Bristlenose Plecostomus are great for larger community tanks. They do a great job of cleaning up uneaten food, and keep the glass relatively free from algae and diatom growth.
Not to mention they are amazingly interesting fish to keep, but are they suitable for a planted aquarium.
Which plants work with Bristlenose Plecos? Why are some plants better than others and how can you prevent your Bristlenose from destroying your live plants?
Do Bristlenose like real plants in their tank?
Bristlenose do appreciate live plants within the tank to some degree, but not nearly as much as some of the other fish species in the aquarium hobby.
Bristlenose originate from rivers and streams in South America where the water moves quickly over rockwork and pebbles. Here, Bristlenose set up their territories within small caves and have little interaction with live plants.
In the aquarium, Bristlenose can live with live plants and will take shelter under them if need be, but they much prefer the cover of driftwood and rockwork.
How do you know which plants are suitable for Bristlenose Plecos?
Bristlenose are safe with most plants, however, they have two key behaviours that make them problematic for some plant species. These are their tendency to dig up sand with their tail, which can uplift some shallow rooted plants, and their consistent rasping along surfaces with their grazing mouth.
With these in mind, you need to select plants which are resistant to being uprooted or eaten, or find methods of getting around the destructive behaviours.
The first method is to select plants which are either very deep rooted like Aponogetons and mature Crypts, or choose plants that do not need to be planted into the substrate, like Java Fern and Anubias.
Alternatively, you can use shallow rooted plants on a gravel substrate as opposed to sand, which cannot be easily dug up by the Bristlenose.
As for the Catfish rasping on the leaves, you need to select plants which have either very thin, small leaves that the Bristlenose cannot perch upon, or very tough leaves which the Plecos mouth isn’t strong enough to destroy.
What plants do Bristlenose Plecos eat?
Bristlenose will munch on a few types of broad, soft leaved plants, but their favourite plant to eat by far is Amazon Sword. Its broad shape allows the Bristlenose to comfortably perch on its leaves, and its soft tissue is easily dismantled by the Plecos rasping jaw.
Eating plants however, is often a symptom of neglect in Bristlenose, as they usually only do this when they are lacking in certain nutrients. If your Bristlenose is eating your Sword plants, it is likely the case that you aren’t feeding your Pleco enough.
You can keep Swords with Bristlenose without any issues, so long as you make sure that you are feeding plenty of algae wafers, spirulina wafers and bloodworms to your Pleco.
A well fed Bristlenose is usually ambivalent to plants in its environment.
How to choose plants for a Bristlenose Pleco tank
When it comes to choosing plants, keep in mind that your Pleco is going to burrow into the sand if you have a fine substrate and that it will eat soft leaves from time to time when it gets hungry.
With this, you need to look for plants that either don’t need to be buried such as the many Rhizome plant species, or that have strong deep roots which anchor the plant well.
When choosing plants, look at how established the root systems are. If they are short, weak and flimsy, then they will probably be uprooted easily. If they are thick, sprawling and old, then they will have a better chance at holding themselves onto the ground.
As for plants which are resistant to being eaten by the Pleco, look for plants with thin leaves that cannot support the weight of the Bristlenose, as this will prevent it from resting on the leaves and rasping at them.
You can also choose Broad leaf plants, just make sure that they are thick enough to not be destroyed easily.
The best plants for Bristlenose Plecos
Bristlenose can be quite destructive at times given circumstances. They will dig up large mounds in the sand, burying or uprooting plants, they will shred up and gnaw on large leaves and they will eat soft leaves when they get hungry.
So we need to use plants which are resistant to being buried or dug out of the substrate, and that can’t be easily chewed up by the Pleco, either because the leaves are too strong, too slim to get a proper purchase on or are distasteful to the fish.
Java Fern doesn’t need to be planted, has tough leaves, is distasteful and provides great cover. It is one of the best plants to go with if you keep Bristlenose.
Any species of Java Fern will work well, as they each have similar qualities to them that make them ideal in a tank that contains destructive fish.
Java Fern can simply be tied to a log or rock, and it has no risk of being uprooted or buried under the sand.
Depending on the species, it’s leaves are either too thick to chew or are too slim to support the weight of a Pleco, and it’s distasteful nature means it is not a sought after food source by Plecos.
Provided you give your Java Fern basic plant care, in the form of good lighting and the occasional dose of fertiliser, it will usually survive and thrive in your Bristlenose Pleco tank.
Vallisneria grows like grass, tall and slim. Its frame is too thin for a Bristlenose to get a proper grasp on which keeps it safe from being chewed on.
Its root system also has a sort of holdfast where it sends shoots out underneath the substrate to hold itself in place firmly, and where it can spread, growing additional sprouts. The more it spreads the more stable it becomes, and the less chance it has to be uprooted.
This grass spreads fairly quickly, and can be used to create a forest in a larger aquarium.
A well established colony of jungle Val is very safe from Bristlenose.
Anubias works well with Plecos because it is another Rhizome plant that binds itself to a surface, either rock or piece of wood or some other solid object, and does not need to be planted into the substrate.
We recommend Anubias barteri for this, as its large frame prevents it from being covered in sand that the Pleco may throw, and its broad thick leaves are too strong to be shredded by the Plecos mouth.
The plant also provides lots of shade with its large leaves, something with your Pleco will very much appreciate, as they like to live in caves and undergrowth where it is dark and shaded.
What plants should you avoid putting in a Bristlenose Pleco tank?
Plants which you should avoid adding to your Bristlenose tank are those with thin, board leaves that can be easily destroyed, like Aponogetons and Amazon Swords. Those with shallow roots such as Dwarf Chain Swords or young Crypts, and those which are suited for cold water environments.
Most plants are safe with Bristlenose Plecos, and you shouldn’t worry about them completely destroying any live plants you add in the tank. However, some of the weaker, more delicate plants you find with fragile bodies and more specific needs may not do too well in your Pleco tank.
It is best to go with tough, hardy plants which can take a beating or two.
Do Bristlenose Plecos need live plants?
Bristlenose don’t really need live plants, as mentioned, their natural territories consist of dark rocky caves along moving rivers, or underneath rotting logs and wood that finds itself washed up stream.
They will however, enjoy eating algae that grows on plant leaves, and will appreciate the additional oxygen and filtration that plants create by absorbing CO2 and nitrates.
So while you don’t need to add live plants to your Bristlenose tank, doing so can grant several benefits and make your life in maintaining the aquarium a little easier.