Types of Aquatic Plants – A List

An aquatic plant (or water plant) is any variety that has adapted to thrive in water. Aquatic plants can be found in both salt and freshwater habitats from a small fish tank in your home to the ocean.

There are hundreds of different species, many of which look similar to land plants and some that are rather distinctive. Some are used as a food source for humans, while others are merely grown for decorative purposes.

If you’re having trouble choosing an aquatic plant to grow in your home or garden, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll be looking at the different types of aquatic plants and we’ve also included some popular examples. 

Types of Aquatic Plants

water plants

All aquatic plants can be categorized into four types which are based on two main factors:

  1. Their habitat
  2. Their tolerance to water

Aquatic plants were categorized this way because some plants live under water while others can be seen above the water with only their roots submerged.

The four categories of aquatic plants include:

  1. Free floating aquatic plants
  2. Emergent plants
  3. Submerged plants
  4. Floating leaved aquatic plants

Here’s a closer look at each of these types.

1. Free Floating Aquatic Plants

As the name suggests, a free-floating aquatic plant floats freely on water. It isn’t connected in any way to the body of water it grows in, but still grows just like a normal plant.

The roots are not linked to the sediment or bottom of the body of water. These plants have few requirements and are quite easy to grow in your aquarium or garden pond.

Some can grow in height and produce seeds while others remain the same size. Water lettuce and water cabbage are two examples of free-floating aquatic plants.

2. Emergent Aquatic Plant

These plants grow with their roots inside the water while the leaves and flowers remain above the water.

Also known as marginal aquatic plants, these are found near the edges of water bodies. Most people prefer to have emergent aquatic plants in their aquariums since they have the ability to grow in a lot of water.

The reason emergent plants have most of their vegetation above the surface of the water is because they need direct sunlight to thrive. Some examples of emergent plants include cyperus papyrus and wild rice.

3. Submerged Aquatic Plant

Unlike the other three types, submerged aquatic plants grow under water. They’re completely submerged in water and have a strong root system in the sediments at the bottom.

Because of their thin, slender leaves and limp stems, these plants are unable to support themselves and stand upright which is why they require water.

There are both desirable and undesirable varieties of submerged aquatic plants, which differ in how they look.

Some varieties can take over an entire pond and become a nuisance that needs to be killed off. Therefore, it’s important to know which the difference between the desirable and wild types.

4. Floating Leaved Aquatic Plant

The roots of a floating leaved aquatic plant are anchored to the bottom of the water body, while the leaves float on the surface.

These plants thrive in both fresh and saltwater and have stiff, flat leaves that float about on the surface, absorbing a lot of sunlight.

Pondweed and water lily are two examples of common and popular floating leaves plants.

Features of Aquatic Plants

Aquatic plants have different properties based on their habitat. However, there are some characteristics that are commonly seen in all types.

  • Most aquatic plants do not have the cuticle layer found in land plants to prevent the loss of water, because they don’t need to retain water.
  • These plants do not shed their leaves and remain green throughout the year. The leaves of emerging plants and free-floating plants float on the water surface in order to meet their sunlight requirements.
  • They have air sacs in them which allow them to float.
  • Leaves on the water surface are typically flat.
  • They have several stomata on each side of their leaves.
  • They have smaller roots so that the water can be easily absorbed and spread directly to the leaves.
  • The roots are feather and light since they don’t have to support the weight of the plants.

Caring for Aquatic Plants

Before deciding which aquatic plant you want to grow, it’s important to research various varieties that can thrive in your location. Make sure that you’ll be able to give the plant what it requires in order to survive.

Check on your plant regularly and prune it as needed to keep your pond or aquarium looking beautiful.  Make sure the water is free from hazardous substances that can kill the plants. If you need to bring your outdoor aquatic plants inside during the winter season, you’ll need to spend some time helping them to adapt.

Remember: some aquatic plants are toxic to fish, so if fish are involved, you might want to opt for more fish-friendly options.

Aquatic plants can be a lot of fun to grow and they’re definitely easier to care for than plants grown in soil. Here’s a list of ten popular and low-maintenance plants you can grow in your pond or aquarium.

