15 Floating Freshwater Live Plants to Green Up the Fish Tank Surface

Did you know that a single aquatic plant can make a huge difference in your freshwater fish tank?

Aesthetics aside, floating in the aquarium these plants are great stress-eliminators for a betta fish, refuge for newborn fry or shrimp and an excellent nutrient sponge.

In this article, you will learn the names of the buoyant plants that are a great option for someone that has just decided to start incorporating vegetation in their aquarium.

Most of them are easy to take care of for beginner-level aquarists and have low light requirements.

However, pay close attention as some of these live aquatic plants will rapidly cover the water surface of your freshwater aquarium.

Are there ones with long sprouting roots that create a look and feel no other freshwater aquarium plant can deliver?

Is it best to leave them floating freely without maintenance, or do you have to put in the effort to take care of these surface aquarium plants?

A bit of both, actually.

So let’s get straight to the point.

Before we start, here’s a snapshot of a freshwater fish tank’s top covered in a combination of live floating plants:

By THEJonCabbage

Which are the buoyant freshwater plants for a fish tank with a “green ceiling” effect?

Floating aquarium plants are a great addition to a home fish tank because they aggressively feed off the water column and are therefore great at controlling excessive nutrients.

Even though that’s not their only benefit it certainly is a nice addition to their aesthetic looks.

Have a look at the best floating freshwater plants for fish tanks:

1. Mosquito Fern – Azolla filiculoides

By neighborhoodman323

The floating Mosquito Fern plant will spread rapidly in a freshwater aquarium, because of its ability to accumulate Phosphorus and Nitrogen extremely well, directly from the water.

That particular trait makes the Azolla super efficient for combating aquarium algae.

That being said, the Mosquito Fern is an aesthetically pleasing surface plant, that can definitely create one of the best display fish tanks.

The Azolla will extend a satisfyingly-textured rug on the top of the water if let loose.

When I was first observing its development I was stunned by the fact that it thrived without taking any particular care of it (fertilizer, CO2 supplements, etc.).

The small patch of fern that I initially placed soon covered the entire water surface.

It just grows insanely fast.

Have that in mind if you keep other plants below as they won’t have sufficient access to light. Creating light pockets will be necessary.

I was removing some of the mosquito-repellent plant twice every week as part of my fish tank maintenance routine, which worked perfectly fine for the underwater plants below.

A friend of mine had her turtle pretty much do the trimming for her.

As a unique trait for floating plants, if provided with more intense light the Mosquito Fern’s green leaves will get this rusty-red shade.

That happens because of a symbiotic relationship with a type of cyanobactrium.

2. Red root floater – Phyllanthus fluitans

By thenshesays

The red root floater is another live aquatic plant that will stay on the water surface of a fish tank.

However, it’s not a common choice among aquarists, which is somewhat baffling to me.

It has a sound root structure, descending into the water beautifying the top of the aquarium with its vibrant red coloration.

The gentle leaves of the red root floater are green, but if there is a high light source such as good LED grow lights for extended periods of time they will acquire this beautiful pink to red tint.

The red root floater is a flowering floating plant, which is another benefit for adding it to your freshwater fish tank.

Its flowers are rather tiny, with pink-tinted petals and yellow stamens.

To get your Red root floater flower you should provide high light, low water flow and an iron supplement as fertilizer (Seachem Flourish Iron does wonders, you can check it out in this link to Amazon.com).

The roots are among the best shelters for newly-hatched fry fish.

Mind that this surface plant doesn’t thrive in active currents, so make sure the water movement is low to moderate.

3. Common Salvinia / Water Spangles – Salvinia minima

By make-it-a-good-one

I love Salvinia’s texture – its leaves are covered in fine hairs that give its particularly satisfying look.

I’ve acknowledged that shrimps quite enjoy aquariums with Salvinia Minima.

It has a rather short root structure, which makes shrimp swim to the water surface where the roots are freely hanging.

Freshwater shrimp love taking their time to clean the roots.

The Common Salvinia spreads quite fast, so you need to keep an eye on it and take out amounts of it on a regular basis, which is quite an easy job to do.

This way you are making sure that the plants below in need of light won’t get neglected.

That being said, the Common Salvinia is a live floating plant that’s one of the best at sucking nitrates straight out of the water column.

