Saltwater aquariums can be challenging but they’re not as difficult as one might think.
With a little bit of research and thoughtful planning, you can build a thriving ecosystem that’s fun to watch and makes a beautiful addition to your home.
While it’s easy to focus on the fish and other creatures you want to add to your tank, don’t forget to put some time into choosing the right plants, too.
In order to create a natural-looking saltwater tank, you need the right combination of saltwater aquarium plants and animals.
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The 10 Best Saltwater Aquarium Plants
There are a lot of great saltwater plants to choose from but here are ten of the best:
1. Red Mangrove Propagule
In the tropical oceans of the world, Red Mangrove trees reproduce in two ways, by forming large seeds or producing a propagule.
While mangrove seeds don’t do too well in an aquarium environment, propagules are much hardier and are a unique addition to the tank.
Propagules are usually about six to eight inches long and resemble a tall candle. It can be planted in sand or between rocks. With proper lighting, the roots take hold quickly. This plant helps lower nitrates but may require iron supplements.
Because they’re found in oceans across the world, the Halimeda plant fits into just about any environment.
This attractive plant has irregular oval-shaped leaves that resemble coins that look as if they’ve been glued together in a single chain. It’s also known as the Money Plant.
These plants are pretty hardy in an environment with enough light and calcium but don’t tolerate high nitrate well. Most fish don’t like to eat them and they’re not invasive so they get along well with most other living creatures.
3. Dragon’s Tongue Algae
This gorgeous plant adds a pop of bright orange color to your tank and has an interesting texture for even more visual interest. Plus, it’s effective at improving water quality by oxygenating the water and filtering excessive nutrients.
In the right conditions, this plant is a fast grower and should be anchored to rockwork for best results. This isn’t a good choice for tanks with large herbivores unless you’re looking for a food source for them. That said, it’s great in a nano reef tank and a good fit with seahorses.
4. Green Finger Algae
Green Finger Algae is a gorgeous decorative plant that’s deep, bright green color is a welcome addition to any aquarium. It’s a lush, dense plant that’s easy to care for and adds a bit of softness to newly established tanks.
Most herbivores aren’t interested in Green Finger Algae so it’s compatible with most tank inhabitants. This alga also provides natural filtration and oxygenation to help keep the tank clean and healthy.
5. Red Gracilaria Algae
If you’re having a difficult time keeping the nutrients balanced in your tank, consider adding a red Gracilaria.
This plant is extremely effective at keeping excess nutrients from building up and can help get rid of invasive algae growth.
This is a great plant for a refugium because it can be harvested and fed to plant-eating fish in the main tank. It’s a great fit for the main tank, too, just be sure to anchor it to a rock or other firm surface where it can root and gain stability.
6. Turtle Grass Shoots
This simple-looking plant is actually really fun to watch. Each plant comes from a strong runner with new growth constantly sprouting from the ends. It needs a sandy substrate about six inches deep with enough space to spread its roots.
Turtle Grass shoots require strong light for about ten hours a day and need a month or two to get established when transplanted from one environment to another.
Once it’s acclimated, small fish, seahorses, and invertebrates like to hang around in the broad leaves.
7. Mermaid’s Fan
The Mermaid’s Fan is a tropical plant that grows throughout the Caribbean. It has a short stem that can be planted in substrate or live rock and a fan-shaped, rounded leaf. Most fish don’t feed on them so they’re a good fit for most aquariums.
These plants may be a little tricky for beginners. While they’re hardy in the right environment, they need calcium to grow and aren’t very tolerant of elevated nitrate and phosphate levels. They grow to about four inches tall and shouldn’t be pruned excessively.
8. Tufted Joint Algae
For a plant that looks cool and helps to maintain a healthy aquarium, Tufted Joint Algae is a great choice. It’s a small, segmented green plant with small tufts at the end of each branch that looks like it came from prehistoric times.
This plant oxygenates the water and helps balance the nitrogen cycle, though it doesn’t do well in environments with high nitrates or phosphates. It should be anchored to a reef and requires moderate light and water flow for best results.
9. Blue Hypnea Algae
One of the most unique plants you can add to a saltwater tank is Blue Hypnea Algae. It has a beautiful iridescent blue color that adds a lot of visual interest. It’s very dense but grows slowly in matted clumps.
