Caring For Java Fern – Types and Varieties of Java Fern

Caring for Java fern

Are you looking for useful tips on caring for java fern to keep your aquarium green and livelier? Well, if you are new at keeping a fish tank at your home, you must be thinking, which plant will be the best for your aquarium. From my personal experience, Java Fern or Microsorum Pteropus is undoubtedly a good choice of aquarium plants for newbies.

The lustrous green leaves delicate beauty certainly adds a beautiful and vibrant look to your aquarium. But do you know what makes java fern the most preferred one among the aquarium owner community? Well, it is the slow growth of the plants with a nice and attractive shape. Moreover, it is too easy to take care of. 

Let’s continue reading the article to know more about caring for java ferns.

Java Fern – An Overview:

Description Category
Family Polypodiaceae
Scientific name Leptochilus pteropus or Microsorum pteropus
Origin Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India, and China
Type Fresh Water
Color Form Full Range of green
Care level Easy
Propagation Rhizome Division and Adventitious Plants
Max. Size 13.5-inches (35cms)
Minimum Tank Size 10 gallon (approx. 40 liters)
Temperature 68 – 82°F (20 – 28°C),
Acidity 6 to 7.5 pH
Hardness 3-8 dKH
Lighting low to moderate
Positing in the tank Mid to Back

Java Fern Origin

Java fern is the common name for a freshwater plant in the genus of Leptochilus in the family of Polypodiaceae in the order Polypodiales.

As the common name suggests, it is originally from Java, Indonesia; nonetheless, we find Java Fern Malaysia, Thailand, and in some parts of India and China in the wild. Java fern is an exceptionally diverse plant that varies in leaf size and shapes with different geographic locations.

In the wild, Java fern grows attached to the rocks and roots along the waterways. 

Plant Structure

While caring for java fern, it is essential to know the structure of these plants. Are you wondering why? Well, it makes caring much easier when you properly know everything about the plant. 

Now, coming on to the plant’s appearance, do you know what makes the color of java ferns so lustrous and unique? It is their rhizome and leaves.

A rhizome is the most distinctive component of any fern. These rhizomes come with dark brown hairy strings that attach themselves to any surface. 

A rhizome is the most distinctive component of any fern. These rhizomes come with dark brown hairy strings that attach themselves to any surface.
It is called Epiphyte, a plant that grows on another plant or any object to support itself physically. However, it is not parasitic; it doesn’t absorb any nutrients from the supporting plant.

Besides, do you know what the best part about java ferns is? It is the strength of their leaves. The leaves are hardy enough and feature a leathery texture, which comes in a variety of shapes. It can either be bushy or spiky. Most interestingly, Java ferns come in a variety of green shades. Some of the ferns are medium green in color, whereas few are dark-hued.

Plus, even the species such as Tetras, Goldfish that munch on aquarium plants, or species like Cichlids, Jack Dempsey, Oscars, destroy plants that will leave Java Fern alone.

Moreover, the plant height can reach up to 13.5-inches (35cms)with a width of 6-8-inches (15 to 20 cms). So, whether you make a show tank or want to decorate a large community tank, java ferns are always a great choice. 

Java Fern Propagation and Cultivation

Now, to facilitate enhanced caring for java fern, you would want to have a fair idea about the propagation and cultivation of the plant to boost its growth. 

Java Fern Propagation

Java Fern propagates themselves by cloning instead of producing seeds; hence, no fertilization is required for Java Fern to propagate. This method of propagation or reproduction is known as apomixis. 

To propagate Java Fern is very simple and easy. It does not require any particular condition or extra effort. Well, check out the two ways given below to propagate your fern in the tank.

You can cut the rhizome in half and then attach the cut sections to a rock or driftwood. It will help in growing separate plants continuously. 

You can also wait for your plants to grow tiny java ferns underneath the matured plant leaves; it’s called plantlets; each one is a perfect clone of the matured plant. 

After about 2-3 weeks, tiny leaves will sprout from the black bumps. They are facile to cut off; you may use sharp or sterilized scissors to cut those tiny leaves and stick them anywhere to help the plants have new growth. 

As soon as plantlets start maturing, they are going to have the same growth process again. 

