10 Popular Aquarium Plants That Do Not Need Substrate

10 Popular Aquarium Plants That Do Not Need Substrate

We understand that selecting the right aquatic plant for an aquarium is overwhelming for beginners. As if learning about all the do’s and don’ts for fish was not enough, selecting the right aquarium plant and its substrate doubles the fuss, creating apprehension among the new aquarists.

So, what’s the solution?

The first solution is learning A to Z about aquarium substrates, and the second (and easy option) is acquiring plants that do not require substrate to grow.

Apart from a lack of knowledge of substrate and how to anchor plants to substrate, there could be many more reasons for choosing aquarium plants that do not require substrate. Some of them are:

  • Your aquarium has fish that often pull the aquarium plants out of the substrate
  • The plant is not anchoring well to the substrate
  • You want to rearrange the placement of aquarium plants
  • You are into acquascaping and often change the areas of your plants

If you are a new aquarist and want to introduce a few live plants in your tank, we suggest going for aquarium plants that can easily grow without substrate.

Here, we will list some of the most popular aquarium plants that thrive without substrate and add glory to the tank. Keep reading to find out!

  1. Java Fern

Java Fern, scientifically called Microsorum Pteropus, is known as a beginner-friendly plant for many reasons. Firstly, it is easy to maintain, and secondly, it is hardy and can withstand wide water parameters.

We have included it in our list because it doesn’t require any substrate. So, how does it grow- all you need is to glue or tie it to driftwood or any other piece of wood in your tank.

Java Fern absorbs the nutrients from the water that helps it to thrive well even without substrate. If you bring a Java Fern and want it to flourish, just add liquid fertilizers in the prescribed amount to make it more vibrant.

Java Fern Requirements

  • Light: low to medium lighting
  • Temperature: 15.5 to 28 degree Celsius
  • pH: 6.0-7.5
  • Propagation: Many tiny Java Plants start growing at the tips of the leaves of the main plant. These tiny plants can be separated and replanted for propagation.
  • Other requirements: Never bury the rhizomes inside the substrate.

Once you tie the Java Fern to a rock and it starts growing, you can place that rock anywhere in the tank according to your choice. Switch it elsewhere if you get bored of seeing your Java Fern plant at a particular place. This is the beauty of aquarium plants that do not require substrate.

If you are propagating Java Fern, anchor the baby plants properly and allow them to grow and get a little sturdy before using them as a proper new plant.

Often, beginners make the mistake of burying the Java Fern into the substrate. They say ignorance is bliss, but in this case, it will make you lose your precious plant. So, never bury the Java Fern, but attach it to the driftwood or rock and see how it makes your tank look more beautiful.

  1. Java Fern Windelov

The scientific name of this plant is Microsorum pteropus “Windelov.” Even though the name, species, care, and requirements of Java Fern and Java Fern Windelov are the same, they look entirely different.

The leaves of these two plants are different. One has simple leaves, and the other’s split into finer sections, giving a variegated appearance.

Having these two plants in the tank could become a win-win situation as the requirements are similar. From temperature and pH to light, every need is the same. Even the way of tying to the driftwood and anchoring the baby plants is also the same.

So, learning about one plant gives the benefit of two. If you are a beginner, we strongly recommend having both Java Fern and Java Fern Windelov in your aquarium. All you need is to glue the plants to the rock, infuse liquid fertilizer, and allow them to grow.

After a few weeks you’ll see how creatively they have modified the entire look of your tank, giving it a greener and more beautiful appearance.

  1. Anubias Barteri

Another plant species which is highly popular in the aquarium culture is Anubias. There are different varieties of Anubias that are suitable for aquarium culture, and one of them is Anubias barteri.

Being hardy is one of its traits that made it popular among the beginners. You can grow it just like Java Fern by attaching it to the rocks through glue, threads, and wires. Some benefits of growing Anubias barteri are:

  • It has lush green leaves that are thick and sturdy
  • None of the fish eat its leaves
  • It doesn’t require carbon dioxide

If big fish are the inhabitants of your tank, plants like Anubias barteri could be the right choice, as fish don’t eat or ruin it. Also, due to its popularity, you can find this plant easily in any fish store or online aquarium plant store.

However, one drawback of Anubias barteri is that it grows slowly. If you want an instant result and see your tank lush green only after a few days of planting, avoid Anubias, as it will take time to show its true growth and colors.

If you are patient enough, go for Anubias, and believe me, you’ll thank us later!

Anubias barteri Requirements

  • Light: medium to high
  • Temperature: 22 to 28 degrees Celsius
  • pH: 5.5 to 7
  • Propagation: It can be propagated by cutting the rhizome, keeping 2-3 leaves in the cutting.
  • Other requirements: Do not bury the rhizome, but keep it in a partially or fully submerged condition above the substrate.
  1. Anubias nana

This is a dwarf variety of Anubias that looks pretty cute in any tank. While all the other features of the plant are the same as Anubias barteri, only the height is less, and the leaves are small.

