Java Fern Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation

Java fern care guide

Java fern (Microsorum Pteropus) is unarguably one of the best aquatic plants for the aquarium hobby. It is hardy, easy to cultivate, and well-adapted for life in different kinds of habitats (both freshwater and brackish).

This plant is very compatible with various kinds of fishes; its appearance is stunning and ideal for beautifying home aquariums.

Those in the aquarium hobby especially beginners will not have a problem cultivating this plant species, be rest assured that the success rate is very high and you will love it.

Keep reading for more information on how you can grow and care for Java fern.

Java Fern – check out the price on Amazon

Quick Notes about Java Fern

Common Name Java Fern
Scientific Name Microsorum Pteropus
Difficulty Easy
Lighting Low to moderate
pH 6.0 – 8.0
Water hardness   soft – medium – hard
Temperature (optimal) 20 – 28 C (68 – 82 F)
Substrate Not needed / can float
Growth Rate Slow to moderate
Growth Conditions
Placement in Tank Mid to Background 
Height 15 – 35 cm (6 – 13 inches)
CO2 Not needed – Low
Propagation Adventitious Plantlet/Rhizome Division

Origin & Habitat of Java Fern

Java fern is a popular epiphytic plant that grows attached to rocks, ground, and tree trunks. It can be originally traced to the Island of Java (Indonesia). This plant is also widely distributed in tropical Southeast Asia (Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and some parts of China).

Java fern is a highly variable plant species with many diverse geographical varieties which can be distinguished by their unique leaf sizes and shapes. This plant can be found in tropical rainforests, coastal brackish regions, banks of freshwater streams and rivers where it grows fully or partially submerged.

Java fern in aquariumJava fern is a member of the Polypodiaceae family and its taxonomical classification goes thus:

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Clade: Tracheophytes
  • Class: Polypodiopsida
  • Order: Polypodiales
  • Suborder: Polypodiineae
  • Family: Polypodiaceae
  • Genus: Microsorum
  • Species: Microsorum Pteropus 

Description of Java Fern

Java fern has an overall green coloration and it is made up of three major components:

Roots: The roots of this aquatic plant are dark brown hair-like strings that grow out of the rhizomes, these roots acts as an anchor. It is responsible for attachment to different types of hardscapes or surfaces to prevent it from being carried away from water current and wind.

Rhizomes: These appear just like the dark green roots but in this case, they are actually stems. Leaves grow out from the top of these rhizomes. They function as a propagative means of the Java fern plant.

Leaves: This plant possesses varying leaf form and structure which makes it unique. Black veiny lines are present and the color of the leaves ranges from medium to dark green hues. The leaves are hardy and have a leathery texture in a range of distinct shapes, mainly from bushy to spiky.

It is worthy to note that the coloration of the leaves is highly dependent on the intensity of the lighting provided. The higher the lighting, the darker the green coloration and vice versa. Absorption of nutrients in this plant is through the leaves, the roots serve as an anchor.

This plant is relatively tall, it grows up to 12 inches (~30 cm) in height and 6 – 8 inches (15 – 20 cm) in width. It is well adapted for life in various tanks, from large community tanks to heavily planted aquarium tanks. 

Black Lines and Dots on Java Fern

It is not unusual to see black little bumps or black lines or going through the leaves on Java Fern. Some people start panicking, thinking that the plant is sick or dying. Well, it is not! It is absolutely normal to have small dots because that is one of the ways to grow new Java ferns (propagation). Regarding black lines, they are just veins.

Varieties of Java Fern

Java fern Microsorum Pteropus, Narrow LeafThere are different varieties of the Java fern plant, and they are all characterized by varying leaf shapes. The popular varieties go by the names: Narrow Leaf, Needle Leaf, Trident, Windleof. Let’s get into the details:

Microsorum Pteropus, Narrow Leaf: This variety has thinner leaves and as they mature it starts to twist a little. The leaves are about 4 – 8 inches (10 – 20 cm) in size and up to 12 inches (30 cm) in height.

Microsorum Pteropus, Needle Leaf: This Java fern is simply gorgeous. It possesses long thin leaves that are thinner than the narrow leaf variety. The height of this plant is about 6 inches (15 cm).

Microsorum Pteropus, Trident: This variety grows faster and the leaves are feathery-lobed, just as the name implies, this variety has forks which resemble a trident. It is shorter than the narrow leaf variant.

Microsorum Pteropus, Windelov: This variant grows up to 8 inches (20 cm) tall, it is similar to the regular Java fern plant but has finely branched leaf tips. 

