What’s your choice? Live or artificial – Aquarium plants

By reefspecialty, May 6, 2015

Everyone would like to decorate the home of the fishes, which decorates your home. The plants are the best option which adds elegance and liveliness to your aquarium. Not only that, plants also give your fishes the natural environment feel they wish to live in.  Yes! Placing plants in your aquarium is not only a decoration but it also helps your fishes in many other ways.

But wait! When you want to keep plants in your aquarium, do you know which one will be more beneficial and hassle free, “Live or artificial plants”?

This article gives you a thorough insight on the various pros and cons of both Live and artificial plants, which can help you greatly to pick the right choice that suits your aquarium better.

Live plants

In olden days, live plants were the only option for the aquarium. Even in these modern days, still many people opt for live plants due to its exceptional benefits. But, every beneficial item has its own disadvantages. By knowing both the advantages and disadvantages of the live plants you can use the live plants effectively in your aquarium.


Advantages of growing live plants in the fish tank

Below listed are some of the advantages of rowing live plants.

  • Good source of natural Oxygen (O2): 

    You know very well that live plants releases Oxygen (O2) during day time which provides natural aeration to the fish. Decrease in the level of oxygen will lead to the death of the fishes. In non-planted aquariums, if the oxygen levels drops down then you might need to use air stones or any other methods to pop-up the O2. But, the live plants naturally do that and keep your fishes healthy.

  • Balances Nitrogen cycle:

    The ammonia level in the aquarium water should always be maintained in 0ppm. But, many fishes or invertebrates emit ammonia and increases the level of ammonia in the water. This might stress the fishes and cause death. Live plant paves a natural way to balance the ammonia levels in the water. Live plant converts the toxic ammonia to less dangerous nitrates with the help of beneficial bacteria’s and thus helps to achieve balanced nitrogen cycle.

  • Natural Filtration:

    You need to use chemical or biological filters in your aquarium to get rid of harmful chemicals that can cause distress for your fishes or invertebrates and also enhance the growth of good bacteria’s in the water. But growing live plants in your aquarium eliminates the use of such filters and it will do the work instead. A well planted aquarium requires very little use of chemical or mechanical filters.  The chemical filters are not to be used for a long time in the planted aquariums as the carbon in those filters hinders the growth of live plants.

  • Subsides algae growth:

    Algae growth creates a big mess to your aquarium. It clouds your tank’s walls and hampers viewing the fishes. Though you use algae scrappers to get rid of algae, it will be effective only to a certain extent. Algae grow in the tank because of the availability of light and nutrients in the water. Keeping live plants in the aquarium greatly helps to subside the algae growth. Because, the live plants absorbs most of the nutrients in the water for growing this in turn inhibits the growth of algae.


  • Safety and shelter:

    Live plants are the best hide-outs for most of the fishes. Timid fishes hide under the live plants to save themselves from aggressive fishes. Also, live plants serves as a good shelter for the fishes which need some rest from the lighting. Though artificial plants can also provide safety and shelter, it has certain drawbacks like its sharp edges might hurt the fishes or if they are not fixed properly they will keep floating in the water causing disturbance to the species.

  • Serves as food:

    Adding to all the benefits listed above, live plant also serves as a good nutritive food for most of the fishes. Apart from the food you feed, fishes can rely on the plants as an alternative food source. Not all the fishes eat plants, but when routine food is not available they may nibble the plants. It helps to provide different variety of nutrients and keep the fishes healthy.

Disadvantages of growing live plants in the fish tank

Below listed are the disadvantages of growing live plants.

  • Oxygen(O2) depletion during night time:gasp1

    The live plants which are the best source of oxygen during day time will in take the oxygen release carbon-di-oxide during night time. This will cause decrease in the oxygen level of the tank water which in turn causes stress to the fishes. If you see your fishes gasping for air over the top of the tank, then you need to take necessary action to balance the oxygen levels in your tank.

  • Cleaning is a mess:

    Cleaning the live planted aquarium needs extra effort. Over the time, the live plants may die or decay and that debris also add to the waste of the tank. So, you need to monitor and clean regularly. Live plants have to be handled carefully while cleaning, as the small or new plants would get uprooted or sucked up during vacuum.

  • Bring in pests and parasites:

    Live plants might carry harmful pests or parasites which may cause stress and diseases to the aquatic species. Even if the plants are rinsed before keeping in the tank, it might have some parasites still hanging to that which will spread to all the species and endanger their lives.

  • Increased cost of maintenance:

    Live plants need intense light for its growth. So, you need to invest and install efficient lighting system. Also, some plants may die over a time and you need to buy new plants as a replacement. The plants would need special substrates for the healthy growth.  Considering all these, the maintenance of planted aquarium would cost more than normal or artificial planted aquariums.

