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Freshwater Fish that Eat and Uproot Plants

Having a live planted tank with fish is even more enjoyable than having a fish-only aquarium. Watching the green foliage grow slowly over time and shaping it as it grows has a soothing effect. Some people prefer gardens outdoors and some of us enjoy having them in our aquariums. Having all of the fun and enjoyment can be halted quickly if you purchase the wrong fish for your tank.

What freshwater fish eat plants? Many freshwater fish will eat plants including Silver Dollar fish, Buenos Aires Tetras, Severums, Mono’s and Scats, just to name a few. Other species will nip at the plants and dig them up. The fish don’t uproot the plants just for the purpose of uprooting them, they do it because it is in their nature to move objects. Cichlids are a good example of these type of fish. 

So, now you know there are fish that will eat plants and there are others that will just make a mess of the tank and uproot everything if they can. In this article, we will explore aquarium fish that eat plants as well as discuss ones that will make it difficult (if not impossible) to keep plants rooted.

Silver Dollar Fish

  • Silver Dollar fish got their name because they look like a silver dollar. To me, they look like cousins of Piranhas! They just look mean. So, being mean looking, you would think they would eat meat but silver dollars are herbivores.
  • Unless you are planting plants in your tank to be eaten, do not place them in a silver dollar aquarium. These fish can get quite big and will clean out all of your live plants in no time at all.
  • When deciding on setting up a tank for silver dollars, you should consider rocks and wood. If you want plants, they will have to be fake plants.

Mono’s and Scat Fish

  • For you brackish aquarium owners, you will most definitely come across Mono’s and Scats for fish selection.
  • Both of these fish will eat your live plants. They are omnivores and prefer a mixed diet of all kinds of organic materials.
  • For tank set- up, think of rocks and wood again. These fish need a huge tank to swim freely so open space works just fine.
  • Want to learn more about brackish fish? If so please check out my brackish fish article.

Severum Fish

  • Severums are in the Cichlid family. Severums will eat your plants and uproot them as well.
  • If you are new to the hobby, you might purchase a Severum thinking it is like any other fresh water fish, however, these fish can be very rambunctious.

Buenos Aires Tetras

  • What a beautiful little omnivore the Buenos Aires Tetra is. Buenos Aires Tetras will eat a wide variety of foods, with plants being one of them.
  • You can try feeding lettuce and cucumber to the Buenos Aires fish to make sure they are full. Then, they might not go after your plants. It is possible, but can be quite the balancing act.
  • Buenos Aires Tetras prefer to be in schools, which means you are trying to avoid many fish from eating your plants, not just one fish.
  • These fish are a treat to watch so don’t let that deter you from owing any.

Dwarf Gourami’s

Dwarf Gourami’s will uproot younger plants that do not have a long root system. Older plants with longer roots should be fine as they will be able to withstand that movement from the smaller dwarf gourami fish.

Other varieties of Gourami’s might nip at your plants, however, they can be fed lettuce and spinach every few days which should fill their desire to chomp on your plants.


  • If you don’t know yet, you should learn quickly that most, if not all, cichlid fish will rearrange your aquarium if they can. They are like little bulldozers that move and uproot everything.
  • Think about it, when you see cichlids at your local fish store or in pictures what is the content inside the aquarium? Usually it is larger rock formations and zero to little plants.
  • This is because cichlids will uproot and move pretty much anything you have in their tank. It’s just in their nature to do this.

Distichodus Fish

  • Distichodus are not good fish to have if you want a planted tank. Distichodus originate from the Congo River. They are not overly popular in North American aquariums yet are still found speckled throughout stores.
  • The Distichodus grows to be a very large fish, anywhere from 14” to upwards of 40”. Yes that big.
  • This fish is an herbivore and will easily consume your plants. Even if you try to supplement with leaf foods and vegetables, you will still have a hard time keeping the Distichodus from eating your plants.


  • Goldfish will eat all kinds of things. Plants being one of them.
  • Goldfish are omnivores and will eat insect larvae, plants and other foods you provide them.
  • You could try supplementing the tank with lettuce and veggies, however, I feel you would be wasting your time. Goldfish don’t know when to stop eating. Or don’t care to.
  • Goldfish are also very messy, not only with the amount of poop they generate but the way they swim around the tank. They can uproot and knock over decorations if you have enough Goldfish in one tank.


  • When Plecostomus are small, there won’t be an issue with them eating or uprooting plants.
  • As they get larger, the Plecostomus could uproot plants with smaller root systems. Plecostomus can grow as large as 12” or bigger, depending on the species so you can imagine how easy it would be for them to uproot plants.
  • The Plecostomus enjoy sucking on plants and rocks as well as the side of your tank. It would be easy for them to get carried away and potentially eat smaller plants by accident. I don’t think they would intentionally go to eat the plant. I feel it would be because the fish was trying to get something off the plant like algae and ended up eating plant.

To Minimize Plant Destruction Offer Veggies to Your Fish

If you don’t want your fish to eat your plants, why not try feeding them some leaf or vegetable-type foods that will fill the fish up and satisfy their cravings for plant type foods? I would recommend trying with iceberg lettuce then move on to spinach to see if those foods get eaten.

Zucchini and cucumber are popular in the aquarium hobby for feeding some varieties of fish. Cut small chunks of these foods and peel them. Drop them into your aquarium with something that you can use to easily pull the food back out, if the fish don’t eat it in a quick enough period of time.

Do not leave these types of foods in the tank for too long. You do not want your water parameters to get out of whack. After 30 minutes or so, take out any pieces left uneaten.

Other non-fish food you can try feeding your fish are peas, squash, broccoli, cabbage and lima beans.

Steaming the veggies to make the more easily edible is a great idea to help your fish when nibbling at the foods.

Size Your Fish to Your Tank Properly

If you want to have live plants or decorations that generally stay in place, then make sure your tank is large enough to house the fish you want. It just makes sense that if you have an overly large fish in an undersized aquarium, the fish is probably going to wreak havoc on the decorations just from swimming around.

Having the proper tank setup inside with decorations will save you time in not having to fix your setup every so often and your fish will be generally happier and healthier if you provide them a tank that suits their needs.


In conclusion, now you know which fish should be avoided in a live planted tank like Silver Dollar fish and Buenos Aires Tetra fish. Also, you should be aware of some fish like Cichlids and Goldfish that will rearrange you tanks decorations and plants.

You can feed fish leaf foods and some veggies to fill their appetite for live plants, however, I feel you should avoid live plants if you are going to own Cichlids, Silver Dollars or other fish that are just going to eat or uproot the plants. Do yourself a favor and create a tank that is as easy to maintain as possible. Good luck!

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