snails as well. If you spot snails on other plants in the tank, then all of them likely have snails. Some plants can be purchased pre-packaged and snail free. This lessens the risk of snails significantly but still check these plants over as well.

    How to Safely Introduce New Plants to Your Aquarium

    The safest thing you can do when bringing home any new living thing for your aquarium, whether it’s plants or animals, is use a quarantine tank. Quarantine new plants for two weeks or more to ensure they are not going to transmit snails or diseases into your tank. Always purchase plants from online or in-person stores, do not take plants from the natural environment for your tank.

    Something to Keep in Mind

    Never release plants into the natural environment as this can lead to damage within the ecosystem. If you have an outdoor pond, ensure the plants you choose are not going to take root or grow in local bodies of water if the plants are swept away by a flood or storm.

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    Final Thoughts

    Tall aquarium plants bring almost as much life to your aquarium as your fish do. Use these reviews to help you pick which plants will fit your lifestyle, aesthetic, and tank the best. Plants bring enrichment to your home and your fish’s home. Seeing your new plants thrive under your care will bring you a sense of accomplishment and happiness. The best part? Nobody has to know if the plants you’ve chosen are thriving with little to no work on your part. Your friends will just be impressed by the beauty and effort they’ll see you’ve put into your tank.


    Featured Image Credit: Fhurzan, Wikimedia Commons