Axolotls, also known as the Mexican Walking Fish, like to explore and hide out in foliage and other areas. There are several benefits to using live plants in your axolotl tank, but the positives also come with added responsibility.
Most artificial plants, whether they are made of plastic or fabric, are great for your axie. You’ll only have to make sure there aren’t any sharp edges (on plastic plants, or make sure the fabric ones don’t have wires in them) that can damage the sensitive axie skin.
Many artificial plants have weights in them to keep them settled at the bottom, but some cheaper varieties rely on the substrate to keep them anchored to the ground. If you don’t use substrate in your tank, you’ll have to find weights or purchase plants that don’t float.
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Benefits of Plants in Your Axie Tank
The benefits of live plants include:
- Added oxygenation—Plants release oxygen as a waste product that your axie will use. While the cool water axolotls need holds oxygen better than warmer water, plants help supplement O2 if you don’t have much flow from your filter.
- Extra filtration—Live plants help to filter out waste from your messy little axies. They use nitrogen and ammonia which need to be filtered out and cleaned to keep these little amphibians safe and healthy.
- Block out light—As you probably already know since you keep up with all our articles about axolotls, these aquatic throwbacks are sensitive to bright lights. Plants will help to block out some of the light. Also, if the axie feels the light is a little too intense, they can hide away in the foliage.
- Enhance water quality—Aquatic plants help to reduce algae and keep the water clean. We know that optimum water quality is essential for axolotls, so get a few plants and help to keep the water super clean.
- Added privacy—In the wild, axolotls like to hide out in thick vegetation. Adding some plants helps them hide away when they are feeling anxious, or they simply aren’t feeling very extroverted. Anything that makes them feel like home makes a good axolotl plant.
- They just look good—Aquariums can be beautiful, especially with the exotic-looking axolotl. Adding some live plants enhances that beauty by adding some naturally striking features.
Plants Aren’t Without Their Share of Problems
Nearly everything has a flip side to the coin, live plants are no exception. Though they come with a host of benefits, there are also some negatives to consider before you go out and purchase several plants for your axie tank.
Though the positives outweigh the negatives, as always, it’s up to you to decide if you want the added responsibility of caring for more living creatures. Some of the downsides to having live plants include:
- Can be dug up—Some plants do better with a substrate, while others can be attached to things like driftwood, hides, or slate. Either way, your axie can be a bit of a tank sometimes and will end up uprooting the plants at some point or another.
You’ll end up spending time replanting or reattaching your plants until they get better established.
- Axies may nibble the plants—We know axolotls are definitely carnivores that prefer live prey, but they are notoriously curious and explore with their mouths. This includes live plants. While they most likely aren’t seeking out the plants as a source of food, they can bite pieces of them off.
If you have fish, shrimp, or other creatures in your tank that your axie perceives as food, and they are hiding in the plants, she will end up biting pieces of the plant off in an attempt to eat the other tank mates.
While all the plants on our list are non-toxic to axies, the very rare problem exists that the vegetation can get stuck in their throats. I haven’t personally experienced this, but during research, I have heard of a few owners that have gone through that ordeal and had to remove the blockage from their axie’s throats.
- Trimming plants—Some of the plants in this list can grow rather large. If they are left to their own devices, they could crowd your axolotl. You’ll have to trim some plants periodically to keep them under control.
- They’re messy when they die—Like any living organism, plants will eventually die off. Underwater plants can rot when they finally fade out, which can cause a mess in your tank.
- Some plants shed—All plants will lose a few leaves here and there and need to be cleaned up, but there are some plants that tend to shed leaves or needles when they are handled or as they grow.
Rotting vegetation is not something you want in your axolotl tank. It will need to be cleaned up as soon as possible, and some plants are messier than others. This also leads us to our last negative about owning live aquatic plants.
- Can get tangled in pumps—Depending on what kind of pump you have, how big the plants are, and what type of plants you have, they can get clogged into your pump.
Sponge filters don’t really have that problem, but over-the-top filters have a port that sucks in dirty water which can get clogged with loose plant debris or if the plant grows too close to the filter.
I’m not trying to scare you away from using live water plants, I’m only trying to help you make a fully educated decision on whether you want to have these aquatics in your aquarium. Without further ado, let’s get into the best plants for your axie.
