Ganeshk, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The plant is scientifically known as Microsorum Pteropus. This plant is mainly liked due to its hardness and adaptability, and it is also a suitable cultivar for a wide variety of tanks. Java fern, whose name was derived from its natural habitat of the Indonesian Island of Java, can naturally be found in Malaysia, Thailand, and some areas of China and India. It is a highly variable plant that has different geographic varieties that have different leaf shapes and sizes. These plants are among the most common aquarium plants known. Thye is extremely easy to take care of and is beautiful, and they also offer all the benefits of live plant growth in your aquarium. They also can handle the nails, loads of fish and can be partially or fully submerged. 

These plants naturally grow and attach themselves to rocks and roots and grow both in a fully and partially submerged environment. This is the main reason why this leafy green plant is Popular opinion among most aquarists who love lush, green, planted Java fern aquariums. This guide seeks to give you a piece of candid information on how to take care of the Java fern.


Scientific Name;Leptochilus Pteropus
Lighting Requirementlow
Ideal Temperature70°-83°F (21.1°-28.3°C)
Water Hardness2-15 dKH
Growth RateLow to Moderate
Tank Placementmid to background
Plant size13.5 inches
Tank Size10-gallons


This plant has all the features to assure broad compatibility. Some of the plants are more delicate compared to others creating problems with more rambunctious fish. The risk of damage is heightened with nippy fish that gravitate to flowy leaves. However, that is not a big deal with the Java Fern.   This plant has a very tough leaf structure, and this makes it tough enough to withstand known plant-eaters. The texture is far too challenging for fish to eat. As a result, most of the fish tend to stay away from it. They will still use the plant for its shelter, but plant-eaters pay it no mind whatsoever.

The Java fern may take a beating from more aggressive fish since they like taking advantage of its rugged nature for play. But even Java fern is usually tough enough to withstand anything. Some of the compatible tank mates include;

  • Loaches
  • Goldfish
  • Cichlids
  • Gouramis
  • Guppy fish
  • Arowanas
  • Freshwater aquarium snails
  • Tetras
  • Catfish
  • Freshwater aquarium Shrimps
  • Oscar fish

However, if you plan to keep your Java Fern in a tank that has big fish species, make sure it is firmly planted on heavy rocks or sizeable pieces of driftwood. That way, you do not need to be worried about accidental tipping.


hurzan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In terms of aesthetics, the Java Fern is a beautiful plant with little to offer. The main part of the plant features thick, green leaves with a leather-like texture. They are surprisingly durable, and this decreases the chances of getting physical damage from rowdy fish. The coloration intensity varies from plant to plant. However, the level of light it receives matters as well. With just the right amount of light, leaves have a deep green color which indicates their healthiness. If closely looking, you might notice some dark black veining or brown spots. The veining is typical and is usually more noticeable on mature leaves. Meanwhile, the brown spots are often signs of plant reproduction.

These plants can reach a maximum height of around 13.5 inches and with an average width of 6 to8 inches. This makes it the ideal choice for most of the tanks, from large community tanks to those that are heavily plated or even a show tank. The original plant contains some variants that impact the size and shape of a leaf. We will take a look at some of the most popular varieties of the aquarium. However, there are some other varieties that are not so popular but are available;

Narrow Leaf Java Fern; compared to the regular Java Fern this variant has some narrow leaves and they grow at an angle that is steeper angle. The average length of the leaves is approximately 4 to 8 inches, with the plan rowing to a heigh of around 12 inches.

Needle Leaf Java Fern; This plant has even thinner leaves and is smaller than n the narrow leaf plant. It can grow to a height of 6 inches. The real needle leaf java is rare to find in the market.

Trident Java Fern; This is one of the more uncommon variants. It has feathery lobed leaves with 2 to 5 lobes on each side of its leaves. It is shorter compared to the narrow leaf, but it grows quicker and contains more forks in each leaf.

Window Java Fern; This is a unique variant that has finely branched leaf tips. It usually grows to a maximum height of about 8 inches.

