Corydoras love plants in their aquarium as they provide natural cover, improve the water quality and are beautiful to look at. However, not every plant is as good for these fish.
In this guide, I’ve taken my 11 favorite plants for Cory catfish that fit many tank setups.
To make sure they’re compatible with Cory catfish, I’ve taken three things into account:
- Care level – All of the plants on this list are easy to moderately easy to care for. Since many cory catfish are also beginner fish, I am aware that many of my readers are also looking for something easy.
- Size – I’ve noticed Corydoras love smaller plants in the bottom layer of the tank with finer leaves to play/hang out in. They also provide great places for fry to hide and eggs to be laid. Many of these plants are perfect for 20-gallon tanks.
- Substrate – Being that sand is the best substrate for these fish, I’ve only included plants that do well in this fine substrate.
1. Java moss
Java moss is probably one of my favorite aquarium plants of all time. As a fish breeder myself, it’s the most convenient plant I’ve come across, and I’m sure many people can follow me in this.
Java moss grows best on hard structures like driftwood and makes a beautiful appearance covering these structures. In the right circumstances, java moss creates a dense carpet.
However, java moss also grows great without wood or stones to attach on. This is why it’s so convenient and easy for breeding and quarantaine setups. You just throw in a bush of the moss, and take out a bigger bush when needed.
Cories often use this moss to swim through and hide under. It’s also great as a natural spawning mop for Corydoras to lay their eggs in.
One disadvantage of java moss is that it can grow a little bit out of control. You’ll thus need to regularly trim it down to make sure your tank stays in balace.
2. Java fern
Java fern is a plant that can grow in a lot of conditions. It doesn’t need a lot of light and multiplies at a good rate. You can create a nice bush out of one small plant.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I am a huge fan of driftwood in my tank. Cories love the natural cover of driftwood and since java fern grows on this wood, it’s a place where Cories will love hanging out.
Java fern is one of the bigger plants on this list, but it’s still suitable for 15-20 gallon tanks. Their leaves are quite dense, making it a place where fry can hide safely. Java fern is a middle-ground plant.
To attach java fern to the wood, you’ll need glue or wire. I recommend suitable aquarium-safe glue though, as fish can get strangled in the wire.
3. Cryptocoryne wendtii
Cryptocoryne is an easy to care for foreground plant that grows easily in many tanks. It will create a carpet if kept correctly, perfect for Corydoras to hang out in. Cryptocoryne wendtii comes in red variants, too and in the right lighting this will come out amazingly.
Smaller (younger) plants have a darker color and can be red.
One thing to note about cryptocoryne species is that sometimes they melt away after initially putting them in the tank. This is because of the change in water parameters. However, the plant will grow back in a matter of weeks.
4. Helanthium tenellum
Often referred to as Echinodorus tellenus, this foreground plant creates a carpet in which Cories like to hang out and search for food.
It thrives in fine substrates like sand, a perfect combo with Corydoras. In this substrate, the plant will create runners, the main way it reproduces.
In the right circumstances, this plant will develop a grass-green color and a carpet that looks like your lawn.
In order to make this plant grow in a dense format, it’s a great idea to demarcate the area where the plant can grow using stones or pieces of wood. This will force the runners to create a denser carpet and not create gaps.
5. Amazon frogbit
Although this plant doesn’t grow in the bottom layer of the tank (rather the opposite), Limnobium laevigatum is a floating plant that gives your tank an extra natural touch.
Amazon frogbit is an easy-to-care-for floating plant that creates long roots hanging in the top layer of your tank. These roots are great for many fish, but also provide great shelter for Cories.
You probably noticed your Corydoras swimming quickly to the top of the tank and back to gasp for air. These floating plants will make your Cories feel more safe encountering the upper layer of the tank.
This jungle like plant is one of the most unique, but still surprisingly easy to care for plants you’ll come across in the hobby.
What makes this plant unique is it’s ability to reproduce rapidly and cover the background of your tank in a matter of weeks. Still, it’s easy to keep this plant under control by regularly trimming it down.
The long leaves will grow straight to the surface covering a part of it. The plant can take over the function of floating plants, and might block a part of the light from reaching the bottom.
Vallisneria reproduces using runners, and grows perfectly in sand. It’s great for Corydoras because it isn’t as dense near the bottom (so your Cories can dig freely), but it still provides shelter from the sides and above.