The Salvinia Minima is also hardy and the only thing you need to know regarding its care is that the higher the water agitation, the smaller the leaves will remain at their full-grown state.

4. Water Sprite – Ceratopteris Thalictroides

By BettaNard

The Water Sprite as it’s more commonly known is one of my personal favorites on this list.

You can grow it both rooted in the substrate or floating, but in my experience, it does better floating.

It is easy to take care of and it grows astonishingly fast.

It does need maintenance, as in the case where you don’t trim it for some time, it will take over the whole aquarium water surface.

What I love about the Indian Fern (Water Sprite) is also the fact that it is like a sponge for fish tanks that have algae issues or have just been set.

It will protect the fish from nitrogen poisoning in the beginning stages of the development of stable water chemistry.

The Water Sprite is the best floating plant for keeping guppies because it develops a root structure which provides shelter for guppy fry.

Meanwhile, the leaves on top give a pleasing filtered shade to the aquarium making the guppies feel safer and less stressed which contributes to showing more of their personality.

Guppies won’t try to eat the Water Sprite, unlike other fish or snails.

In case you keep plants rooted in the substrate that also don’t enjoy as much light (such as Anubias), the Water Sprite is a great addition to your planted tank.

5. Anacharis plant – Egeria (Elodea) Densa

By dancingninjabunnies

The Anacharis is a widely-spread choice as a beginner-friendly floating plant.

Often after floating for a while it naturally roots itself to the substrate.

Of course, if at some point you don’t want it floating around, you can attach it yourself.

It will thrive if you keep the lighting at medium to low levels and the water at a bit lower temperature – between 70 and 77°F.

The Elodea is famous for its oxygenating qualities and rapid reproduction.

Anacharis is most likely the best floating plant for aquariums that contain goldfish.

Both the plant and the fish have similar water temperature requirements.

Goldfish will enjoy nibbling on the Elodea’s leaves, however, the Anacharis floater grows fast.

The goldfish’s impact won’t be significant for the plant’s health.

Even the Anacharis is being planted in the substrate and the goldfish uproots it (typical goldfish behavior), the plant will survive because it does well while floating.

If you take proper care of Egeria Densa you might be able to see this floater flowering, showing off gorgeous white silky blooms.

6. Mini Pellia – Riccardia chamedryfolia

By watercrayfish

This beautiful liverwort will embellish your aquarium as soon as you place it inside it.

The Coral Moss (another name for this floating plant) has a lovely delicate look and a beautiful green color.

The Mini Pellia can be kept free-floating in your freshwater aquarium, but after a while, it will grow, densify and its weight will make it sink.

Mini Pellia in aquascapes is usually attached to driftwood, rocks or stainless steel mesh.

It has an attractive dense composition.

The Mini Pellia is considered the best floating plant for shrimp-centered tanks.

Shrimp fry appreciates the shelter that the Mini Pellia is providing.

Fully grown shrimp are compelled to crowd up on top of this floating plant, actively grazing on it.

The green color of the Mini Pellia and its clean and compact look also enhances the coloration of aquarium shrimp.

You should bear in mind that this floater thrives at a lower temperature (72 – 76°F) which is also beneficial for breeding shrimp, because this temperature range decreases the chance of bacterial infections.

This surface freshwater plant is a bit more on the expensive side, however.

Patience is key with Mini Pellia as it grows slowly, but its beauty is absolutely worth it.

7. Dwarf Water Lettuce – Pistia stratiotes

By automaticaquatic

The dwarf water lettuce is another surface floating plant that develops a bushy root structure.

It has thin leaves with tiny hair covering them.

You should provide moderate to high light and low flow for your Dwarf Pistia to thrive.

The choice of good lighting will impact its wellness and growth the most.

If kept under proper conditions the roots will grow along with many fine branches, which requires a deeper tank.

If this freshwater plant feels well it will stretch its water surface coverage and you will need to take out some of it away from time to time.

The Dwarf Water Lettuce is generally considered to be among the best floating plants for a betta fish.

The leaves of the plant imitate the natural habitat of the betta, making it feel less stressed and more comfortable.

Bettas benefit from the long root structure of the Dwarf Water Lettuce and feel comfortable swimming around it.

