Plant Profiles: Java Fern


Plant Profiles: Java Fern
Java fern is a favorite for many aquarium hobbyists. If you read about fish tanks, you'll often hear how java fern is an easy and pretty choice.
So, what's great about them?

It's strong! Even if you have fish that like to nibble on plants, java fern stands its ground. This makes it a top pick for both new and experienced fish tank owners.

Even cooler? You don't need soil or gravel to plant java fern! Instead, you can tie them to rocks, driftwood, or decorations with some thread or fishing wire. After a while, they'll attach on their own.

So, if you're not a fan of having dirt or gravel in your tank, java fern is for you! It does not need any substrate, simplifying your tank setup even further.

Ready to set up with java fern? This java fern care guide will walk you through the essential steps and tips to ensure your plant thrives in its new home.

Java Fern Quick Overview

  • Scientific Name: Microsorim pteropus
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
  • Temperature: 68-82°F (20-28°C)
  • pH Level: 6.0 to 7.5
  • Hardness: soft to moderately hard water
  • Max Height: 13 to 14 inches
  • Lighting: Low
  • Growth Rate: Slow
  • Substrate: Not necessary
  • Fertilizers: Optional
  • CO2: Optional

Java Fern Description and Facts

Scientifically known as Microsorim pteropus, the Java fern belongs to the Polypodiaceae family which houses over 60 genera and more than 1000 species.

Java fern actually comes in various variants, but its scientific name Microsim pteropus helps scientists and hobbyists all over the world refer to it using a standardized term, ensuring no mix-ups with other plants.

In the aquarium hobby, you'll often come across variants like the narrow leaf, needle leaf, windelov, and trident java ferns.

Not only do these java fern plants make your tank setup hassle-free with no substrate requirement, but they're also widely available. Plus, buying java fern won't cost you much! Depending on the size, you can get them for anywhere between $4 to $9.

Origin and Natural Habitat

Like some other aquatic plants, the term "Java Fern" is derived from where it was first discovered - the island of Java in Indonesia. Situated in the vast region of Southeast Asia, this aquatic plant can also be found in archipelagos like Malaysia, Philippines, and India.

Java Fern thrives in the humid, tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia. It often grows attached to rocks or tree trunks near freshwater streams or riverbanks.

Sometimes it's fully underwater, especially during rainy seasons, but it can also live just partially submerged. The waters it calls home are calm and slightly acidic. And thanks to the tall, leafy trees overhead, this aquarium plant enjoys a cool shade, making do with just a bit of sunlight.

Appearance and Structure


Most plants draw up nutrients from the soil through their roots. Not the Java Fern! This plant doesn't rely on substrate to grow. If you are unfamiliar with plant anatomy, you sure are intrigued by this.

So, how exactly does this happen?

Java Ferns, in their simple elegance, have a three-part system that defines their structure and growth: the roots, leaves, and rhizome.

  • Rhizome Central to the Java Fern's growth is the fern's rhizome. This serves as the plant's backbone and resembles thick green strings. They might look like roots, but they are actually stems that sprawl across the surface to which the Java fern is anchored. From the top of the rhizome sprout the leaves, while from its underside emerge the roots.Contrary to some misconceptions, it's primarily the rhizome that takes in water and vital nutrients from the water column to ensure plant's growth.
  • Roots Instead of diving deep into substrate searching for nutrients like many plants do, these roots primarily anchor the fern in place. As time goes by, these roots grow and spread, clinging to their chosen surfaces such as rocks or logs. They appear as dark brown, hair-like extensions from the rhizome.
  • Leaves Built with a tough leaf structure, the leaves of the Java Fern are resilient to a range of tank conditions. Its bright green and narrow leaves are long and thin, and they can grow close together, making the plant look bushy.Sometimes, you might see brown spots on older leaves, but that's just part of how the plant grows. Because the leaves can get big and thick, many people like to use Java Fern as a backdrop in their freshwater aquariums.

Size and Growth Rate

Java Ferns are admired for their moderate growth rate, making them a manageable choice for aquarium enthusiasts.

Typically, a Java Fern grows about one inch per month. This slow and steady growth ensures aquarists can anticipate its mature size and arrange their aquarium landscapes accordingly.

Now, when it reaches its full potential, depending on the variant you've got, the mature java fern proudly stands at a height of 13 to 14 inches and spans a width of around 6 to 8 inches.