However, in the process of caring for java fern, never forget to tie down the new plant to a block of wood or other heavy objects present in your tank to secure their roots and facilitate better growth. 

Java Fern Cultivation

The cultivation of java fern is relatively easy. While you place rhizomes of the java fern in your aquarium, you should not bury them inside the substrate. In case you do, the plant will grow very slowly or may not even grow out of the substrate. 

Well, you can attach the rhizomes to lava rocks or driftwood to let the fern grow well. Cultivation of java ferns happens very well on rough surfaces than on any smooth surface. It is so because when the surface is too smooth, it takes much longer to attach itself to the object.

To secure the Java Fern properly, you would need to tie the plant’s root using nylon fishing wires; take care to use the one that doesn’t leech harmful chemicals into the aquarium water.

After a few weeks, you’ll see that the roots have hooked themselves onto the surface area of the object where you had tied them. Once the roots are secured, you can remove the ties; but not the wires, because as the fern will grow, it will cover up the threads entirely.

Java ferns will grow a bit large and have broad leaves. Thus, it is better to plant them in the middle of the aquarium to spread themselves properly, resulting in a beautiful aquascape. Also, you can plant them at the back of the tank to make it look tidier. 

So, whether you plant java ferns alone or make them stay in your tank with other plants, both are going to be adequate for bringing about lofty vegetation in your aquarium.

Java Fern Uses


Besides its easy caring for Java fern, these plants are quite popular among tank owners for many other reasons. Well, below, I have listed down a few java ferns uses; take a look:


java fern scape

Java ferns offer an excellent decoration for your fish tank. It is a popular aquarium plant among hobbyists, especially those who want to maintain a minimalist aquarium without much equipment.
You can attach these ferns to your aquarium to obtain an impressive aquascape and create a very natural-looking setting for your freshwater tank.
Java fern grows quite tall; hence it is planted mid to background depending on the java fern types.

Java fern Tree

Java fern tree is quite popular, just like the Java moss tree; you can make a Java fern tree by attaching java plantlets to driftwood to mimic tree branches and place it strategically in your aquarium tank. For this purpose, it’s best to use mini varieties such as the petite leaf or trident Java fern instead of a narrow leaf or needle leaf Java fern.

Java fern rock

Wrapping rhizome around the rock a few times and use a fishing line or a couple of zippers to secure the rhizome to the rock. It is imperative to remove the fishing line and zippers used to secure the rhizome to the rock once Java fern starts to sprout; it will impede the Java fern’s growth if you fail to remove the fishing line and zippers from the rock.

Java Wall

Java fern wall is as popular as Java moss wall as Java fern can grow on any surface where it can attach; they are brilliant plant to mimic a bushy natural habitat for most fish species needs a densely planted environment.
To create a Java fern wall, you can attach the plantlets to a mesh wire with an inch and inch and a half (2.5 to 4 cms) space between the plantlets. Place the mesh on the back of the aquarium wall; you would want to ensure that the mesh is attached to the wall of the flat and there is no gap between the aquarium wall and the mesh; this is to prevent any curious little fish species don’t get hurt due to their curiosity in exploration.

Protection to small fish and shrimps:

Java fern tank

Another great use of java fern is that it creates excellent coverage for the shy fish variants. It offers shelter and hiding spots for some of the full-grown shy and timid fishes, and shrimps offer brilliant hiding places while playing, thereby making them feel safer.

A perfect plant for Herbivores tank species:

Some large and predominantly herbivorous fish like goldfish, types of Cichlids, Tetras, etc., would munch and destroy the aquarium plants; however, all those species that munch or destroy plants leave Java fern alone; we can attribute to its foul taste and the tough and hardy leaves.
Brackish Water and Java Fern

While it is still debatable whether Java fern can survive in brackish water, some experienced aquarists swear that Java fern and the Java moss are good enough to survive in the brackish water tank. 

Aquarists who keep brackish water fish species such as Pufferfish, Gobies, Cichlids,  Catfish, Mollies, etc., swear by that Java fern and Java Moss

Brackish water does not mean saltwater; it has a salinity level of no more than 1.0226 by specific gravity.

