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Living Organism Care Guide: Aquatic Plants

Living Care Information

Aquatic plants

Quick Start Information

  • Do not use deionized or distilled water unless you have replaced the minerals that were removed in the water purification process.

  • Set up habitats or holding tanks before receiving your plants. Many city water systems now treat tap water with chloramines. These compounds do not dissipate by aging the water, so you will need to remove them using a water conditioner.

  • Failure to remove chloramines may result in the loss of aquatic plants and animals.

  • We recommend using bottled natural spring water if tap water quality is in question.

About the Organism

  • Aquatic vegetation provides an important nursery environment for newborn fish.
  • Most of our aquatic plants can be propagated by trimming branches from the main plant and relocating them to another part of the aquarium.
  • Ludwigia develops small, vibrant yellow flowers just above the water’s surface. Seeds develop and drop into the substrate.
  • Ceratophyllum grows in static and slow-moving water. It can also tolerate brackish conditions in estuaries.
  • Vallisneria leaves can reach up to 1 meter in length!


Aquatic plants are shipped in a clear plastic bag inflated with air. The shipping bags do not contain water. Some species may be wrapped in a damp paper towel. To prolong the health of the plants, care for them immediately upon receipt.


Maintain surface-floating plants such as Azolla, duckweed, or Salvinia in shallow trays or bowls or in traditional aquaria. Since they float on the surface, water depth is not a consideration. Replace ¼ of the water 2 to 3 times per week to maintain mineral content, and place trays and bowls under a light bank, in a greenhouse, or in a window.

The best way to maintain submerged plants is in an aquarium with a gravel or sand substrate. Elodea, Cabomba, Ceratophyllum, Myriophyllum, and Chara do best if simply dropped in water. Planted in the substrate, they float free unless their stems are weighted down. In time, Elodea often develops slender advantageous roots that anchor the plant in the substrate.

Ludwigia, Marsilea, and Sagittaria grow best if their roots are planted in the substrate.

Note: Ludwigia and Marsilea are versatile plants. Grow them as aquarium plants or as emergent bog plants if desired.


If you maintain any of these plants in an aquarium with fish, the plants will recycle waste products produced by the fish and function as a source of oxygen. This maintains the health of the plants and the fish.

Good lighting is essential to plant health and continued growth. We recommend use of an aquarium hood with LED lights. In some situations, you can use natural light, but doing so can be tricky. Direct sunlight can heat a tank, stressing fish. Sunlight also can promote the growth of algae, producing green water that obscures your view of the aquarium’s inhabitants and perhaps clogging filters. Sunlight works best if you have a north-facing window. East windows sometimes work, but light from south- or west-facing windows is often too intense unless diffused.

Maintaining and culturing

Elodea and Cabomba, our most popular aquatic plants, are usually shipped in bundles secured with rubber bands. Upon receipt, cut the rubber bands to release the plants. Other aquatic plants ship without bands.

Either rinse the plants in running tap water or submerge them in a pail of tap water. Discard the rinse water. Inspect the plants and discard any that are soft or mushy—this indicates rot. Also discard any unwanted snails or other animals that may have hitched a ride on the plants. Place the plants in a holding tank of conditioned tap water until ready to use.

Plants kept in holding containers for several days may deplete the mineral content of the water. Compensate for mineral loss by replacing about ¼ of the water with conditioned fresh water every third day. Replace water more often if it fouls. Turn over the plants daily to expose all plant surfaces to light. The plants need bright light to remain healthy.

Plants like duckweed, Azolla, and Salvinia float on the water’s surface. We ship the plants wrapped in moist paper. Peel back the paper and add the plants to a container of water. Break up clumps and spread the plants evenly over the water’s surface.


Carolina provides living organisms for educational purposes only. As a general policy, we do not advocate the release of organisms into the environment. In some states, it is illegal to release organisms, even indigenous species, without a permit. The intention of these laws is to protect native wildlife and the environment.

Invasive aquatic vegetation is a conservation issue in many areas, therefore, any plants that are no longer needed, should be placed in a sealed container and frozen for 72 hours. Dispose of materials according to local and state guidelines.


Wash your hands with soap and water before and after working with any living organism.



Why can’t you ship Elodea to my address?

Some states restrict us from shipping Elodea densa because they consider it an invasive plant. We usually substitute Elodea canadensis, a native non-invasive plant, for orders going to restricted states; however, there are times when Elodea canadensis is not available and we must substitute another plant. Never release a non-native plant or animal into your local environment. To discard an aquatic plant, place it in a plastic bag and freeze it for at least 48 hours before discarding the unopened bag in the trash. See our general guidelines on living materials for other suggestions.

Why aren’t my plants growing?

It can take time for the plants to adjust to a new home. Fish and other animals in the aquarium release waste products into the water that serve as nutrients for the plants. In a new aquarium, it may take a few weeks for the waste products to accumulate, so be patient.

Will my plants form roots?

Some will. As noted above, Elodea and Cabomba float free in the water. They absorb nutrients directly from water, so roots aren’t necessary. Any roots they do form take time to grow. Duckweed often forms short roots that help absorb nutrients from water.

Will fish and snails eat my plants?

They may. After all, plants are producers and animals are consumers. If growing conditions are good for the plants, both they and the animals flourish.

Why are my plants dying?

There are many possible reasons. The plants may be receiving insufficient light. The aquarium may be disturbed too often—plants must “settle in” to grow well. A nutrient could be missing from the water. Lack of phosphorus and iron may limit the growth of water plants. Try adding a small amount of water-soluble fertilizer that contains these nutrients. Also, aquarium plants may grow poorly in water treated with a water softener; however, this is unlikely.

Need help?

We want you to have a good experience. Orders and replacements: 800.334.5551, then select Customer Service. Technical support and questions: caresheets@carolina.com

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