One of the most interesting things about the Java Fern is its slow growth rate. Unlike the rest of the plants, the java fern takes its sweet time to grow to its full potential. As a result of this slow growth, there is no need for continuous pruning or rearranging. Once the plat has established itself, it will produce slow and steady growth for years to come.


The Jaa fern originated from South East Asia. They are mainly found in shady and moist areas in their native areas. It grows on the rocks, tree trunks, and ground. They are commonly found in some parts of South East Asia, such as Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia.


Taking care of Java Fern is an easy process that can be done by any aquarist. It is a low-maintenance plant, and it easily adapts to different environments. That said, the plant has its preferred conditions when it comes to tank conditions. By failing to provide the said conditions, the plant will not thrive. This plant is an ideal choice for every skill level of the aquarist, whether beginner or experienced. Below are some of the essential conditions that you should always consider for your Java fern To Thrive;


The average size of the tank that is recommended by most experts is at least 10 gallons tank for your Java Fern to thrive. Anything less than that size can end up stunting its growth. However, you should note that the 10-gallon tank is for a beginner with one plant, but as you progress and want to keep more, you need to add the size.


In the natural environment, this plant prefers rowing along the stream and it is sometimes found growing near moving water. Powerheads and filters provide sufficient oxygen for these plants within the aquarium, and therefore they do not need lots of extra CO2. These plants are also found on jungle floors where acidic water is sprayed on their leaves from streams and waterfalls. In order to provide the exact conditions in the tank, the water pH should be between 6.0 to 7.0 with a hardness of 3 to 8 DGH. Temperatures wise the plant prefers a warm environment, and therefore, the required temperatures of the tank should range between 68 to 82 degrees F.  As stated earlier, the Java Fern is adaptable, and therefore, as long as the conditions are kept within the range stated, the plant should have no problem thriving.


Mostly the Java fern grows in most lighting conditions, but it does best in low to moderate light levels. Anything too intense can cause some health problems to the plant. It can develop some burn spots on the leaves resulting in an increased risk for infection. Some leaves may even lose color and turn transparent. There is a need to always ensure there is a balance in the lighting condition since they significantly impact growth and appearance. Excess light could result in physical damage and stunted growth. But the same can occur with not enough light. The average light strength should be around 1.5 watts of light per gallon of water in the tank. Bulbs with color or temperatures between 5000 to 75oo Kelvin can just work perfectly.


Substate is not something that you should be worried about so much. This plant can even grow perfectly in bare bottom aquariums. This is because this plant does not draw its nutrients from the substrates at all like the rest of the plants. Absorption occurs in the leaves rather than through the roots. Burying the Java fern roots into a substrate of any kind could lead to stunted growth and even death. It might survive for several weeks in gravel or plant soil, but the plant’s roots should never be buried for long-term health.


If you need to see your java fern thrive all through, you should ensure that you change about 20 to 25 percent of the water from the tank once a month, and if you want to change it on a weekly basis, then you can change about 15 percent of the water but ensure the temperatures are kept within the range. The new water that is being replaced should always meet the conditions before being added to the tank.


Mostly, the Java Fern does not need any kind of fertilizers. However, if you notice that after months there is no noticeable growth in your plant, you can opt for liquid fertilizer. The fertilizer should be added under proper guidelines from an expert. Ensure that this fertilizer contains iron in it.


Learning how to plant Java Fern in an aquarium requires one to think outside the box. Due to the fact that these plants do not need substrate, the planting methods can be a little bit more involved than you would experience with the rest of the species. The plant has tiny rhizomes that do not like living under the soil or sand. They resemble dark hairlike roots. Majority refer to the rhizomes as roots, they mainly serve as anchoring stems. The roots of the plants cling onto the rough surfaces. In the wild, the roots grab onto rough rocks, tree trunks, or even underwater roots. Once they have anchored in a place, the rhizomes will continue to grow and eventually create a network of root-like structures that keep the plant in place.

