The Java fern, scientifically known as Microsorum pteropus, is a plant native to Southeast Asia, and is one of the most popular plants among aquarists.
This delicate looking fern adds a beautiful, natural look to aquariums. It is widely used due to its slow growth, unique shape, and ease of breeding and care.
It can be kept with a wide variety of fish and does not require very strict water parameters, making it very attractive to many aquarists. From our guide to aquarium plants, this is perhaps the easiest to grow for beginners.
In this article we will cover the origin and appearance of the plant, how to plant and maintain it, propagation methods and suitable tank mates.
Before reading on, you can take a look at this file.
Java Fern Sheet
- Origin: Southeast Asia
- Scientific name: Microsorum pteropus
- Family: Polypodiaceae
- Size: up to 35cm
- Growth Rate: Low to Moderate
- Placement: Medium to Bottom
- Light Needs: Low to Moderate
- Temperature: 20 to 28ºC
- Reproduction: Division of Adventitious Seedlings/Rhizomes
- pH: 6 to 7.5
- KH: 3-8
- Difficulty: easy
The Java fern is a member of the Polypodiaceae family which has more than 60 different genera. Microsorum is a genus within this family, which includes more than 50 species of tropical ferns.
Perhaps one of the most popular species within the Microsorum genus is Microsorum pteropus, also known as the Java Fern.
It originated in Southeast Asia and is a jungle plant that typically grows on rocks and soil, and also in tropical rain forests. It can grow when fully or partially submerged.
The Java fern has been used in aquaculture for a long time, and new varieties have been developed over the years. Below we see the most popular.
It is a relatively cheap aquarium plant, around €5. Sometimes they are already attached to the wood, which makes it easier to put directly into the tank. Logically, plants that are already growing on wood tend to cost more.
When Microsorum pteropus is purchased, they are typically 7-12 cm long. Make sure you choose a healthy plant with no brown edges and healthy green leaves.
This is a great plant, it is almost impossible to kill this plant unless you do it on purpose.
Description of Microsorum pteropus
Java fern is a green aquarium plant that is made up of two main components: rhizome and leaves.
The rhizomes act as an anchor, and are like dark brown hairs that stick to many different surfaces.
Java Fern leaves are very hardy and come in a range of unique shapes. It comes in a variety of greens, from light green to dark green.
Typically, the more intense the lighting, the darker the green. Some mature leaves develop small circular black/brown bumps which are a method of propagation we’ll look at later, and occasionally have a few black veined lines running through the leaves.
The plant can reach heights of about 35 cm (13.5 inches), and can reach 15-20 cm (6-8 inches) wide. This makes her perfect for a wide variety of tanks, from large community tanks to heavily planted tanks or even a display tank.
The original plant has varieties that change in the size and shape of the leaves. We will take a look at some of the most popular aquarium strains; however, there are other lesser known varieties available as well.
- Microsorum Pteropus Var. Narrow: This plant has narrow leaves, which grow at a steeper angle than normal Microsorum pteropus. The leaves grow to around 10-20cm (4-8 inches) and the plant can grow up to 30cm (12 inches).
- Microsorum Pteropus Var. Needle: This plant has even thinner leaves, and is smaller than the narrow-leaved plant. It can grow to heights of 15 cm (6″). The true Needle is quite rare in the trade.
- Microsorum Pteropus Var. Trident: This is one of the rarer variants, it has leaves with 2-5 lobes on each side of its blades. It is shorter than Narrow, but grows faster and has more branches on each leaf.
- Microsorum Pteropus Var. Windelov: A unique variant with irregularly shaped leaves and finely branched tips. It usually grows around 20 cm (8″) tall.
- Microsorum Pteropus Var. Petite: A smaller variant, with finer and smaller leaves. Suitable for small aquariums or medium areas.
- Microsorum Pteropus Var. Twisted: Variety with irregular and twisted leaves.
Java Fern Care
Like fish, aquatic plants thrive when tank conditions match their natural conditions as closely as possible.
