Java ferns are easily one of the most popular aquarium plants around. They’re extremely easy to care for, beautiful, and offer all the benefits of live plant growth in your aquarium.
Plus, they can handle snails, loads of fish, low light to bright light, and can be partially or fully submerged.
Truly, Java Ferns belong on the popular list, especially for beginner and intermediate aquarists.
Quick Overview Facts on Java Ferns
The Java Fern, nicknamed this for its natural habitat of the Indonesian Island of Java, can also naturally be found in Malaysia, Thailand, some regions of China, and the Northeastern areas of India.
It’s a highly variable plant that has different geographic varieties that have differing leaf shapes and sizes.
They naturally grow and attach themselves to rocks and roots and grow both in fully and partially submerged environments…which is a large part of why this leafy green plant is a popular option for aquarium keepers who love a lush, green, planted Java fern aquarium.
|Scientific Name||Microsorum pteropus|
|Lighting Needs||Dim or bright lights|
|Growth Rate||Low to Moderate|
|Temperature Required||68-82 Degrees F|
|Minimum Tank Size||10 Gallons|
|Maximum Plant Size||13.5 Inches|
About Java Ferns
Java fern is an aquatic plant that’s extremely popular for fish keepers who want a beautiful, planted aquarium, primarily because it’s an exceptionally hardy plant that is almost impossible to kill.
Natively, you’ll find Java fern growing in Southeast Asia, in submerged and partially submerged spots in freshwater or brackish water.
Throughout the location where you’ll find it, Java ferns have different appearances in both leaf shape and size.
They tend to grow along riverbanks where they can root onto a variety of surfaces for the optimal Java fern growth rate.
Java ferns are known as rhizomatous plants, which means that they have modified subterranean plant stems that send out shoots and roots from their nodes. A lot of times, these plants are called creeping rootstalks or rootstalks because of the way they propagate.
Their leaves and roots grow from a thick horizontal stem in practically any direction, depending on the specific environment in which they live. This ability is an adaptation that allows them to grow outside of soil.
In fact, Java ferns don’t grow in dirt particularly. They have very strong roots that anchor to almost any porous surface – like rocks, a piece of driftwood, et cetera.
Java ferns use their roots only for anchoring purposes, as well, and let the leaves draw in the necessary nutrients instead.
Java ferns are great for low-tech aquascapes, which means they don’t necessarily need tons of light, don’t require a CO2 system or fertilizers, and they’re pretty much impossible to kill.
They’re also really attractive for aesthetics’ sake, but herbivorous fish aren’t too into them – so they don’t get eaten.
Types of Java Ferns
There are a wide variety of Java fern types that you may want to consider growing in your aquarium. The most common options that you’ll find in many nurseries and aquatic care shops are wide ranging in looks and feel, though they don’t, of course, remotely cover all the various Java fern types by a long shot.
The most readily available varieties include:
- Regular Java Ferns: Easily identified by its long, ribbed and lance-shaped green leaves. This is the most common variety available.
- Windelov Java Ferns: They don’t look much like the regular Java ferns, but they’re just as beautiful, possibly more so. They’re often referred to as lace Java ferns thanks to the finely branched tips of the plant.
- Narrow Java Ferns: As the name suggests, this variety of Java fern has narrower leaves than most species. They’re almost grass-like in appearance.
- Trident Java Ferns: These are less common in the hobby but have a more unusually shaped leaf than many species. The leaf shape consists of a thin leaf stem and a thick leaf that splits into narrow ends.
- Petite Java Ferns: This is a small Java fern cultivar that looks like the regular variety, but much smaller. If you’re worried the plants will overgrow your tank, this is a great option because it remains small for a time. It will, however, still reach a reasonable height.
- Latifolia Java Ferns: This variety has much broader leaves than most of the others, giving it a fuller, larger appearance.
- Needle Leaf Java Fern: This is a much rarer option for folks growing their Java ferns. They have extremely narrow ribbon-shaped leaves that grow in a dense bush with darker green that usual shades.
Uses and Benefits of Java Fern in an Aquarium
Java ferns, whichever variety you choose, make for excellent decoration in your aquarium. They can be attached to other décor, as well, to help create a more natural looking environment for your freshwater aquarium and brackish water fish tanks, as well.