When the betta is not stressed it has more pronounced colors and a longer lifespan in general.

Bear in mind that there should still be some space uncovered by the plant, as bettas breathe atmospheric air and would need access to the water surface.

Dwarf Water Lettuce is also a great addition to your divided breeding fish tank for bettas.

Just place it in the female compartment and it will provide places for the female to hide from the male.

8. Foxtail Plant – Ceratophyllum demersum

By kiss-my-arse

The Foxtail Plant, also known in the hobby as Hornwort, is another great floater, that controls ammonia and nitrate while it successfully fights off some types of aquarium algae.

Research suggests that it can even strip your tap water from toxic metals.

You can obey nature and leave it floating, or you can also be planting it in the substrate.

Other methods of keeping it include wedge it between rocks or just use suction cups and fish line to position it the way you’d like.

The Foxtail plant is a great novice-friendly fast grower that can safely float in low-tech aquariums.

The Hornwort is among the best and most frequently chosen floating plants for fish breeding tanks.

Its bushy foxtail-like structure provides sufficient cover for fish and shrimp fry alike.

If you keep livebearers and you’re trying to save the next generation, or if you’re trying to breed shrimp in a community tank then Hornwort is the answer.

9. Floating Crystalwort – Riccia Fluitans

By peachpeels

You will often see The Floating Crystalwort used as an aquarium carpet, but its natural state is to be floating on the water surface.

If you decide to attach it to hardware, bear in mind that you would most likely need to take it out every other day.

Re-tie it again after, to keep it attached and neat-looking.

Riccia is strongly determined to reach the surface of your aquarium.

In case you want to have it submerged and put in the effort to attach it to the bottom of the aquarium, your patience will pay off. Shiny microbubbles will pop out on the plant’s texture, creating a beautiful pearl garden.

Crystalwort is a fast grower, especially when supplied with CO2 and sufficient lighting.

Shrimp love it and it is a great hiding place for fry and small fish.

When left floating Crystalwort casts a nice dappled shade, that’s greatly appreciated by the aquarium inhabitants as it resembles their natural freshwater environment.

10. Moneywort – Bacopa Monnieri

By OGHamToast

The Moneywort is a wonderful plant that does extremely well when kept floating on the surface of your fish tank.

You can root it in the substrate as well, however, I prefer keeping it as a floater.

It will spread horizontally and will provide partial shade.

The Moneywort can serve as a great shelter for fry in community or breeding aquariums.

It can attract some algae to its roots but a cleaning crew of shrimp or mollies can take care of the intruder.

The Bacopa Monnieri gorgeously enriches the aquascape and can also produce quite attractive flowers.

11. Water Wisteria – Hygrophila difformis

If kept as a floater the Water Wisteria will grow curved stems across the surface of the aquarium with its roots hanging down.

It might even grow emersed leaves, which are quite enjoyable to observe.

You can plant it in the substrate too, and this way it will grow straight up, trying to reach the light.

When being planted its leaves towards the bottom of the stem might turn yellow, so you will need to occasionally remove them.

In my experience, this freshwater plant grows faster when floating and not when planted.

You will need to cut and take off some of it to reduce its surface coverage.

Baby fry find asylum in its long thin roots by definition.

Also, if you have a betta fish the Water Wisteria serves as a stress-reducing factor in its aquarium.

12. Amazon Frogbit – Limnobium laevigatum

By frozenedge

The Amazon Frogbit is a lovely beginner-friendly plant that floats used in freshwater aquariums, because of its ability to purify water from harmful chemicals .

This floater will eventually cover the entire water surface of your fish tank with its green oval leaves.

The Frogbit plant has among the longest and most attractive-looking roots, which are greatly appreciated by all species of freshwater aquarium shrimp.

The more light the Amazon Frogbit receives, the longer the roots will grow, reaching deep beneath the water surface.

A Frogbit doesn’t like too much water agitation, and just like the Red Root Floater – the leaves on top should generally remain dry.

Don’t encourage splashing surface waters to avoid rotting.

It will spread relatively fast, providing a dense cover to the aquarium.

You will need to take out some of it every week or two, which is quite easy due to its size and composition.

Bear in mind that after you place it in the fish tank the Amazon Frogbit will most likely need a few weeks to acclimate.