Water Parameters 

Java fern Microsorum Pteropus, Needle LeafThe recommended tank size for this plant is a minimum of 10-gallons (~40 liters). Java fern can fill up the tank easily when they are mature so it is advisable you go with a tank above 10 gallons or else they will compete and choke other inhabitants.

The following water parameters should be maintained in the tank to ensure that the Java fern survives and grows properly:

  • Water pH: A pH of 6.0 – 8.0 is quite okay, anything slightly above that might not really hurt this plant. It is known to tolerate a wide pH range.
  • Hardness: Soft to moderately hard water, can thrive in hard water also.
    Temperature: Preferred temperature is between 68 – 82°F (20 – 28C).
  • Hardness: 2-15 dKH
  • Lighting: Low lighting is preferred. 

Read more about it in my article “Advanced Guide to Planted Tank Lighting”.

Planting Java Fern

Java fern Microsorum Pteropus, WindelovJava fern is easy to cultivate, all you have to do is attach the rhizome of the plant to a hardscape like driftwood, rocks, etc.

Important: One thing you should never do is burying the rhizomes down the substrate or it will rot.

While planting the rhizomes, choose hardscapes with rough surfaces over smooth surfaces. In this case, rough surfaces are better than smoother surfaces. The reason why you shouldn’t choose smooth surfaces is because the roots will take longer to anchor itself.

Next, use tapes, adhesives or fishing wire to fasten the plant to the desired hardscape. After a while, the roots will have attached itself firmly to the surface of the hardscape, and growth continues.

Java fern is known for its large mass and wide leaves forms when fully mature; hence ensure that you cultivate this plant in the center or at the back of the tank. If planted on the front, it will definitely cover everything in the tank and I’m definitely sure you wouldn’t like that to happen.

This plant can also be floated on the water surface, just ensure that it is trimmed/pruned as at when due to keep the tank orderly and clean. 

Read more about “Top 7 Floating Plants for Beginners”.

Care and Maintenance

Java fern Microsorum Pteropus, TridentThis hardy plant requires little maintenance, however, you should look into these factors if you desire a healthy-looking plant in the tank.

Nutrient supplementation: The Java fern plant can survive without supplementing it with additional nutrients (fertilizers). I consider it necessary because the Java fern is a slow grower, dosing it with fertilizers is capable of improving its growth rate. The addition of liquid fertilizer also helps to tackle melting issues in some aquatic plants which include Java fern.

Co2 supply: This is not really a necessity but if you want your fern to grow faster than normal then you definitely need to supply them with extra Co2.

Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank, I would highly recommend reading my articles:
CO2 in a Planted Tank Guide
CO2 in a Shrimp Tank

How Copper Affects Dwarf Shrimp
Shrimp Safe Plant Fertilizers

Java Fern and Propagation

Java Fern propagation through plantletsPropagation of this plant species is very easy. The plant is rhizomatous which implies that its roots and leaves emerge from a thick and root-like base (rhizome). The rhizome grows horizontally, and sprouting out leaves and roots in the process. The good thing about the rhizome is that it has the ability to continue growing and developing.

To propagate the plant by rhizome, split the rhizomes into desired sizes, and attach it to a surface with something that will bind it together. After this process, it starts growing at a slow rate.

Another method of propagation is through the production of plantlets. In this method, the Java fern produces tiny plantlets on the tips of its leaves, which consists of few tiny leaves and a little root system.

These plantlets can now be detached from the parent plant and tied to driftwood or any other hardscape. They will start growing as independent plants. 

Problems associated with Java Fern

The common problems associated with this plant species are melting and the appearance of brown spots under the leaves.


This is a common problem amongst most aquatic plants whereby the leaves turn yellow and brown, shrink and die off. What causes this problem is the transfer to a new tank or change in water parameters. The leaves find it difficult to adapt to the new present water conditions, and this makes them stressed.

In this case, what you have to do is to prune our discolored leaves down to the rhizome. The plant will adapt to the new water conditions and new leaves will start sprouting afterwards.
Melting can be mitigated by nutrient supplementation, so making sure that the Java fern are dosed with the required fertilizers will prevent the leaves from dying.

Brown spots on leaves:

Most aquarists often think more light is best for the plants but this is not totally right. Java fern doesn’t need strong lighting conditions as this can burn the leaves and make them develop brown spots.
However, this shouldn’t be confused with the presence of black spots beneath the leaves as that is a sign that the parent plant is about to grow plantlets. 

You can also read “How to Spot Nutrient Deficiencies in Aquatic Plants”.

