Learning how to care for aquarium plants can feel like starting over in the aquarium hobby all over again. You get to learn details about water chemistry and lighting you never had to worry about with fish. But it's not all work; you also get richer, greener aquariums out of the deal.
The java fern can survive across a wide variety of conditions in terms of temperature and pH, and can even survive outside of water. It prefers low light conditions and will grow just fine in a tank with a high pH. Supplemental fertilizers and carbon dioxide can help it grow faster, but it does not require them. This plant can reach a maximum size of about a foot tall.
Aquarium mosses also make great beginner plants. Like the java fern, they prefer low light, and require no supplemental nutrition or carbon dioxide. Several different types of aquarium moss are available. Most types look similar, and you should select yours based on the temperature of your aquarium. Java moss works well for tropical tanks with a temperature up to the high 70s. Christmas moss works better for temperate aquariums, like those that house goldfish.
A lot of confusion surrounds the name of this plant. Originally, the scientific name was Anacharis, but it got changed to Elodea. However, the original scientific name had already caught on and became the common name. On top of this, the Latin name changed again to Egeria, adding to the confusion. This plant grows as branching green leafy stems. It requires stronger lighting than the java fern and aquarium moss, but also requires a high pH and is generally hardy.
This plant, called a "crypt," is one of the hardiest species in the genus. This particular species is small, with a crown of wavy leaves. It can thrive at a low or high pH as long as it is consistent. When first planted in a new tank, it may die back, but new leaves will quickly grow back. It "ignores" supplemental carbon dioxide, and will grow at the same rate regardless of it.