1. Calla Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica)

calla lilies

Although calla lilies are not true lilies, they’re beautiful appearance makes them a favourite among gardeners. These plants are well-known for their lovely leaves and sensual blossoms, as well as their ease of maintenance. 

2. Amazon Frog Bit (Limnobium laevigatum)

For ponds and aquariums, the Amazon frog bit is a popular floating water plant. It’s easy to care for, but if left unattended can quickly cover the entire surface of the water. This plant is an easy meal for snails so if you intend to grow it, make sure there aren’t any snails around.

3. Parrot’s Feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum)

This plant grows underwater and can reach a height of about one foot. It has feathery fronds which make it a beautiful addition to any water feature. Since it needs a lot of sunlight, the less it gets, the slower this plant grows.

4. Mosquito Fern (Azolla)


Mosquito ferns can cover large bodies of water in just a few days with their tiny leaves. They were named ‘mosquito fern’ because of the fact that they’re used to control mosquito larvae found in rice fields. According to the myth, no mosquito can get through the fern’s thick coating to lay eggs in the water.

5. Hornwort (Anthocerotophyta)

Hornwort (Anthocerotophyta)

These oxygenating water plants are beneficial to a variety of fish in ponds and aquariums. They’re rootless, and have thin leaves that function as koi fish breeding sites. While the hornwort is a surprisingly easy plant to take care of, it can grow extremely large and take over the entire tank or pond, harming other plants, fish and sea animals in your tank.

6. Duckweed (Lemnoideae)

 Duckweed is a floating water plant that serves as an important source of food for waterfowl and fish. These tiny plants are devoured by cattle, swine, chickens, ducks and fish. They also control nutrient levels and algae in the water.

7. Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)

lotus flower

The lotus is a fascinating and exotic perennial, which means that once it’s settled in your pond, it can bloom for many years. Its blossoms can grow up to a foot wide and are available in a variety of hues. Lotus flowers are regarded as a symbol of enlightenment, purity, rebirth and self-generation in many cultures around the world.

8. Creeping Jenny Plants (Lysimachia nummularia)

The creeping Jenny, also known as moneywort, is a fast-growing aquatic plant that looks like a ground cover. In the past, it was popularly used in herbal medicine to cure wounds. It’s a beautiful plant with round, golden leaves that form on its long, trailing stems and it has little, yellow flowers that bloom in the summer.

9. Rough Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale)

This is a non-flowering, evergreen perennial that grows about 3-5 inches tall.  While it’s popular for its beauty, the horsetail is believed to be unsafe when ingested. It’s used for various medicinal purposes and its oil, when extracted, is used to improve hair growth while reducing dandruff.

10. Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus)

This plant, also known as the golden Japanese sweet flag, is suitable for pots and water gardens. It has alovely foliage that’s pale green with bright yellow stripes. In Ayurvedic medicine, this plant is used as a mild tonic and aromatic stimulant, also believed to cure digestive disorders.

Why Grow Aquatic Plants?

Aquatic plants come with many benefits. Some plants can be used to cure certain ailments while others are an important part of interior décor.

  • The water plants add to the visual appeal of your landscape. They brighten up dull spaces with their hues and effervescence.
  • These plants can filter fish waste, provide air in the aquarium and mimic natural environments. Aquatic plants operate as purifiers by absorbing dissolved nutrients from the water.
  • Water plants also provide a haven for the fishes to reside and lay their eggs. They also protect the fish, by giving them a hiding place.
  • They act as water quality indicators. A healthy aquatic plant population suggests good water quality, whereas unhealthy plants are a sign of contamination. 
  • They help improve the general health of the water in which they grow.

The Bottom Line

Not only will beautiful aquatic plants add aesthetic appeal to your home, but they will also help in maintaining ecological balance. Since they flourish in water, they have a way of bringing you close to nature and are known to calm the mind and improve the mood.

If you’re not interested in any of the plants mentioned on this list, there are hundreds of other types you could go for. If you lead a busy lifestyle, remember to choose a plant that requires minimal care so that there will be a lot less work for you.  

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