Artificial plants

Advancing technology has brought very natural looking artificial plants to the market.  Yes! No more fake looking artificial plants. This has increased the interest of many aquarium hobbyists to choose artificial plants for their aquarium. Know the various pros and cons of artificial plants over the live plants before choosing it for your aquarium.


Advantages of Artificial plants in the fish tank

Below listed are some of the advantages of keeping artificial plants.

  • Ready to use:

    In the desired type, desired size and in various colors, the artificial plants are readily available in the market. There is no need to wait like you do for live plants after planting the plant, till it is fully grown.  You can just pick from the wide variety of artificial plants available in the market and place it in your fish tank any time. Make a note to rinse the artificial plants in plain water before placing in the tank. If you rinse in warm water it will help to make the plants more flexible and gives more realistic look.


  • Realistic and beautiful:

    Nowadays artificial plants made up of silk fabric are also available in the market, which makes it look more realistic. They don’t grow shabby and makes the appearance of the tank less attractive. It is the extent of your imagination to place the different varieties of plants in proper places and decorate your tank beautifully.

  • Minimum Maintenance:

    Artificial plants requires very less or no maintenance. It does not require special substrate, effective lighting system or any supplements like live plants. No need to prune the leaves periodically as it is going to grow like live plants.

  • Easy to clean:

    Unlike live plants, artificial plants are very easy to clean. Just remove the plants, rinse thoroughly in plain water and put back into the tank.

  • Cost effective:

    Artificial plants neither decay over the time nor be eaten by the fishes. Also, they do not die. So, no need to spend money in buying alternate plants unless you want to buy new variety of artificial plants. Buying artificial plants are almost like one time investment.

  • No excessive CO2:

    Artificial plants do not release Carbon-di-oxide (CO2) or any other gas for that matter. So, there won’t be fluctuations in the oxygen level of the tank water and increase in CO2 causing stress to the fishes.

  • Safety and shelter:

    Like, live plants, these plants also provide safety and shelter for timid fishes to hide themselves from aggressive or bullying fishes.

  • No pests or parasites:

    Artificial plants do not carry pests or parasites that cause harm to the fishes. As artificial plants do not carry any foreign bodies that cause diseases to your tank’s species.

Disadvantages of Artificial plants in the fish tank

Below listed are the disadvantages of keeping artificial plants.

  • No intake of CO2:

    Unlike live plants, artificial plants cannot intake carbon-di-oxide (CO2) and release oxygen (O2). Thus artificial plants cannot help the fishes to get good source of oxygen. Artificial plant thus, does not help in maintaining the biological balance of the water.

  • Doesn’t remove toxins:

    Artificial plants do not help to convert the toxic ammonia to less harmful nitrates. Increase in ammonia levels might cause stress to the fishes and may lead to death.  Also, you need to use chemical or biological filters to get rid of harmful chemical or toxins in the tank water.

  • Cause damage to fishes:

    Artificial plants made of plastics might cause damage to the fishes resulting in torn fins, damage of eyes, wounded body, splits in tails, etc. Plastic plants will be stiff and can have sharp edges. These might scratch the fishes swimming freely and cause wounds. Leaving the wounds unnoticed might invite parasites and lead to death of the fishes.

  • Doesn’t inhibit algae growth:

    Yes! Artificial plants by not absorbing any nutrients or light from the water overlay the way for algae to grow and cloud the tank. This increases the need to often clean the tank.


  • Increases cost indirectly:

    Some type of artificial plants is costly. If you had chosen live plants, then it is enough if you buy very less number and plant in the tank. This will soon grow and cover the whole tank. But in the case of artificial plants, you need to buy a large number of plants to get a good look and feel and also in order to provide a good shelter for your species.

  • Not a natural habitat or natural food:

    Even though the artificial plants are greener, denser and realistic they cannot serve as a natural habitat or food to the fishes.  Artificial plants can mimic the natural environment to the fishes but can’t behave like a natural habitat. Herbivorous or omnivorous fishes cannot feed on the artificial plants.

As you can see, both live plants and artificial plants have their own advantages and disadvantages. No one can say which one is the best than the other. With the knowledge about both types of plants, it purely depends on the choice of the aquarists to opt whichever plant they wanted to keep in their aquarium. Experienced aquarium hobbyists can go for live plants whereas for new aquarists artificial plants would be the right choice to start with. But again it is based on the interest and choice of the hobbyists. Definitely, both artificial and live plants will make your aquarium a visual treat.

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