Java Fern and “Tankmates”

Java fern is compatible with a huge variety of fish. It is hardy and tough which makes it difficult for herbivorous (nippy) fishes to feed on them. This aquarium plant will thrive with most tropical fish as very few seem to bother it. For example, Java fern can withstand aggression from Cichlids, Oscar, Goldfish species that normally eat aquatic plants. They find Java fern to be unappetizing due to their hard leaves, which do not taste so good.

Also, it is compatible with small fish and fry. Java fern forms dense bushy mats which serve as a hideout for smaller fish or fry trying to escape being eaten by the adults. However, you should avoid pairing them with large species of crayfish as they are known to destroy the plant.

Java fern is also one of the best plants for shrimp tanks and snails. You can read more about it in my article “Top 5 Plants for Your Shrimp Tank”. 

Any freshwater shrimp which share the same water requirements (for example, Cherry shrimpSnowball shrimpCaridina cf. BabaultiGhost shrimpAmano shrimp,Vampire shrimpBlue tiger shrimpBlue Velvet Shrimp, etc).

Regarding snails, you can keep it with Ramshorn snailsNerite snailsMalaysian Trumpet snails, Japanese trapdoor snailsMystery snails, etc.,

Using Java Fern in Aquascaping

Java fern is a popular aquarium plant for aquascaping; its form, beauty, and growth pattern makes it well suited for this purpose.

This plant is often considered as mid or background plant, it all depends on your tank size.

To make a Java tree fern, you have to attach the Java fern rhizomes or the plant to driftwood that can imitate the branched appearance of a typical tree. The Windelov variety is the favorite choice for creating a Java fern tree in the aquarium.

If you desire some jungle kind of effect in the tank then creating a Java fern wall is your best bet. This wall can be formed at the back of your tank to get that desirable attractive green background.

The next step is using a cling film to make the back pane of the aquarium black, this ensures that you won’t be able to see the mesh you are using to attach the plant to. Break the Java fern and split it into little pieces to cover the created mesh. Afterwards, put the structure to the back wall while making sure that no fish gets hurt by coming in contact with it. You will discover plantlets sprouting after some time, which gives the aquarium a unique and decorate wall outlook.

Benefits of Java Fern

Java fern is very versatile, hardy and easy to maintain. This plant is appreciated by hobbyists because of its size and wonderful appearance, it is a perfect addition to your aquarium if you desire a beautiful look.

The Java fern forms a bush with its tall leaves when fully grown, this provides a shade/cover where smaller fish, shrimp, and fry can hide to keep away from predators and intense lighting conditions.

That’s not all, live plants help to keep the aquarium stable.  Java fern plant absorbs ammonia, nitrates, and phosphates from the water as food. These compounds are known to be harmful to fish and shrimp in macro quantities, the tank inhabitants will are safer thanks to this role the Java fern performs.

Read my article “Nitrates in Shrimp Tank. How to Lower them”. 

Quarantine Java Fern

Do not forget to quarantine any new plants before putting them into your tank!

  • They can have parasites, pests like snails or even predators (dragonfly, damsefly nymphs, etc.).
  • They can be treated with chemicals (pesticide) to remove parasites, snails, etc. However, these chemicals are extremely poisonous to shrimp and other invertebrates.

To find out more, read my articles:  

Dragonfly and Damselfly Nymphs. Monsters in Shrimp Tanks. Treatment
How to Remove Snails from a Shrimp Tank.
How to Quarantine and Disinfect Aquarium Plants.
Pesticides in Shrimp Tanks. Plants Quarantine.

Buying Java Fern

One of the things we love about this unique aquarium plant is its availability. You can easily find varieties in pet stores that sell aquarium plants or simply go online. There are many sellers online who retail varieties of the Java fern plant, you can source them from Petco, eBay or Amazon. They are very affordable and the price ranges from $4 – 20 depending on the variety and type you want (single plant or mat).

In Conclusion

If you are searching for a perfect plant that is easy to plant, maintain, and yet inexpensive then you should consider getting the Java fern as it ticks all the boxes. It is one of the most sought after plants for aquascaping. This plant is hardy and undemanding, beautiful and it can live up to 2 years. Yay!

Whether you’re an expert or a beginner in the work of fishkeeping, you can count on Java fern to deliver an enticing and decorative look to your home aquarium.

Java Fern – check out the price on Amazon

2 thoughts on “Java Fern Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation

  1. So what about the brown spots?? You simply said not to confuse them with the black veins. Ok, and? How about treatment, cause, prevention, etc.??

    1. Hi Sbysmrai,
      Regarding black lines, they are just veins. I mentioned it in the article.
      The appearance of black spots underneath the leaves indicates that the parent plant is ready to produce plantlets. It was also mentioned.
      Best regards,

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