Java Fern Care Guide: Species, Planting, and Propagation

Java Fern is one of the popular aquarium plants and is scientifically know as Microsorum Pteropus. They add beauty to the tank with its delicate look and unique shape. Aquarists commonly use them because of their slow growth.

Java Fern is hardy and doesn’t need strict water conditions to thrive. They are easy to reproduce, care, and can be used with a variety of fishes. These qualities make it easier for the beginner to grow this plant in the aquarium.

In this article, we will talk about everything related to them in the description but before that, let’s take a brief look at the table given below –

Category Rating
Family Polypodiaceae
Growth Rate Low to Moderate
Care Level Easy
Maximum Size 13.5 inches
Propagation Adventitious Plantlet/Rhizome Division
Minimum Tank Size 10 Gallons
Placement Mid to Bottom
Lighting Low to Moderate

Java Fern Overview

Java Fern care guide

Java fern, a member of the genus Microsorum, is the most famous out of its other 50 species of tropical ferns. Microsorum, on the other hand, belongs to the Polypodiaceae family, which has over 60 different genera.

Planting Java fern, a native of South East Asia, has become one of the favorite hobbies of aquarists over the years. These easy to grow plants can grow on rocks, ground, around tree trunks, or like grass in the tropical rain forest. Also, it can thrive in both partially submerged or fully submerged conditions.

Many types of Java Fern can be found in the fish stores like needle leaf, narrow leaf, trident leaf, and Windelov leaf. You can either buy small plants or java ferns attached to driftwood. The small plants can be bought in around $4-5, while the one attached with driftwood can cost over $20.

Before buying any plant, make sure the leaves are healthy, green, and without any brown edging. The size can be between 3-5 inches but avoid buying a bunch. They may not have rhizomes and won’t grow at all. This plant is easy to maintain, and there is minimal chance for you to kill it even if you are a beginner.

Java Fern Appearance

Java ferns have been the common choice of many aquarists over the years. Rhizomes and leaves are the two main parts of this traditional plant. The rhizomes are hair-like dark brown strings that attach themselves to any surface and help in the growth of the plant. In its absence, it is just a bunch of leaves.

Apart from that, the leaves of java ferns come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The leaves have a leathery texture and are found in different shades of green. The color of leaves depends on the lighting. The leaves can be bushy or spikey.

When the leaves have black or brown tiny circular bumps or veiny black lines, it means it has matured and is ready for propagation as well. The leaves of Java Fern look majestic that can reach a height of 13.5 inches and width 6-8 inches.

Java Fern Types

These qualities make them perfect for the tank where you need heavy plantation or just as decoration. There are many variations of leaves that can differ in height and width than that of original Java ferns. Some types of Java Fern aquarium plants are as follows –

Narrow Leaf Java Fern

Narrow Java Fern
Narrow Java Fern

The leaves, as the name suggests, are narrow and can grow around 4-8 inches. In contrast, the plant can grow up to 12 inches.

Needle Leaf Java Fern

Needle leaf Java Fern
Needle Leaf Java Fern

The leaves of these plants are even thinner than the narrow leave. It is quite rare and grows up to a height of 6 inches.

Trident Java Fern

Trident Java Fern
Trident Java Fern

It is another uncommon variant with 2-5 lobes on both sides of leaves. It can grow very quickly, but the leaves are short compared to narrow leaf Java Fern.

Windelov Java Fern

Windelov Java Fern
Java Fern Windelov

The leaf of this variant has finely branched tips, and the length of the plant can reach 8 inches.

Java Fern Care Sheet

Java Fern Tank Requirements

The aquatic plants also need suitable water conditions and tank set up like a fish to thrive. The conditions should match their natural surroundings. We already discussed this hardy plant is easy to grow on any surface.  Apart from that, it is found alongside streams or flowing water.

To replicate the conditions of wild, follow the given parameters –

Conditions Parameters
Temperature 68-82oF
Hardness 3-8 dGH
pH 6.0 to 7.0
Lightning 1.5/2 watts per gallon
Tank Capacity Minimum 10 gallons

These conditions are easy to set up and using filter and powerhead will be enough for proving enough oxygen to them. You don’t need a substrate as it doesn’t take nutrition from there. But if you still want to use it, then you can pick anything of your choice.

Keeping low lighting in the tank is necessary as Java ferns grow in the shady place. The high lightning can change the color of the leaves to brown. If you see anything like this, dim the lightning or just turn it off for some days.

How to Plant Java Fern

Planting Java Fern is as easy to plant as to maintain. You don’t have to bury it in the ground to grow. They have rhizomes that attach themselves to different surfaces and then grow. You can bury it, but it won’t grow as fast as it grows on the surface.

The rhizomes can easily attach themselves to the rough surface as compared to the smooth surfaces. You can use lava rocks, driftwoods, or anything that has a rough surface like them. The smooth surface like pebbles or glass won’t disappoint you either, but it will take a longer duration to attach on these surfaces.

