Bolbitis Heteroclita Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Bolbitis Heteroclita Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation - main

Despite being described almost 100 years ago, Bolbitis heteroclita has only recently become known in the aquarium hobby and is still relatively uncommon.

First and foremost, it is important to note that Bolbitis heteroclita grows extremely slowly and requires specific care in aquariums. The main reason for this is that it is naturally a terrestrial plant. Therefore, cultivating it in paludariums should not pose any difficulties as it becomes much less demanding under such conditions.

In this article, I have compiled all the available information about Bolbitis heteroclita, including the necessary conditions for its care.

In one of the studies on Bolbitis heteroclita, its status was mentioned as Vulnerable (VU) according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). However, currently, I have not come across any recent information regarding its status, suggesting that it might have been updated or removed.

Quick Notes about Bolbitis Heteroclita

Common Name Bolbitis heteroclita
Other Names Bolbitis Mini, Creeping Fern, El Nino Fern, Asian Water Fern, African Water Fern,长叶实蕨
Scientific Name
Bolbitis heteroclita
Difficulty Moderate
Lighting Low to Moderate
Optimal pH 6.0 – 7.0
Optimal GH 1 – 10
Optimal Temperature 72 – 77°F (22 – 25°C)
Substrate Any
Can Be Grown Emersed
Growth Rate Low 
Placement in Tank
Foreground and midground
Aquarium size 4 – 6 inches (10 – 15 cm)
Low requirements
CO2 Low requirements
Propagation Through rhizome division

Interesting fact: Bolbitis heteroclite has been listed in the Chinese traditional system as medicinal.

Etymology of Bolbitis Heteroclite

The etymology of the scientific name “Bolbitis heteroclita” can be broken down as follows:

The genus name “Bolbitis” is derived from the Greek word “Bolbos,” which means bulb or bulbous. This name is inspired by the appearance of small veins that resemble bulbs running through the leaflets (pinnae) of the fronds.

The word “Heteroclita” is a combination of the Greek words “Heteros,” which means other or other, and “Klitos,” which means called or named. It speaks to the unique or unusual traits that set this particular species apart from others in the genus Bolbitis.

Therefore, “Bolbitis heteroclita refers to a specific plant species that stands out or differs from other plants in the Bolbitis genus.

Destribution of Bolbitis Heteroclita

Bolbitis Heteroclita Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation - destributionThis species is widely distributed in the southern and southeastern Asian tropics. Bolbitis heteroclite is native to Assam, Bangladesh, Borneo, Caroline Is., China South-Central, China Southeast, Christmas I., East Himalaya, Hainan, Jawa, Malaya, Maluku, Myanmar, Nansei-shoto, Nepal, New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Is., Sulawesi, Sumatera, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Habitat of Bolbitis Heteroclita

In its natural habitat, Bolbitis heteroclita is commonly found in roadside areas within tropical Asia. It has an altitudinal distribution range between 150 and 750 meters above sea level.

The plant is primarily terrestrial and thrives in shaded environments. It is often observed on rocks, at the base of trees, or near streams.

The species has a preference for mesophyte habitats, which are environments with moderate moisture levels.

Its ability to adapt as a terrestrial shade plant or lithophyte enables it to colonize a variety of ecological niches within its range.

Description of Bolbitis Heteroclita

Bolbitis Heteroclita Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation
Submersed form

Bolbitis heteroclita is a stunning terrestrial fern characterized by elongated rhizomes and loosely placed leaves.

  • Growth form. This plant can be grown emersed (in paludarium) or submersed (in aquariums).
  • Leaves. The leaves of this fern have a thin and herbaceous texture. The side branches of the leaves, called lateral pinnae, are arranged alternately and usually have 1 to 4 pairs. The edges of the pinnae are typically smooth or slightly serrated. The tip of the pinnae is long and whip-like.

The end parts of the leaves are flat and not divided. The primary vein of the leaf is pinnate and thick. The veins on the leaves do not have smaller veins inside them.

Bolbitis Heteroclita Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation - emersed form
Emersed form

Emersed. In general, the height of this aquatic beauty can reach up to 10 inches (25 cm) with the average width being about 6 – 7 inches (15 – 17 cm).

Submersed. When grown underwater, the leaves can be narrowly ovate, elongated with pointed tips, or have entire margins. They are about 4 inches (10 cm) long and 2 inches (5 cm) wide.