This plant requires coarse substrates for strong root development and high spectrum lighting for optimal color development. It helps absorb nitrates and phosphates and makes a great home for small shrimp and other aquarium inhabitants.
10. Shaving Bush Plant
These hardy looking plants have a long stalk with long leaves that resemble a large pipe-cleaner.
They’re great at controlling excess nutrients, particularly nitrates and phosphate. They should be planted in an area of the tank with good light exposure for best results.
Most plant-eating fish will leave the shaving bush plant alone, though if you have urchins in your tank, they may consume it. Another thing to consider is these plants may require an iron supplement.
Saltwater Aquarium Plants Guide & Care
Most people might assume that keeping fish in a saltwater aquarium is difficult without giving much thought to the plants. Like anything living in a confined, artificial environment, saltwater aquarium plants require proper care.
A saltwater aquarium must be maintained so both fish and plant life thrive but it’s not always easy to create a perfectly balanced ecosystem. Here are some things to keep in mind to build a welcoming ecosystem for your saltwater aquarium plants.
Choosing the Right Plants
When putting together your saltwater aquarium, it’s important to choose the right mix of plants. This usually involves a little bit of research because there are a few different things to consider.
First, make sure the plants are going to fit in with the rest of the tank inhabitants. Will they accept the plant? Will the plant be aggressive toward them?
When choosing fish, it’s a little easier to determine whether or not certain species will get along. Basically, you have to know if the fish are aggressive or if they’ll eat the other fish. But what about plants? How do you determine if a plant is a good fit?
One of the most important things is to make sure that all the plants you choose are healthy. Sick plants have organisms that can aggressively attack other plants or release chemicals into the water that throw off the balance of the whole tank.
On the other hand, there are ways the environment could be aggressive to the plant as well. If the plant is healthy but there are fish or other inhabitants that like to eat the leaves, dig up the roots, or there isn’t enough carbon dioxide, the plant won’t survive.
You also have to consider the chemical balance. This includes not only the artificial carbon dioxide injection but other parameters, too, like ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite.
While these are the same chemicals you’re already monitoring for your fish, a saltwater aquarium should be balanced to benefit the plants and animal life. If the ecosystem is working well, the plants and fish should work together to help maintain the right balance.
Finally, think about the temperature and lighting that your plants and fish need. Because you’re always trying to replicate a natural environment, a somewhat constant temperature is important. Water temperatures don’t have wide fluctuations in the wild.
Of course, it’s also important to maintain the appropriate temperature as well. If it’s too hot or too cold, the entire ecosystem suffers.
Appropriate lighting is essential, too. Plants need the right amount of light for photosynthesis. Without it, they won’t release the oxygen needed to balance the rest of the ecosystem and will eventually die.
General Care Guidelines
Even if you put together the perfect balance of saltwater aquarium plants and fish, tank maintenance is still very important. While this list is not all-inclusive, here are some basic care and maintenance recommendations.
- Perform daily inspections. Look for any inhabitants that may be sick or injured. This applies to both animals and plants. Remove any floating debris and top off the water if needed.
- Keep up with water changes. Algae is a common problem in any aquarium and regular water changes are one way to keep it under control. Replace about 25 percent of the water every two weeks or so.
- Check the water chemistry regularly. Some people do this every day to make sure that nothing is out of balance but once a week should be enough. Checking the chemistry frequently is the best way to catch a problem early when it’s easier to fix.
- Change the filter once a month, if necessary. If you have a lot of inhabitants in your tank with a heavy bioload, it’s important to check and replace the filter monthly.
When it comes to maintaining your saltwater aquarium, remember that it’s easier to take care of problems when they first arise than to wait until they get more difficult to control. Monitoring your aquarium carefully helps your plants and animals stay strong and healthy.
Saltwater plants are an essential part of any thriving marine aquarium. The right plants not only improve the look of your tank, but they can also help keep the water chemistry balanced and provide food for plant-eating animals.
It’s important to choose plants that fit with the rest of the living inhabitants of the tank, including fish, invertebrates, and other plants. The wrong plant can wreak havoc on a thriving tank or quickly be eaten or destroyed.
Finally, remember to perform regular maintenance checks and makes adjustments when necessary. It’s always easier to take care of problems when they’re caught early.
Adding the right plants to a saltwater tank really makes a difference in the water quality and creates an environment that more closely resembles one in nature. A little bit of research and planning goes a long way.