Plants For Cichlid Tank | Your 6 Best Bets

Nov 3, 2021

plants for cichlid tank

There’s a common belief that aquatic plants and cichlids don’t go hand in hand – you can’t have them together in a tank setup. Just add rock piles and caves, and you’re done. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. Plants for cichlid tank – is it actually possible? 

Yes, it is. But you’re options are very much limited. First thing, the environmental needs for most aquatic plants and African cichlids are poles apart. Plants usually need neutral pH, low carbonate hardness (KH), and general hardness (GH). 

However, African cichlids need alkaline water, with pH clocking in around 8.2. Next, the KH and PH should always be maintained over 180ppm and 300 ppm, respectively. Most plants don’t stand a chance in these parameters. 

To make matters worse, most cichlids will uproot the plant and bite off the leaves. And since they make keen aquascape artists, they will often change the entire layout of the tank. So, there are only a handful of plants that can survive these hostile conditions. 

Let’s have a look at them! 

6 Best Plants For Cichlid Tank 

  • Anubias
  • Java Fern
  • Vallisneria
  • Java Moss
  • Hornwort
  • Amazon Sword

Anubias 

NameAnubias
FamilyAraceae
CareEasy
Temperature72-82°F
pH6.5-7.8
LightingLow-moderate
PlacementMid to background 

Pros 

  • Has unsavory taste 
  • Very hardy 
  • Easy to care for
  • Cannot be uprooted 

Cons 

  • Will die if the rhizome is planted 

Anubias is my favorite plant to add to a cichlid tank. They’re easy to keep, extremely hardy, and stunning to look at – 3 reasons they top our chart for best plant for cichlids. 

Anubias originates from the tropics of Central and West Africa. But although it comes from the same continent as African cichlids, its water parameters closely match that of American cichlids. 

But these plants are super hardy and can tolerate a wide range of water parameters – including that of an African cichlid tank. 

In addition to being durable, the leaves have a bitter, unsavory taste. So, your cichlids, especially mbunas, will not try to eat them. Both the stems and roots of the plant sprout from the rhizome. Therefore, anubias should never be submerged, or they will rot. 

You need to securely anchor the plant to a rock or any decor. And since these plants aren’t rooted in the first place, your cichlid cannot uproot them while aquascaping. 

There are several varieties of anubias plants available. But the most common ones are nana dwarf, barteri, hastofilla, and lanceolatta. 

You don’t have to bend over backward to care for this plant. Just make sure you replace the neon tubes yearly to prevent the degradation of the light spectrum your plant receives. 

The standard practice is to provide 8 hours of light every day. But if your plant starts shriveling or develops algae, lower it down to 6 hours. 

Java Fern 

NameJava fern
FamilyPolypodiaceae
CareEasy
Temperature68-82°F
pH6.0-7.5
LightingLow-moderate
PlacementMid to background 

Pros 

  • Has a robust root system 
  • Hardy 
  • Will not be eaten 
  • A breeze to care for 
  • Can do well without additional fertilization 

Cons

  • Grows quite slowly 

Java fern is among the easiest plants to raise in the fishkeeping scene. And they’re just as beautiful to look at. These plants originally come from Eastern Asia – countries like Malaysia and Thailand. 

Since java fern is incredibly tolerant of a wide range of water parameters, it’s a perfect plant for your cichlid tank. Given the plant’s hardy nature, many aquarists have even successfully planted them in a brackish tank. 

And if you’re worried about your mbunas chomping them – don’t worry, they don’t like the bitter taste. That being said, young plants and shoot tips have a very soft texture – so we cannot entirely rule out the chances of being eaten. 

And just like anubias, java fern should be secured, not rooted. So once again, you can anchor it to rocks and driftwood. And since they’re not rooted, your cichlids can’t uproot them! 

As far as lighting needs go, java fern is farthest from being finicky. If the lighting is too powerful for its taste, some leaves will shrivel up. You can simply prune the leaves if that happens. 

Java fern comes in different varieties. But the most common in the fishkeeping hobby are windelov and trident, both of which have interesting shapes. 

Vallisneria

NameVallisneria 
FamilyHydrocharitaceae 
CareEasy
Temperature68-82°F
pH6.5-7.58.0
LightingLow-moderate
PlacementBack corner

Pros

  • Propagates quickly 
  • Easy to look after 
  • Strong root system 
  • Grows well in alkaline conditions 

Cons 

  • Needs to be trimmed often

Vallisneria plant has a grass-like, long-leafed appearance. So, it will definitely amp up the appearance of your cichlid tank. Interestingly, it’s native to many places – tropical and subtropical regions of Europe, Africa, North America, and Asia. 

Vallisneria easily adapts to the alkaline water parameters and can even withstand enough salinity to thrive in a brackish tank. 

