Java Fern: The Complete Guide for Care, Planting and Propagation

The Microsorum pteropus, more commonly known as the Java Fern, is a great plant for many types of aquariums.

Java ferns can beautify any fish tank you plant them in, and add greenery and variety. They are also popular because of how easy they are to care for and how slow they’ll grow.

They’re perfect plants for first-time plant- or fish-owners and thrive in a wide variety of conditions. In our post, we’ll discuss everything you need to know before purchasing a Java Fern for your aquarium, including its background, how to plant it, and some great tank mates.


An overview of Java Ferns

Java Ferns originated from South East Asia. It is a jungle plant that can grow in all sorts of places in its natural habitat. You can see Java Ferns growing around tree trunks, on rocks, around streams and waterfalls, and coating the ground of the jungle floor, or even underwater.

Java Ferns have been used in fish tanks for decades. Over time, several varieties of Java Ferns have emerged. Some that you may run across include the needle leaf, windelov, trident, and narrow leaf.

In your tank, you’ll usually have Java Ferns attached to pieces of driftwood. You can purchase Java Ferns already attached to driftwood or as separate individual plants.

These ferns are also affordable. You can purchase a small Java Fern for as little as $4. If you want to purchase a Java Fern already attached to driftwood, or a larger Java Fern in general, it may cost up to $20. Purchasing a Java Fern already attached to driftwood is really convenient; you can pop it right into your fish tank!

When you buy a young Java Fern, it will usually be pretty small. Count on these young ferns being between 3 to 5 inches long.

When shopping for your Java Fern, try to find one that looks healthy and thriving. Java Ferns should have healthy green leaves. Avoid any ferns that have brown edges on the leaves or look wilted.

Try to avoid buying a bunch of ferns just tied together. When you buy ferns in this condition, sometimes there can be lots of leaves or roots cut off, and the plants will not be as healthy when you put them into your fish tank.

Suitable plants for fish tanks and aquariums can be expensive or require special conditions. Java Ferns are affordable and hardy, making them a great addition to your tank, especially for any first-time fish enthusiasts.

Appearance of Java Ferns

Java Ferns are green plants suitable for aquariums. There are two important parts to Java Ferns: rhizome and leaves. Rhizomes are dark tendrils that Java Ferns use to attach themselves to a surface and anchor themselves down. They almost look like strings or hairs.

The leaves of Java Ferns come in a variety of shapes and shades of green. The fern’s leaves can be thin and spiky or thick and bushy. Java Ferns can range anywhere from a light green to dark deep green.

Usually, the shade of green on the Java Ferns depends on how close the ferns are to their light source. If they are close to the light, or if the light is brighter, your Java Fern will have deeper and darker leaves. If your Java Ferns are farther from their light source, or if you have a dimmer light, the ferns’ leaves will be a lighter shade of green.

Sometimes you may notice a few black veins or black and brown small bumps on the leaves – these features are normal and don’t mean that the plant is unhealthy.

While Java Ferns can be bought very small at three to five inches, they grow to as long as 13 and a half inches. Some leaves reach 6 to 8 inches in their width.

There are four main types of Java Ferns that you will run across when shopping for your fish tank. These types are defined by their general appearance and the shape of their leaves. These aren’t the only varieties of Java Ferns, but they are the most common. They are also the varieties of Java Ferns we will be discussing in this article.

  • Narrow Leaf Java Fern: As the name suggests, the leaves on this variety of Java Fern are narrow and slender. The individual leaves will grow to 4 to 8 inches long. The actual plant can grow as high as 12 inches. This is the most common type of Java Fern and will be available in most places aquarium plants are sold.
  • Needle Leaf Java Fern: This variety of Java Fern is similar to the Narrow Leaf Java Fern. Compared to the Narrow Leaf variety, Needle Leaf Java Ferns have even slenderer leaves. The actual plant won’t grow much taller than 6 inches. These are a little bit harder to find than other varieties of Java Ferns but are perfect for smaller aquariums.
  • Trident Java Fern: This Java Fern is also shorter than the Narrow Leaf variety; however, it grows much quicker than Narrow Leaf Java Ferns. It has more forks in each leaf than the Narrow Leaf ferns and is bushier, with 2-5 individual lobes on each leaf.
  • Windelov Java Fern: This Java Fern is also a smaller variety, hardly ever-growing past 8 inches tall. It has finely branched tips and is a great unique addition to any fish tank or aquarium.

Tank Requirements for your Java Fern

While Java Ferns can do fine in a variety of environments, it thrives the best when its environment best matches its natural habitat. Java Ferns are found in the jungle on all sorts of surfaces, but it does the best alongside streams and other water features – luckily, you’re probably going to put it in a fish tank!