One last note to keep in mind before we go any further. Axolotls can and will climb on plants, hides, or other items in your tank, so keep that in mind when you purchase plants. If they are sturdy enough to hold the weight of your axolotl, it could climb up and out of the tank.
To prevent this, keep the water low enough where your axolotl can’t reach the top or keep a lid over the tank to thwart any accidental escapes.
Great Aquatic Plants for Your Axolotl
This plant is very beginner friendly and can grow practically anywhere. It can thrive in low light and produces plenty of oxygen while filtering the water. It also doesn’t need any substrate.
These plants get pretty tall when they are fully matured. They can get over 4’ long, so they may need trimming on occasion to keep them scaled back.
Is another plant with care needs similar to Elodea? You can basically throw it in the tank and forget about it, and it will grow. Hornwort can withstand the coolest water temps you can throw at it. The only problem with these plants is their tendency to drop a lot of needles when it gets transplanted.
This can last 2 to 4 weeks before it acclimates and stops shedding. With the right conditions, hornwort can grow very fast and will need frequent trimming.
A strong growing hornwort plant can get up to 10’ long.
There are several varieties of this aquatic plant. You can even outfit your entire tank with different kinds and still make it look like you have several completely different plants.
These plants are slow growing and so will not filter the water very much. The slow growth means you won’t have to trim them much, nor do you have to add nutrients to help them grow.
These plants can’t survive substrate. If you attempt to anchor them in substrate, the roots will die and rot. It’s best to tie Anubias to rocks or hides.
Anubias don’t get huge. Full-grown plants are only about 7.5” tall.
4. Java Fern
These plants are very popular among axie owners. Java ferns are attractive plants that bush out wonderfully, are slow growing, and need little to no care, as they seem to thrive on neglect.
This is another plant that does better out of substrate. Attach your java ferns to rocks or other decorations in your tank.
This is a plant that a very small number of owners don’t like. The reason is their particular axies decided to try and eat the plant. We aren’t sure why these particular axolotls decided to dine on it, but the thick, frilly fronds ended up getting stuck in their throats.
The owners were able to clear their throats by physically removing the obstruction, so their pets were fine in the end. This incident seems to be extremely limited as the vast majority of java fern owners never have a problem. If you decide on this plant, just keep an eye on your pet for a little while.
Java ferns can grow up to 10” tall. These are fine for smaller tanks.
The pothos plant is a great water purifier. So, if you are looking for something to help out your filter, this plant is a great option.
These plants are not demanding and do well in low light conditions, so they can make an excellent addition to your axie’s home.
One thing to watch out for with this plant is the leaves need to be out of the water. The roots can be submerged, as they are the part of the plant that does all the filtering.
Pothos plants remove a lot of nitrates which is great for axolotl health. Nitrates can be harmful to aquatic pets.
Pothos can get so big, that it may look like you have a kelp garden in your aquarium. One plant can grow up to 30’ long, so you’ll have to trim them a lot.
Duckweed is an easy option for those who are seeking to block out light, don’t use substrate, and don’t want your axie to climb on top of the plant.
This tiny plant floats on top of the water and multiplies fast. The biggest problem you will have will be constantly scooping out clumps of this plant so it doesn’t completely cover the tank.
Duckweed is a great filter plant and will help to shade your axolotl as it spreads all over the top of the water. This also helps to keep the water below the surface cooler.
Each plant is about an inch in diameter, but they multiply quickly and can soon cover the top of the tank. Have you ever been to an alligator farm in the south, or seen a body of water that was covered in what looked like a green carpet? Chances are it was an excessive growth of duckweed.
7. Water Lily
Whenever we think of ponds, frogs, and the large, plate-like green pads frogs like to bask on, we think of water lilies. Yes, you can have these in your axolotl tank, and they are great plants.
Water lilies thrive in cooler water, provide plenty of shade when their large, round leaves spread out, and they filter out many toxins from the tank. The best thing about these plants is the flowers they grow.
Water lilies produce beautiful, fragrant flowers. They can grow rather large under the right conditions so you may have to trim these plants on occasion.
These lilies can get huge if they have room to grow. In an aquarium, they can quickly cover the top and grow as large as the tank.
8. Moss Balls
Often called marimo moss balls, or just marimo, these round, underwater tumbleweed-looking balls of algae are perfect for your axolotl tank. They seem to require the same environment as your amphibian.
They grow very slowly, and only get about 5 or 6 inches in diameter in your tank. You don’t have to anchor them to anything or put them in any substrate.
