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  • Writer's pictureKarlie Bullivant

What Plants Can I Use in an Axolotl Tank?

Updated: Jun 10, 2023


A leucistic copper axolotl surrounded by Anubias and Amazon Sword plants. Courtesy of MorecambeJim#8288.


Introduction

Axolotls may benefit by having live plants in their environment. Using live plants in an axolotl tank is a great way to encourage instinctive behavior, add a natural feel to the aquarium, and help maintain pristine water conditions!


Not all plants are suitable for axolotls, however. Many plants cannot grow in the coldwater conditions that axolotls thrive in, and others can even be dangerous to the tank inhabitants. Keep reading for our list of plants that can survive, and even thrive, in axolotl tanks!


Axolotl tank with java fern broad, Java fern Windelov, Anubias nana Petite, java moss, and pearls and jade pothos. Courtesy of u/DylanRos.


Can I Use Fertilizers?

Since axolotls are amphibians, they have semi-permeable skin. This means they will easily absorb substances in their environment right into their bodies. For that reason, it is safer to avoid using any fertilizers.


Fertilizers are untested on amphibians, and could potentially cause unknown long-term damage. Because of this, we recommend avoiding fertilizers to err on the side of caution.


Benefits and Dangers of Plants

Some plants can be dangerous to tank inhabitants. In terms of axolotls, the primary concern is what they may accidentally consume. Smaller floating plants such as Duckweed and Salvinia should generally be avoided, as they are known to overtake the entire surface of the water, preventing the axolotl from taking breaths at the surface, and they potentially could swallow the small plants, causing an airway obstruction.


Despite this, floating plants can still be used in an axolotl tank. They can be corralled into one section of the tank, to keep most of the water surface available. Axolotls may also unintentionally take a bite out of a leaf, meaning potentially toxic plants, such as Elodea canadensis, should be used with caution. Marimo balls smaller than the axolotl’s head also pose a potential choking hazard.


An example of how to fasten terrestrial houseplants to grow with their roots in the aquarium and foliage above the water. This image shows peace lily, golden pothos, avocado, spider plants, and dwarf water lettuce. Courtesy of MorecambeJim#8288.

Live plants have many benefits. All plants will absorb carbon dioxide from the environment and release oxygen, so aquatic plants will help oxygenate the water. Plants will also absorb small amounts of ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and trace minerals from the aquarium. Having only a few plants may not make a noticeable difference in water parameters, but many plants can have an impact!

Axolotls also love to interact with plants. They can often be found perching on tall plants, taking shelter under the cover of leaves, hanging out in a root system, or even balancing on moss balls. Using a variety of plants can help encourage your axolotl to be more active and comfortable around their aquarium.

Having live plants is a great way to add natural beauty to the aquarium. Plants come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, which means there are endless possibilities for aquascaping!


Many axolotls, like this curious leucistic copper axolotl, enjoy hanging out around the terrestrial plants’ roots. Photo courtesy of MorecambeJim#8288.

Removing Hitchhikers

Before adding new plants to the aquarium, it is essential to do a chemical dip to get rid of any potential hitchhikers! Whether you are buying plants from a local fish store or an online seller, it is impossible to guarantee that the plants will not have any unwanted pests, such as bladder snails or unidentified eggs.


For hardier plants, like Anubias, a bleach dip is an option. For more sensitive plants, like mosses, ferns, and Elodea, a hydrogen peroxide dip is a more gentle, but effective treatment. New plants may also be quarantined for a minimum of 2 weeks in a separate tank.


Plant List

Onto the plant list! Please note that this is a general list, and there are other plants within the same genus that are also options. Always check with your local laws before buying! Not all plants are legal, as some are highly invasive and could damage your local ecosystem.

Stem Plants

Stem plants are renowned for their ability to be propagated from cuttings taken from larger plants. Over the course of a few months, a small bundle of stem plants can quickly multiply to fill in the background of a tank. While some of these stem plants are perfectly happy floating at the top of the tank, the best results can be achieved by placing the base of the stems into substrate.

  • Bacopa australis Hygrophila difformis (Water Wisteria)

  • Hygrophila polysperma

  • Hygrophila polysmerma ‘Rosanervig’ Elodea canadensis

  • Elodea nuttallii

  • Guppy Grass (Najas guadalupensis)

  • Hornwort

  • Hemianthus micranthemoides


Diagram demonstrating where the rhizome and roots are located on an Anubias plant.


Rhizome Plants and Mosses

Rhizome plants and mosses prefer lower lighting and will grow well in an axolotl tank. While they may grow slowly, these plants will eventually become established and slowly fill in the foreground of your tank. Rhizome plants, which do better shoved into crevices, glued onto driftwood, or simply just free floating in the water, can even flower under the right conditions.


Similar to rhizome plants, mosses can be shoved into crevices or glued onto driftwood. When using glue in your aquarium, you cannot use just any type of glue. Cyanoacrylate glue, commonly known as gel super glue, is the safest option for aquarium use. Use caution to try not to glue any of the roots, and just attach the rhizome to the desired surface.


