14 Low-Light Freshwater Plants Perfect for the Novice Aquarist

The idea of a planted tank is something that most aquarists aspire to and attempt every once in a while, however, the required equipment for the planted aquariums seen online can get very expensive.

Just looking at the things required for the beautiful scapes you see online, you'll see equipment like CO2 canisters (and its relevant accessories to feed it into the tank), top range plant lighting systems, different filtration media, and methods, liquid carbon fertilizer, iron supplements and more.

Add this to substrate choices and your other general aesthetically appealing purchases and it won't be uncommon for the equipment to be in excess of £200. And that's before buying the tank and plants, etc.

This budget clearly doesn't suit most aquarists.

Below I have compiled a list of low-tech, low-light aquarium fauna that's ready to be placed into any aquarium with the basic setup.

These are the ‘raw ingredients’ of the hobby, but just because they're basic doesn't mean that they can't be beautiful.

Take clay, for example, it's a raw ingredient, put it into the hands of an artist and he will create something breath-taking.

So get the creative juices flowing and enjoy the list!

Top low light plants for beginners

Java Fern

Microsorum pteropus

Java fern Microsorum pteropus

Java fern (source)

Varieties of species:

Java Fern is a very easy plant to keep, it can be kept with most fish because it's evolved a bit of a nasty taste to fish.

It can be planted in shaded areas and areas with moderate light.

It's possibly the easiest plant to come across in your local fish store and also the easiest to keep.

It doesn't require much light or fertilizer, it will grow relatively slowly and therefore maintenance is a minimal requirement.

Green Hygrophila

Hygrophila polysperma

Hygrophila polysperma

Hygrophila polysperma (source)

Varieties of species:

Green Hygrophila is an incredibly easy and beautiful plant to grow on a budget as there's no need for fertilizers or massive amounts of light. In fact, it can be easily grown in aquariums with little light.

It's a plant that grows from the stem rather than from the root.

This means that when they get to a point that they require trimming the excess part can be replanted and grown again successfully.

With this plant, low light means slow growth and may only need trimming once a month.

Note: the Sunset Hygro will need an iron supplement in order to retain its red colouration!


Bocapa monnieri



Moneywort is another easy plant to grow and propagate, just cut the stem about an inch under where the roots are developing from the leaf nodes and push them down into the substrate.

To achieve optimum growth and color it's advised to add liquid fertilizer.


Monosolenium tenerum

Pellia Endiviifolia

Pellia Endiviifolia (source)

A perfect plant for beginners, Pellia does well under all kinds of conditions but again will do best under higher light and well fertilized.

I haven't come across anything it's particularly sensitive to and neither have many other aquarists. This is best to buy from other hobbyists rather than your local fish store.

Waterwheel Plant

Aldrovanda vesiculosa

This plant is something special, I suppose you can call it the aquatic version of the Venus fly trap. It traps small aquatic invertebrates in its whorls arranged around a central stem.

You may see some slight differences among pet stores, however, this species has very little physical diversity.

It has to be left free floating and is capable of quick movement. Can be had in a variety of water conditions.

Anubias Barteri

Anubias barteri

Anubias Barteri

Varieties of species:

Anubias Barteri comes in a few varieties each offering something slightly different, they can be used for planting into foregrounds, middle grounds, and backgrounds.

One of the hardiest plants available and is, therefore, perfect for the novice keeper.


Bacopa caroliniana

Bacopa caroliniana

Like most other stemmed plants Bacopa's propagation is easy, cut the stem below the leaves and replant.

It's a very slow grower so requires minimal attention making it ideal for beginners. It's also a flowering plant so if left to grow to the surface small flowers will become apparent.

Java Moss

Vesicularia dubyana

Java moos - Vesicularia dubyana

Java moos - Vesicularia dubyana (source)

Java moss is possibly the most versatile plant in the aquarium hobby to date.

It has many beautiful uses, it can be used to grow walls, carpets, over rocks, creating a tree effect and much more.

It's very easy to grow much like Java Fern and is also very resilient. Fertilizers tend not to be needed and there's no need for substrate as it anchors to rocks and wood.

This plant does best under higher light and with other aids but it can be easily grown without. It's another common plant found in most fish stores.

Rotala Rotundifolia

Rotala Rotundifolia

Varieties of species:

In the wild areas in Southeast Asia, this plant is considered a weed, due to its quick growth.

In aquariums, however, it's known as a classic plant, growing quick enough to become established yet not too quick as to overrun a tank.

Although it's best in high light to attain its best colors, it can easily be grown in a low to medium light tank.

Dosing iron will also aid in its red colors.

Rotala Indica

Rotala Indica

Rotala Indica

Another basic plant to grow, Rotala Indica has round leaves and long stem.

If given high light and lots of nutrients its leaves will produce a red color, however leaving it in a low light aquarium will allow it to be easier managed with slower growth.


Ceratophylum demersum

Ceratophyllum Demersum

Ceratophyllum Demersum (Source)

Varieties of species:

Hornwort is a piece of flora that holds a special place in my aquariums, it's a British native species and I have a good amount of this in my native British aquarium.

It's very very easy to care for but will grow wild and fast. It grows best floating around but it can be grown with success when planted into substrate.


Hydrocotyle leucocephala

Hydrocotyle leucocephala

Hydrocotyle leucocephala (source)

Also known as Brazilian Water Ivy, Pennywort is renowned for its lack of effort in growing. It's a perfect plant for beginners and those without much time.

If allowed to reach the surface, small white flowers will appear above the water level.

Guppy Grass

Najas gaudalupensis

Guppy grass isn't really available in fish stores nowadays, it breaks apart too easily and is a nightmare to manage in a retail environment, it can be purchased very easily online, however.

It doesn't necessarily need to be planted, it defiantly doesn't need high light aquariums and honestly, when left to do its own thing and gather (especially as a middle ground plant) it looks beautiful, fry and shrimp love it!

Cryptocoryne Species

Cryptocoryne Wendtii Green

Cryptocoryne Wendtii Green (source)

Varieties of species:

I have decided to add all of the Cryptocoryne species into one short paragraph because the care for each of these species is essentially the same, possibly with only very minute differences.

They are very slow growing, and with low light requirements, they are a perfect plant for those wanting an easy to maintain aquarium.

Final thoughts

I am well aware that this is not a list of all plants that do well or can be grown in low light aquariums, there are many others available in the market today.

This is, however, a list of most of my personal favorites, with others added either due to their uniqueness or their ease of growth.

The variations have been added as they too are also acceptable to use with only one or two special exceptions.

I hope you have all enjoyed reading this article and have many years of successful planting and aquarium botany experience.

If you enjoyed this article check out this beginners floating plants selection!