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Hornwort – The Plant You Should Be Growing In Your Freshwater Tank

If you’re looking for a new plant to grow in your freshwater aquarium, look no further than hornwort. This diverse plant is easy to grow and offers a range of benefits to your freshwater tank species.


Why Do I Need Plants In My Tank?

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Photo by Erin D.

There are so many reasons why you should grow plants in your freshwater aquarium. For starters, plants provide oxygen to the water, which fish and other organisms need to survive. They also improve the health of your tank and your fish by filtering out toxins that can put the health of your fish at risk.

What Is Hornwort?

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Hornwort, or Ceratophyllum, is an incredibly easy plant to grow in any tank. It is found naturally in every location and on each continent, with the exception of Antarctica (though it originally was found in bodies of water on the continent of North America). This plant can tolerate a wide range of water conditions, making it a good choice for beginners who aren’t quite sure how to grow freshwater plants yet. It grows quickly and is easy to propagate, making it an inexpensive option for most people as well.

This plant can be grown as a rooted plant or, alternatively, as one that floats. Many freshwater fish will benefit from its presence. There are over 300 different species of hornwort, but probably only 100 or so that are actually recognized. The most widely selected type by freshwater tank owners is Ceratophyllum demersum. It is hardy and does not require a lot of specific conditions to grow well.

This species is actually somewhat problematic when it grows in the wild. It outcompetes plants that are native species and grows so quickly that in many environments, it is now invasive. Hornwort has allelopathic properties, meaning it has the ability to produce chemicals that inhibit the development and success of other plant species.

However, you shouldn’t have any problem growing it in your aquarium. It is affordable, with prices ranging from $5 to $10 at most aquarium stores, and can be found just about anywhere.

What Are The Benefits Of Growing Hornwort?

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Photo by Erin D.

Hornwort is often grown for its appearance. It produces a lot of color and movement in your tank. It tends to move back and forth gracefully in a light current, which can provide a gorgeous new aesthetic to your tank.

While it keeps your tank looking beautiful, it is also helping to improve the health of your tank. Hornwort engages in photosynthesis, as do all plants, which produces valuable oxygen to your fish, who need it to survive. This plant can also provide an important hiding place for shy or prey fish who are trying to escape aggressive tank mates or even too much light. It can also be a habitat for fry.

Hornwort can also help filter out some of the bioload that is produced by fish. Because hornwort will take in some of this waste, your fish are less likely to become sick as a result of unclean tank conditions. Because hornwort is allelopathic, it can also reduce the development of algae in your tank.

What Does Hornwort Look Like?

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Photo by Lliam Rooney

Hornwort has a unique appearance as it lacks actual roots. Instead, it uses leaves to keep itself rooted in the tank floor’s substrate. The plant might grow roots, which look much like hair, to anchor the plant to the substrate. These stems that act like anchors can become quite tall, in some cases growing way up to the very surface of the water of your tank.

These leaves come in bunches, usually as many as six to twelve. They might fork but usually remain short (usually less than an inch or so in length). Hornwort is usually found in vibrant shades of deep green, although warm tank temperatures can contribute to paler green hues, too.

Hornwort produces flowers in order to reproduce. However, you do not have to grow multiple plants in order for it to reproduce. Female and male flowers are present on the same plant.

How Do I Care For A Hornwort Plant?

Hornwort grows in a shockingly fast manner. Although it can be tough to determine the exact growth rate, since this depends on a number of factors, it is not unheard of for hornwort to grow over five inches in just a single week.

You can improve the growth rate of your hornwort plant by making sure it receives lots of high intensity light. Change the light fitting often and make sure nothing (including other plants or decorations) is shading your hornwort. The more light you can provide your hornwort plant, the better it will grow.

Warmer tanks can also increase the growth of your hornwort, but you should never increase the temperature of your tank just to improve the growth rate of a plant. This can have detrimental effects on your fish and other tank inhabitants, particularly if you do it suddenly or too quickly. You can usually supply hornwort with everything it needs by maintaining a healthy tank.

Remember that hornwort will grow best if it is not competing with other plants. Other plants can suck valuable nutrients away from hornwort. In addition, you will need to maintain your hornwort by pruning it from time to time. Keep an eye out for future growth, and cut the stem from the top to return the plant to its proper size.

What Are The Tank Requirements For Hornwort?

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Photo by Lliam Rooney

Hornwort is naturally found in freshwaters like rivers, ponds, lakes, and marshes. There is no one specific way you need to decorate your tank for hornwort, because all of these areas have different layouts and conditions. Hornwort will remain healthy in just about any tank you place it in.

It can be grown in a range of tank sizes, as it will sprawl to fit large tanks and can also be pruned to fit easily into a small tank. That being said, you should avoid planting hornwort in a tank that is any smaller than fifteen gallons, as it can quickly grow out of control.

This plant can tolerate a bevy of temperatures, from 59 degrees Fahrenheit all the way up to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. You can place it in a tropical tank but it will equally be at home in a cold water tank. pH can be maintained from 6.0 to 7.5, while hornwort can tolerate a hardness of 5 to 15 dH. Make sure you maintain a good filter – although hornwort acts as a fantastic filter on its own, you also want to try to keep nitrogen components (like nitrites, nitrates, and ammonia) low.