If you love aquascaping and making the most of your aquarium plants, Anubias species give plenty of options. You can design your tank from its different varieties to make it look spectacular.

Just like Java Fern, adding a little liquid fertilizer can help the Anubias flourish and grow abundantly. Add them once in a while and see how they transform the entire look of your tank.

For the rest of the requirements, see Anubias Barteri.

  1. Bucephalandra 

Nicknamed Buce, this plant could be a great addition to your tank as it can be grown without substrate. The different textures of the leaves, some could be oblong with wavy edges and circular with straight edges, make the plant typically unique.

Additionally, the color of the leaves varies too. You can see foliage in different shades of green with hues of red, purple, and blue. Moreover, you can also find a few varieties of Buce where leaves have white dots and an iridescent sheen, giving it an amazing look.

Bucephalandra Requirements

  • Light: Low
  • Temperature: 21–28°C
  • pH: 6-8
  • Propagation: Cutting the rhizomes from the natural bends.
  • Other requirements: CO2 is not needed, but its addition may hasten the growth.

You can attach the Buce plant to the rocks or driftwood and let them linger to it properly. Once attached, it will start growing and increasing the aesthetics of your aquarium.

  1. Water Lettuce

Also popular as water cabbage, water lettuce is a wholesome plant for those looking for no-substrate plants for their tank. It can be grown in ponds as well. Water Lettuce is a non-edible plant and comes under floating plants that are true to their name.

Floating plants do not require substrate but nutrient-rich water to grow their roots and stay afloat. It is named so because the leaves of this plant resemble the heads of lettuce.

Even though water lettuce is demanding, especially when it comes to light requirements, it gives a stunning view of the tank. If you have a large tank, a few plants of water lettuce can add to its beauty manifold.

Water Lettuce Requirements

  • Light: Full to partial sun exposure
  • Temperature: 26-33 degrees Celsius
  • pH: 6.5 and 7.5
  • Propagation: It proliferates via asexual reproduction.
  • Other requirements: Not suitable for small and compact aquariums.

One more thing that needs attention is the leaves of the plant that are poisonous. So, if you have pets or kids in the house, better to avoid having water lettuce in the tank.

There are many other floating plants that can be added in the aquarium in place of water lettuce, such as Amazon frogbit, duckweed, water poppy, etc., that we will discuss in this article.

  1. Duckweed

If you are not aware, weeds are the undesired plants that grow profusely and become hard to get rid of. Even though duckweed is not an undesired plant, it becomes hard to remove once introduced in the tank.

Here are a few benefits of adding this floating plant to the tank:

  • It suppresses the growth of algae by taking up most of the area of the upper surface and thus blocking light.
  • It gives a mat-like appearance to the surface.
  • Since it grows abundantly, it absorbs all the water nutrients, giving little scope for algae to flourish.

However, these points become a disadvantage when you have other plants in the tank. So, before you introduce duckweed, be prepared, as it will require regular trimming, the use of liquid fertilizers, and no light infiltration.

Duckweed Requirements

  • Light: Medium to high
  • Temperature: 20 to 30 degrees Celsius but can survive in temperatures as low as 15 degrees and as high as degrees.
  • pH: 5.0–7.0 is ideal but can tolerate from 3.0–10.0
  • Propagation: Asexually by forming chains of new stems from vegetative buds
  • Other requirements: You need to trim them regularly due to their profuse growth. Also, they are not suitable for small tanks.

Apart from preventing algae growth, duckweed also makes the tank friendly for shy and scared fish. Such fish often prefer swimming low, but once the duckweed covers the upper surface, shy fish get the courage to swim up. Duckweed gives a sense of security to shy fish.

  1. Amazon Frogbit

With round-shaped leaves that look similar to ripe lemons, Amazon Frogbit takes the attention instantly. Often, people confuse this plant with Water hyacinth as they both have smooth leaves with visible hair. When kept under the right water parameters, you may see the plant flowering, giving small white flowers.

Since Amazon Frogbit is an easy-to-care plant, it is suitable for beginners who are looking for no-substrate aquatic plants. It can flourish even if the water parameters are a little fluctuating. So, even if you don’t have too much information about adjusting the water parameters strictly according to a plant, Amazon Frogbit is your go-to option.

Amazon Frogbit Requirements

  • Light: Moderate to high brightness
  • Temperature: 21 to 30 degrees Celsius
  • pH: 6.0 – 7.5
  • Propagation: Stem fragmentation or seed propagation
  • Other requirements: Water hardness should stay between 200 to 240 ppm.

One thing that you need to take care of is keeping the top of the plant dry. If it stays dampened and wet, the chances of deterioration are very high. It can grow up to 20 inches, blocking the light entering inside the tank. So, a regular trimming is advised to avoid oxygen depletion.

  1. Water Spangles

This beautiful free-floating fern could be another addition to your tank as it is easy to care for and grows fast and very hardy. The scientific name of Water Spangles is Salvinia minima, and it belongs to the Salviniaceae family. Most of the plants in this family are rootless and float on the water surface.