Given these dimensions, it's clear why it's a favorite for many as a tank centerpiece or backdrop in a planted aquarium.

Varieties of Microsorum pteropus


Java ferns actually come in different sizes and shapes, but they fall under the same umbrella - Microsorum ptsesorus - nonetheless. While each variant caters to different tank designs, they all share a consistent and manageable growth pattern.

  1. Narrow Leaf Java Fern With its graceful, slender foliage, this variant can attain a height of 12 inches. As it ages, the java fern grows at a steep angle and acquires an intriguing twist. The leaves of this variant take on an elongated teardrop shape, wider at the base and tapering to a point.
  2. Needle Leaf Java Fern At a modest height of 6 inches, the needle leaf fern can sometimes be mistaken for another plant altogether. They grow even thinner than the narrow leaf variant, almost like needles, hence the name.
  3. Windelov Java Fern Growing up to 8 inches tall, this plant species is easily recognized by its split and branched leaf tips, giving it a unique, forky look. Ideal for those who want a touch of detail in their tanks.
  4. Trident Java Fern Standing at about 13 inches tall, the Trident is distinctive with its feathery, multi-lobed leaves. Growing more rapidly than its narrow leaf counterpart, each of its leaves branches into several "fingers", resembling trident points.

Benefits of Having Java Fern in Aquariums

Java ferns are more than just a decorative addition to your aquarium.

These adaptable plants are perfect for bare-bottom tanks, eliminating the need for substrates while also providing essential shelter and security for fish to hide and feel secure.

As the java fern grows, it not only beautifies your tank but also plays a significant role in breaking down fish waste. This process helps in reducing nitrate levels, leading to a cleaner and healthier water environment for your aquatic friends.

Additionally, java ferns contribute to the oxygenation of the water, promoting better respiratory conditions for fish.

And remember their natural habitat? Full of shades from trees, right?

Because of this, java ferns require minimal lighting, which reduces the potential for excessive algae growth in the tank.

Java Fern Care


Java ferns are a dream come true for both beginner and experienced aquarium enthusiasts. Known for their ease of care and adaptability, they fit seamlessly into various tank setups.

While they can endure slightly salty or brackish waters, they genuinely thrive in fresh water settings. Simply put, if you're looking to beautify your aquarium without added hassle, Java fern is a way to go.

Tank Size

Java ferns are versatile plants that can adapt to a variety of tank sizes, but it's always important to consider their potential growth when deciding on the ideal environment.

For smaller variants like the Needle fern, a 10-gallon tank can suffice, allowing enough space for the plant to grow and spread. However, for the larger variants such as the Trident, it's recommended to have at least a 20-gallon tank to ensure ample room for growth.

Regardless, you must make sure that the fern is not cramped and has enough space to grow healthily.

Overcrowding can lead to reduced light exposure and decreased water flow, both of which can hinder the fern's health and growth.

Water Parameters


This test kit:

  • accurately monitors 5 most vital water parameters levels in freshwater aquariums: pH, high range pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate

So, now that we've established that Java ferns grow in various conditions, it's worth noting that replicating their natural environment truly brings out their best.

This aquatic plant craves settings similar to its shady, humid origins, especially since it's accustomed to growing alongside the fresh flow of rivers, streams, and waterfalls. And because they are accustomed to these moderate water-flowing environments, java fern appreciates a similar moderate flow in aquarium settings.

However, these aquarium plants are quite adaptable, and they can also thrive in tanks with low water flow. It's essential, though, to ensure that the water is not entirely stagnant, as some movement is beneficial for nutrient distribution and oxygenation.

  • Temperature: A warm range between 68°F and 82°F (20°C to 28°C) is ideal.
  • pH: Java ferns favor slightly acidic water, making a pH level between 6.0 to 7.5 perfect.
  • Hardiness: They fare well in soft to moderately hard water, with a general hardness (GH) of 3 to 8 dGH and a carbonate hardness (KH) of 3 to 8 dKH.

Lighting Conditions


This aquarium light:

  • Features programmable, gradual 24-hour light cycle settings
  • Includes six unique band waves for full spectrum results
  • Includes optional pre-set habitat light configurations
  • 120-degree light dispersion for full area coverage and uniform lighting
  • Extendable mounting brackets

In the wild, Java ferns naturally bask in the shade of larger plants and trees, shielded from the intense, direct sunlight.

