Live plants make a great addition to an axolotl tank. They can offer many benefits. Not only do they enhance the overall appearance of a tank, but they also create added shade and can help improve water quality.
However, not all plants are suitable. And those that are suitable will require a little extra effort compared to artificial plants or no plants at all.
So, when deciding what live plants are best for your axolotl’s habitat, you’ll need to choose wisely. In this guide, I’ll help you do just that.
You’ll get answers to the following questions:
- What are the best live plants for an axolotl tank?
- What to consider when choosing live plants for an axolotl tank?
- What are the pros and cons of putting live plants in an axolotl tank?
- Frequently asked questions about live plants and axolotls.
Table of Contents
- What To Consider When Choosing Plants For An Axolotl Tank?
- Benefits of Plants in Your Axolotl Tank
- Disadvantages of Plants in Your Axolotl Tank
- Best Aquatic Plants for Your Axolotl
- Frequently Asked Questions
What To Consider When Choosing Plants For An Axolotl Tank?
Live aquatic plants are living organisms. Just like axolotls, live plants need suitable living conditions to thrive.
The key to choosing the right plants for your axolotl tank is to choose plants that enjoy the same water parameters as axolotls. Below I’ve listed the main criteria to look out for.
Axolotls are freshwater animals. And, whilst they can also live in brackish water, most axolotl owners fill their tanks with conditioned tap water.
Therefore, the plants you put in the tank also need to be freshwater plants. Saltwater plants or corals won’t survive in freshwater – and therefore aren’t suitable for axolotl tanks.
Axolotls are very fussy when it comes to water temperature. Their preferred temperature ranges from 60 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit (16 to 18 degrees Celsius).
These temperatures are pretty low. Far lower than those in tropical aquariums, for example. As a result, most tropical aquatic plants won’t do.
The ideal pH of the water for axolotl is between 7.4 – 7.6.
This corresponds to mildly alkaline water. The most suitable plants for axolotl tanks will need to be able to live in these slightly alkaline waters.
Axolotls are relatively large and strong when compared to the most common pet fish, for example. They also like to zoom around their tank occasionally (i.e., swim in short, rapid bursts). And they love to seek shade or shelter, including under or around plants.
Therefore, whatever plants you put inside the tank need to be sturdy enough to cope with these behaviors. Certain plants are simply too delicate, and your axolotl will snap, squash, or tear them in no time.
As discussed above, axolotls love to hide and seek shade among the leaves of plants. With that in mind, plants that have large leaves or that are shaped in such a way that they allow axolotls to weave in and out of their stalks will be better suited to your pet’s needs.
Benefits of Plants in Your Axolotl Tank
Adding live plants to an axolotl tank offers many benefits.
Not only do plants look nice, but they can also help improve water quality and give your axie the shade and shelter it needs to feel happy.
Improved Water Quality
Aquatic plants play an active role in an aquarium setup and can really help to improve the quality of the water. As we know, water quality is very important for axolotls – and the correct plants can help you achieve that.
Live plants play an active role in the nitrogen cycle of the water.
The waste secreted by your axolotl and decaying organic matter (uneaten food, dead plants, or tank mates) breaks down into a compound called ammonia. Ammonia is highly toxic to axolotls above a certain concentration.
However, beneficial bacteria in the tank can break ammonia down into nitrite, which isn’t as harmful. Nitrite is then further broken down by the same bacteria into nitrate. Nitrate, although still relatively bad for axolotls, isn’t as toxic as nitrite or ammonia.
Live plants use nitrate as fertilizer. Without plants, this nitrate would build up in the water until the water is changed. When plants are added to the tank, they actually take up most of this nitrate as food and turn it into plant material.
In doing so, plants actively filter the nitrate out of the water, thereby improving water quality.
Plants use photosynthesis to produce energy. As part of this process, plants absorb carbon dioxide, aka CO2 (which is excreted by axolotls when they breathe), and release oxygen, aka O2 (which axolotls take up when they breathe).
Therefore, plants help to remove a waste product of respiration while adding oxygen to the water, which will be taken up by the axolotl and also prevent the water in the tank from going stagnant.
Axolotls don’t like bright, direct lighting. As a matter of fact, it can make them stressed and ill. In their natural habitat, axolotls live at the bottom of lakes or canals. They seek shade under and around plants.
As predators, axolotls naturally like to hide in the foliage, from where they can observe and ambush potential prey. Even though your pet axolotl won’t be hunting for survival, it still has the natural instinct to hide.
Plants are a fantastic way to help recreate the conditions of the axolotl’s natural habitat. In turn, this will help your axolotl to remain happy and healthy.
Plants come in a vast variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. They can really help you to create a stunning setup and add a personal touch to your pet’s habitat.
If you can afford it, buy a selection of plants. You can mix and match plants of different colors and sizes to create a layered effect in your tank, with small, shorter plants toward the front and large, taller plants toward the back.
Disadvantages of Plants in Your Axolotl Tank
While live plants offer many advantages, there are a few inconveniences that you should also be aware of. I’ve made a list of the main cons below.
Live plants are much more fragile than artificial plants.