Like java moss and anubias, cichlids aren’t really a fan of how this plant tastes. So from that angle, your plant is quite safe. 

This plant has a solid root system, which needs to be planted in the substrate. Thus, they might not fare well against African cichlids that have a knack for uprooting plants. 

Maintaining vallisneria is a breeze. However, the plant propagates readily and quickly. So, you will have to prune it often. This genus boasts of several species, but the most common ones in the hobby are americana, gigatea, and spirallis. 

And lastly, this plant has moderate lighting needs. About 8 hours of light a day from a T5 or T8 bulb would suffice. 

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Java Moss 

NameJava moss
FamilyHypnaceae
CareEasy
Temperature59-86°F
pH5.0-8.0
LightingLow-moderate
PlacementForeground

Pros 

  • Can grow in alkaline waters 
  • Easy to grow and look after 
  • Hardy 
  • Cannot be uprooted 
  • Strong root system
  • Won’t get eaten 

Cons 

  • Requires routine pruning 
  • Can be messy if not maintained 

Java moss is yet another excellent option for your cichlid tank. It’s, in fact, one of the most popular choices in the hobby. This plant originally comes from Southeastern Asia – counties like Japan, Malaysia, and Vietnam. 

Java moss is very undemanding and thrives well in most water conditions, including alkaline waters. And just like other plants on the list, it doesn’t require any special care or treatment to grow. In fact, this plant is so hardy that it’s almost harder to kill than making them thrive. 

The plant has a strong root system, which can be anchored to different decors in the tank. Therefore, you need not worry about your cichlids uprooting them. 

As it turns out, cichlids aren’t too keen about eating it. Maybe it doesn’t suit their taste buds. 

Java moss can grow well under practically any lighting condition. Of course, the stronger the light, the faster java moss will grow. But algae will grow along as well. So, you can just use low lighting settings. 

Hornwort 

NameHornwort
FamilyCeratophyllaceae
CareEasy
Temperature59-86°F
pH6.0-7.5
LightingModerate
PlacementBackground

Pros

  • Will not be eaten 
  • Hardy
  • Will not be uprooted 

Cons 

  • Leaves can be messy if not pruned 

Hornwort is an incredibly hardy plant. Thus, it goes perfectly well with a cichlid tank. What’s interesting is that this plant is native to all the continents of the world except Antarctica. 

Hornwort is among the best oxygenating plants we know. So it can really be an excellent asset for African cichlids who need highly oxygenated water. 

The plant can withstand a wide range of water chemistries. So, it should thrive well in alkaline conditions with no hiccups. 

And since it’s a floating plant, there’s no need to plant or anchor it, which means there’s no risk of your cichlids uprooting it. And I don’t know how it tastes, but African cichlids are no fan of consuming meat. 

You don’t need to make any special arrangements to raise this plant. It grows pretty well without the use of fertilizers. 

As for the lighting needs, hornwort grows the best under moderate conditions of about 1-2 watts per gallon. 

Amazon Sword Plant 

NameAmazon Sword Plant 
FamilyEchindorus grisebachii
CareEasy
Temperature72-82°F
pH6.5-7.5
LightingLow-moderate
PlacementBackground

Amazon sword plant is the last one on our list, but it’s not ranked last by any chance. It’s an extremely common and popular freshwater aquarium plant for the right reasons. Whether its durability, maintenance, or appearance, it ticks all the right boxes. 

As the moniker suggests, the plant originally comes from the Amazonian basins of Central and Southern America. 

One hobbyist on YouTube shared that he managed to raise the plant alongside oscar fish for several years. So it’s possible for you too, as long as you get a few things right! 

The plant needs to be planted into the substrate to grow. So, we cannot entirely rule out the chances of cichlids uprooting it. However, it compensates for that by quickly and effortlessly propagating. 

When getting the plant, look for one with long, healthy leaves. Discard it if there are any holes, cracks, or brown spots present. 

Amazon sword plant needs moderate to intense lighting, anywhere between 10-12 hours per day. 

All in all, the long, green leaves will really stand out against any backdrop, and the b plant will make a great addition to your tank. 

Parting Words: Plants For Cichlid Tank 

There’s a common misconception that plants and cichlids aren’t destined to live and grow together. Well, truth be told, most plants don’t stand a chance against a cichlid’s notorious aggression. 

On top of that, plants need acidic water to thrive, while cichlids need alkaline parameters. It’s tough! 

But certain plants won’t just hold their ground when faced with cichlid’s wrath but thrive in hard water. Some of them are anubias, java fern, hornwort, amazon sword, and vallisneria. 

That’s a wrap for today’s article. Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow! 

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When To Separate Cichlid Fry From Parents? Should You Even Try?

rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.