Don’t worry too much if it’s not developing at a fast pace in the beginning.

A couple of months later you will find yourself regularly taking chunks of it out, so the Frogbit doesn’t block all of the light that is needed below.

13. Giant Duckweed – Spirodela polyrhiza

By Statik81

No matter what others advise you it has been my experience that Giant Duckweed is the best variation of duckweed species for a home freshwater aquarium.

The Lesser Duckweed is truly invasive and annoying for all fellow hobbyists because it affects the filter and they have to scoop it out on a regular basis.

When they finally decide it’s time to get rid of it completely – it may seem impossible.

However, though the Giant Duckweed spreads extremely fast as well, it doesn’t get clogged up in the filter and it is much easier to remove.

Not only that – it looks much better.

It is a great floating plant for beginners and it thrives even at low lighting.

All of this while doing a great nutrient control job for your aquarium water.

Some fish love to eat it (Goldfish for example), so in case you have more than one tank you can relocate the excess bits in your goldfish tank and observe the feast that ensues.

The Giant Duckweed also makes shy fish feel less anxious encouraging them to spend more time near the top of the aquarium.

It also serves as a very protective shelter for baby fish and shrimp.

The Giant duckweed is highly underestimated, so don’t exclude it as an option, just because it has “Duckweed” in its name.

14. Asian Watergrass – Hygroryza Aristata

By jennychanlubsdeg

The Asian Watergrass is the most unique-looking floating plant that you can come across.

It is the only species of grass that can be kept in a home freshwater aquarium.

It is needier than most other plants mentioned in this list.

It does require high amounts of light to thrive.

If its needs are met it spreads fast, growing in a creeping manner covering the aquarium’s water surface with its new stem fragments.

You will need to prune out the excess stems from time to time to have some light coming in for your other plants beneath.

I love the particular look of this plant and the fact that it stands out among the common species that you might come across on most forum recommendations.

It has these branches that grow diagonally to the sides of the stems and each branch has an ellipse-shaped green leaf that reaches 4 inches in length.

The Asian Watergrass forms a long bushy root structure that hangs down the water column.

It serves as a great hideout for baby fry and makes more anxious fish feel confident enough to roam about more.

Hygroryza Aristata is not as available as most floating freshwater plants mentioned here, but keep your eyes open for this uncommon addition if you want to stand out from the crowd.

15. Brazilian Pennywort – Hydrocotyle leucocephala

By DBOPRO

The Brazilian Pennywort has light green leaves that are round in shape.

It can cover the water of your open-top freshwater fish tank, creating a beautiful “green ceiling” effect.

It’s not a difficult live plant to look after and it will do just fine in low-tech planted aquariums.

You should, of course, bear in mind that the stronger the lighting, the faster the growth of your Pennywort will be.

It’s very likely for a Brazilian Pennywort to emerge above the water surface and even start creeping on the sides of the aquarium.

If it’s doing well it might also flower, which is always exciting for someone that has watched the Brazillian Pennywort grow from a tiny stem.

Less-known benefits for the aquarium

Floating live plants are not as valued as they should be.

I don’t see them in freshwater aquariums as much as I would like to, even though their qualities significantly outnumber all that you might have against them.

Here are notable benefits of having floating plants in a freshwater aquarium:

  • Algae control.
    Floating plants uptake their nutrients straight from the water column and serve as a filter for excessive nitrates and phosphates.

    This balances the nutritional density and prevents algae from exploiting leftover plant food.

    Therefore floating plants are great at out-competing algae and immensely help with the control of outbreaks.

    I’ve recommended using floaters against both microalgae blooms in the aquarium water and Black algae infestations.

  • Oxygenating the water.
    Through photosynthesis floating plants release oxygen straight into the water during the day, maintaining the oxygen concentration at a healthy level for your fish.

  • Reducing stress for fish.
    Floating plants cover the aquarium surface creating a natural shade, which provides comfort for most freshwater fish and reduces stress.

    Fish feel looser and cozier in their tank, swim more often near the surface, explore their environment more and start showing off their personality.

    Reducing stress levels in fish also means that their colors will be enhanced.

  • Shade for other aquatic plants.
    The shade that a live floater plant provides is beneficial for the development of the bottom plants that have low-light requirements.