Because axolotls like to zoom around their tank and also actively seek shade and shelter in their plants, they are bound to damage them at one point or another.
Certain aquatic plant species are more fragile than others. The more durable varieties should be given priority when buying plants for your tank.
Live plants are undoubtedly extra work and maintenance.
As new parts of the plant grow, old parts will die. If left in the tank, this organic matter will begin to decay and produce ammonia. So, you will have to check your tank for dead plant material regularly.
Certain plants also proliferate rapidly. And if not kept in check, they can quickly take up too much space. So, you’ll either have to choose plants that don’t expand too much or regularly trim any plants that do.
Finally, you need to make sure that the plants don’t interfere with the correct functioning of your pump. Many axolotl owners have reported clogged intakes or plant material getting sucked up into the filter and preventing it from doing its job correctly.
Therefore, it’s important to choose plants that A) aren’t toxic to axolotls if ingested in smaller quantities. And B) are hardy enough to recover.
Best Aquatic Plants for Your Axolotl
1. Java Fern
- Grows well in low light & cool water.
- Soft leaves won’t injure your axolotl.
- Foliage is excellent for hiding.
The Java fern is my favorite plant on this list. It’s a sturdy, robust aquarium plant. Perfect for axolotls, which are prone to damaging sensitive plants.
The Java fern also thrives in the relatively dim and cool waters adored by axolotls, which makes it a no-brainer.
With its elongated, spear-like, vibrant green leaves, this plant will add a touch of natural elegance to your tank.
If you plan to add a Java fern to your axolotl’ tank’s habitat, try to anchor it on large rocks or driftwood to prevent your axie from tipping it over.
- Low maintenance.
- Dense foliage is excellent for hiding.
- Tolerates mildly brackish water.
Vallisneria is another hugely popular aquarium plant. It’s a tall, sturdy and undemanding plant with long ribbon-like green leaves. But it’s popular with axolotl owners for many other reasons.
First, it tends to bed in quickly and rapidly populates a tank. This is particularly useful in axolotl tanks, as Vallisneria is able to sustain and regenerate itself if it shares its tank with an unruly axie!
Secondly, axolotls love to hide in the leaves of the Vallisneria. The shade and privacy it provides help axies feel comfortable and safe.
Finally, this plant can tolerate mildly brackish water. So, if you’re one of the sophisticated axolotl owners who keep their axies in mildly saline water, this is the plant for you!
3. Java Moss
- Grows well in low light & cool water.
- Low maintenance.
- Promotes water oxygenation.
Java moss comes in third on my list of best plants for axolotl tanks.
Just like the java fern, this plant thrives in low to moderate light and cool water. It’s almost as if it was designed for axolotls!
It’s also very hardy and low maintenance and will progressively blanket the surface of rocks or driftwood – providing a nice cushy surface for your axolotl to sit on.
Finally, java moss is great for filtering nitrates out of the water and increasing oxygen levels through photosynthesis.
This plant is a great choice when paired with java ferns. Java moss is a low-profile plant that spreads outward along surfaces. Java ferns grow upward toward the surface and provide a nice contrast in terms of both shape and height.
- Low sensitivity to water conditions.
- Great for beginners.
- Strong & sturdy.
- Soft leaves.
Anubias come in many different varieties. They are some of the most popular and resilient freshwater aquarium plants.
Thanks to strong root structures, thick rhizomes, and durable leaves, this plant is great for axolotl tanks. Their broad, green leaves are not only attractive but also safe for axolotls, who won’t get cut or injured when they brush off them.
Anubias adapt well to even relatively poor water conditions, so they’re very forgiving and especially helpful if you’re only getting started with live plants and/or keeping axolotls. They’ll let you focus on what’s most important: the well-being of your axolotl.
- Great for filtering out nitrates.
- Fantastic oxygen producers.
- Attractive-looking leaves that provide cover.
- Grows well in sand.
Elodea – also known as the Canadian pondweed or common waterweed – is another great choice of live aquatic plant for an axolotl tank.
This plant is a real workhorse that will help maintain optimal water quality. Its ability to absorb large volumes of nitrate from the water will help keep it clean and clear – ideal for your axolotl. It’s also a fantastic oxygen producer which can help slow the proliferation of certain species of algae.
Elodea also tends to form denser leaves near the surface, where light is the brightest. This acts as an umbrella of sorts and provides axolotls with all the shade and cover they so desire.
Finally, elodea can take root in a sand-only substrate. Sand also happens to be the recommended substrate for axolotls, so both plant and animal can thrive alongside each other.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Axolotls Need Live Plants?
Axolotls don’t need live plants to be happy. However, there are many benefits to adding live plants to your axolotl tank. By contributing to the nitrogen cycle of the water and increasing oxygen levels through photosynthesis, plants help improve water quality. Moreover, plants provide the shade and shelter that axolotls love so much. Finally, they improve the appearance of your setup and allow you to add a personal touch to your axolotl’s habitat.
Do Axolotls Eat Plants?
Axolotls are carnivores. Therefore, plants are not part of an axolotl’s diet. However, because axolotls have very bad eyesight, they may try to eat the plants in their tank. However, this is pretty rare, and when they do, they are often quick to notice and will stop.