When you lant the Java fern in your aquarium, you must attach it to either the driftwood or a piece of wood, but the ideal place to anchor is on the rough surfaces. The rhizomes use a jagged façade to get a good grip, and therefore ultra-smooth finishes on polished stones or glass will not work. The best options are lava rocks, natural mineral slabs, and wood. The reason why the driftwoods are the ideal choice is that the large surface area gives the rhizomes plenty of opportunities to spread. When you are buying your Java Fern from a pet store, you might find it anchored onto driftwood already. However, you have the freedom to remove it and set it where you want.

In order you do so, you can tie the roots down using a fishing wire. Black fishing wire blends in well with the rhizomes as the plant grows. More visible rubber bands or zip ties work well. The rhizomes will eventually wrap around the surface that you have attached them. At that point, you can now remove the fishing wire, but some choose to leave it there to be safe, but either way, the rhizomes will grow and provide a more reliable anchor.



This is one of the most effective ways of anchoring java fern. The gel version of the superglue is easy, quick, and more convenient to use. You need to pick the décor that you want to attach to the Java Fern o and spread the superglue on the surface you want to attach the plant and finally paste the plant on it. After you have placed the plant on the glued surface, you need to hold it for half a minute and then let it dry for about 4 minutes. You will now be ready to drop the plant in the aquarium.


The second means is by use of a thread. Just place the plant above the wood, stone, or pebble and tie both of them firmly. However, you should be careful not to tie them so tightly to the point of cutting rhizomes. This is especially easy on the wood though it might be a little challenging on the stones due to their shape. One of the main advantages of this method is the fact that you do not need to untie the thread on the surface since it will deteriorate automatically.


You need to take the surface where you want to attach the java for such as the stone, wood, or any other décor, and place the plant accordingly. Then you can tie the rhizomes to the surface carefully. After a few weeks, ensure that you take off the plastic zip or rubber. They may pollute the tank water since they do not dissolve in water.


As an aquarist, if you are looking for a plant that does not need regular pruning, then the Java Fern is the ideal choice. As stated earlier, this species has a slow growth rate a, therefore, takes a while before reaching its full potential, and therefore, there is no need for constant pruning. This does not mean that you cannot trim your Java Fern to achieve the look you desire. If, for instance, you want a more open appearance, you can thin the leaves out for less density. To do that, cut the leaves as close as close to the rhizomes as possible. Then continue to prune the plant as the new growth appears so as to keep the spread under control.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you can promote a more foliage density. Plantlets can develop on the leaves, and instead of cutting them off, let them proliferate. The plant will eventually become bushy like creating even more places for the fish to hide.


Java fern plants reproduce through apomixis. This means that this plant does not develop seeds; instead, it sprouts perfect replicas of itself on its leaves. Some ties these brand-new ones of the plant develop from the black spots. This process takes several weeks to occur and only happens in mature plants. The longer you let the process continue untouched, the more growth you will observe. You will eventually begin to see small leaves and roots systems sprout up. These tiny plants are known as plantlets. The plantlets normally fall off in the wild due to strong currents. They get washed downstream until they find  a firm point to grow into a new plant. However, In the closed environment of your aquarium, you can take matters into your own hands.

In order to propagate the plant, you can use sterile scissors to cut off hose plantlets. Carefully remove them from the leaves and anchor the fresh rhizome down to a new surface. The plantlets should develop into another healthy java fern in a few weeks. The propagation of Java Fern is also possible by cutting ff the existing rhizomes. All you need to do is cut a rhizome in half, replant it in a new location and wait for the growth to flourish. However, this method is very risky, and there is always a chance that you might damage the existing plant. The plantlet route method is the safest method.


The reason why the Java ferns are so popular among the aquarist is due to the fact that they are easy to maintain. They have a slow growth rate, and therefore you will not need to trim them more often. If you want your plant to resemble the wild look more than the neat one, you need to just let them keep growing. Over time you might want to stop the fens from increasing in number, and in that case, look for black bumps that develop into new leaves and do away with them by removing. However, if you want your plants to look neat, then you have to prune them regularly, but due to their slow growth rate, maybe you will do so once a year.