Mature plants make for great cover for your young and shy fish, while full grown fish and shrimp love hiding and playing in the billowy plants.
And since they’re slow-growing, they don’t eat up a lot of excess nutrients in the water, leaving those for the other things that need them, but they do eliminate some of the nitrates in your aquarium water, making the aquarium healthier and cleaner.
And since they’re not particularly attractive to herbivorous fish, they don’t provide extra food, but they do remain growing for a long time, meaning you don’t have to replace them. The textured leaves do create a home for a layer of biofilm that dwarf shrimp will happily consume.
Live aquatic plants of any kind also help to keep your aquarium environment stable. They don’t eliminate your need for water changes, but they do help to keep the parameters stable between maintenance rounds. They consume nitrates and phosphate as food, which are harmful to fish in larger quantities.
Tank Requirements for Java Ferns
Java ferns are a really great option for beginner and busy aquarists because they require very little maintenance once they’ve been introduced into the aquarium environment.
But they do have a few – though limited in demand – requirements to keep them healthy and growing.
Just review this Java fern care sheet and you’ll know pretty much everything you need to know.
You don’t need to worry much about the water parameters for your Java ferns.
Basically, they won’t care about the pH – they have a pretty wide range of “doable” pH levels from 6.0-7.5 – and don’t have big issues with hard water, soft water, brackish, or freshwater.
It naturally occurs in soft, acidic freshwater and brackish water, so they’ll truly thrive in these water conditions, but they’ll still do pretty good in even up to mid-end brackish salinity or relatively hard water.
If you want your Java ferns to truly thrive, you should grow them in aquariums that are at least 10 gallons in size.
The plant itself would grow in less water, but because the plants grow to decent sizes, the aquariums will do better if they hold more water.
Java ferns tend to outgrow smaller aquariums unless you prune them fairly often, so you really do want at least 10 gallons to avoid that added maintenance issue.
Fertilizer and CO2
Aquarium plants love extra nutrients like fertilizers and CO2 systems provide. If you’re planning to use these for other plants, go for it!
But Java ferns don’t really need these to keep them thriving.
Much like the other aspects of keeping and growing Java ferns, the Java fern lighting setup is also pretty simple.
Java ferns can handle just about anything from subdued lighting to bright lights.
In fact, unlike many other varieties, Java ferns tend to actually prefer dim lighting conditions.
Basic Java Fern Care Guide
Java ferns will happily attach to rocks, driftwood, or other porous surfaces in your aquarium. And once they do this – we’ll talk about how to do it later on – they’ll start growing and thriving in your aquarium with very basic care.
Whether you’re talking Crested Java fern care, Narrow Leaf Java fern care or Windelov Java fern care, it’s all pretty easy and straightforward.
These plants are very slow-growing, though, so they won’t overtake the aquarium any time soon, especially if you’re not adding CO2 or other nutrients. The plants will need some time to establish in the aquarium before the growth spurts begin.
And honestly, once they’re planted, you really don’t have much you need to do.
Just be aware of the time it will take to grow – i.e., don’t get impatient and toss them out because they don’t explode anytime soon – and enjoy the process.
You can pair Java ferns with practically any other plant, invertebrate, or fish, as well, just so you know. The hardy leaves are unappetizing to fish who generally nibble on plants – like cichlids and goldfish.
The one collection of critters that might not be such a great fit are destructive crayfish varieties.
Maintenance for Java Ferns
As noted above, Java ferns basically require no maintenance throughout their lives in your aquarium. If they’re kept in large enough fish tanks, they don’t even require pruning, unless they somehow get out of hand.
You’ll probably want to remove some dead leaves every now and then.
By the way, dead leaves are not a sign that your plant is doing badly. Leaf decay just happens with plants sometime, so there’s no need to panic unless the whole plant starts to go.
Common Problems with Java Ferns
Java ferns are easy to care for and maintain, but they do occasionally have some issues if some water parameters or other environmental issues are off a bit.
If you’re seeing your plants turning brown or black, going yellow or having other discolorations – beyond a few dead leaves, that is – you’ve probably got some kind of problem going on in your aquarium.
Sometimes, you’ll notice your Java fern turning brown.
The brown spots then spread and consume larger portions of the plant.
This is an infectious agent that progressively causes deterioration of the plant.
