I still remember purchasing my first goldfish as a young adult, and planning out the perfect tank for it. It was going to have a dense underwater forest of plants, and my tank would be the envy of every local fish keeper. I had never done anything aquarium related before, but I was going to jump in with both feet.
So after setting up the tank and adding the fish, I returned to the local pet store. Once there, I purchased every type of plant I could find, and returned home with an armful of aquatic plants. I spent the next few hours carefully placing the plants in my aquarium, until I had the locations just right. Satisfied with my work, I decided to call it a night.
When I awoke the next morning, my aquarium had underwent a plant apocalypse. The few plants that remained had either been uprooted and were tumbling around the tank, or had been eaten down to nubs, barely poking above the substrate.
And as I watched in horror, my goldfish continued to tear apart the few remaining plants. It was then that I realized I had fallen prey to what many new fish keepers experience – incredibly poor advice from the local pet store. Apparently goldfish and plants don’t mix, despite what I had been assured by the salesman.
After I came to terms with the fact I had fed my goldfish what amounted to an incredibly expensive salad, I decided to seek out plants that would work in a goldfish tank. Little did I know I was setting out on an incredibly difficult quest, and that few plants could survive with a goldfish.
What Plants Will Work with Goldfish?
There are only a handful of plants that can survive the attention of a goldfish. What few plants they won’t eat, they will still uproot and damage in their incessant search for food. That leaves only two types of plants that will work in a goldfish tank – those that can grow outside of the substrate, and those too tough for them to eat.
As if trying to find a plant to survive the predation of a goldfish wasn’t hard enough, it also has to be able to grow in the cold water these fish need. Many plants require tropical temperatures, and may experience significantly slowed growth, or even die off if the temperature drops too low.
But there are a few plants that will grow in a tank with goldfish, and I’ve listed the ones I’ve personal had success with below.
Anubias Barteri – These hardy little plants are nearly indestructible and are one of the best choices for a goldfish tank. Their ability to grow above the substrate, and their incredibly tough leaves combine to form a plant that is virtually untouchable by goldfish. I would recommend these plants above all others for a goldfish tank.
Amazon Frogbit – These plants only really work with juvenile goldfish, and adult goldfish will rapidly consume Amazon frogbit. However, they still make an excellent addition to any tank with small goldfish, and these plants are both attractive, and help to maintain excellent water quality. Just be prepared for the day when a goldfish grows large enough to consume these plants, and the fact they’ll probably disappear almost overnight.
Amazon Sword – Amazon swords are an incredibly tough plant, and most goldfish won’t do much more than just pick at the leaves. But they are highly susceptible to being uprooted by goldfish, and should only be planted in a covered clay pot (either with mesh or stones) so a goldfish can’t pull them up. It should also be noted that it will experience slowed growth if the aquarium water becomes too cold.
Duckweed – These plants live up to the ‘weed’ in their name, and they are almost impossible to remove from an aquarium once they have become established. While goldfish will consume mass quantities of these floating plants, they never seem to be able to consume them all. If you don’t mind dealing with the mess that comes with these plants, they makes an excellent choice for goldfish tanks, and also provide some additional nutrition.
Elodea – Goldfish love to eat Elodea. There is no disputing that fact, but these plants often grows faster than the goldfish can eat them. Of course, that’s not true in every situation, and the success of growing these plants with goldfish are really hit and miss. But since they are so cheap, and so widely available, they are usually worth at least trying with a goldfish.
Hornwort – Most goldfish are deterred by the spiky leaves of these plants, and won’t bother eating them. Of course there are always a handful of goldfish who are determined to eat anything placed in their tank, but hornwort remains one of the best choices for an aquarium with goldfish. Even if a goldfish decides to eat these plants, the hornwort grows so incredibly fast, it should be able to keep up with the damage these fish inflict on it.
Java Moss – These plants are nearly indestructible and will survive anything a goldfish can throw at them. While a goldfish may move it around the tank, they rarely consume it. And being moved doesn’t damage these plants, so it can be placed back in its original position without any adverse effects (though it may take time to anchor again).
Water Lettuce – These plants can be relatively difficult to grow indoors, and will only really do well in an uncovered tank. However, it tends to be left alone by goldfish, and gives a tank a unique appearance, with a maze of roots at the surface.
Every goldfish has its own personality, and finding a plant that will thrive in a goldfish tank takes a lot of trial and error. Even if you find a plant they won’t eat, some goldfish are determined to tear up their tank every day. And I don’t have to tell you how annoying it is to replant a plant day in and day out.
But if you stick with you, you can often find the perfect plant for your aquarium. And while it’s rare to ever have a perfectly aquascaped tank with these fish, it’s not impossible to make it attractive. And plants have the added benefit of providing additional nutrition to the goldfish, as well as improving the water quality.