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Pothos & other emergent plants in your aquarium to reduce nitrates & add flair

Emergnet aquarium plants

Besides adding a great deal of visual appeal to your aquarium, the use of emergent plants, such as pothos, offers many advantages to your fish and water. There are quite a few houseplants that can be grown in your aquarium with the roots below and the leaves above the water's surface. This is also a good way to utilize vertical space.

What are Emergent Plants?

The leaves of these plants are above the water, while all of the root systems are submerged, giving them what is referred to as aerial advantage.

Why Use Emergent Plants?

There are many advantages to having emersed plants in your aquarium:

  • Just as fully submersed aquatic plants do, the roots of emersed plants will absorb nitrates and use them as nutrients. However, emergent plants have several differences. Because these plants obtain their CO2 from the air, There's no concern for the addition of CO2 into your aquarium for these plants. (In contrast, plants grown completely underwater have to rely on dissolved CO2 in the water).
  • Because the leaves are not in water, they often grow faster than many traditional aquarium plants. They also reduce nitrates in the water column more quickly.
  • Plants rising from the top of your aquarium (or situated in the hang on back filter, etc.) tend to offer more depth to the aquarium's overall appearance. As mentioned in the title, it's a good way to add a touch of flair - or a lot of flair if you so choose.
  • Some omnivorous fish species, such as African cichlids, will often eat many aquatic plants. However, roots suspended in water are typically not bothered.
  • Plants above the tank may provide cover for your fish, depending on how it is placed and arranged. Additionally, roots growing in the water column can break up the line of sight, which can ease aggression or tension between fish.
  • Last but not least, using emersed plants can help to reduce algae growth because of their effeciency in removing nitrates and other nutrients. (There are many factors that contribute to algae growth. Emergent plants alone may not keep algae out of your tank, but will be a contributing factor in controlling it).


A number of household plants are commonly grown in aquarium water. Listed below are some of the more common types:

Pothos - this is a very popular option, as it is a hardy plant, is easy to maintain, and grows in a wide variety of conditions.

Spathyphyllum - these are the peace lily plants. This is also a popular choice, and There's quite a variety of them to choose from.

Tradescantia zebrina - also known as the Wandering dude plant. Fast growers, these will easily root in water. They're known for their hardy nature and ease of propagation.

Lucky Bamboo - the leaves of these plants grow slowly, while the roots can amass large bundles. Many hobbyists will tuck the roots under gravel for a neater appearance. For many aquariums, the stalks are long enough that the leaves can remain out of the water.

Syngonium podophyllum - hardy plants; many varieties of this species are available.

Monstera ""Swiss Cheese"" plants/vines - the leaves on these plants will begin to form a ""swiss cheese"" appearance as they age, hence the name. These are hardy plants with large, broad leaves.

These are some suggestions of commonly used plants, but there are many other possibilities to choose from. If you want to try a few other options, you could try Spider plants, English Ivy, and Peppermint, which also do well as emersed plants.

Placement and Anchoring of Plants

There are a few ways you can display your plants or attach them so they remain emersed. Some hobbyists will use the space in their hang on back filter to insert stems and roots; some will utilize the extra space in an open area of the lid to support the leaves; others will use commercial products like suction cups with plastic rings on them or small plant baskets that attach to the rim of the aquarium. Plants can often be attached to a floating piece of driftwood as well. There are many methods you can use; be as creative as you'd like!

How to Add Plant Cuttings to Your Aquarium

Beginning with plant cuttings is also an option. If using cuttings, it's recommended to first place them in a small container of water until the roots begin to form. Place the container in an area of indirect sunlight. Once the roots are a few inches long, the plant(s) can then be moved and the roots placed in the aquarium water. Be sure to provide enough artificial light for your plant's needs. The root process may take several or a few weeks, but is worth the wait.

Some Things to Consider

The larger the roots become, the more nutrients they will begin to acquire from the water column. Keep this in mind regarding any submersed aquatic plants you're using, as you won't want them to starve.

Some roots will grow faster than others and may need to be trimmed back periodically. This will mostly depend on what your preferences or objectives are. When trimming the roots, though, don't cut them all off at once, so the plant can still obtain the nutrients it needs while the roots are growing back.

One More Thing

Many of the plants typically submerged in the aquarium can also be used as emersed plants. They're typically grown this way before being transplanted into aquariums, and will offer the same advantages as emersed houseplants.


If you're looking to find a way to make your aquarium look awesome and have additional benefits, using emersed plants may be your next aquarium tool.

Links of Interest:

PetMD - 5 Live Aquarium Plants that Even a Beginner Can Care For

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