I know that the successful breeder AquaMalik, who specializes in plecos, uses Vallisneria as a way to extract extra nitrates out of the aquarium since it grows so quickly.
7. Red root floater
Another floating plant on this list, which certainly isn’t inferior to Amazon frogbit. Under the right lighting, this plant can turn red making it a very eye-catching appearance.
As we’ve discussed, part of the reason for Amazon frogbit being such an amazing plant is its roots. Well, the red root floater has amazing red-looking roots which make your aquarium light up.
This plant doesn’t like fast-flowing water and only forms dense beds in near stagnant water.
8. Amazon swords
Amazon swords are a great background plant that fits many setups. Due to its big leaves, it creates shadow and it serves as a resting place for many fish species, including Cory catfish.
I’ve found Amazon swords to be more demanding than java moss and java fern, but under the right lighting and in the right substrate it’s still not hard to care for. To give it its red color, you will need to supplement it with iron.
Echinodorus bleheri does get up to 20 inches high, making it only suitable for big tanks starting from 30 gallons. This makes it a great combo with bigger Cories like C. sterbai or the Emerald Cory.
9. Hygrophilia polysperma
This plant is very fast growing in most circumstances. Often called dwarf hydro, it forms dense bushes and doesn’t grow straight up like some other plants.
This makes it great if you’re going for a more natural setup, but it doesn’t really fit an aquascape or neat tanks.
Under some lighting, this plants gets a cool-looking brown/red color, making it stand out from the other plants.
When this plant reaches the surface, it will keep growing which gives it a cool effect, especially if you have an open tank.
10. Water sprite
Water sprite or water fern is a fast-growing background/middle ground plant. It’s fairly common and available at most fish stores.
Water sprite is a versatile plant that can be used both as a floating plant and a submerged plant with roots in the substrate.
As this plant is very fast-growing, it can take up a lot of nutrients which can be bad for the other plants in your tank. However, this does make it perfect for starting setups or low-tech setups with little filtration as it reduces the risk of a nitrite spike.
Fun fact: in Asia, where it naturally occurs, the leaves of water fern sometimes gets eaten.
Hornwort is in my opinion one of the most amazing-looking background plants. It grows very quickly and its fine leaves make it an amazing place for Corydoras to leave their eggs and for fry to hide.
In terms of temperature, this plant is extremely flexible and it’s suitable for both cold and warm water setups. In fact, it’s also regularly used as a pond plant.
Because hornwort grows to become quite high, it’s best to be used in bigger tanks starting at 30 gallons.
Why do Corydoras need plants?
As we’ve touched upon already a bit in this article, there are a couple of reasons why plants are so beneficial for Corydoras.
1. Natural cover
In the wild, Corydoras live in an environment where lots of natural cover is available. This includes stones, rocks, and fallen organic matter like leaves and branches.
Because cory catfish are bottom-dwelling fish, they are always in “alert” mode on the lookout for predators. They thus need these natural covers to feel safe.
Plants are one of the most beautiful and best ways to provide this cover because there is such a big variety of plants on the market.
Even though you could argue using fake plants as an alternative, fish simply notice the difference and will act more naturally when live plants are present.
2. Better water quality
Plants add extra oxygen to the water and derive nitrates, which makes them a crucial part of the nitrogen cycle. Without plants, the risk of a nitrite/ammonia spike increases significantly, because plants stabilize the ecosystem.
3. Breeding purposes
Because plants provide mimic a natural environment, Corydoras will be more likely to feel comfortable enough to spawn.
Plants like java moss and java fern also make perfect natural spawning mobs where these fish can lay their eggs.
Although live plants aren’t always as convenient for breeding tanks, java moss, Anubias, and java fern can easily be tied to a piece of wood and taken out when needed.
If you want to know more about how to set up a breeding tank for cory cats, read our full guide on breeding Corydoras.
Do Corydoras eat plants?
Cory catfish don’t eat live or dead plants. In fact, Corydoras are carnivorous fish that eat a variety of meat-based foods such as mosquito larvae, worms, and flies.
Due to confusion with plecos, some people might think cory catfish eat algae. This is not true. Again, cory catfish should be fed a protein-rich meat-based diet.