11 Plants Your Plecos Will Love In Their Tank

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Setting up a tank for Plecos from scratch is a pretty straightforward task. These fish are not that demanding when compared to others.

But what about plants? Do Plecos need plants in their tank? If they do, how can you choose ones that won’t get damaged or eaten by them?

In this article, I’ll guide you through 11 great plant options for your Pleco fish tank and explain how to add them properly. Let’s dive right into it.

Also Read: Pleco Fish Tank Setup

What Makes A Plant Suitable For Plecos?

There are a few things to keep in mind when picking plants for your Plecos:

1. Non-Toxic

Ensuring plants are non-toxic is of utmost importance. Any toxicity can lead to detrimental effects on Plecos’ health and well-being.

  • Safety First: Certain plants might release harmful toxins when they’re broken or consumed, posing a direct threat to the aquatic life.
  • Research Matters: It’s vital to rigorously check multiple trusted sources on aquatic plants’ safety before integrating them into the tank.
  • Natural Environment Replication: Plecos thrive best when their surroundings closely mimic their natural habitats, free of potential toxins.

2. Resilient to Nibbling

Plecos have a natural tendency to nibble on plants. To ensure the plants last and the Plecos are satisfied, resilience to this behavior is a crucial trait.

  • Thick Leaves Matter: A plant with robust, dense leaves is less prone to damage and ensures longevity even under constant grazing.
  • Quick Growth Advantage: Plants that can regenerate and grow rapidly compensate for the portions lost to nibbling, maintaining the aquarium’s aesthetics.
  • Natural Protective Barriers: Some plants inherently deter fish due to their tough texture or slightly bitter taste, which discourages persistent nibbling.

3. Broad Leaves for Algae Growth

Broad leaves serve as an excellent surface for algae, a natural food source for Plecos, making them a preferred characteristic.

  • Natural Buffet Provision: A broad leaf naturally accumulates a layer of algae over time, proving beneficial for grazing Plecos.
  • Aesthetic and Functional: Apart from aiding in nutrition, broad leaves contribute to the aquarium’s visual appeal, serving a dual purpose.
  • Algae Population Control: Plecos feeding on these leaves can naturally help keep algae outbreaks in check, ensuring a clean tank environment.

4. Suitable for Submerged Growth

Plants need to flourish when submerged, ensuring they remain healthy and vibrant in an underwater environment.

  • True Aquatic Nature: The best plants for Plecos are those that are naturally adapted to thrive in fully submerged conditions without deteriorating.
  • Depth Preferences: Certain plants have specific depth requirements, either favoring the shallow or deep sections, which must be considered.
  • Lighting Essentials: Submerged plants have unique light requirements; ensuring they receive the appropriate amount guarantees their health and growth.

5. Resistance to Uprooting and Breaking

Given the strength and sometimes boisterous nature of Plecos, plants need to be robust enough to withstand any accidental uprooting or breakage.

  • Strong Root System: A robust root system anchors plants firmly, reducing chances of accidental uprootings during Plecos’ routine movements.
  • Anchoring Options: Plants that can be easily secured to rocks, driftwood, or other aquarium decor ensure stability against strong fish.
  • Strategic Plant Placement: Positioning plants wisely, especially away from high-traffic or favorite Pleco spots, minimizes potential damage.

11 Best Plants for Plecos

Considering these factors, here are 11 plants that work great in a Pleco fish tank:

1. Anubias

Anubias is a robust aquatic plant known for its lasting resilience. Its hearty leaves not only resist little nibbles but also serve as a platform for algae growth, a treat for Plecos.

  • Nibble Defense: Anubias’ sturdy leaves can withstand the occasional nibble from Plecos.
  • Algae Haven: The broad leaves of Anubias promote the growth of healthy algae, a delightful snack for Plecos.
  • Secure Positioning: Attach Anubias to driftwood or rocks, ensuring stability during interactions with Plecos.
  • Suitability Score: Given its tough character and algae-friendly leaves, Anubias scores an impressive 9/10 for Plecos.

2. Java Fern

Aquarium enthusiasts often prefer Java Fern, and for good reason. Its resilience and adaptability make it ideal for Plecos.

  • Low Maintenance: Java Fern flourishes in varied settings with minimal attention, making it great for Pleco environments.
  • Unique Foliage: The leaves support the development of microorganisms and algae, providing added feeding opportunities for Plecos.
  • Stable Anchor: You can secure this plant to decorative objects, ensuring it remains in place around Plecos.
  • Suitability Score: Java Fern earns a respectable 8/10 due to its versatility and appeal to Plecos.

3. Lace Java Fern

As a twist on the standard Java Fern, Lace Java Fern brings a fresh look while retaining essential benefits for Plecos.