You can turn one Java Fern into many of them by just cutting growths off the main plant and allowing the rhizomes to attach to wood or stones. They will grow with any substrate or without at all.


Wes stated earlier that this plant is easy to take care of, but it still has some issues that they occasionally face in case some water parameters or environmental conditions are not up to the standards. If you notice your plant is turning brown or black, going yellow, or having other forms of discoloration beyond the normal dead leaves, then the lant might be having a problem. Some of these problems include;


 Sometimes you will notice your java fern turning brown. The brown spots then spread and end up consuming a larger portion of the plant. This is an infectious agent that progressively causes deterioration of the plant’s health. Sometimes the leaves matter might fall off, the plants rejuvenate afresh, and everything is just fine. At other times this does not happen. The major cause of this condition is a lack of enough nutrients. If you notice that the plant is not rejuvenating, you need to check the nitrate and phosphate levels. There should at least be ten parts per million and 1 part per million, respectively.

You might also have to add some calcium and magnesium in water which can be provided through the liquid plant fertilizer. Or it can be done with CaCO3, a calcium carbonate that is available in nurseries, online stores, or even home brewing stores; even as the java fern browns out, it will still produce small adventitious buds at the leaf margin. These baby plants can be separated from the parent plant even at the small size, and they are viable aquarium ferns that you can grow on their own.


If you notice that your Java Fern plant is developing some yellow spots or even rotting away completely from the stem, this means that you are low on nutrients. To resolve this problem, you can add liquid aquarium fertilizer.


The scorched leaves are an indication that you have got too much light in your tank and these little plants thrive best in a dimmer setting. The leaves may be turning brown all at once or even transparent and then falling off. If this is happening, you need to reposition your tank so as to ensure the plants are not exposed to too much light. You also need to change the lighting setting on your LED or switch out your lighting set up for a new one.


There are two reasons why your Java Fern might start developing some black spots. First, this might be indicating that new growth is coming. The new growth develops on the little back spots on the underside of the leaves. The second reason may be an indication of nitrogen deficiency. Again, you will need to deal with this by using an aquatic fertilizer that is well chosen.


The final issue that you are likely to encounter with your Java Fern is a lack of growth. This problem usually comes down to the same thing as most of the other issues. The plant might not be getting enough nutrients. To resolve this, you should try giving your  plant doses of liquid fertilizer at regular basis so as to help the plant to start growing.


Can Algae pose a threat to java ferns?

These plants are hardy, but the algae are one of the few things that kill the ferns. Since the algae grow rapidly and the java fern grows slowly, the algae can prevent them from growing. If you have algae in your tank, you might need to add fish that feed on algae so as to eliminate it.

Does Java Fern need to be planted?

 The Java ferns do not need to be planted on the substrate. Planting the rhizomes in the substrate might cause rot. The rhizomes usually send the roots and leaves to attach to anything that is available. Therefore, all you need is to provide somewhere the plant can toe, such as stones, driftwoods and you are ready to go.

How many hours of light does the java fern need?

The ferns need light to thrive, but they should be low to moderate. In a day, the plant should be exposed to light for not more than 10m hours. Ideally, the light should be between 1.5 to 2 watts for each gallon of your tank.

Does Java fern reduce Nitrates?

The main method of reducing nitrates is by changing water on a regular basis. However, there are some plants such as Java Fern that can help in reducing it. Plants reduce nitrates by nutrient intake. However, slow-growing low light plants such as java fern can help reduce nitrates slightly, but you should note that plants are not replacements for water changes.


The Java Fern is a good plant that is compatible with most freshwater fish, and it makes an ideal choice for a beginner. The lant is so beautiful, and also it oxygenates the water as it undergoes photosynthesis. Their lovely wide leaves will also buff the flow of water and shelter your fish and invertebrates. It is easy to grow and take care of. The plant will automatically take care of itself and grow as long as the right conditions are provided. Therefore, this is a plant that we would recommend to any aquarist, whether novice or experienced.

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