Caring for Java Fern and its Requirements

To take care of java fern is relatively easy and inexpensive, making it a perfect choice for beginners. Java fern thrives well on its own without too much interference from you once you do the basics and fulfill its nutrient requirements.

You will want to trim down the leaves if you do not want it to take over the entire aquarium. Pluck out all the dead leaves and the brown rots of the plants as and when it occurs. 

Java fern leaves come in different shapes and sizes depending on the variety you have planted; Java fern Windelov, Latifolia, Phillippine, etc., come in with broad leaves and give a large surface room for dust formation; and the leaves are feathery and wet is an excellent surface and environment for the algae formation. Hence, you would want to clean the leaves with a clean cloth from time to time to keep the algae and the dust at bay.

Java fern is an air plant; it doesn’t have real roots. Consequently, it draws its nutrients from the water column; therefore, it is crucial to add Aquarium Plant Fertilizer containing Potassium, Manganese, Calcium, etc., after every partial and complete water change.

Water Parameters:

For all the aquatic plants, water is the main thing that helps to grow; it is so, in the case of all Epiphyte, the air plants as they don’t have real roots. It’s essential to maintain the water parameters to their requirements. Java Fern thrives at a temperature range of 68 – 82°F (20 – 28°C), pH 6 to 7.5, and hardness in the range of 3-8 dKH.

Always test the water parameters before and after the periodic water change and adjust them to their needs.

Tank Size

The first step in caring for Java fern is to choose the right tank size. Does the plant’s thriving growth entice you much? Well, you can easily acquire it. You need to grow them in a tank size that comes with at least 10 gallons (approx. 40 liters) of capacity.

Also, since java ferns tend to outgrow in smaller aquariums, you need to prune them quite often. So, growing them in a large tank will lessen your struggle to maintain them under control.

Substrate for Java Fern

As Java fern is an air plant, you can easily opt for a bare bottom tank as it does not require any substrate as such. If you choose not to have a substrate, it is not an issue; you can also choose the substrate according to its tank mates’ requirements.


Java fern is not choosy about the lighting; any range of lighting low, medium to high suits java fern though they grow in shades in the wild. Nonetheless, they thrive their best at between 6000 to 7000 k spectrum bulbs.

Does Java Fern Need CO2?

It’s a known fact that aquarium plants require more CO2 for their healthy growth and development. But do you know this is where java ferns stand apart?

In the natural climate, java fern grows along the streams, rivers, and other flowing waterways. Also, it is often found near the running water, where there’s not much-dissolved CO2.

So, as filters and powerheads deliver much oxygen to the aquarium plants, there is no need for extra CO2 to take care of java ferns. The natural amount of carbon dioxide produced by the fish and invertebrates in the tank water is enough for these ferns to thrive.

Java Fern Compatibility with Other Plants and Fishes

As a part of taking care of java ferns, you would want to ensure which tankmates they are compatible with, including plants, fish, and invertebrates. Java fern is compatible with huge varieties of fish, invertebrates, and plants; guppies, tetras, neon tetra, ember tetra, shrimps like Red cherry shrimp, Amano shrimp, Ghost shrimp, tadpoles, Bettas, white cloud mountain minnows, Angelfish, Platy fish, Kuhli loaches, etc.

Species such as Harlequin rasbora need plants like Anubias nana, Java fern to lay their eggs.

Java fern can survive even in the tank with nippers like ember tetra, neon tetra, black widow tetra, Buenos Aire Tetras, tiger barb, etc. 

It can also survive in a tank with plant destroyers and voracious plant-eaters such as Goldfish, Rainbow sharks, Cichlids, Jack Demsey Cichlid, Oscar, Mbuna, Plecos, Silver Dollars, Pufferfish, Clown loaches, etc.

Java fern can share its habitat with numerous plant kingdoms such as java moss, Anubias nana, Water Lettuce, etc.

I have put forward some of the tank mates that gell superbly well with java ferns for your easy convenience.

Types of Java Fern

types of java fern

There is a vast array of java ferns from which you need to select the suitable one to give your fish tank a gorgeous outlook. 

So, here are the various types of java ferns that you can look for.