  • Maturity leaves. The plant typically reaches maturity when the fronds (leafy structures) have developed multiple pairs of pinnae (smaller leaflets). Once the fronds have several pinna pairs, it indicates that the plant has reached a more mature stage of growth.

Fertile leaflets are rarely formed in Bolbitis heteroclita. The sporangia are usually evenly and densely arranged on their undersides.

  • Rhizome. The rhizome is about 0.4 – 0.6 inches (10 – 15 mm) thick and covered in scales. The scales are densely packed near the base of the leaves.
  • Color. The leaves of Bolbitis heteroclita are bright green in color.

There are several varieties of this plant, including:

  • Bolbitis heteroclita ‘Asiatica’
  • Bolbitis heteroclita ‘Difformis’
  • Bolbitis heteroclita ‘Cuspidata’

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

The ease of care for this plant depends on its growth form. If it is grown in an emergent or semi-emergent form, such as in a paludarium setting, you will not encounter difficulties in maintaining it. However, if it is kept as a fully submerged plant, it may present certain challenges in terms of care and maintenance.

Tank size:

If you keep Bolbitis heteroclita solely as an aquatic plant, it can even be suitable for nano aquariums. However, if the plant is grown in a semi-emergent state, it will require a larger aquarium, at least 20 gallons (80 liters) in size.

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Temperature: The temperature should be maintained between 72 – 77°F (22 – 25°C). This plant does not tolerate cold or too warm water or temperature fluctuations.

pH: Bolbitis plants prefer water with a slightly acidic to neutral pH level (6.0-7.0). In alkaline water, leaf dissolution is often observed.

Hardness: Ideally, the water hardness should be less than 10 GH. In very hard water it often melts.


The plant is primarily terrestrial and thrives in shaded environments, indicating its preference for growing in areas with reduced direct sunlight.

In the aquatic environment, low to medium lighting conditions will be enough. This plant can be good for low-tech tanks.

Related article:


Bolbitis heteroclita does not like strong water flow.


Bolbitis Heteroclita Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation - profileAccording to the study, this plant species can be terrestrials (grow in soil) or lithophytes (grow on rocks).

In their natural habitat, these plants inhabit different soil types (such as red soil, loamy soil, and laterite soil). They also climb on tree trunks and thrive on rocks as well as along slopes. A rocky substrate provides a good substrate for ferns to root upon.

CO2 and Fertilization:

CO2: Using a pressurized CO2 system is not mandatory. Sure it may improve its growth rate but, in general, this is completely optional.

Fertilization: Bolbitis heteroclita will do fine without regular application of fertilizers. However, it is still recommended to do it at least a few times a month.

Important: If you plan to add Bolbitis heteroclita in a shrimp tank or high-tech planted tank with CO2 and regular fertilization, I would highly recommend reading my articles:

The point is that a high level of CO2 and Copper (most fertilizers contain copper) is extremely dangerous to the shrimp.

Care and Maintenance of Bolbitis Heteroclita

As I mentioned earlier, the level of care will directly depend on whether you are growing it in a submerged or emergent form.

In the submerged form

You will need to closely monitor water parameters and avoid fluctuations, including temperature changes. However, even under optimal conditions, it will grow extremely slowly. You can expect only a few leaves to develop each month.

Do not forget to do regular water changes. Also, make sure to avoid direct or intense light falling on this plant in the aquarium.

 In the emersed form

On the other hand, growing it in a paludarium system will be significantly different.

The plant will be relatively resilient to various changes. Additionally, its growth rate will be moderate to high.

Planting Bolbitis Heteroclita

Bolbitis Heteroclita Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation - AnchoringBolbitis heteroclita is a typical aquatic fern with leaves that grow along its rhizome. Therefore, avoid burying the rhizome in the substrate as this can cause decay.

Use cotton thread or fishing line to tie this plant to rocks or driftwood. Another option is to use super glue or coral glue.

To attach the rhizome:

  • clean the surface of the driftwood or rock,
  • apply a drop of glue,
  • attach the fern rhizome,
  • press it firmly.

Remember to prevent the fern from drying out by maintaining adequate moisture.

Related article:

Bolbitis Heteroclita and Dry Start Method

The Dry Start Method is a technique for cultivating Bolbitis heteroclita in which the plant is grown without any water initially. This will allow for an increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the tank and will not require the purchase of any additional equipment.