This means that when growing Java fern in your aquarium, you don't need to bombard them with too much light. In fact, excess light can be detrimental, potentially leading to unsightly burn marks.

While brown spots on their leaves can be natural and often result in new fern sprouts, consistent brown marks without new growth are a red flag indicating excessive light exposure.

To ensure the best lighting conditions for Java ferns, aim for approximately 1.5 watts of gentle lighting per gallon of tank water, and limit this exposure to around 6 hours a day.

If you want a more detailed explanation of choosing plated aquarium lights, you may check our guide here.


Originating from environments where they often attach to rocks, logs, and other surfaces, the roots' primary function is to anchor the plant rather than extract nutrients. Unlike many aquarium plants, java ferns pull nutrients directly from the water through their leaves.

Because of this, you don't need to invest in a nutrient-rich substrate for these aquatic plants. Instead, focus on how you want to anchor them.

You can tie the rhizome to a piece of driftwood or rock using a fishing wire or thread until the roots take hold and anchor the plant naturally. Ideally, leave the roots exposed to mimic their natural growth pattern and to keep the plant from rotting.

Fertilizer and Carbon Dioxide Recommendations


This fertilizer aids in:

  • Carbon Production
  • Iron Production
  • Photosynthesis
  • Treatment
  • Safety for fish

Frankly, you won't need to religiously dose your tank, but of course, using fertilizers can help them grow faster. Because they draw nutrients from their leaves, liquid fertilizer is more effective than root tabs or substrate fertilizers. You can try giving them fertilizer twice a week, but watch your tank and adjust if needed.

Yet, a word of caution: Go easy on the liquid fertilizer! Excess nutrients might not only cloud your tank's waters but also promote blue-green algae growth, which isn't truly algae but a type of bacteria.

Carbon dioxide is not essential to grow java fern, either. Others have successfully grown java ferns just fine with the CO2 that fish breathe out. But, if you want to give your plants an extra boost, adding CO2 can help them grow faster and look greener.

If you decide to use CO2, start with 1 to 3 bubbles every second and see how it goes. Then, adjust depending on how big your tank is and how many plants you have.

How to Plant Java Ferns


Planting Java Fern is refreshingly simple, a fact that many aquarium enthusiasts cherish. But before diving into the planting process, it's wise to quarantine new plants for a while to prevent any potential pests or diseases from entering your main tank.

Now, when you're ready, remember that Java Ferns don't need substrate to grow. In fact, burying them could cause the fern's rhizome to eventually rot. Instead, you'll want to anchor them to a solid base like large rocks, lava rocks, or driftwood that you can find at any pet store.

To attach the Java Fern, use cotton thread or fishing wire, tying the rhizome securely. If you're in a hurry, super glue gel can be a quick and effective alternative. But remember, always keep those roots exposed!

If you're feeling a bit adventurous, you can literally drop the Java Fern into your tank. Given time and the gentle push from water currents, it will find a surface to attach to all on its own.

Note: Be patient! The plant will naturally adhere to its anchor, and within a few weeks, it will be firmly rooted, making the Java Fern a hassle-free addition to your aquarium!

Trimming and Pruning

Thanks to their slow growth rate, you won't find yourself constantly reaching into the tank to keep them in check. Mature plants will occasionally develop older leaves that may start to look a bit worn out.

When this happens, it's a good idea to trim away the dead or dying leaves to maintain the plant's aesthetic appeal and to encourage new growth.

You can start by lowering your water levels, and trim to match your desired aesthetic.

If you're the type who prefers aquarium plants with a more hands-off approach, Java Fern might be your ideal match.

Java Fern Propagation

Mature Java Fern have a unique way of continuing their lineage.

In the wild, portions of the fern's leaves can break off, getting washed downstream, and find a new spot to call home. This replication method can also be observed in aquariums.

Remember those intriguing black spots sprouting from a few leaves of a mature plant? Those aren't mere blemishes. Instead, they are the beginnings of tiny Java Ferns, often referred to as 'plantlets'.

Over time, these plantlets grow, gaining in strength and size. And before you know it, you'll have a fledgling Java Fern ready to set roots in its own corner of your planted aquarium!

You can do this by gently separating it from the larger plant and anchoring it to a new location in the tank.