Narrow Leaf Java Fern

As the name itself is suggestive of the structure of this java fern variant. Narrow-leaf java ferns render a cute look to your fish tank. The narrow leaves grow from a steeper angle than the usual ones. 

The leaves of this plant grow up to 4-8 inches (10 to 20 cms). Do you want to save some more space and yet have luscious green in your tank? Well, then narrow-leaf java fern will be the best choice for you.

Trident Java Fern

The Trident java fern is the most uncommon one. It comes with feathery lobed leaves with 2-5 lobes from each side, making it look more unique. 

This variant usually comes with shorter leaves than those of the narrow leaf java fern. But do you know what the fun fact is? This java fern type grows quite quickly. Also, it contains more forks in each of its leaves. 

They are a great choice in aquascaping your Aquarium; Java fern wall, Java tree, Java Carpet, etc.

Needle Leaf Java Fern

Are you one of those who loves sharp leaves more than flattering ones? Then the needle leaf java fern can be the best variant for your fish tank. But why? 

Well, it comes with thinner leaves, which are smaller in size compared to the narrow ones. It can grow up to 6-inches (15 cms). Do you know even this needle-structured java fern is quite rare, just like the trident?

Java Fern Windelov

Another very unique variation of java fern is the Windelov; it branches out into fine leaf tips. It typically grows up to 8-inches (20cms) in length. 

The dense growth of Windelov makes it a must-have for your fish tank if you want to make it bushier. 

Fork Leaf Java Fern

Now, the fork leaf java fern is extremely rare. It features unique forking leaves when the plant matures. 

The plant grows narrow leaves and is a bit tall compared to other variants. This fork leaf java fern is great to have if you are looking for a very unusual variant for your tank. Also, this particular variant is easy to care for.

Philippine Java Fern

Phillippine java fern is pretty popular amongst tank owners. With very low maintenance, it grows fine in freshwater aquariums. 

The long and bright green leaves look beautiful and serve as a proper shelter and hiding spot for your shy fishes.

Petite Java Fern

The petite java fern is a small variation of java fern cultivar, which is quite easily available as a regular type. However, it is a bit smaller than the regular types. 

If you don’t want to have plants that overgrow your aquarium tank, petite java fern would be the ideal one to buy. And also, Petite Java Fern is great for Aquascaping.

Latifolia Java Fern

Are you looking for a nice and broader variant of java fern? If yes, then you can easily opt for Latifolia. 

This variety comes with much broader leaves compared to many others. The larger and fuller appearance rendered by its leaves makes space densely packed and luscious.

Java Fern Compatibility with Other Plants and Fishes

As a part of taking care of java ferns, you would want to ensure which tankmates they are compatible with, including plants, fish, and invertebrates. Java fern is compatible with huge varieties of fish, invertebrates, and plants. 

Java fern can survive even in the tank with nippers like ember tetra, neon tetra, black widow tetra, Buenos Aire Tetras, tiger barb, etc. 

It can also survive in a tank with plant destroyers and voracious plant-eaters such as goldfish, Cichlids, Jack Demsey Fish, Oscar, Mbuna, Plecos, Silver Dollars, etc.

Java fern can share its habitat with numerous plant kingdoms such as java moss, Anubias nana, Water Lettuce, etc.

I have put forward some of the tank mates that gell superbly well with java ferns for your easy convenience.

Java Moss with Java Fern

The bright and natural java moss is a great mate for your java ferns. As the name suggests, this moss originally from Java, Indonesia. In the wild, both Java moss and Java fern their habitat; their water parameters require more or less the same as Java fern. 

Java moss is also a beginner’s aquarium plant; easy to care for just the same as Java fern.

Bettas with Java Fern

For all novice aquarists, if you are pondering over the idea of aquascaping your betta fish tank with java ferns, I would suggest you go for it; it is a wonderful choice to make because both Bettas and Java fern’s needs are similar.

Your Bettas will love Java fern; the lush green plants provide excellent cover for Bettas. Just take care Java fern doesn’t completely take over the tank, limiting your Bettas’ swimming space.

Goldfishes with Java Fern

If you ask, “Which plants are good for goldfishes?” my answer would always be java fern! Since java fern is a rhizome plant, it doesn’t require a substrate. Also, low light conditions are excellent for their growth, which is equally good for goldies’ well-being. 

