Thousands of plants live in freshwater environments worldwide, contributing to the natural ecosystem. Freshwater plants have a low concentration of salt that typically is less than 1 percent. These plants live on water surfaces, along edges of water bodies or on bottoms of shallow ponds and lakes. While some aquatic plants have flowers growing above the water surface, others are totally submerged.
Water lilies are attractive freshwater plants that have floating leaves and large fragrant blossoms with many petals. Seventy types of water lilies grow in tropical and temperate climates. Although the water lily's roots are attached to the base of the body of water, flowers and leaves float on top of the water. They come in two varieties: tropical water lilies and hardy water lilies, which are white or pink. Tropical water lilies bloom at all hours, but hardy water lilies only bloom during daylight hours. Water lilies reproduce by seeds and are spread by rhizomes, the underground horizontal stems of a plant.
Cattails are one of the easiest freshwater plants to identify. These freshwater plants are so-named for their fuzzy, soft heads that resembles a cat's tail. They can grow as high as 9 feet tall. Shoots of cattails are edible and have high amounts of riboflavin, niacin and vitamin C. Besides being used as food, the dried leaves of cattails have been used in weaving mats and other items. One of the most common cattails is Typha latifolia, which has long leaves with brown flower spikes shaped like hot dogs. It's mostly found growing in shallow water or along margins of deeper water.
The banana plant, also called the Big Floating Heart, is a unique Rosette plant with banana-shaped roots. This hardy freshwater plant is the only one of its genus that's used in aquariums, as it's the most tolerant of low light and deep water. An amphibious plant, it can grow partially or fully submerged. Banana plants can be used as foreground plants but look best when planted individually.
Aquarium Freshwater Plants
Java fern is an excellent freshwater plant for an aquarium. It has green leafy spikes that grow roughly 8 inches high. It needs moderate light and doesn't require soil, as it's able to attach its rhizomes to almost any type of rough surface such as rocks, bark or driftwood.
Water clover is another popular freshwater aquarium plant that is shaped as a four-leaf clover. This plant requires minimum maintenance and grows to about 4 inches. It does best in bright light, although it can also thrive in low to medium light.