14 best floating plants for the top of your freshwater fish tank & aquarium

As you walk past your aquarium, something compels you to stop and look at it. Though the fish look happy, the tank itself seems rather bland. Determined to change this, you set off to the nearest pet store to find aquatic flora for your tank.

But before you know it, you’re wading through a forest of hornwort and java moss. How do you know which one is the right for you? This article will help you find the best floating plants for the top of your freshwater fish tank and aquarium. 

Live Aquarium Plants

6 reasons why you should buy aquatic plants

Though they might seem like bits of floating mulch to you, aquatic plants provide several benefits to your aquarium. From filtering the water to providing shelter to your fish, they’re certainly worth the money.

Here are the 6 reasons why you should buy aquatic plants:

  1. Food source for fish

Floating plants are a great source of nutrients. Thus, it’s no surprise that fish like to nibble them. Combined with conventional fish food, they can greatly enrich their diet. 

Of course, it depends on the type of fish you own. While most won’t raze your flora to the ground, some can. Therefore, you should always check if your fish are compatible with your new plant.

  1. Easy to keep

Unlike their house counterparts, live aquatic plants don’t require much care. Once you set them into your aquarium, you won’t have to do much more. 

Even if you don’t have a green thumb, you’ll manage. They are sturdy and unlikely to die. 

Low maintenance means more time on your hands. You can spend this valuable time on your fish or other hobbies!

  1. Habitat

A fish tank should simulate the natural habitat of your fish. And surface plants are a vital part of this habitat. 

Many species like to hide in their stems and leaves, particularly the smaller ones. Thus, aquatic flora can make your fish feel more at home. 

  1. Ecosystem stability
floating aquarium plants

Your aquarium can be thought of as a tiny aquatic ecosystem. Aquatic flora can make this ecosystem as lifelike as possible. 

Like every green plant, they produce vital oxygen. To this day, they remain the best form of oxygenation for aquariums. 

Nitrate levels can also be a problematic concern. Luckily, aquatic plants can help you in this department too. 

Moreover, they help filter the water and keep the organic waste to a minimum.

With all these benefits combined, they make fishkeeping a hundred times easier. 

  1. Sunlight filters

Floating plants can limit the amount of sunlight that enters your freshwater aquarium. Certain fish species prefer the shade. While you can achieve this in other ways, floating flora is the most authentic option.

But be careful not to overdo it. Other types of fish might thrive in sunlight. Before you decide to organize your tank, make sure you know what your fish need. 

Once you find the perfect amount of shade for your aquarium, it will greatly lower the stress levels of its scaly inhabitants. 

  1. Aesthetic value

Aquariums aren’t just a habitat for your fish – they’re also a part of your indoor décor. And an empty fish tank can certainly seem bland. By adding flora to it, you’ll make it much livelier. 

14 types of floating aquarium plants

Now that you know what benefits they can bring, it’s time to look at your options. Below, we’ve listed 14 types of floating aquarium plants. All of these options are easy to take care of, even if you’re new to this hobby. 

Floating Aquarium plants seen from above

Dwarf Water Lettuce

Resembling a floating flower, the dwarf water lettuce is one of our favorite plants on this list. Its humble leaves will certainly spruce up your aquarium.

Although it has big leaves, they’re easy to trim. If you trim them regularly, you won’t have to worry about the lack of sunlight in your tank.

Due to its size, we don’t recommend it for freshwater tanks under 30 gallons. At such low volumes, it might not develop properly. 

Dwarf Water Lettuce
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Dwarf Water Lettuce
Get some Dwarf Water Lettuce in your tank.

Water Wisteria

Water wisteria can grow both in the soil and at the surface. 

Its fern-like leaves give it an exotic appearance. With the right lighting, it can look breathtaking. Apart from its aesthetic appeal, it’s also a perfect hiding spot for your fish. 

Water wisteria tends to grow rapidly in optimal conditions. Make sure you keep it in check. Otherwise, it might overgrow your tank.

Some fish species need more light than others. If you own any fish that thrive in light, you’ll need to pay extra attention to the growth of this plant. 

Water Wisteria
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Water Wisteria
Get Water Wisteria that's alive.

Anacharis

Anacharis is the perfect surface plant for beginners. Since it tolerates a wide range of conditions, it’s easy to maintain.

Unlike most plants, Anacharis doesn’t need much sunlight. It makes it an excellent choice if your fish prefer the shade. It isn’t very particular about water temperature either, meaning you can never go wrong with it.

Anacharis is also great for oxygenating water, making it beneficial for every aquarium. It also provides a healthy snack for your fish.

It can grow to large proportions, despite being grazed on. Make sure your aquarium is appropriately large for it.

Brazilian Pennywort

Brazilian Pennywort can transform the surface of your freshwater aquarium into a meadow. It has many round leaves which are spaced slightly apart from each other. Thanks to these gaps, light can still enter your tank.