How to plant Java Fern

Once you decided the surface, the next thing you have to do is to safely secure the plant on that surface. You can use fishing wire or black threads to match the roots. You can also use rubber bands or zip ties, but it will be visible from the outside. The surface can be both broad and narrow.

After a few weeks, the roots will attach itself to the surface. If you want, you can remove the ties if they are visible or leave them there as the plant will cover it up. The plant can grow large with broad leaves, and its rhizomes will keep growing till it is finding surfaces.

You can put it in the middle or back of the tank and either alone, in a group, or with other plants. Putting it in front of the tank will cover everything else that you might have kept in there.

Java Fern Care and Maintenance

Once the rhizomes of Java fern attached to the surface, it will start growing. You won’t have to make a lot of effort to care for it. The maintenance or care depends on the kind of look you are expecting to get.

If you don’t want a bushy look, you can remove the small new plantlets growing on the leaves. But if you want a bushy look, leave the plantlets and let them grow. The new growth will give a dense look.

These plants don’t use roots but the leaves to take nutrition from the water. If you want it to grow quickly, you can add liquid fertilizers whenever changing the water. It will need a little pruning whenever you find any burn spots on the leaves. You may find it only once a year sometimes.

The other quality which makes this plant famous among aquarists is that it is movable. The plants are attached either to driftwood or rocks, and you can move it whenever you want to clean it at the bottom. But make sure to keep the plant wet either by submerging or using spray bottles, whenever cleaning or maintaining it.

Common Problems

The Java Ferns are quite hardy to keep and maintain, but there are some mistakes that newcomers make, which can result in the death of their plant. We will take a look at each of them and will learn how to avoid them.

  • Plants Needs Substrate: Many beginners think that Java Fern also needs a substrate to grow, but it is not the case. If you buried the plant in the substrate, it may grow for a few days but, eventually, stop growing and start turning brown. These are signs that the plant is going to die.
  • Plant Not Growing: Many beginners face this problem. It may take a few days to a week for the plant to adjust and grow in the new environment. But if it doesn’t show any sign or growth, you can add the liquid fertilizer in the water. It will help in the growth of the plant.
  • Unhealthy Black/Brown Spots: Sometime, you may see Java Fern brown spots on their leaves. The leaves may show these spots when they get mature, but it doesn’t mean that the plant is sick. These are sprouting points, and the new leave will grow from these buds. But if these spots are not developing in new leaves, then it is a sign for nitrogen deficiency or the burning. Is Java Fern turning brown? You can cure it by dimming light and changing the water conditions.
  • Java Fern Melt: This is a condition where the leaves show large brown spots. It can rot the plant or turn it mushy. It may indicate there is a growth of blue-green algae, too much lighting, or nutrient deficiency.

Any of the above-given condition can be cured by setting the water parameters right and cleaning the tank. Also, if the tank is set up correctly, it won’t develop any conditions. For algae related problems, you can get the help of a clean-up crew.

Java Fern Propagation

Propagation of Java Fern is another easy task. It doesn’t require any external help for Java Fern to propagate. Also, it doesn’t require any separate water conditions for the process. If you want to plant it separately, then you have to do it yourself.

You can cut the rhizome in half and then replant it where you want it to grow. Different plants will grow from the different cut sections. Another way of doing this is to wait until the plant develops tiny plantlets on its leaves. You can cut it using sharp scissors and plant them wherever you want.

The plantation process for both the methods will be similar to that of original Java Ferns. Their leave will show the same growth of plantlets when they mature. You can use it to plant as many Java Ferns you want in your tank.

Java Fern Tank Mates and Compatibility

Java fern - Microsorum Pteropus

Java Ferns are hardy, and their leathery leaf structure makes them unappealing. The herbivorous fish won’t eat it like they eat other aquatic plants.  This feature makes it suitable to be used with a wide variety of fish.

The large and aggressive fish who nibble on the plants can also be kept with these plants. Cichlids, Catfish, Tiger Oscars, Arowanas, etc. are one of them. But keeping an aggressive fish in the tank at the early stage of the growth of Java Fern, then it can be a mistake.

The plants are sensitive at the beginning, so the fishes with nibbling habit can damage them. The aggressive fish also ruin the beauty of this plant by nibbling and tearing the leaves. If you still want to keep them with big aggressive fishes, make sure the plant is attached using rock or driftwood. They will keep the roots from getting damaged.

Should plant Java Fern in Your Aquarium?

Java Ferns are quite hardy plants that can be easily kept in any freshwater tank. These plants won’t cause any problem to anyone, whether you are a beginner or an experienced. They are available in variety, and you can choose according to your preference.

It has various qualities that make it a point of attraction. It is easy to look after, maintain, and propagate. Also, you can keep it with a wide variety of fishes and plants. You don’t have to spend a lot to buy or maintain this plant.

Do you have Java Ferns in your aquarium? Or planning to have one? Let us know in the comment.