15 Rare Aquarium Plants To Take Your Tank to the Next Level

The common store-bought plants served you well in your early aquarist days (perhaps they still do), but there’s nothing quite like a tank brimming with the bounty and intrigue of exotic plants.

From dazzling colors to odd shapes and textures, the following collection of aquatic flora hails from far-flung reefs and jungle marshes of the globe to help level up your aquarium plant game!

1. Anubias Snow White

Also known as ‘White Ghost’ and ‘Snow King’, the light-green to white rounded leaves of this small variety contrast beautifully with rocks and darker plants.

This variant requires medium to high light and an injection of CO2 to retain its white color and will perform best when placed in a permanent location to help its slow roots establish.

  • Average price: $25-30
  • Salt or freshwater plant: Freshwater
  • Key features: Tiny, ovate leaves; white color variegation; requires strong lighting
  • Average size: 1.5-2.5 inches
  • Growth rate: Slow
  • Recommended placement: Foreground/mid-ground accent, planted above substrate/attached to hardscape
  • Difficulty level: Easy

2. Hydropogonella Gymnostoma

This dense, bright-green water moss is better known as Amblystegiaceae sp. Manaus’ and has been dubbed ‘Queen Moss’ due to its decorative propeller blade-like foliage.

It grows fairly thick and fast, producing irregular-length fronds, which look stunning as a foreground or mid-ground moss.

  • Average price: $20
  • Salt or freshwater plant: Freshwater
  • Key features: Bright-green, delicate leaves; bushy habit; fast, upward growth
  • Average size: 1-4 inches
  • Growth rate: Fast
  • Recommended placement: Grown on hardscape in nano tanks
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate

3. Anubias Panda White

Also known as Anubias sp. ‘Panda’ in the trade, this extreme rarity produces its first pair of leaves after more than a month, and once they appear, gorgeous milky-white patches and specks are visible on its large, ovular green leaves.

They come in medium to XL sizes to steal the show in nano or centerpiece tanks and are best kept in indoor aquariums due to disease vulnerability.

  • Average price: $90-100
  • Salt or freshwater plant: Freshwater
  • Key features: Very gradual growth, speckled white variegation
  • Average size: 2-10 inches
  • Growth rate: Slow
  • Recommended placement: Main feature/highlight plant grown above substrate/hardscape
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate

4. Echinodorus Aflame

With medium to high light conditions and a steady CO2 supply, this plant – also known as the ‘Aflame Sword’ – delights with maroon and deep-purple foliage.

The elongated sword-shaped leaves turn dark green in certain tank conditions, but a dose of iron fertilizer can help bring out the rich purple color.

  • Average price: $30-50
  • Salt or freshwater plant: Freshwater
  • Key features: Elongated, sword-shaped foliage; dark red/purple color; tall growth
  • Average size: 7-15 inches
  • Growth rate: Medium-fast
  • Recommended placement: Background/mid-ground accent in nano tanks, grown in substrate
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate

5. Hygrophila Chai

A rare mutation from Hygrophila lancea ‘Araguaia’, this neon-pink swamp weed was discovered in 2008 and named after founder Wilson Law’s wife “Chai.”

Its dense clusters of hot-pink lance-shaped leaves look arresting among a carpet of green. This cultivar requires high light, CO2 injection, and nutrient-rich aquarium soil to thrive.

  • Average price: $60-100
  • Salt or freshwater plant: Freshwater
  • Key features: Thin, sword-shaped leaves; bright-pink color; bushy growth
  • Average size: 3-6 inches
  • Growth rate: Slow
  • Recommended placement: Mid-ground/background accent on substrate
  • Difficulty level: Advanced

6. Crepidomanes Calicut

Also known as Hymenophyllaceae sp. ‘Wayanad’, this teeny fern features thin and translucent dark-green leaves and is best grown on lava rocks or logs to allow its delicate rhizome to take root.

Its diminished height and snail-pace growth make it ideal in small tanks with delicate layouts where it won’t be overrun by competing plants.

  • Average price: $10-15
  • Salt or freshwater plant: Freshwater
  • Key features: Very slow growth, translucent foliage, miniature size
  • Average size: 1-2 centimeters
  • Growth rate: Slow
  • Recommended placement: As carpet or displayed vertically on hardscape
  • Difficulty level: Easy

7. Anubias Chili Jalapeño

A hybrid of A. Chili’ and A. Minima’, this cultivar features thick, deep-green leaves that resemble the shape of jalapeño peppers.

The plant often reveals some gorgeous light-green and yellow variegation on its foliage over time and thrives best when kept in relatively low light.

As a slow-grower, overly strong lighting must be avoided to prevent algae growth.

  • Average price: $20-50
  • Salt or freshwater plant: Freshwater
  • Key features: Bold green jalapeño pepper-shaped foliage, color variegation
  • Average size: 1-2 inches
  • Growth rate: Slow
  • Recommended placement: Mid-ground feature grown on driftwood/stone
  • Difficulty level: Easy

8. Ludwigia Pantanal

The fiery orange-red colors of this highly textured stem plant make it a perfect accent feature for any small to mid-sized tank.

Also known as Ludwigia inclinata var. verticillata Pantanal’, this vertical, demanding plant produces clusters of long, narrow leaves that arrange in a spiral form.

It needs soft water, strong lighting, and a dedicated iron and macronutrient regimen to prosper.