Besides, your goldfish will leave the Java fern alone owing to the hard and leathery leaves and the taste. At the same time, the bushy density of java ferns will give your goldies enough space to hide and sleep at peace.

Tiger Oscars with Java Fern

Have you decided to keep Tiger Oscars in your fish tank? You can blindly go for java ferns for aquascaping, as it will create the right tank atmosphere for these large, aggressive fish species. 

Also, the lustrous vegetation of java fern gives Tiger Oscars enough place to hide while playing.

Cichlids with Java Fern

Most Cichlids are bottom dwellers, and the digging is an integral part of their nature, so any plant which needs a substrate to root themselves do not have a chance in a Cichlids tank. Well, cichlids are also shy and territorials. 

Therefore, Java fern is one such plant apt for Cichlids like Jack Dempsey’s tank as Java fern doesn’t need to root itself; also, Java fern gives enough cover for their shy and territorial behavior.

These bushy ferns serve enough space for them to play around in the tank.

Catfish with Java Fern

Catfish are pretty large and aggressive. You cannot keep them with any delicate plant in the aquarium. Catfish will merely chew them up. 

So, for such aggressive buddies, java ferns would be a great choice to keep in their habitat tank. The leaves of these plants are too hard to get chewed up by any fish. So, you can add java ferns to your catfish tank.

Difficulties in Caring for Java Fern

When you have Java fern, you would want to know the shortcomings and the problems as well. Being aware of the problems is a 50% solution to the problem; you will find ways to rectify it.

Here are the difficulties that you can face with java ferns.

Insufficient Growth

In case you notice that your java fern plant is not having any growth after a few weeks or even months, it can be a matter of concern. 

Well, this usually happens if your java fern lacks adequate nutrition. In such cases, you can use a liquid fertilizer to boost the growth of your plant. 

Java Fern Turning Brown

Does your java fern often turn brown? Well, yes, it is a significant area of concern for most java fern owners. The leaves of this plant usually develop large brown spots that eventually rot and become mushy.

But do you know why this issue occurs? Well, check out the reason below. 

Excessive Blue-Green Algae Layer Formation

The algae which causes your java fern to rot is actually a bacterium known as cyanobacteria. It usually photosynthesizes like that of algae. 

This blue-green alga covers the fern in the form of a thin film that feels a bit slimy to touch. You can either peel or lift it from the fern surface with ease. 

Too Much Lighting

A too bright setting of light can also make your ferns melt and rot. So, how can you prevent it? 

Well, it’s simple. You only need to turn off your aquarium light for three days and cover it with a blanket.

Lack of Nutrition

Though java fern requires a low level of nutrients, you would want to ensure that it is getting sufficient nourishment. Try to use liquid fertilizers to make the water more nutrient-rich and healthy for your pretty java ferns.

Caring for Java fern – Final Thoughts

Caring for java fern is not all that of great difficulty. Java fern blooms on its own without too much effort from you. Initially, you would want to do the basics until it starts to propagate. 

It is good to go in any freshwater aquarium tank and is compatible with several aquarium plants and animal species.

Java fern comes with several benefits and desirable qualities that make it irresistible for any freshwater aquarium tank.

We appreciate it if you could share with us here below your experience in keeping Java fern.


2 thoughts on “Caring For Java Fern – Types and Varieties of Java Fern

  1. Carol Lundmark says:

    I got rid of all my java fern because the plantlets were so ugly. Their roots were almost black, there were MANY of them, and the entire plant became unattractive. Are there any small ones that don’t exhibit this behavior?

    • SNBrehamet says:

      I am very sorry for my late reply. Yes, there are many other plants that can replace java fern such as variety of water lettuce, anubias, Amazon swords, etc. However, all the aquarium plants need certain parameters to live healthy, such as water temperature, pH, water hardness, lighting, CO2, etc. Mostly, the plants turns brown or black due too much of lighting or certain chemicals such as nitrates, phosphates, etc. in the water. Just check out

      Thanks for stopping by and hope you will be able to choose the right plants for your aquarium; and continue enjoy your aquarium!

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