Because hornwort requires photosynthesis in order to grow and survive, you will need to maintain a few conditions to keep up with this natural process. For instance, make sure you have high amounts of intense light and crystal clear water. This will allow light to filter through the tank. You should conduct regular water changes to maintain the clarity of the water  – this won’t only benefit your plants, but it will also help to keep your fish healthy, too.

If you are keeping hornwort with other plants – which can be relatively difficult to do  – you may notice that the supply of nutrients in the tank diminishes over time. You might have to add an aquarium-friendly fertilizer to meet this demand.

What Are Common Problems Related To Growing Hornwort?

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Photo by Monica Sullens

Hornwort is a shockingly easy plant to care for – but it is not immune to certain problems. The biggest is that it can become too large and take over the rest of the tank. If you are able to prune and cut the stems of your hornwort plant on a regular basis, this should not become a problem for you.

If you are really concerned about the potentially rapid growth of hornwort, consider growing it in a pond. Just keep in mind that even if you grow hornwort in a pond, you will still need to keep on top of pruning and trimming it. This is especially true if you grow floating hornwort – you don’t want it to grow so large that it covers the entire surface of your tank and does not allow any light to reach the bottom of the tank. This can harm or even kill your other plants, as well as fish and other animals in your tank.

Hornwort also has a tendency to shed. It can drop needles at the bottom of your tank, which isn’t a problem in itself, but can become an issue if it drops tons of needles very quickly. This is more apt to occur when it is first planted in a tank and is adjusting to the setup.

This plant will always drop leaves or needles to some extent, but if you notice that it is dropping more needles than usual, or is doing so at an alarming rate, you might want to check the temperature of your tank. Shedding is more common in higher temperatures, so reducing the temperature and checking nutrient levels can help reduce shedding behaviors.

Can I Propagate Hornwort?

Hornwort is easy to propagate at home, allowing you to receive new plants – for free! You just need to know a little bit about hornwort works.

This plant propagates through the process of vegetative fragmentation. This technique is common among invasive plants pieces and involves one piece of a plant separating from the rest. Then, it creates a new plant.

This main stem will produce numerous side shoots. These shoots can become detached. Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be an entire stem that breaks apart – it can be just a tiny portion from the end of the stem.

To improve the populations of hornwort in your tank, you can cut off a stem from the side of the plant and either plant or float it somewhere else. It will take a few weeks, but eventually this piece will form new growth.

Where Is Hornwort Most Beneficial?

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Photo by Valeriy

You can grow hornwort in just about any tank. It is a great companion for most species of fish, although it works better with some fish species than others. Fish who are live-bearers will really appreciate the presence of hornwort in a tank. These fish need plants as a hiding place for their fry when they are mating.

Some fish will also eat hornwort, and since hornwort is so hardy and reproduces so easily, this should not harm your plant in the slightest. Fish like gouramis love to nibble on hornwort.

If you are concerned about hornwort producing too much plant waste (like dropped needles), you can also introduce fish who will clear up the debris that it produces. For examples, snails, scavenging fish like loaches, and shrimp are all excellent at keeping your aquarium clean and will make quick work of the small amount of waste that your hornwort plants create.

Should Hornwort Plant Or Float?

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Hornwort can be grown in the substrate or may float at the surface of the water. Neither is required, but both can be acceptable depending on what look you are trying to achieve in the aesthetic of your tank. You will also need to consider the preferences of your fish.

For example, fish who tend to hang out at the surface of the water will need hornwort to float, while fish who live in the lower or middle levels of the water column will thrive with planted hornwort. Remember that many species use hornwort as a place to reproduce and to hide their fry, while other fish may require hornwort as a hiding place from more territorial fish.

Keep in mind that floating hornwort will provide some shade to fish in the lower levels. This is hugely beneficial for many fish species, who need hornwort as a way to escape the light and to draw out their natural colors. Floating hornwort can add a gorgeous aesthetic to an area of the tank that usually is free of any ornamentation.

Just keep in mind that, no matter where you plant hornwort, it should not be planted close to a filter inlet. These structures should not be blocked by any plant debris. Since it does not have roots, it can be grown in most types of substrates, so that should not be a concern. However, it does grow best in fine sand.

Should I Grow Hornwort In My Tank?

Hornwort offers a gorgeous aesthetic to a tank and is so versatile that it can be grown by practically anyone. If you have any hesitations about growing hornwort, know that it is an inexpensive option that can be introduced to a tank of any climate, size, or population type.

This plant offers a variety of purposes, helping to keep your fish and young fry safe while also keeping your tank clean and tidy. Because it can be grown as a floating or rooted plant, it can adapt to any setting.

If you are looking to add an attractive new plant to your aquarium but aren’t sure where to start, consider growing the hornwort plant. With very few drawbacks and a vast variety of benefits, this is the plant that can really make a difference in the functioning and health of your freshwater tank.

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