Apart from being easy to care for, another perk of Water Spangles is its ability to remove heavy metals from the water, such as copper. So, it gives you toxin-free water.

Water Spangles Requirements

  • Light: Moderate to high
  • Temperature: 22 – 26 degree Celsius
  • pH: 6.0 – 8.0
  • Propagation: Spore-production or through stem fragmentation
  • Other requirements: Make sure water agitation is as low as possible. It prefers a gentle water flow.

The unique appearance of this plant makes it highly likable. The leaves are round to oval in shape, consisting of thin root-like projections. However, these are not actual rots but modified leaves.

Another benefit of adding water spangles is some of its filamentous leaves submerge, creating a network that is perfect for spawning. Also, it makes a good place for little fry to hide and swim.

In a nutshell, water spangles is a good aquarium plant that doesn’t require substrate and stays afloat on the surface. Just make sure you add liquid fertilizers in the water to help plants thrive.

  1. Java Moss

If you are looking for some moss species to introduce in your tank, Java Moss will be the right choice. It is one of the most popular mosses that aquarists are fond of, and for many good reasons.

One thing that makes it so popular is its versatility. Besides being easy to grow and care for, java moss can be planted in a tank without substrate. All you have to do is place the moss over the rocks or driftwood and let its rhizoids attach to the surface, which usually happens quickly.

Rhizoids are root-like filaments found in many plants, including Java Moss. They help the moss to attach to the surface and nourish.

Java Moss Requirements

  • Light: Medium to high
  • Temperature: 21 and 24 degrees Celsius
  • pH: 5 to 8
  • Propagation: By division- breaking off pieces from the plant bunch and attaching them on surfaces.
  • Other requirements: If you need dense carpeting, offer high brightness to the moss.

You can use a fishing line or thread to attach it. Even though these attachment tools will be visible for some time, the moss will eventually spread and hide inside its greenery. You can also use cotton thread that will dissolve and disappear over time.

All in all, Java Moss is not only easy to grow but offers multiple benefits. From increasing the tank’s aesthetics to giving it a picturesque effect, it is the best for beginners.

Apart from Java Moss, you can also try some other mosses that look equally beautiful-

  1. Christmas Moss– It is called so due to the presence of clumps that make it look like a Christmas tree.
  2. Flame Moss– Just as the name suggests, this moss looks like flames coming from the fire, giving a picturesque effect to the tank.
  3. Phoenix Moss– It’s a slow-growing moss but looks aesthetically pleasing with its delicate, feathery, dark green features.
  4. Willow Moss– Even though it looks a lot like Java Moss, the close resembles the Willow tree named Willow Moss.
  5. Weeping Moss– This moss is named so due to its close resemblance to branches and leaves of weeping willow trees.

Here are a few reasons why you should have moss in your tank:

  • Attaches quickly to the surface as the fronds appear quickly and grip the surface tightly.
  • Improves water quality by oxygenating the tank
  • Limits the growth of algae
  • Provides ample space for breeding
  • Offers space for fish to hide and play
  • Perfect for aquascaping
  • It can be used in any part of the aquarium and over any surface

Apart from mosses and the plants listed above, you can also have other floating plants like Floating Crystalwort, Water Weeds, Hornwort, Moneywort, Brazilian Pennywort, Cabomba, Dwarf Hygro and Water Wisteria.

All these plants can grow well without substrate as some of them are floating, and others can be grown by simply attaching to any rough surface.

Words of Caution 

Even though using aquarium plants that do not require substrate is a great way to beautify the tank, here are a few things that you need to keep in mind-

A- Floating Plants 

If you have floating plants and they seem to obstruct light, which is needed inside the tank for other plants to survive and many other reasons, ensure you trim them and give some space for the light to enter.

Another way is using silicon tubes. Take a silicone tube and connect its ends with the help of hot glue to form a circle. Now, introduce this circled silicon tube in the tank. Due to its lightweight, it will stay afloat on the water’s surface and ensure all the floating plants are outside the circle. Thus, allowing the light to enter through the circle all the time.

In this way, you don’t have to cut or trim the floating plants regularly.

B- Moss

Most of the mosses are self-attaching, which means they attach to the surface without any assistance. However, initially, you might need certain attaching tools like glue or thread; otherwise, the moss will keep floating up to the water surface.

If you are using thread, make sure to tie it to the surface tightly, as loosely tied thread may cause injuries to the fish. As a beginner, you need to ponder upon it as the fish often get stuck on loose threads and harm themselves.

Also, as the thread starts dissolving, fish may try eating the loose pieces of it, which is not good for health. So, keep a close eye on mosses, and as soon you figure out that they have attached properly to the surface, take out the thread yourself.

Final Words

Having aquarium plants in the tank is nothing less than bliss. It is an amazing experience seeing the lush green aquarium with fish swimming and swirling across the live plants. However, if you have less knowledge about ‘how to grow plants on the substrate and anchor them properly,’ go for plants that do not require substrate at all.

It will solve your purpose and make the tank look livelier and lovelier.

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