  • Average price: $20-30
  • Salt or freshwater plant: Freshwater
  • Key features: Bold orange/red color; dense, textured foliage; rigid, vertical habit
  • Average size: 7-11 inches
  • Growth rate: Fast
  • Recommended placement: Accent bush in mid-ground/background, acidic substrate
  • Difficulty level: Difficult

9. Bucephalandra Pink Martini

This pretty creeping species is extremely hardy to most tank conditions, making it ideal for beginners. A mutation has given some of its wavy, elliptical leaves a light-pink tint.

Note that unstable pink coloration is normal – some new leaves turn green while others can be pale pink or cream. High lighting conditions will increase the chances of new pink growth.

  • Average price: $50-70
  • Salt or freshwater plant: Freshwater
  • Key features: Very hardy, light pink leaves with subtle wavy margins
  • Average size: 2-4 inches
  • Growth rate: Slow
  • Recommended placement: Mid-ground/central display, grown on hardscape or large-grained substrate
  • Difficulty level: Easy

10. Needle Leaf Java Fern

Also known as Microsorum pteropus, this pleasing slender fern plant features long and bright-green ribbon-like leaves which dance gracefully in the tank.

This forgiving fern requires only the most minimal fertilizer and CO2 regimen to thrive and looks especially stunning when grown in tight clusters to create a tall grass feature in larger tanks.

  • Average price: $20-40
  • Salt or freshwater plant: Freshwater
  • Key features: Long, ribbon-like foliage; bright-green color; beginner friendly
  • Average size: 5-12 inches
  • Growth rate: Slow
  • Recommended placement: Foreground/mid-ground accents, grown on driftwood or hardscape stones
  • Difficulty level: Easy

11. Furtadoa Sumatrensis

Alternatively named Furtadoa sumatrensis M.Hotta, this unique variety is one of only two Furtadoa species.

It features large, leathery leaves with a gentle ribbed texture and glossy dark-green finish.

Placed under high-intensity lighting, the foliage can turn a glorious golden hue, making it a great centerpiece pick for most tank sizes.

  • Average price: $50-60
  • Salt or freshwater plant: Freshwater
  • Key features: Glossy, leathery leaves; color variation in high light; large statement piece
  • Average size: 5-15 inches
  • Growth rate: Slow
  • Recommended placement: Centerpiece grown on substrate or hardscape
  • Difficulty level: Easy

12. Hymenophyllaceae Hementus

Close-up look at Hymenophyllaceae Hementus.

This stunning medium-sized fern has emerald-green leaves in a three-point star shape with one pointed upward and the remaining draping left and right.

Its leaves are thin with a crinkled texture and prominent vein detail. Its incredibly slow growth rate means this is rarely available for purchase in adult form.

  • Average price: $60-100
  • Salt or freshwater plant: Freshwater
  • Key features: Three-point leaf shape, vein definition, very slow growth
  • Average size: 5-10 inches
  • Growth rate: Slow
  • Recommended placement: Back/mid-ground feature grown on either hardscape or substrate
  • Difficulty level: Easy

13. Bolbitis Heteroclita

Commonly sold under the common name Mini Bolbitis, this slow-growing bushy fern produces jewel green foliage with delicate feathery fronds producing a fiddle-shape, creating a gorgeous ornamental texture when set among rocks and larger plants.

It also provides a great hiding spot for shrimp or Betta fish!

  • Average price: $10-20
  • Salt or freshwater plant: Freshwater
  • Key features: Decorative foliage, emerald green, dense habit
  • Average size: 2-4 inches
  • Growth rate: Slow
  • Recommended placement: Grows well on porous stone or wood, accent/main background feature in nano tanks
  • Difficulty level: Easy

14. Blue Hypnea

This hypnotic macroalgae also goes by the name Hypnea pannosa and steals focus in all-green aquariums with its display of iridescent electric blue seaweed.

It grows in a dense thicket preferring to attach to large-grained substrate for optimal nutrients and will retain its color and form with regular iodine feeds and mid- to high-level lighting.

  • Average price: $30-35
  • Salt or freshwater plant: Saltwater
  • Key features: Bold blue color; thick, mat-forming growth; iridescent quality
  • Average size: 1-2 inches long
  • Growth rate: Medium
  • Recommended placement: Accent/main feature in nano tanks, grown on coarse substrate or porous rock
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate

15. Merman’s Shaving Brush 

Also known by its scientific moniker Penicillus spp, this curious-looking marine algae has an upright stalk with long needle-like leaves fanning forth, resembling its common name.

The brush “bristles” are great for water filtration and providing food for hungry sea urchins – making regular trims unnecessary! Maintain 350-450 ppm calcium levels in water for best results.

  • Average price: $5-15
  • Salt or freshwater plant: Saltwater
  • Key features: Sturdy stalk, shaving bristle-like head of fine foliage, water-filtering quality
  • Average size: 2-6 inches
  • Growth rate: Slow
  • Recommended placement: Standalone accent, grows well in sandy substrate/beds of turtle grass
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate

Final Thoughts 

Many of these rare finds are happily low-maintenance plants – just be sure to note the ideal substrate and lighting required.

Whether including beginner or exotic plants in your tank, always plan your setup according to the care and arrangement of different species to help you get the best out of them.

Image credit: Karoon Srijongjai