Java Ferns love lots of oxygen in the aquarium and don’t necessarily need extra carbon dioxide. To help with this, make sure your aquarium ahs a good filter or powerhead.

The water in their environment is often a little on the acidic side. The best water pH for Java ferns is between 6.0 and 7.0. The best water hardness for Java Ferns is between 3 dGH and 8 dGH.

Unlike other aquatic plants for aquariums, Java Ferns don’t need any other special conditions. This is a feature that makes it so much easier to care for than your average aquarium plant. Many plants for fish tanks need special substrate or nutrients, or a high light – these ferns do just fine without any of that.

The Java Fern can thrive in any sort of tank, as long as it has at least 10 gallons of water. It probably won’t do so well in any tank smaller than that.

They do well with any kind of lighting, as long as the lighting isn’t too harsh or strong. If the lighting is too strong, the leaves may start to become browned and transparent. Luckily, if you notice your plants behaving this way, you can simply turn off the light for a couple of days, and they’ll recover. Remember – in the rainforest, they have lots of shade from overhead trees and other plant growth.

The best temperature for the tank water is in between 68-82oF.

If you have a tank with no substrate in the bottom, this will be a perfect plant. Many plants need sand, rocks, or some other type of substrate to latch onto.

You may have heard that Java Ferns thrive in brackish waters, or tanks with a combination of saltwater and freshwater. It is true that Java Ferns will do fine for a little while, but eventually, it will die.

Planting Your Java Fern

Java Ferns’ get their nutrients from their rhizomes, or small tendrils attached to different surfaces. The fern’s rhizomes should not be buried.

They should be attached to driftwood. They can also be attached to rocks or other surfaces that may have nutrients.

The best surfaces to attach rhizomes to are rough ones. This will make it impossible to attach Java Fern rhizomes to things like glass or smooth pebbles, though it can be possible. The best thing to attach Java Ferns to is driftwood or some type of rough stone like lava rock.

When you are planting your fern, attach the roots to the object you want to latch it onto. You can do this by carefully tying them down with string. The string should be black or some other dark color that matches the roots. This way, the string will blend in.

After a few weeks, the roots will have attached themselves to the object. Once you notice this, you can remove the string from the plant.

While Java Ferns grow slowly, they will probably reach a much longer length than when they start growing. Consider putting them in the middle or back or your tank so that they have room to grow.

The Java Fern can also be a floating plant. If you do this, however, the rhizomes will grow until they find something to attach to.

Caring for your Java Fern

As we’ve stated, the Java Fern is one of the easiest aquarium plants to care for.

It may take a while for your young Java Fern to start growing larger. Usually, it will not get larger until its rhizomes have attached to something. Even if it isn’t growing, if its leaves look healthy then you don’t need to worry about your plant.

There are different ways you can care for your plant. This all depends on how you want your tank to look. The plant can multiply and fill up your tank to create a kind of jungle effect. If you want to keep your tank to one or several well-placed plants, you’ll need to remove the small plantlets. We’ll discuss how you can do this later.

The plants take nutrients with their leaves from the water. Your Java Fern shouldn’t have trouble getting all the nutrients it needs from the water in your fish tank. However, if you want it to grow faster, you can use a little fertilizer.

If you see small black or brown spots on the leaves, that does not mean it is an unhealthy plant. Usually, this means the Java Fern is making new baby ferns. In rare cases, it means the plant is getting too much light or not enough nitrogen, but even in these cases, your fern is not in critical condition.

If you see large brown spots all over your plant, this may be more serious. Large brown spots are often the first symptoms of a condition called Java Fern melt. They rot the plant and make it mushy. This often is because there are no nutrients for the plant or too much blue-green algae.

If you follow our instructions and take care of your fish tank, which includes performing regular water changes, you don’t need to worry about Java Fern rot.

Propagating Your Java Fern

There are two main ways to propagate your Java Fern. The first way is to cut the fern’s rhizome in a half. Then you can plant the new sections.

You can also wait for tiny ferns to develop on the Java Fern’s leaves from the little black spots on the underside of the leaves. A couple of weeks after the spots appear tiny plants sprout from them. You can cut them off and move them somewhere else to start growing.

Finding Tank Mates for You Java Fern

Java Ferns do well with any freshwater fish who can live in the same environment as the fern. Fish won’t bother the Java Fern – even herbivore fish. The plant is tough and hardy and not very easy for fish to eat.

If the plant is still young, though, be extra careful. Careless fish can knock the plant over or dislodge it.

Are Java Plants Right for Your Fish Tank?

Java Plants are great freshwater ornamental plants for all kinds of tanks. Consider getting two or three of these plants to start out with, and watch them grow and beautify your tank!

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