    Having a floater gives the opportunity of diversifying the light penetration at different parts of your aquarium, which means that you can have both low and high light-requiring live plants.

  • Providing fry shelter.
    Floating plants ensure fish and shrimp fry protection.

    Some floaters, such as the Red Root Floater, the Dwarf water lettuce and Water sprite develop densely structured long roots where baby fry hide.

  • Beginner-friendly maintenance.
    Most floating plants are a great pick for beginners in the hobby, who don’t have experience with live plants and want to try them out.

    Floaters aren’t demanding – most of them don’t have high-light requirements.

    They obtain the essential Carbon Dioxide straight from the air, so as long as there’s no aquarium lid, they will do fine.

  • Great aesthetics.
    Floating plants uniquely enrich the aquascape.

    They are a great edition to open-top tanks and create a beautiful green ceiling.

    When in combination with bottom plants the floater’s roots and emersed leaves will recreate a layered vegetation forest that brings wilderness in your home aquarium.

  • You can sell them.
    Most floating plants are fast-growing and easy to keep.

    You will often have to take out some of your floating plant of choice, as you wouldn’t want it to cover the whole water surface.

    If you have a local fish keeping community you can always share what plant you have in excess and send it over to a fellow hobbyist in exchange for another plant or just sell it at a price of your desire.

Which ones would be the best for a beginner and are easy to look after?

If you don’t have any experience with freshwater aquarium plants, floating plants are a great way to get started.

Not all of the floaters are perfect for beginners. Below you can find which are the best floating live aquarium plants for a beginner:

Most of the floaters are a perfect pick for a beginner aquarist as they are easy to take care of, have low lighting requirements and will grow healthily in low-maintenance aquariums.

Seeing your floater thrive will give you the experience of having a live plant in your freshwater tank and will most likely spark your interest to incorporate more living plants in your aquascape.

Some great beginner floating aquarium plants are:

  • Giant Duckweed.
  • Common Salvinia.
  • Water Sprite.
  • Amazon Frogbit.
  • Foxtail plant.
  • Mosquito fern.

Here’s a top view of an aquarium that has a combination of different floating plants including a flowering red root floater:

By chemicalskeleton

Is it safe to purchase online?

It is always better to have your plant purchased from a local fish store.

This way the plant wouldn’t have traveled for a couple of days tossed around in a box.

The truth is though, that many times your local store wouldn’t have the plant selection of your taste available.

This is why most of the times purchasing online is the only way you can have the floater you desire.

The most important thing here is to choose the right seller.

This means that the provider should take packaging seriously, as most times plants in perfect condition that are not properly packaged get ruined in a day worth of time.

Along with great packaging skills a quality supplier always makes sure that the plant’s roots are intruders-free (small shrimps, snails).

I say that as I can’t count the times my less-experienced friends have ended up with a Lesser Duckweed invasion after having ordered some frogbit.

Of course, the wellbeing of the plant also depends on the weather.

You should avoid placing an order when is too hot or below 30°F, as even with great packaging the plant may arrive damaged.

I’ve chosen my first supplier based on online reviews and a friend’s recommendation as I don’t like depending on luck.

Given that you’ve also chosen the right seller you can safely purchase your floating plant on Amazon or elsewhere.

When it comes to suppliers I can recommend two that I’ve found to be quite reliable. They are this one and that one (both are Amazon sellers).

Most floaters spread rapidly, so after getting started you will most likely find yourself throwing away a good amount of your plant on a regular basis.

This is why a lot of times members of fishkeeping communities would exchange different plants and even send floaters away for free.

So in case you have friends that are into fishkeeping or you are a regular visitor of forums and Facebook groups, look around for someone like that.

Many of my floaters I’ve had delivered after arranging an exchange.

Have in mind that rinsing the plants well and checking them for attached tiny snails is mandatory before tossing them in your freshwater aquarium.

Final words

There are too many advantages to having a floating live plant in your freshwater aquarium.

It’s good-looking, exotic, relatively easy to take care of and beneficial for algae control.

Of course, as with every other thing in fishkeeping – they do need attention to e certain extent – be it trimming them or taking some out to avoid a full aquarium eclipse…

So, tell me in the comment: which one did you choose for your fish tank?

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interesting read. I would like to try some floating plants with an oscar.