  • Elegant Design: Its detailed leaf structure enhances the tank’s beauty and has practical advantages.
  • Beneficial Surface: Just like its relative, this variant offers a habitat for vital algae and microorganisms, feeding Plecos’ needs.
  • Stable Positioning: Secure it to stones or driftwood to maintain its position even in an active Pleco setting.
  • Suitability Score: Considering its resemblance to Java Fern but with added grace, it gets a solid 8/10 for Pleco compatibility.

4. Amazon Sword

The towering Amazon Sword, with its expansive leaves, enriches any Pleco environment.

  • Leafy Perk: Its broad leaves are perfect for algae to flourish, offering Plecos ample feeding grounds.
  • Deep Anchoring: Its roots penetrate deeply, so it’s hard for lively Plecos to disturb.
  • Spacious Hideout: The plant’s grand size provides Plecos with a comforting hideaway in the aquarium.
  • Suitability Score: Given its benefits and the perks it brings for Plecos, Amazon Sword deserves an 8/10 in compatibility.

5. African Water Fern

The fronds’ textured design makes this fern a beautiful yet Pleco-friendly tank addition.

  • Frond Benefits: The unique texture promotes the growth of useful microorganisms and algae, adding more feeding spots for Plecos.
  • Sturdy Placement: Fastening it to decorative pieces ensures its stability, even when Plecos are curious.
  • Low-Light Loving: It thrives in subdued lighting, allowing it to harmoniously live with other aquatic plants.
  • Suitability Score: Given its attributes favorable to Plecos, African Water Fern secures an 8/10.

6. Vallisneria

This grass-like plant can create beautiful underwater meadows while offering benefits for Plecos.

  • Tall and Strong: Its long blades create a natural curtain, providing shelter and exploration avenues for Plecos.
  • Rooting Depth: Vallisneria establishes deep roots, minimizing chances of uprooting by busy Plecos.
  • Algae Hosting: The elongated blades can house a layer of algae over time, beneficial for grazing Plecos.
  • Suitability Score: Considering its robustness and Pleco benefits, Vallisneria receives an 8/10.

7. Pygmy Chain Sword

A lovely carpeting plant, Pygmy Chain Sword, offers a lush green bed while being suitable for Plecos.

  • Carpet Benefits: It creates a natural bedding, mimicking Plecos’ wild habitats and providing comfort.
  • Fast Grower: Its quick growth rate means it can recover from any minor Pleco disturbances.
  • Rooted Firmly: Its strong root system ensures stability against potential Pleco uprooting attempts.
  • Suitability Score: For its aesthetic appeal and Pleco-friendly traits, Pygmy Chain Sword scores an 8/10.

8. Water Wisteria

With its delicate appearance but strong nature, Water Wisteria can be both a visual delight and Pleco asset.

  • Leafy Advantage: Its feathery leaves can occasionally host beneficial algae, giving Plecos extra grazing spots.
  • Adaptability: Water Wisteria adjusts to various water conditions, ensuring consistent growth in Pleco tanks.
  • Fast Growth: This rapid growth compensates for any wear and tear caused by curious Plecos.
  • Suitability Score: Balancing aesthetics and Pleco benefits, Water Wisteria achieves a 7/10 in suitability.

9. Marimo Moss Balls

These unique aquatic “plants” are not only eye-catching but also offer distinct advantages for Plecos.

  • Natural Filters: Marimo Moss Balls absorb pollutants, improving water quality and benefiting Pleco health.
  • Algae Deterrers: They compete with undesirable algae, helping maintain a balanced tank environment ideal for Plecos.
  • Movement-Friendly: Their round shape means they’re not easily damaged by Plecos’ movements and can be gently pushed around.
  • Suitability Score: Due to their unique benefits and compatibility, Marimo Moss Balls score a solid 7/10 in a Pleco tank.

10. Cryptocoryne

Recognized for its versatility, Cryptocoryne adds both aesthetics and Pleco-compatible attributes to the aquarium.

  • Variety Selection: With a range of species available, you can select the perfect ‘Crypt’ tailored to your tank’s environment.
  • Sturdy Leaves: Most Crypts have leaves strong enough to resist occasional Pleco nibbling.
  • Low Light Love: They thrive even in subdued lighting, ensuring they remain vibrant and healthy in diverse tank setups.
  • Suitability Score: Given its durability and Pleco advantages, Cryptocoryne scores a solid 7/10.

11. Hornwort

A floating plant, Hornwort, can bring diversity to the tank environment and benefits for Plecos.

  • Floating Benefit: As a floater, Hornwort can break water flow, creating calmer areas below for Plecos.
  • Natural Filtration: It helps in absorbing nitrates, maintaining water quality for a healthier Pleco habitat.
  • Nibble Resilience: Though it’s feathery, its fast growth counteracts any potential Pleco nibbling damage.
  • Suitability Score: Its water quality benefits and unique positioning earn Hornwort a 7/10 for Pleco compatibility.

