For anyone just starting up, the following are reliable plants which I use and which do well without excessive demands upon the fishkeeper. Many of these will give good growth and provide cover for fry (invaluable in my case!). Also the taller plants give the bonus of being easy to take cuttings from and re-plant in the aquarium to form dense clumps. Others, if allowed to settle, will give off runners, which when allowed to grow sufficiently can themselves be re-planted.

Plants On Bogwood...
Even I can't go wrong with Java Fern! (Microsorium pteropus) A very reliable hardy plant which, when planted on bogwood, not only adds a more aesthetic appearance to the wood but will eventually spread and cover the whole of it with a good growth.

With Java Fern, new young plants will form at the tip of the leaves and also on the underside of the plant leaf. In the photo below there are many new growths developing on the underside of the leaf while the right hand photo shows new tip growth.

Another plant which is easy to grow and very reliable and can be attached to bogwood is microsorium "windelov". Very similar to Java Fern except it has some attractive feathery fingers at the end.

Microsorium "windelov"

As well as on bogwood, I often attach windelov to a small piece of Ocean Rock where it does just as well. As with Java Fern, plantlets will eventually grow on the leaf ends of a mature plant. Give them time to develop before easing them off and re-plant on wood or rock. A few of these rocks grouped together give fry a few extra places of safety when they are looking for food on the gravel.

The Rear Of The Tank ....
At the back of the tank I try to achieve the height needed with a good variety of plants and also with an upright piece of bogwood. A tall piece of bogwood can, with plants attached, form an attractive centrepiece to an aquarium. However a tall "centrepiece" shouldn't be in the centre as this tends to cut the tank in half! One of the larger Anubias species, Anubias var "Nana" is easily wedged into a bogwood crevice and creates a pleasing impression.

Anubias "nana"
A good grower and one which adds some height and cover is mayaca "species". This is a plant I really like. This can reach to 25 cms and with some flow in the water has a soft waving motion. For cuttings, just snip off and re-plant near the clump. Also attractive little side shoots grow off the main stem.
(* Note, this is not Mayaca "sellowiana" which is a tougher stemmed plant with smaller leaves and which, for me, does not grow as well)

A more feathery looking plant which also gives some height is Ambulia ;- fairly similar to Cabomba in appearance but a much more hardy and reliable grower. When the stem gets long, simply snip it off halfway and re-plant near the clump. Once established and with regular cuttings you will soon have both a good plant density and background height.
Another standard plant for the back of the aquarium is Vallisneria . I use the straight Vallis (Vallisneria Spiralis) and the twisted Vallis (V. tortifolia). Both varieties propogate by giving off runners (see photos) which will root themselves in the gravel. Let the "new" runner plant establish itself as this will in turn give off a runner then re-plant wherever you want to re-locate.

Floating Plants....
I rely mainly on Indian Fern (Ceratopteris thalictroides) which in some of my tanks has a well established, very dense growth and shades around half of the surface. This creates an excellent hiding place for fry (while the trailing roots have, in the past, proved useful for Rainbowfish to attach their eggs to!) New plantlets form on the top of leaves;- give them time to grow then ease them off and leave on the surface.

New plantlets

I also have floating "rafts" of Salvinia natans moving around in some tanks. This is quick spreading plant with a pleasant "velvety" feel to it, due to small hairs on the leaf, making it water resistant.
Salvinia hair roots

Another floating plant that I have recently found and which I got at an auction is African Frogbit. I have to say that this is an excellent surface coverer, grows quickly and is a sturdy, waxy plant. Sizewise, it is pleasingly much bigger than Salvinia, (the single plant in the right hand photo measures 6 cms across). I use it along with Indian Fern as it also has good trailing plant rootlets which are excellent for fry to escape to.

African Frogbit

Plants for the shade....
With so much surface cover, it means that for the shaded part, appropriate plants must be chosen . I also have to consider that, like many fishkeepers, I only have a single fluorescent strip in each tank. Therefore, plants which do well in a more subdued light are always welcome in an aquarium. Obviously, Java Fern, M. windelov and Anubias will still grow alright in the shady part but another group of plants that will grow well are Cryptocorynes;- they will also give the fishkeeper a good choice of plant height and leaf shape.

When first planted, Crypts can be slow to settle but leave them to establish a good root! They also need a reasonable depth of gravel for their root system (At least 4 cms) and for their runners.
One of the Crypts which I really like is crispatula var. balansae (left) which has narrow long leaves with a puckered edge and can be put towards the rear of the aquarium. The width of the leaves apparently varies according to the intensity of the light. This species reaches a height of over 20 cms. Crypts are a hardy species but as with all plants, trim off any decaying or fading leaves.

Other varieties of Crypts..
There are many varieties of Crypts to choose from, but some I have used are, "becketti", "affinis", "wendtii" and undulata "broad leaves"

The front of the tank ....
Most of the front is left empty for swimming space and to be able to view the tank. However I do place one or two "items" to break up the monotony of gravel;- one or two quite colourful low growing plants along with some small Ocean Rock with Anubias wedged in. A few of my lower growing Crypts/plants are some which I have picked up at auctions for just 1. Often no "type" name, but for that money, always worth a gamble for reliable and hardy little plants.
Another plant for near the front of the tank is a Nymphae stellata bulb. With its attractively shaped leaves and pink colour it adds a nice bit of contrast to the greens.


Others to consider.....
There are many common plants I haven't mentioned here which I've had in my tanks in the past; eg.- Java Moss, Cardamyne, Hydrocotyle, Amazon Sword and quite a few others, but as with many things it's often "horses for courses", so try 'em and see! Some plants will thrive in any water while others may do badly in softer, more acidic water. Always plan ahead;- check literature, look at website comments and (best of all) ask other fishkeepers.

Article and photos copyright; Ivor Hilton