There are many cichlids that are plant friendly... it's funny, I think there are more plant friendly species of cichlids than non-plant friendly but there's this near iron clad notion that they aren't...
e.g. for Lake Malawi cichlids, peacocks and haps will ignore plants for the most part... mbuna like to dig, tear and eat plants. I've seen a handful of planted mbuna tanks, but that takes skill.
I had one myself until one day, about a year in... someone went nuts! :lol:
The problem is the budget part. For me it was not a situation where I bought plants once and they grow beautifully and I have extras to sell. I continue to buy plants.
I have plants with all of mine, but mbuna do chomp the heck out of the java fern (only thing I have dared with them) and it looks pretty ugly. So I replace (or rotate to a plant-hospital tank) fairly often.
My Tangs and haps/peacocks nibble on the plants surprising more than you would think...being carnivores...but definitely better with plants than mbuna. For some reason the Tangs-haps-peacocks chew the crypts more than the other plants. Again, I replace or rotate the plants fairly often.
I have a different experience, my Java fern is doing really well with Yellow Labs and Cobalt blues. So well, that the fishies and I are constantly negotiating new planting spots for little ferns. They dig them up if they don't 'like' them, but let them be if they do. The locations seem arbitrary to me :lol:
Previously I was also constantly buying plants, but that was with goldfish and South American fishies. Go figure, right?
Anyway, Java fern is usually cheap. Some people thinks it's ugly. I like it. It grows in alkaline water, and it's usually not a fishy delicacy within minutes.
Well I added some Jungle Val about a week ago now and so far I havent really seen anyone messing with it so speak. I just got one to start but am thinking I am gonna get more to really hide the intake and stuff behind. Think I get about 3 more it will make it blend right in.