Sometimes, the leaf matter falls away and everything rejuvenates and is fine. Other times, it doesn’t resolve. This condition is caused by a deficiency of nutrients.
If you see that the plant isn’t rejuvenating, then you need to check the nitrates and phosphates. There should be about 10 parts per million – ppm – and 1 ppm, respectively.
You may also need to add some calcium and magnesium to the water, which can typically be provided through an aquatic plant fertilizer. Or it can be done with CaCO3, a calcium carbonate, which is available at nurseries, hydroponic stores online, some aquatic plant stores, or even home brewing stores.
Even when a Java fern is browning out, it will produce small adventitious buds at the leaf margins. These baby plants can be separated from the parent plant, even at a small size, and are viable aquarium ferns that you can grow on their own.
It’s a good idea to do this, especially if you notice several of your Javas browning out like this.
Yellowing Leaves and Spots
If your plants are developing yellow spots or even melting/rotting away completely from the stem, you also have a low nutrient situation.
And while dosing isn’t usually necessary, in this case, adding that liquid aquarium fertilizer will help.
This one should be obvious, but in case you’re like me and need a smack to the face, scorched leaves indicate you’ve got too much light in your aquarium for these little ferns that prefer dimmer settings.
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 aquarium to avoid too much light from other sources. You also need to change the light settings on your LED or switch out your lighting setup for a new one altogether – one that isn’t as bright.
Black Spots Appearing
There are two reasons Java fern black spots black spots appear.
The first is a good reason: new growth is coming! The little black spots on the underside of the leaves are where the new growths are developing.
The second is not so great. If you find black spots popping up on your Java ferns and new growth isn’t coming, your plants probably have a nitrogen deficiency. Again, you’ll need to deal with this by using a properly chosen aquatic plant fertilizer.
The final issue you may run into with your Java ferns is a lack of growth.
Ultimately, this problem usually comes down to the same thing as most of the other issues: the Java fern isn’t getting enough of the right nutrients. Try giving the aquarium some regular doses of liquid fertilizer to help the plants start growing.
How to Plant Java Fern
Java ferns are reasonably easy to plant. But if you’re wondering how to position them and how to grow Java ferns, then you’ll be pleased to know there’s not much to it.
They don’t grow in substrate like other plants, but instead they anchor their roots to porous surfaces. To help them do this, you can try these steps:
- Choose the right surface for your Java ferns. Make sure they’re porous like driftwood, lava rocks, et cetera. These can be fully submersed or partially submersed objects.
- Next, grab some superglue or fishing wire and attach the Java plant to the porous object you’ve chosen.
How to Trim Java Fern
It’s important to make sure that when you trim your Java fern, you do so carefully and thoughtfully. A lot of times, we rush into these things and wind up causing damage. So, here’s a few tips on how to trim Java ferns thoughtfully.
- Avoid trimming all the large leaves at once. Aim for less than half and see what happens. New fronds should grow and fill out the plant more.
- If trimming dead leaves, however, remove all of them, though, again, not all at once. Trim a few, then wait a week or so before trimming more.
- If you have a lot of new plantlets, it is safe to remove them. You can use them to establish new plants or discard them if you have enough plants. Or, if possible, you may be able to hand off the plantlets to someone else looking to grow some Java ferns of their own. Sites like Freecycle.org and Craigslist are great options for handing this baby plants out to folks who will appreciate them.
How to Propagate Java Fern
As with practically everything else with the care of Java ferns, propagation of them is also easy.
The easiest way to multiply your Java fern is through Java fern rhizome division. Simply snap or cut the rhizome to remove a piece of the plant. That’s it. Done.
Just attach the new part to another porous surface and both pieces of the Java fern will continue to grow.
Java Fern Plantlets
Even when you’re not trying to grow more Java ferns, they’ll do it for you – if they’re healthy.
They develop these little plantlets that can be used to grow more and more Java ferns.
These tiny plantlets grow on the tips of the leaves of the Java fern and develop their own little root system along with a few little leaves.
In the wild, the plantlets are knocked off by currents and animal activity, but this is not as likely in your aquarium. And since they can get stuck in the filter intake, you’ll probably want to collect them and re-plant them yourself.
Just loosen them from the mother plant with your finger and they’ll come off just fine.