In its natural climate, the Java Fern grows along streams and is often found near moving water. Filters and powerheads usually provide enough oxygen for these plants inside the aquarium, so they don’t need additional Co 2.
They are also found in jungle soils, where it is sprayed onto leaves with soft acidic water from streams and waterfalls. To replicate these conditions, the recommended pH is between 6.0 and 7.5 with a hardness of 3-8 dGH.
It is an extremely resistant plant and does not really need special conditions for its growth. It doesn’t require a lot of light, or a good substrate, or a lot of nutrients, which is why it is one of the best aquarium plants for beginners.
You don’t need a fancy tank to grow it either; it will grow in the simplest of configurations. Size-wise, it can be grown in tanks up to 35 liters (10 gallons). It is not recommended to use tanks smaller than this.
Will grow in most lighting conditions; The most preferable ones are the modern led aquarium lights. But don’t put too strong lighting, they will turn brown and transparent if the lighting is too strong.
If this happens, reduce the lighting or turn it off for a few days until the plant recovers. In the wild, these plants grow in the shade and are not exposed to strong light.
Ideally you need 0.3-0.5 watts of light per liter (1.5/2 watts/gallon) in your tank, using 5000-7000K lamps.
As for temperature, the plant will grow in cold water as well as in a tropical tank, but its preferred temperature is between 20-28ºC (68-82ºF).
It is also ideal for tanks with a bare bottom, since it does not require any type of substrate. If you want to include substrate in your aquarium, you can choose the one you like best, since this plant does not extract nutrients from the substrate.
Interestingly, some people insist that this plant can survive in brackish water, and although it will live for a while, it will most likely not grow and will eventually die.
Culture of Microsorum pteropus
The Java Fern has rhizomes that do not like to be buried. The plant will grow very slowly, or may not grow at all if buried.
Instead of burying it, you have to fix it to wood, rocks or something similar.
Rough surfaces are better than smooth ones. Anything like lava stones or wood will work perfectly. If the surface of an object is too smooth, glass for example, it will take longer to adhere, although it will usually adhere over time.
A large log of wood is preferable to give it enough room to develop, however small pieces can also be used.
How to plant the Java Fern
To secure the plant, you have to tie the roots with fishing line to the chosen object. The preferred color of yarn is black as it matches the color of the roots.
Most aquarists prefer to use string, as it dissolves over time and leaves roots attached around the surface.
Some people prefer to use rubber bands or plastic zip ties, however these will be visible from the outside of the tank.
Within a few weeks, the fern should be firmly attached to the surface and begin to grow.
Once the roots are secured, you can remove the ties to them; especially if you have chosen a tie that is really visible. But the truth is that it is not necessary, since the plant will cover it as it grows.
The Java fern can grow quite large and has particularly wide leaves; therefore, it is recommended to plant it in the center or towards the back of the tank, unless trying to achieve a jungle look.
If you put it in the front of the tank, it will hide everything else you have in there.
You can plant it alone, in groups or with other plants.
This plant can also be floated, however its rhizomes will continue to grow larger and larger until it finds something to attach to.
If you want some tips on how to design your aquarium with natural plants, you can take a look at our guide to Aquascaping for beginners, where we tell you how to prepare your tank.
This aquarium plant is fairly easy to maintain, making it very popular with beginning aquarists. It doesn’t need any fancy substrate or extra carbon dioxide like other plants do.
In fact, Java Fern does well without any fertilizer at all, so there’s no reason it shouldn’t survive in most tanks.
It may be that the plant is taking its time until it starts to grow, it will be adjusting to the conditions in your tank and establishing its rhizomes. Once this has happened, it will begin to grow.
How you care for your fish tank will determine the type of look you want to achieve from it. If you want to keep your plants small and separate, you will need to remove the small new seedlings that develop on the leaves as they appear. Then we will see how to do it.
If you want bushy-type growth, let the plant continue to grow. As new seedlings develop, instead of removing them, let them grow for a high-density effect.
