Top 10 Aquarium Plants for Breeding Fish and Raising Fry
If you plan on breeding fish and want to increase the survival rate and growth of the babies, we love using live aquarium plants. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but the foliage serves as spawning sites for the parents to lay their eggs. Once the newborns hatch, they need constant feedings to keep their small stomachs full, and the plants help cultivate the growth of microfauna that the fry can graze on. They also purify the water by absorbing the toxic waste chemicals produced by the fish, and the thick jungle of leaves are perfect hiding spots for the young to escape from hungry adults. Some plants are especially good for raising fry, so we’ve listed our top 10 fluffy and dense plants that fish breeders always use.
1. Java Moss
A pair of pygmy corydoras resting on java moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri)
Mosses like java moss and Christmas moss are at the top of the list because not only are they dense enough to provide good cover for baby fish and shrimp, but they tend to attract mulm and microorganisms for them to forage on. For fish that scatter their eggs, mosses have little tendrils that the eggs can easily stick to, and their branching stems help hide them from predation. Java moss is a must-try for beginners because it’s so easy to grow, has low light demands, and does not require substrate. It can be attached to a wire grid and placed on the ground to look like a fuzzy, deep green carpet or wrapped around driftwood for a naturally aged look. Just add a little Easy Green all-in-one fertilizer to keep it growing well.
2. Pogostemon stellatus ‘octopus’
Pogostemon stellatus ‘octopus’ is a fast-growing stem plant that can easily fill up your tank if given enough nutrients and low to medium lighting. The variation name “octopus” comes from its long, wispy leaves and branches that have a bright green color. The tentacle-like foliage can become very dense over time, creating pockets of space that only small fry can fit between while blocking out bigger predators.
This plant is originally grown out of water (or emersed) at the farm for faster production and therefore may have broader leaves than usual when you first receive it. These emersed-grown leaves will eventually melt back, and the plant will sprout new, skinnier leaves that are accustomed to being submerged underwater. When plants arrive at our facility, we begin the process of converting them to their submerged form. If your Pogostemon stellatus is still half-converted when you get it, you can speed up the conversion process by floating the plant up at the surface at first to give it greater access to light and carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air.
3. Water Sprite
Water sprite is another fast-growing stem plant that is excellent at consuming excess nutrients to purify the water for fish and help prevent algae growth. When planted in the ground, it forms a tall, bushy mound with fine, lacy leaves for small fish and shrimp to seek shelter. When grown as a floating plant, the leaves become much wider with rounded tips, and it grows long, thick roots for fish to lay their eggs and babies to graze on. Like most stem plants, it prefers feeding from the water column and enjoys liquid fertilizers like Easy Green.
4. Guppy Grass
This species originates from North and South America and is so good at breeding fish that it has gained the nickname “guppy grass.” Think of it like nature’s version of the yarn spawning mop. While it can be planted in the substrate, many hobbyists grow it as a giant, floating mass of plant matter. Guppy grass is nearly impenetrable by adult fish because the stems produce closely spaced tufts of short, narrow leaves that interlock with each other. The branches break apart and propagate quite easily, but that also makes the plant harder to ship and not as suitable for high flow tanks.
5. Mayaca fluviatilis
If you’re looking for a unique plant that will provide interesting textures in your planted aquarium, you have to try Mayaca fluviatilis. This South and Central American species has very fine, small leaves growing all along its stem, making it look like a yellow-green pipe cleaner. In fact, its fuzzy-looking leaves are reminiscent of mosses, which is why it has the common name “stream bogmoss.” While it is easy to care for, it does prefer medium lighting and liquid fertilizer to grow well. Once established, the stream bogmoss grows fairly quickly and will provide a lush hiding spot for both baby fish and shrimp.
An easy way to fill an entire aquarium with a forest of greenery is to plant vallisneria (or val). This background plant looks like a tall field of grass and can grow so high that it drapes over the top of the water, making a protective covering for fish to feel secure. Beginners love this plant because of its easy care, low light requirements, and ability to spread quickly. Vallisneria propagates by sending out runners that each produce a baby plant at the end, and the plantlets eventually grow large enough to send out their own runners. Once the val spreads everywhere and becomes well-established, it is hardy enough to survive the nibbling of fish like African cichlids and goldfish.
7. Hydrocotyle tripartita 'Japan'
We love this unusual plant for its small, clover-shaped leaves and ability to spread its stringy stems along the substrate and hardscape, much like a creeping ivy. It has the versatility to be used either in the foreground as ground cover or draped across driftwood. Unlike many of the other species on this list, it does best in medium to high light environments and would benefit from CO2 injection. In a high tech planted aquarium, Hydrocotyle tripartite ‘Japan’ has a more compact, bushier growth pattern, which is perfect for hiding dwarf shrimp and baby fish. Trim off any areas that get too tall and replant them in the ground for propagation.
8. Bolbitis Fern
Out of all of the epiphyte plants commonly sold in the aquarium hobby, bolbitis (or the African water fern) is one of the denser species because of its large, textured fronds. While it is slower growing than most stem plants, a mature bolbitis can develop into a massive, emerald green shrub that easily conceals many small fish from view. This resilient plant does fine in waters with higher pH and GH and can be used in African cichlid, goldfish, and even monster fish tanks. Bolbitis has a horizontal, branch-like rhizome that should not be covered up, so do not bury it in the ground. Instead, you can attach it to driftwood or rock with sewing thread or super glue gel. For more details on how to plant epiphytes (and other types of plants), check out our quick guide on planting methods.
9. Pearl Weed
Pearl weed is a bright green stem plant that is similar in appearance to baby tears, but it is differentiated by its slightly longer, oblong-shaped leaves. Its small leaves and unkempt growth can serve to form a thick jungle for little creatures to reside within. Because of its delicate stems, we often recommend leaving the plant in the rock wool it comes with and digging a hole big enough to fit the entire plastic pot in the substrate. This leaves the fragile roots of the pearl weed intact while the plant converts to its underwater, submerged form. This species does best under medium to high lighting and can grow upwards all the way to the surface, so you can keep it as a background plant or a midground plant with some trimming.
Floating plants with long, shaggy roots are excellent for concealing eggs, newborn fish, and other small creatures. Amazon frogbit is one of our favorites because of their round, green leaves that look like miniature lily pads. Their roots can reach all the way down to the substrate and create the look of an upside-down forest. Since it propagates by sending out runners, the frogbit spreads like a connected web and can be easily removed in large clumps. As an alternative, dwarf water lettuce is another similar floating plant that is often used by breeders because of its extensive root system. Floating plants grow very quickly and therefore are great at absorbing toxic nitrogen chemicals from the water. However, make sure not to let them cover the entire water surface or else they may out-shade the plants below and reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water.
All of these plants are great at increasing the survival rate of fry and will help you be more successful with your next breeding project. For more tips and tricks on spawning fish and raising fry, browse our collection of breeding articles.