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Top 5 Red Plants to Try in Your Next Planted Aquarium

One of the basic design principles of aquascaping is to create interesting spaces that catch the viewer’s attention, such as by utilizing plants with different textures, heights, and colors. However, most plants are green in color, so how do you prevent your planted tank from looking all the same, like a solid green background? Thankfully, there are several red plants that have pink, scarlet, bronze-red, and even reddish-purple leaves, so let’s talk about our top 5 favorites that you should try.

1. Red Dwarf Aquarium Lily

Red Dwarf Aquarium Lily

Nymphaea stellata

Want an easy, beginner-friendly plant that will instantly make a statement in your fish tank? Get the dwarf aquarium lily for an eye-catching boost in color and texture. This low-light plant grows 4-inch, arrowhead-shaped leaves that range from reddish-bronze to pinkish-green in color. It also sends up long shoots to form lily pads at the water surface, making it a good midground or background plant. Shrimp love to climb up and down stems like a tightrope, and nano fish will rest beneath the lily pads as cover.

If you buy your lily from us, we send the bulb (without any roots or leaves) packed in peat moss. Rinse it in water to remove any excess dirt, and then simply place it on top of the substrate without burying it. The bulb may float at first, but it will eventually sink once it becomes waterlogged. Also, you may notice a fuzzy layer of biofilm growing on the bulb, but this is not harmful to the plant and will often get eaten by algae eaters and detritivores in the tank. Once the bulb sprouts, the roots will grow downward to anchor the plant into the substrate while the leaves grow upwards toward the light. If you see no shoots after 1–3 weeks, flip the bulb over because it may be upside-down. If the bulb becomes mushy or still doesn’t sprout, just contact our customer service and we’ll send you a replacement. At first, the lily will absorb nutrients from its bulb, but if the leaves start melting back, then make sure it’s getting enough Easy Root Tabs as fertilizer. For more information on the dwarf aquarium lily, check out our full care guide.

2. Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘red’

Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘red’

Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘red’

Cryptocoryne plants (or “crypts” for short) are very common in the hobby, and crypt wendtii is one of the most popular species that comes in many variations. The red variety specifically has long, pointed leaves with a very ruffled texture and beautiful, bronze-red color. As a fairly compact plant that can reach around 8 inches (20 cm) in height, it is often used as a midground plant. Crypts are classified as rosette plants, such that all the leaves grow out of the crown (or base of the plant) in a circular pattern. When you receive your crypt, remove it from the plant basket and rock wool, and insert it deeply into the substrate. Then gently pull the plant upwards so that the crown is revealed and not covered by substrate.

Like the aquarium lily, this low light plant does not need any CO2 injection and prefers to feed from its roots, so don’t forget to provide nutrient-rich substrate or root tabs, especially if the leaves start turning yellow. Above all, cryptocorynes really want to grow in stable conditions and will infamously experience “crypt melt” anytime you plant it in a new location, shock it with different water parameters, or introduce a new fertilizer regime. Don’t lose hope though — as long as the roots are intact and healthy, new leaves will eventually pop up once again. Crypts do tend to be slow growers, but if they are thriving in your tank, you may see small nodes produced on the edge of the crown that become little plantlets with their own leaves and roots. You can gently remove them to replant elsewhere, or just leave them there to become a massive bush over time.

3. Red Tiger Lotus

Red Tiger Lotus

Nymphaea zenkeri

The red tiger lotus is another bulb plant gets bigger and even redder than the dwarf aquarium lily. Its heart-shaped leaves have wavy edges and variegated color patterns that range from reddish-green to deep red with darker, almost purple spots. Like the dwarf aquarium lily, it grows both broad leaves closer to the bulb and lily pads up at the water surface. Because of its large size, the tiger lotus is often used as the main centerpiece in planted aquariums and can be placed in the midground or background.

If you purchase from us, the bulb will come in a plastic pot covered in rock wool and may have some small leaves growing out of it. However, these leaves are very delicate and are often damaged in shipping or will melt away after being planted. Don’t worry — just remove the bulb from the rock wool, rinse it if needed, and place it on top of the substrate without burying it completely. New leaves should sprout in about 7–10 days, and the roots will help affix the bulb firmly in place. For the best growth, make sure your tiger lotus gets medium to high lighting, as well as plenty of roots tabs or nutrient-rich substrate for food. Read more about this amazing species in the complete care guide.

4. Scarlet Temple

Scarlet Temple

Alternanthera reineckii var. 'roseafolia'

This South American stem plant boasts vibrant pink and red colors on the undersides of its leaves, while the topsides are greenish-brown. With the use of high lighting and CO2 injection, the green tints disappear, and the plant can achieve deep red to magenta-purple hues. Like most stem plants, they can be used as a midground or background plant, depending on where you prune them, and the trimmings can be replanted into the ground to make more scarlet temples.

When you first purchase the plant, it may come in plastic basket with rock wool or wrapped with a ring or rubber band around the base of the stems. Remove the wrapping material and separate the stems. Plant each stem at least 2–3 inches (5–8 cm) deep, even if the substrate covers the bottom leaves. To prevent the stems from popping out of the ground, it helps to use planting tweezers so you can insert the stem at an angle and then straighten the plant while it's weighed down by substrate. Rather than planting the stems all in a bunch, make sure to space them out a little so that the roots have room to grow.

The scarlet temple may initially melt back since the plant farms grow them above water (or emersed) and they aren’t used to being underwater (or submersed). Be patient as the emersed leaves at the bottom of the stem fall off and the new submersed leaves appear at the top. To help the plant get through the melting phase and convert faster, some hobbyists like to float the stems at the water surface so they get more access to light and CO2. Once the scarlet temple develops roots all along its stem, then you can plant it into the substrate with greater success. Most stem plants like to absorb nutrients from the water column, so feed it plenty of Easy Green all-in-one fertilizer to get optimal growth. 

5. Red Flame Sword

Red Flame Sword

Echinodorus sp. 'red flame'

Most planted tank enthusiasts are familiar with Amazon swords, but there are many varieties of Echinodorus species or sword plants that come in all sorts of colors, shapes, and patterns. The red flame sword is particularly known for its broad, mottled leaves that feature green, red, and bronze colors. Like the Amazon sword, they can grow quite large and take over your aquarium if left untrimmed, so many people use them as background or centerpiece plants in big tanks where they have space to spread out. Just be aware that bristlenose and other plecos have been known to munch on sword plants, so you may need to relocate them if they eat too many leaves.

Red flame swords need medium to high light, especially to bring out those scarlet hues. Plus, they have a great appetite for fertilizers and need nutrient-rich substrate or lots of root tabs to grow well. As a rosette plant, you can use your fingers or tweezers to dig a hole and bury the roots while leaving the crown of the plant uncovered. The emersed leaves usually melt away at first as the sword adjusts to its new environment, but eventually it will produce longer, narrower leaves that are submersed-grown. If you take good care of them, they can start producing little side shoots that become new plantlets for you to propagate.

A common question we get asked is if red plants need extra iron supplements to bring out their crimson colors. The answer is that high lighting tends to increase redness in plants, but high light plants tend to consume more nutrients in general, including iron. To find out whether or not iron dosing is right for your red plants, read our full article below.

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