Alternatively, you can propagate your Java Fern by taking a section of the rhizome with a couple of leaves attached. Once you've made the cut, secure this section to successfully grow java fern to your desired location in the tank.

Common Issues of Java Fern


Java Fern, while being one of the most hardy plants, isn't immune to problems.

One of the most dreaded diseases that this plant can acquire is the java fern melt. It is a term aquarists use to describe a situation where the leaves of a Java Fern begin to look transparent, soft, or as if they're melting or disintegrating.

This disease is difficult to diagnose initially, as it starts subtly, presenting as yellow or dark spots on the leaves.

You might even confuse them as signs of maturing, but if your fern's leaves start developing brown spots and don't sprout new ferns from these spots, it's time you take some action.

Several factors can contribute to this issue, the most common being inconsistent water parameters, exposure to excessive light, or poor nutrition. Begin your recovery process by testing your tank parameters using a water testing kit like the API and adjust as needed.

If your Java Fern is newly added to the tank, the old leaves might struggle to adjust to their new environment. In such cases, trimming away the browning leaves can help the plant focus its energy on new growth.

Too much light will also kill your fern. If you start noticing burn spots, try turning off the lights for at least three days, giving your plant some time to recover.

Lastly, address any algae issues, as excessive algae can compete with your Java Fern for vital nutrients. In situations like this, introducing a balanced fertilizer can also be beneficial in aiding the plant's recovery.

Compatibility with Other Species


Java Ferns are not just a favorite among aquarium hobbyists for their ease of care and aesthetic appeal, but also for their compatibility with a wide variety of tank inhabitants.

These plants are hardy and aren't particularly appetizing to most fish, thanks to their tough leaf structure that makes it hard for plant-eating fish to nibble on.

And those aggressive fish that love to uproot your plants?

Java Ferns are the answer to your woes!

Given that they don't rely on substrate to grow, there's no root system for these mischievous fish to tug at.

They're also a great companion for shrimp and snails, providing shelter and potential food sources in the form of microscopic organisms living on the leaves.

Here are some of the tropical fish that can cohabitate with your fern:

Java Ferns can also coexist harmoniously with many other live plants. As they don't require substrate to grow, they don't compete for root space, allowing for a lush and varied aquatic landscape. In essence, these adaptable plants make it easy to maintain a vibrant and diverse underwater ecosystem without much fuss.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are the leaves of my Java Fern turning brown?

Brown spots can indicate maturing leaves where new ferns sprout. However, if new ferns don’t emerge, it might be a sign of excessive light or poor nutrition.

Do Java Ferns need a lot of light?

No, they naturally grow in shaded areas. Too much light can actually harm them, causing burn spots.

Can I plant my Java Fern in the substrate?

It's best not to. Java Ferns get their nutrients from their leaves and prefer to attach their rhizomes to objects like rocks or driftwood. Burying the rhizome might cause it to rot.

Are Java Ferns safe for my fish?

Absolutely! In fact, their leaf structure isn't appetizing to most fish, making them a great addition to various aquarium setups.

Does Java Fern grow out of water?

Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus) is primarily an aquatic plant, adapted to thrive when submerged in water. However, it can also survive in emersed conditions (where the roots and rhizome are underwater but the leaves are exposed to air), especially in environments with high humidity.

Does the Java Fern Plant Fit Your Aquarium? (Summary)

The Java Fern is a versatile and hardy addition that suits almost any aquarium setting. From beginners to seasoned aquarists, this plant offers a combination of aesthetic appeal and ease of care.

It's adaptable to various water conditions, doesn't demand intricate lighting setups, and is compatible with a broad range of tank inhabitants. Plus, if you have more aggressive fish that love to play with your tank decor, java fern won't add to your worries! It is hardy enough to withstand any challenges from them.

So, after reading all the sections above and you feel like java fern is just a perfect addition to your aquarium, dive in and enjoy the transformation it brings to your aquatic space.

Still feeling a bit unsure? Don't worry! You might want to join our Facebook community!

It's filled with aquarium lovers who can help and share stories. With the Java Fern and our friendly group, you're in for a fun ride. Dive in and let's explore the underwater world together!




No comments

Leave a comment

Featured Products

Subscribe Us
Subscribe to our newsletter and receive a selection of cool articles every weeks.