  • Anubias barteri

  • Anubias barteri var. ‘Coffeefolia'

  • Anubias lanceolata

  • Anubias nana Bonsai

  • Anubias nana Golden

  • Anubias nana Petite

  • Anubias nana Round Leaf

  • Christmas Moss (Vesicularia montagnei)

  • Java Moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri)

  • Marimo “Moss” Balls (only to be used if the ball is larger than the axolotls head; not actually a moss)

  • Microsorum pteropus ‘Phillipines’

  • Microsorum pteropus ‘Thor’s Hammer’

  • Microsorum pteropus ’Trident’

  • Microsorum pteropus ‘Windelov’

  • Weeping Moss (Vesicularia ferriei)


A leucistic copper axolotl standing on a Marimo ball. Courtesy of Chaz D. (@Slowbrow).

Rooted Plants

As their name suggests, rooted plants require their roots to be buried in loose substrate. It is safest not to place axolotls smaller than 15 cm (6 inches) on loose substrate, because the risk of impaction is significantly increased.


Once the axolotl has grown large enough, a fine sand substrate 1 mm or less in diameter is the safest choice. Consider using these plants in an aquarium with adult axolotls. These plants can be used in the background of your tank.


  • Cryptocoryne wendtii Brown

  • Cryptocoryne wendtii Green

  • Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘Green Gecko’

  • Cryptocoryne usteriana Green

  • Echinodorus grisebachii (Amazon Sword)

  • Echinodorus impai

  • Echinodorus ‘Ozelot Red’

  • Echinodorus ‘Red Wild Grass’

  • Echinodorus Yellow Sun

  • Tiger Vallisneria

  • Vallisneria americana

  • Vallisneria gigantae

  • Vallisneria spitalis

  • Vallisneria Corkscrew


Axolotl tank featuring pothos, spider plants, avocado, dwarf water lettuce, anubias, and more. Courtesy of MorecambeJim#8288.

Floating Plants

Floating plants, as you may have guessed, are plants that float on the surface of water. These plants come in a few different varieties, but they all share one thing in common. Floating plants can quickly multiply and cover the surface of your aquarium if left unchecked. For this reason, it is suggested that you either corral the floating plants or manually remove excess plants to prevent the surface from being completely covered. This lessens the likelihood of your axolotl accidentally ingesting the plants or not having a clear path to get air from the surface.

  • Pistia stratiotes (Water Lettuce)

  • Salvinia Azolla Red Root Floater

  • Duckweed


Another example of what can be done with non-aquatic plants in your aquarium. This owner used monstera cuttings, spider plants, and peace lily in their tank. Courtesy of MorecambeJim#8288.


Non-aquatic Plants

These plants are traditional houseplants. You can add them to the aquarium by placing just the roots in the water, but the foliage needs to remain above the water's surface! Many of these plants are toxic when ingested, so please use caution with other pets in your home.


Before adding a new plant cutting to the tank, it is essential that it is first properly rooted in a separate container of water. Pothos, for example, are toxic; if you take a fresh cutting and add it to the aquarium right away, all the toxins will be released into the water. As an alternative to using cuttings, you can very thoroughly wash all the dirt away from the whole root system of a plant and add the plant in that way!


Axolotl tank with Anubias, java fern, golden pothos, bacopa, spider plant, lucky bamboo, and Amazon sword. Courtesy of Will N/Phantomlink.


  • Alocasia Elephant Ear

  • Blue Star Fern

  • Calathea Medallion

  • Calathea orbifolia

  • Fittonia ‘Angel Snow’

  • Fittonia ‘Ruby Red’

  • Fittonia verschaffeltii (Nerve Plant)

  • Fittonia ‘White Anne’

  • Golden Pothos

  • Marbled Queen Pothos

  • Neon Pothos

  • Pearls and Jade Pothos

  • Lucky Bamboo

  • Monstera adansonii

  • Monstera deliciosa

  • Monstera peru

  • Peace Lily

  • Philodendron ‘Erubescens’

  • Philodendron ‘Micans’

  • Philodendron plowmanii

  • Syngonium podophyllum Batik

  • Syngonium wendlandii

  • Scindapsus pictus (Silver Satin Pothos)

  • Silver Dollar Maidenhair Fern

  • Sweet Potato vine

  • Tradescantia nanouk

  • Tradescantia spathacea

  • Tradescantia zebrina (Wandering Jude)


This is not a complete list of axolotl-compatible plants! I am sure we might have missed a couple options. We would love to hear about your experience using live plants, good or bad!






Sources

Madore, I. (2020, August 5). 6 easy steps to bleach dip aquarium plants. Buce Plant. https://buceplant.com/blogs/aquascaping-guides-and-tips/how-to-perform-a-bleach-dip-for-aquarium-plants


The importance of putting aquatic plants in quarantine. Live Aquaria: Quality Aquatic Life Direct To Your Door. (n.d.). https://www.liveaquaria.com/article/376/?aid=376







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Luke Sanders
Luke Sanders
Jun 10, 2023

Thanks a ton. I have been trying to find some plants that would be safe for my axolotl. This article is a huge help

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