Brazilian Pennywort is very sensitive to light. The more it receives, the faster it grows. Keep this in mind if you wish to regulate its growth. 

However, some fish might struggle to cohabitate with it, especially if they need surface air. If you own one, consider getting other options from our list. 

Mainam 
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Mainam 
Are you ready to give it a try?

Rotala Indica

Rotala Indica is a beautiful surface plant for your freshwater aquarium. Each stem is speckled with leaves from bottom to top. With enough such stems, it can give your aquarium a forest-like appearance. Your fish will love the shelter it provides.

It stands apart from other plants are its red-and-green leaves. Even in light movement, it can provide a wonderful display of contrast.

Though the stems are a little sensitive to trimming, you shouldn’t struggle with maintaining this plant. 

Rotala Indica 
49 Reviews
Rotala Indica 
They're bright and green.

Ludwigia Repens

Much like Rotala Indica, Ludwigia Repens can create a jungle on the surface. It has green leaves that turn red as they near the top. It will certainly make your tank much more attractive.

Not only is it breathtaking, but easy to maintain too. Ludwigia Repens isn’t very demanding, and even beginners will find it easy to work with.

The only maintenance it needs is trimming. The plant also likes sunlight, so make sure you don’t keep your tank in the dark corners. 

Ludwigia Repens
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Ludwigia Repens
They're fast-growing.

Water Sprite

Water sprite is well-renowned in the fishkeeping community. It’s essentially become the most iconic floating plant. 

But while it is commonly used, it has a unique appearance. It has tall stems that split into smaller ones and a lot of tiny leaves. It creates a dense thicket that’s beautiful and good for your fish.

Many fish will seek refuge between the stem of water sprite. It can reduce their stress level.

Like most options on our list, water sprite isn’t very demanding. It’s sturdy and resilient, though this might sometimes be a double-edged sword. Since it grows rapidly, you’ll need to trim it often. Otherwise, it can take over the aquarium. 

Cabomba

You can recognize Cabomba by its unique, pine-like look. Its bushy leaves provide a great hiding spot for small fish. If you own such fish, they’ll certainly appreciate it. 

Cabomba is the least demanding plant on our list. It doesn’t require much sunlight and can grow in many different temperatures. 

Green Cabomba
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Green Cabomba
Your fish deserve it.

Amazon Frogbit

Amazon Frogbit resembles a tiny waterlily. Thus, it’s no surprise why it’s so popular. Its stems float just beneath the surface, giving it a unique look.

This plant thrives in almost any condition. And the best part? It doesn’t even require much trimming. Amazon Frogbit grows moderately fast, meaning it seldom becomes an issue.

All told, it’s a great option for beginners or people who don’t have much time. 

But be mindful of its wide leaves. If you use too many of them, they will block all sunlight. Some fish might not like murky environments. In that case, consider opting for other live fish tank plants. 

Amazon Frogbit 
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Amazon Frogbit 
Amazon Frogbit is popular.

Duckweed

Duckweed resembles a thousand miniature lily pads covering the surface of your aquarium. Sturdy and durable, it isn’t very picky about its environment.

However, this durability might work against you. Because it grows so rapidly, it can quickly take over the surface. Once it does, it can block all light. Removing it isn’t easy either since it tends to regrow.

But if your fish doesn’t need much light, you should try it. It will give your tank a very natural look. 

Duckweed 
2,466 Reviews
Duckweed 
Duckweed is also popular.

Red Root Floater

The red root floater looks like something between a waterlily and a bean pod. However, we mention it for its unique red color.

The leaves will slowly turn red if it gets a lot of sunlight. It will give your aquarium a neat tropical look. Alternatively, you can keep them under moderate light if you want them to stay green.

This South American plant does well in many environments. Once you introduce it into your aquarium, it will keep growing with little effort on your part. 

The stems are always red and look utterly mesmerizing from below. 

Red Root Floaters
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Red Root Floaters
Red Root Floaters will look great at the top of your tank.

Java Moss

Contrary to popular belief, java moss doesn’t need to be planted. As long as it is anchored to something, it can float too. A bit of cork is excellent for this task.

Java moss resembles an underwater bush. It opens a whole new world of creative possibilities. One of our favorite ones is attaching it to a piece of wood. This way, you can create your very own underwater bonsai!

When it comes to maintenance, java moss doesn’t disappoint. It tolerates a wide range of conditions. It won’t mind the presence of other live fish tank plants, either.

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Java Moss 
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Java Moss 
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Hornwort

hornwort

Hornwort is an exceptionally beautiful plant for your aquarium. Additionally, its bushy leaves offer refuge to many small fish species.

It doesn’t require much care. Hornwort is very durable and fast-growing. It also tolerates other plant species well.

However, make sure it doesn’t grow out of control. The bushy leaves can get stuck in filters and damage your expensive equipment. To avoid this, you’ll need to trim it regularly. 