  1. Instead of immediately filling the tank with water after planting, we only need to add enough water to reach the surface of the lowest part of our substrate.

Important: Make sure that the leaves are already above the water level from the beginning. By placing the rhizome near the surface, the fern can readily access air, promoting healthy growth and preventing the leaves from submerging.

  1. Cover the top of the tank with cling wrap to increase the humidity.
  2. In about 5 or 8 weeks you can flood the tank or turn it into paludarium.

Related article:

Propagation of Bolbitis Heteroclita

In nature, Bolbitis heteroclita propagates by growing little plants from the leaves (like Java fern does).

In aquariums, Bolbitis heteroclita is usually propagated through rhizome division.

To do this, a plant is carefully divided into smaller pieces using a sharp knife, ensuring that each piece has at least 3 leaflets.

The divided portions are then attached to rocks or driftwood.

Problems Associated With Bolbitis Heteroclita

MeltingBolbitis heteroclita often melts if the water parameters are unstable. Therefore, you should avoid making drastic changes to the aquarium, always endeavor to maintain low – medium lighting, and ensure that the tank water is clean.

Solution: Keep your water parameters stable.

Wilting: If the plant initially grew in an emergent form, submerging it in water would cause the leaves to wilt since they are not adapted to such conditions.

Solution: In this case, it would be better to trim the leaves down to the base and wait for the plant to acclimate to the new conditions and grow new submerged leaves.

Turning black: Sometimes the leaves of the plant may start turning black, and eventually, the plant dies.

Solution: In reality, this can be attributed to any of the aforementioned reasons, including hard water as well as planting the rhizome too deep in the substrate.

Growth rate: It is one of those plants that can take a long time to adapt and grow in a new environment.

Solution: This is a very slow-growing plant, so do not expect much from it. Alternatively, let it grow emersed, it will boost its growth rate.

Bolbitis Heteroclite and Compatible Tankmates


The plant is best kept with small, peaceful community fish that will not damage the plant. For example, Neon tetras, Clown Killifish, White Mountain Minnows, Zebra Danio, Cherry Barb, Sunburst Platy, Mollies, OtocinclusPygmy Cory, etc.


Considering the fact that Bolbitis heteroclita prefers slightly acidic water. Thus, you should consider species that prefer the same water parameters, for example, Crystal red shrimp, Blue bolt shrimp, Caridina cf. babaulti, etc. 

Freshwater snails:

Once again, ornamental snails should not be kept in a tank with low PH for a long time. It will negatively affect their shell. However, if your pH is close to 7.0, it is possible to keep almost any snail or dwarf shrimp you like. Examples, Japanese trapdoor snailsRamshorn snailsNerite snailsMalaysian Trumpet snailsBlack Devil SnailsAsolene spixiRabbit Snailsetc.).

Avoid or Be Careful

Avoid fish species that may damage the plant or find Bolbitis heteroclita too palatable, e.g. Silver dollars, Bueno Aires tetras, Koi fish, Goldfish, Oscars, Rainbow, Jack Dempsey, Clown loaches, African Cichlids. These species can really cause problems in the planted tanks.

Be careful with most types of crayfish or freshwater crabs. These animals will cut, eat, and uproot everything in the tank. So, keep it in mind and do your research beforehand.

In Conclusion

Bolbitis heteroclite is not fully aquatic. Thus, this plant can be quite finicky to care for, especially when kept fully submerged, making it not suitable for beginners. So, do not believe that the care level for this plant is easy.

However, with patience, an initially unimpressive cluster of this plant can transform into a lush and vibrant bush if given the right conditions and care.


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  6. Yatabe, Yoko, Kaoru Yamamoto, Chie Tsutsumi, Wataru Shinohara, Noriaki Murakami, and Masahiro Kato. “Fertility and precocity of Osmunda× intermedia offspring in culture.” Journal of plant research124 (2011): 265-268.
  7. Amaludin, N. A., NN Mohd Zulkafli, SA Ahmad Zu, N. A. Z. Zamri, N. A. Ab Majid, S. Daliman, AN Muhamad Nor, and R. Zakaria. “Analysis of riparian vegetation of a recreation site in Jeli, Kelantan.” In IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science, vol. 1053, no. 1, p. 012007. IOP Publishing, 2022.
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