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Plants for Fish Tanks: Fake or Live?


Finatics enjoys writing about animal care and is "owned" by a guinea pig, four hermit crabs, three African dwarf frogs, and a betta fish.

Live Plants vs. Fake Plants

There is a lot of debate on whether it's better to use live or fake plants in an aquarium. Generally, live plants raise the water quality as they take in nitrates as natural fertilizer. But they can also worsen water quality if they die and decay. Fake plants are not as natural or realistic-looking, but they offer many benefits. Below are the pros and cons of artificial plants and live plants.

Pros of Live Plants

  • During the day, they produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.
  • They absorb nitrates to use as a natural fertilizer.
  • They are more natural-looking than fake plants.
  • Herbivorous animals snack on them.
  • They inhibit algae growth.

Cons of Live Plants

  • At night, they produce carbon dioxide and take in oxygen, so an airstone may be necessary.
  • They require some maintenance to keep in good shape.
  • They can be costly because of lighting, co2 equipment, and fertilizer.
  • If they decay, they can worsen water quality.
  • They can harbor parasites/pond snails.
  • They're not very easy to clean.
  • Your choices of substrates are limited with them.

Pros of Fake Plants

  • Some silk plants can be very realistic.
  • Almost no work is involved.
  • You can plant them in any substrate you want.
  • They don't take in oxygen at night, so you may not need an airstone.
  • Easier to clean.
  • No risk of introducing parasites/pond snails.
  • Won't decay.
  • Less costly (no equipment needed).

Tank With Fake Plants

Cons of Fake Plant

  • They do not absorb nitrates.
  • Do not produce oxygen during the day.
  • They don't inhibit algae growth.
  • Are not as natural-looking.
  • Don't provide nutrients for plant-eaters.
One of the downsides is fake plants do not hinder algae growth.

One of the downsides is fake plants do not hinder algae growth.

Which Is Better?

When you weigh all the benefits and drawbacks of live and fake plants, neither one is better than the other. It depends on what you're looking for. Are you seeking a beautiful, but slightly extravagant planted tank or an artificially planted aquarium that is less expensive, but perhaps not as attractive? Maintaining a planted tank can be very rewarding, but I recommend not trying it out until you have experience in fish-keeping. Whatever you choose, have fun and good luck!


froglover on December 07, 2016:

frogs are great

finatics (author) on June 02, 2012:

@fishgirl, thank you for your comment! Live planted tanks can certainly be stunning.

fishgirl on September 24, 2011:

Having real plants in your tank, even the easiest of all plants can be really rewarding. I don't believe that this is a hobby you should be cutting corners in. If you're not convinced on real plants, google search Takashi Amano. He is the god of planted tanks. I understand that higher maintenance plants can cut you back budget wise but if you go for the really most basic of plants, you can still achieve beautiful results (anubias, java fern, mosses, crypts, etc).

finatics (author) on August 11, 2010:

Your welcome! I also think a combination of both works best, as you won't have to spent as much money and maintenance on a tank of only live plants, but it won't look as fake as a tank of artificial plants.

Chris Crow on August 10, 2010:

Thanks for the information here. I think when I get my aquarium set up, I may look into a combination of fake and real plants, but I do see how fake would be a little easier on the wallet.