Windeløv java fern

Growing Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)

Java fern (Microsorum pteropus) is one of my personal favorite aquarium plants for many reasons! It’s very easy to grow, doesn’t need Co2, strong lighting, substrate or extra fertilizers and it’s one of the only plants that works with plant eating fish like fancy goldfish.

Keep reading for more information about Java fern care and how to grow this wonderful plant.

Min tank size 10 gal (38L)
Care Easy
Location Mid-/background
Temperature 60-83 °F/15-28 °C
pH 6-7.5

The way Java fern should be planted is a bit different from what most aquarists are used to. It can grow quite tall, up to around 14 inches (35cm), which makes it a mid- or background plant.

Unlike most aquarium plants, Java fern doesn’t appreciate being planted in the substrate at all and will grow very slowly or die off when the roots are buried. It actually absorbs most nutrients through the leaves and uses its roots to attach to a surface. This means you can tie it to driftwood or porous rocks like lava rock using some thread or fishing wire. For more information on how to do this, have a look at this guide. The roots should quickly fasten onto the surface of the wood or rock until the plant is fully attached after a few weeks.

Once you’ve planted your Java fern, there really isn’t much else you need to do but keep an eye on it.

  • In low-light, low-tech setups it may take a while before the plant really gets going in terms of growth. Once it has fully attached to its surface, it should start slowly expanding into a large fan shape and eventually start propagating by creating and releasing tiny new plantlets. You may even have to remove some leaves once it gets too large.

  • In a more advanced aquarium setup where extra fertilizers, Co2 and lights are used this process is usually a lot quicker, but these things are not necessary at all if waiting a little longer is no problem.
  • One interesting point about Java fern is that it can actually be kept in brackish water. If you’re setting up a low- to mid-end brackish aquarium (salinity up to around 1.009) and are having trouble finding plants to decorate it, look no further! Unlike most aquarium plants, Java fern can handle quite a bit of salt and should grow normally.
  • When it comes to combining Java fern with fish or invertebrates, almost anything goes! Its hard leaves make it unappetizing to fish that normally love to nibble on any plant they find, such as fancy goldfish or herbivorous cichlid species. The leafy forests are highly appreciated by fish that prefer plenty of hiding places, such as bettas and (dwarf shrimp) fry, as they offer a safe place to forage and hide. The only aquarium inhabitants that might cause trouble with Java fern are large, destructive crayfish varieties.

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Although Java fern is a very easy plant and suitable for planted aquarium beginners, you may still encounter some problems with it. If you’re having to remove a lot of transparent or dead, brown leaves, the lights you’re using may be a little too strong.

If your Java fern is just not growing like it’s supposed to even after patiently waiting for a few weeks or months, there may not be enough nutrients in the aquarium water for it to really thrive. Regular doses of liquid fertilizer should help get it going.

If you’re interested in Java fern for your own planted aquarium, finding it usually shouldn’t be too much of a problem. There are many different varieties available: Microsorum pteropus (“regular” Java fern) is most common, and you may also be able to find Windeløv- (lace), narrow leaf- or trident Java fern if you’re lucky.

Most aquarium stores carry Java fern and you can also find all varieties and sizes online, sometimes pre-attached to driftwood. Just look for a seller with good reviews, like SubstrateSource. If you don’t want to buy your Java fern from a store, many aquarists also sell their clippings for a low price or even just shipping cost.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or advanced aquarist or if your aquarium is low-tech or a high tech aquascape: everyone is able to grow Java fern and it’s a great choice if you’re aquascaping on a budget. Although it grows relatively slowly, it should eventually turn into a large, impressive plant and create plenty of new plantlets!

If you have any more questions about caring for and growing Java fern in your aquarium or if you want to share your experiences, be sure to leave a comment below. Happy fishkeeping! 


Founder & admin of Aquariadise, aquarium enthusiast and writer of many articles.

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