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Hornwort 
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Hornwort 
It's very affordable.

Water spangles

Water spangles are a species of floating fern. It resembles a fuzzy waterlily.

This plant adapts to most environments. Because it’s naturally resilient, you won’t need to spend much energy on maintaining it. 

Apart from their beautiful leaves, water spangles have other useful qualities. Its metabolism allows it to filter heavy metals from the water. These metals can be difficult to manage otherwise, so having water spangles in your tank is a big help.

The leaves are also a good spawning ground for some fish species. They provide shelter as well.

Water Spangles
760 Reviews
Water Spangles
It's great for beginners.

Duckweed vs. Frogbit

Though they might appear similar, duckweed and Frogbit are very different. And it’s not just the size. Each one is suitable for different circumstances. Below, we will compare the key aspects of these two aquatic plants.

Growth Rate

Although both of them grow relatively fast, duckweed easily outperforms Frogbit. This sturdy plant grows so fast that it can easily become a problem. 

We advise against using duckweed in smaller freshwater tanks. Since it grows so fast, it can quickly become a nuisance.

Maintenance

Due to its rapid growth rate, duckweed is much harder to manage. Left unchecked, it can cover the surface of your tank and deprive it of all light. Even worse, the tiny leaves can get caught in filters.

On the other hand, Amazon frogbit doesn’t require much attention. It won’t become a problem if you check it regularly.

Lighting requirements

Duckweed isn’t very particular about the amount of sunlight it gets. However, Frogbit requires a lot of light during the day to thrive. Without it, it may even die.

Aesthetic appeal

We find Frogbit much more appealing than duckweed. The main reason is the noticeable leaves. Furthermore, Frogbit blooms, while duckweed doesn’t.

Artificial vs. live aquatic plants

Artificial aquatic plants – benefits

Although live floating plants require little maintenance, artificial ones require none. Once you place them into your tank, they won’t ever wither or grow out of control. To maintain them, you just need to rinse them every once in a while.

The fake models are also much cheaper. And we don’t just mean their original price. Since they don’t need care, you won’t have to buy fertilizers and other tools.

Lastly, they provide you with more options. You’ll love artificial plants if you like fancy or even bizarre patterns. While mother nature has its limits, the artistic expression doesn’t.

Artificial aquatic plants – drawbacks

Since they’re made mostly from plastic, artificial ‘flora’ seldom looks convincing. Moreover, it doesn’t contribute to the ecosystem in any way. 

Live aquatic plants – benefits

Besides looking much more natural, live aquatic plants greatly benefit the ecosystem.

They help oxygenate the water. At the same time, they suck up toxins such as nitrates and heavy metals from the water. By doing so, they regulate the growth of algae.

Since they grow and change constantly, they give your aquarium a much more authentic look.

Live aquatic plants – drawbacks

Certain types grow rapidly. Thus, you’ll have to trim them regularly to keep your aquarium balanced.

Moreover, they’re a bit more expensive than fake ones.

FAQ

Are floating plants good for your aquarium?

Floating plants are extremely good for your aquarium. They contribute to your tank ecosystem in many ways.
Firstly, they help oxygenate the water. At the same time, they can filter the amount of nitrate and heavy metals in the system. Without these plants, maintaining your tank would be much more difficult.

Moreover, smaller fish can find shelter between their leaves. It reduces their stress levels.
And lastly, certain aquatic plants can contribute to the diet of your fish.

Does Frogbit oxygenate water?

All plants oxygenate the water to some degree. However, submerged plants are better at this task than floating ones. Since Frogbit’s leaves are on the surface, most of the generated oxygen enters the air.

While Frogbit’s roots oxygenate the water to a degree, other candidates on our list might do a better job. 

Is duckweed good for aquariums?

Duckweed is good for aquariums for several reasons. Not only does it oxygenate the water, but it also provides shade for your fish.
Additionally, duckweed can regulate the growth of algae. It also filters many toxins from the water. 

However, you need to monitor its growth. Left unchecked, it can quickly cover the surface. The leaves may then clog the filters. Not to mention that the low light levels might harm some fish.
But as long as you maintain it properly, duckweed is an excellent addition to your tank. 

Do floating plants cause algae?

Floating plants do not cause algae. On the contrary, they help suppress their growth. Aquatic flora draws nutrients from the ecosystem, leaving fewer for the algae. These plants limit the amount of sunlight too.

Although some algae will still grow, their level will be much more manageable. 

Final Thoughts

You have several options when choosing the best floating plants for the top of your freshwater fish tank or aquarium. All surface plants are beneficial for your fish. Not only are they the best source of oxygenation, but they’re also great filters for toxins. 

To choose the right one for you, you need to understand the needs of your fish. Certain plants grow rapidly and can obscure the surface. Other types are much easier to maintain. 

But no matter which one you choose from our list, you will love it. 

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