If you want to use fertilizers to encourage faster growth, you can, as not having true roots, they get most of their nutrients from the water column through the leaves, so soil fertilizers will be useless. Instead, add a liquid fertilizer every time you do a water change.
If your plant has developed burn spots, you can prune the plant to remove them.
Due to its slow growth, you may only need to do one big pruning a year. Cut the leaves as close to the rhizome as possible.
One of the great advantages of Java fern clinging to rocks and wood is that when the aquarium needs to be cleaned, you can remove it while you clean. This is particularly interesting in tanks containing dirty fish.
When you are cleaning your tank, or doing any other type of maintenance, this plant needs to be kept moist at all times, so keep it submerged or use a misting spray to keep the leaves moist.
Many beginners think that all plants need to be planted in the substrate. This is a common mistake and will lead to the death of the Java Fern. It will survive for a few weeks buried in the substrate, but then it will begin to turn brown, which is a sign that it is dying.
A second problem that aquarists experience is that the plant is not growing. It is normal to experience no growth for the first few weeks. If after a few weeks it is still not growing, then you can consider using fertilizers as mentioned above.
Another common mistake people make with this plant is mistaking the black/brown spots on the leaves for an unhealthy plant. These black circles are where the new seedlings will sprout from, so don’t worry.
Black spots that aren’t developing into new plants could be a sign of nitrogen deficiency; other stains can indicate burns, so turn off the lights.
The last problem we’ll look at is the Java Fern Meltdown. This is characterized by large brown spots, which in turn cause the plant to rot and become mushy.
This usually happens because the plants do not have enough nutrients, because there is too much light, or because there is too much blue-green algae in the tank.
None of these problems should appear if you set up your tank correctly. Follow the planting and maintenance section correctly, and perform regular water changes.
Java Fern Reproduction
The Java Fern will generate shoots in order to spread around itself. They form on old leaves, and are easy to remove and replant. Young plants can be placed anywhere in the tank, as long as there is enough space.
Upon reaching maturity, new seedlings will develop and the process can start all over again.
Therefore, we can use two ways to reproduce this plant:
- Firstly, the rhizome can be cut in half and the cut sections replanted. The separated plants will continue to grow.
- Alternatively, you can wait for the plant to develop small Java ferns on its leaves. These sometimes start as black spots on the underside of the leaf.
Of course moving and/or repotting it will slow down the growth process for a while, but in a few weeks it should be back in shape.
Within 2-3 weeks, tiny leaves begin to sprout from the black bumps.
They can be easily cut, using sharp, sterilized scissors, and moved elsewhere to start new growth. As the seedlings develop and mature, they will begin the growth process all over again.
Remember that the new plant will also have to be tied in the same way as we saw before.
Java fern support
Even fish that are herbivores, and usually eat aquarium plants, tend to stay away from it. It also has a very tough leaf structure, making it unattractive for fish to eat.
It is compatible with both small and large fish such as cichlids, Oscars, catfish, arowanas, and other large fish that normally damage more sensitive plants.
Of course, the goldfish will still try to feed on it, just like with any other plant in the tank. So exercise some caution early in the plant’s life cycle.
Its roots will not be so strong yet; therefore it will be susceptible to being damaged and knocked over if you choose to house it with larger, more aggressive fish.
If you house it with larger fish, secure the plant to wood or rocks to prevent root damage.
The Java Fern is a very tough, strong and firm plant that is difficult to tear. If you want the plant to look smooth and beautiful, you should avoid housing it with fish that will crush or shred the plants.
Is Java Fern Right For Your Aquarium?
Whether you are new or a seasoned veteran, this plant has great qualities that make it a desirable plant in the aquarium.
It is extremely easy to care for and maintain. It is easy to propagate and can be kept together with a wide range of fish.
There are a few different variants available; the type you choose will depend on availability and your personal preferences.
If you’re undecided about which plant to put in your tank, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to care for it, consider Microsorum pteropus.