Plecos are often wrongfully accused of eating and destroying plants. In fact, most plecos species really enjoy plants because they bring cover and improve the water parameters. 

Finding the right plants can be hard though because plecos often live in specific conditions.

The best (and safest) plants for plecos

1. Anubias

0
Out of 10

Care level

Easy

Lighting

Low

Water

72-80°F

Price

$$$

Anubias is a very hardy and robust plant, making it ideal for the low light-setups plecos like to live in. I have Anubias in almost all of my tanks.

Another advantage of Anubias is that they grow on rocks and wood, not in the substrate. The plant thus makes a perfect integration, as driftwood and stones are two of the best hiding places for plecos.

Anubias doesn’t proliferate but will grow in almost any circumstances. I even have success growing them without any attachment to hard structures.

The roots of this plant also provide great natural cover for pleco babies and adults. The plant is rather leathery and will not get eaten by plecos.

Fun fact: Anubias was named after Anubis, the Egyptian God of the afterlife. It symbolizes the often dark places where it grows.

0
Out of 10

Care level

Easy

Lighting

Low

Water

72-80°F

Price

$

Just like Anubias, it’s an extremely easy plant that grows best on driftwood and stones. It has quickly become one of my favorite aquarium plants overall and also for plecos.

You can grow a big forest of java fern out of just one leaf, which makes it a cheap and convenient option .

The leaves of this plant also have a lot of surface area, making them great as a hiding place and food source (biofilm growing on it) for your fish.

Another fun idea is to make this plant grow on pleco caves. It will create an extra natural environment for your plecos to breed in.

3. Vallisneria

0
Out of 10

Care level

Easy

Lighting

Moderate

Water

64-80°F

Price

$$$

I have Vallisneria spiralis in my Zebra pleco breeding tank, as a way to extract extra nitrates from the tank. 

Personally, I prefer to use it as a background plant in many tanks as it creates a really thick and compact ‘forest’ of leaves.

As you can see in the picture, Vallisneria can really proliferate and should be trimmed down regularly as it grows runners real fast.

This plant also doesn’t need a lot of light and will create really long leaves that can cover the top of your tank. This way, it can even create shadow and serve as an alternative for floating plants.

The plant does need a high tank to really thrive. I suggest a 20-gallon high as the minimum tank size. Vallisneria gigantea (can get 1m-2m+) needs a bigger tank.

Fun fact: Although many plants we keep in aquariums are actually swamp plants, Vallisneria is a real water plant that thrives in moderate light setups.

4. Cryptocoryne wendtii

0
Out of 10

Care level

Easy

Lighting

Moderate

Water

72-80°F

Price

$$

Cryptocoryne is an ideal plant in the middle and foreground of your tank. Again, I’ve picked a plant that can thrive without a lot of light.

This plant is one of the most colorful on the list, and depending on the lighting it may develop a red-orange color. 

Because Cryptocoryne is sensitive towards changes in water parameters, it can melt away temporarily if you put it in your tank. Also, Cryptocoryne gets often bred above water, so it’s a shock for the plant to get into its new environment.

That being said, it will grow back beautifully in a matter of weeks when your tank is suitable.

Cryptocoryne will create a carpet and needs to be trimmed accordingly. 

5. Amazon swords

0
Out of 10

Care level

Moderate

Lighting

Moderate

Water

72-80°F

Price

$$

Amazon swords or Echinodorus sp. are moderately easy to care for aquarium plants best suited to be put in the back of the aquarium. 

Plecos will enjoy the shadow and cover these big plants bring. Small plecos might even sleep on the leaves and eat the biofilm growing on them.

Important to note is that Echinodorus needs a good substrate to thrive. The layer of the substrate should be at least 2.5 inches thick, to make the roots grow easily. Gravel or sand is perfect. Sometimes, you will need to supplement the roots with iron. This will also make the plant get a more vibrant red color.

I suggest Echinodorus species for planted tanks, as they make the perfect background plant. For breeding setups, I suggest one of the more convenient plants such as Java fern, java moss, Anubias or Amazon frogbit. 

Because this plant gets rather big (up to 20 inches high), a tank with such height is advised. It makes a perfect combo with bigger pleco species because of this.

6. Amazon frogbit

Amazon frogbit is my favorite floating plant. It’s quite easy and forms long roots. These long roots give a super cool natural look but also provide extra cover for the fish.

Floating plants make many fish feel comfortable because it protects them from possible danger coming from above.

Amazon frogbit is not to be confused with duckweed. Duckweed proliferates and can take over your tank in a matter of weeks. Although frogbit grows well in the right conditions, it’s easy to maintain and get under control.

Because these plants don’t need substrate or structures to grow on, they’re extremely convenient. I like to use them in my pleco-breeding grow-out tanks because of this (and pleco fry loves hanging out in the roots).

7. Java moss

Mosses never disappoint. Java moss is an extremely easy-to-care-for plant that can grow in practically any tank.

Java moss prefers hard structures live wood and stones to attach on, but grows perfectly without attaching too. 

If you like the looks of a ‘bunch’ of moss in your tank, it’s one of the best plants for plecos as this plant is probably the easiest on this list.

Do plecos eat plants?

One of the most asked questions regarding plecos is whether they eat aquarium plants. In fact, plecos have gotten a bad reputation in combination with plants because of misinformation.

In rare circumstances, plecos will eat live plants. The cause of this is most likely malnutrition, and it depends on the species and whether they eat plants. Common plecos tend to do this more than bristlenose plecos or other small species that will leave most plants untouched.

So, the main cause of people thinking that plecos eat plants is because common plecos are mistreated in the hobby. These plecos get enormous, and many starting aquarists don’t feed them enough food or wrongly assume they can survive off eating algae. If you want to know more about feeding your plecos vegetables, read my article here.

There are many other popular plecos that are way better to put in your aquarium, such as the clown and bristlenose pleco. These will not eat plants and also need way less food.

Do plecos need plants?

Plecos originate from the Amazon basin, where they live in streams and rivers. these rivers often contain a lot of stones and pebbles and flow rather fast. 

Unlike what is often told, there aren’t a lot of plants in these habitats. The main cover these fish live in is stones and fallen wood/leaves. Plecos thus don’t really need plants to thrive.

So, why would plants be beneficial for plecos if they don’t occur in their natural environment?

In your aquarium, it’s a lot harder to maintain stable and healthy parameters than in a big ecosystem. Plants are the best way to keep your water well-oxygenated and clean. 

As we’ve also touched upon, plants also provide natural cover. Whereas you would need a lot of stones and branches to create the same effect, plants are a great extra way to provide this cover.

Lastly, many other fish species that live with plecos will enjoy these plants, too. It creates a more natural ecosystem in your tank, resulting in more happy fish.