How to Introduce Plants to a Tank with Plecos?

Introducing plants to a tank with plecos demands a meticulous approach to ensure mutual well-being. Here’s what you should do:

  • Choose Hardy Plants: Opt for resilient species like Anubias or Java ferns, as they resist pleco nibbling. For example, Anubias Barteri thrives even with plecos around.
  • Plant Securely: Anchor plants using weights or embed roots 2-3 inches deep. Fine-grained substrates or sand can offer better anchorage than large gravel.
  • Monitor Pleco Behavior: Observe daily; if over 30% of a plant is consumed, intervene. Driftwood or pleco pellets can divert their attention.
  • Maintain Optimal Light: Plants typically need 8-12 hours of light. Utilize a timer to regulate the lighting and promote plant health.
  • Regular Maintenance: Prune plants and check water quality routinely. Stable water parameters are key for both plecos and plants to coexist.

Do Plecos Clean Plants?

Yes, plecos do interact with plants, but they don’t necessarily “clean” them in the way many aquarists hope.

Instead, they often graze on algae present on plant surfaces and might nibble on the plants themselves.

  • Natural Grazers: Plecos are instinctual grazers, often searching for algae on surfaces. For example, if you’ve noticed green or brown spots on your plants, a pleco might help reduce this by feeding on it.
  • Selecting the Right Pleco: Not all plecos have the same dietary preferences. For plant-friendly grazing, consider species like the Rubber Lip or Bristlenose Pleco, as they’re more algae-focused than plant-eating.
  • Encourage Algae Growth: To motivate plecos to graze on plants, allow some controlled algae growth. This can be done by slightly increasing light duration or reducing filtration temporarily.
  • Supplement Their Diet: If you notice excessive plant nibbling, it might mean your pleco is hungry. Offer algae wafers or blanched vegetables like zucchini to divert their attention and protect your plants.

Do Plecos Like Heavily Planted Tanks?

Yes, plecos can thrive in heavily planted tanks, but with some considerations.

While they appreciate the natural environment plants provide, they might interact with some plants more aggressively than others.

  • Natural Shelter: Heavily planted tanks offer plecos hiding spots, replicating their natural habitats like the Amazon’s densely vegetated areas.
  • Potential for Grazing: In lush setups, plecos often graze on biofilm and algae on plant surfaces, though some species might nibble on the plants themselves.
  • Spatial Considerations: Plecos are sizable and need room to move. Ensure plants don’t restrict their movement too much, especially for larger species like the Common Pleco.

Also Read: Do Plecos Need Hiding Spots?

How to Keep Plecos from Eating Your Plants

To prevent your plecos from munching on plants, address their dietary needs and provide alternatives.

Offering specific foods and choosing the right pleco species are game-changers.

  • Offer Alternatives: Provide algae wafers daily; a medium-sized pleco typically needs 2-3 wafers.
  • Introduce Vegetables: Twice weekly, offer anchored 2-inch slices of blanched zucchini or cucumber.
  • Select Plant-Friendly Plecos: Opt for species like Rubber Lip or Bristlenose, which prefer algae over plants.
  • Strengthen Plants: Use fertilizers or CO2 to bolster plants, making them more resilient against nibbling. My recommendation: Seachem Bioavailable Carbon (link to Amazon).
  • Monitor and Adjust: Watch plant health and pleco behavior; adjust their diet if you notice excessive plant damage.

Do Plecos Require Live Plants?

No, plecos do not strictly require live plants in their tank environment. However, live plants can provide benefits for plecos and enhance their overall well-being.

  • Natural Environment: Live plants emulate plecos’ native habitats, like the densely vegetated regions of the Amazon, offering them comfort and familiar surroundings.
  • Safe Havens and Protection: Plants provide plecos with essential places to hide, helping alleviate their stress. For instance, during the day, a timid pleco might seek refuge behind a large Anubias leaf.
  • Harmonious Environment: Live plants take in nitrates and produce oxygen, leading to a more beneficial tank ambiance. This harmony can lower potential toxins and pressures for the pleco.

Also Read: Do Plecos Need A Heater?


For those of you in a rush, here’s a short summary:

  • Plecos thrive in tanks with suitable plants that are non-toxic, resilient to nibbling, and promote algae growth, mimicking their natural habitat.
  • Anubias, Java Fern, and Lace Java Fern are top choices, earning high suitability scores due to their durability and Pleco-friendly features.
  • Amazon Sword, African Water Fern, Vallisneria, and Pygmy Chain Sword also make excellent additions, enhancing Pleco environments with their benefits.
  • Water Wisteria, Marimo Moss Balls, Cryptocoryne, and Hornwort offer a mix of aesthetics and Pleco advantages, earning moderate suitability scores.
  • Live plants aren’t a strict requirement for Plecos, but they enhance their well-being by providing natural environments, safe hiding spots, and a harmonious tank environment.