The only care they need is occasional turning so all sides can get light and rinse them off when you do tank cleanings. Your axie will most likely do the rolling for you as they run around the bottom of the tank.
Marimo moss balls are some of my favorite aquarium plants. I love thinking there are aquatic “Muppets” living in the tank with my axolotl.
One word of caution on marimo moss balls, make sure they are bigger than your axolotl’s head before introducing them. If they are very small, your axie might try to eat them, and they could get stuck in their throat, or cause an impaction.
Coming in between duckweed and water lilies is the frogbit.
This plant likes to keep the leaves dry by floating on top of the water. They also reproduce quickly like duckweed and will quickly cover the top of the tank.
It’s an easy-to-care-for plant, is aesthetically pleasing, and is popular among aquarium enthusiasts. When they mature, the frogbit will send out vertical leaves and sometimes flowers, though, in the aquarium setting, it’s often difficult to propagate flowers.
Due to its aggressive growth pattern, you will have to trim these plants frequently. Because of the crowding at the top, it’s not recommended to have other plants in the tank. The frogbit can quickly block out nearly all light in the aquarium.
Frogbit can help to filter out ammonia which can be very dangerous to aquatic life. They grow up to 20” long roots and can get up to 3’ wide, but that’s usually only giant varieties.
10. Water Lettuce
This is another floating plant that lets its roots dangle down in the tank. Water lettuce or water cabbage produce rosettes of thick, rubbery leaves at the surface of the water.
The roots can grow all the way down to the bottom of the tank, providing ample hiding opportunities for your axie. Since they float at the top, they will also provide plenty of shade for your dark-loving pets.
Their rosettes can grow up to 6” in diameter, while their roots can reach deep down, growing up to 2’ to 3’ deep. These fast growers will have to be thinned out periodically.
11. Banana Lily
These plants are great for beginners and axolotl tanks as they withstand cooler temperatures. When first establishing them, they will do better with more light, but you can slowly turn the light down until these plants become accustomed to lower levels.
They are called banana plants because they grow little tubers that look like yellow fruit. They can either grow on the surface of the water or be completely submerged.
Banana plants may need to be settled into the substrate. If you go this route, only cover about one-quarter of the roots in the substrate. They can grow up to 10” tall.
The pennywort is a plant that can take to a substrate or be free floating. Some owners report this plant actually does better not being anchored to a substrate.
Pennywort is a fast-growing, dense plant that will offer plenty of hiding space for your axie. Though it is a cool water plant, it seems to do better when the temperature is around 65℉ or warmer. Though you don’t want to keep your tank too warm as your axolotl likes temps less than 74℉.
This is another fast-growing plant that will need attention. When it gets large and thick, you’ll have to trim it back so it doesn’t overtake your whole tank. Pennywort can grow up to 2’ tall and get very wide depending on conditions.
13. Amazon Swords
This plant looks similar to the java fern with its long, blade-like leaves.
This plant needs to be anchored to the ground in a substrate to grow well. Once established the roots will grow wide which will make it harder for your axolotl to uproot it.
The thick bunch of leaves offers a lot of hiding spaces for your axies as well as a decent amount of shade.
These plants prefer warmer waters but can be acclimated to the cold temps axies need.
Amazon sword plants grow up to 2’ tall and can spread out pretty wide.
14. Water Wisteria
This stunning plant with its distinct leaves will probably be a centerpiece of your aquarium. It grows tall and wide and will need plenty of space to branch out.
It is a fast-growing plant that doesn’t need much care. In fact, the water wisteria is difficult to kill, so it should do very well in your axolotl tank. The problem with the fast-growing, wide leaves is they can quickly clog your filter.
They work well floating around free or being planted in sandy substrate. Though they grow faster in brighter light, since they do grow so fast, lower light is recommended. You’ll already have to trim this plant in low light to keep it from taking over the tank.
The water wisteria can grow up to a foot wide, and nearly 2’ tall.
15. Brazilian Waterweed
Is also called Egeria, and is an easy beginner aquatic plant. Not only does it grow quickly and easily, but it also absorbs a lot of nutrients from the water which helps to stunt the growth of algae.
Though this plant grows better and fuller in bright light, lower light will not harm it. The low light setting will only give it a lighter color and a thinner stalk, but the plant will still do well.
There are also no substrate needs for Brazilian waterweed. You can plant it in substrate if you choose, but it does well tied to rocks or decorations, or simply letting it float. Leaving this plant loose keeps your axolotl from uprooting it.
The Egeria densa can propagate by growing more stalks but they won’t get very wide. They grow to about 8” to 10” tall so this is one plant you won’t have to trim very much.
16. Water Sprite
This plant is very popular among aquarium owners and is usually found in most pet supply shops.
Water sprite is an easy-to-care-for plant as it can float on its own or be planted in a substrate and do just fine either way. They grow fast and propagate by spreading shoots out, or you can even cut pieces off of the plant and leave them in the water. Soon it will start sprouting roots and you’ll have another plant.
This fern is a great filtering plant that will help to keep the water clean in your axolotl tank.
Water sprites grow to about 12” tall and 4” to 8” wide.
17. Floating Crystalwort
This small bushy plant is a great filter plant for your axolotl that doesn’t require much light or substrate.
Though it looks great when you attach it to rocks at the bottom of the tank or other decorations, you can also let it float free and it will do fine. Using either of these techniques keeps your axie from uprooting it.
Floating crystalwort will grow in the lowest light settings, and the coolest water, so it makes a fine addition to the cool, dark environment axolotl’s love.
It can also make a nice, lush carpet on the bottom of the tank if you get enough of them.
18. Hygrophila Pinnatifida
This striking plant might become one of your favorite looking specimens in your aquarium, second of course to the cute little “lotl”.
They have dark-colored stems with long “spikes” of deeply serrated leaves coming off them, resembling a Boston fern. They will only get about 11” tall and wide, so in a large aquarium, they will do well.
They can withstand the cooler temperatures of the axolotl tank but do need moderate lighting to keep them healthy.
You don’t have to plant these in the substrate, instead, it’s actually better to tie them to rocks, driftwood, or other decorations in the tank so they don’t get uprooted.
More Planting Considerations
If you don’t have a substrate in your axolotl tank, that’s fine. We actually recommend going without substrate in your axie tank because they can easily swallow it. Not to mention, using sand, though safe for your axolotl, can be a pain to clean.
But if you want plants that require, or do better in the substrate, you can still do both. You can either use something like these Acrylic Aquatic Plant Pot with Strong Suction Cups or make your own.
To make your own use a small glass jar or bowl, add in the substrate you need for the plant, and add the plant. If the substrate is gravel or small enough for your axie to swallow and cause problems, cover it with about an inch or two of sand.
Axolotls aren’t known for digging, and they should leave the substrate alone.
Some say aquatic plants do better with occasional fertilization or root tabs, but we have to strongly caution against using any kind of fertilizer in axolotl tanks. You love your pets, and some axolotls can be quite expensive, especially if you’ve lucked upon some of the rarest morphs.
Axolotls are quite sensitive to water balance and chemicals. And a lot of fertilizers have nitrogen, ammonia, and phosphates that can harm or kill axolotls.
Most aquatic plants will absorb waste from the axies and uneaten food, which is fertilization enough for them.
If you feel you really do need to fertilize your plants, place them in a separate tank away from the axolotls, then fertilize them. After a few days rinse the plants in clean water and replace them back into the axolotl tank.
Don’t Throw Plants into Waterways
Many of these plants come from tropical climates, or overseas areas where they grow natively, so please don’t toss these plants into waterways around you. A lot of these plants would end up becoming invasive species if they were to get into their non-native areas.
This causes problems with native species because the introduced plants could choke out beneficial plants, or even harm the entire ecosystem. If you have to get rid of plants, or you trim them to keep them from taking over your aquarium, dispose of them properly.
The University of Connecticut states, that to dispose of unwanted or trimmed aquarium plants properly, seal them tightly in a plastic bag, and throw them in the trash. Don’t throw them into waterways or flush them down drains or toilets.
All Done Here
Axolotls love to have vegetation in their tanks for various reasons. They use them to hide in, it makes them feel more at home, and they look good to you and me.
You can use living aquatic plants as long as they can withstand the cool temperatures, lower lighting needs, and are prepared for the added maintenance needed to keep them alive.
Artificial plants are also a great way to go. They don’t require the extra work that goes into keeping live plants in your tank, but they don’t look quite as nice either.
Whichever route you choose to decorate your axolotl tank, you have plenty of options, and your little axie will thank you. Just look at that little face, he’s smiling at you already!