How To Grow The Illustrious Java Fern

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Growing plants in your aquarium can certainly be a daunting task! From knowing which plants will grow best in your specific conditions to make sure you provide them with plenty of lighting, nutrients, and oxygen, raising plants is a task that even many experienced fishkeepers eschew out of fear of failure.

JavaFern

However, there are tons of plants that are perfect for beginners. The Java Fern is one such plant. Not only does it add a beautiful appearance to your tank, making it possible for you to aquascape in style, but it also is easy for beginners to grow.

If you’re ready to add some plant life to your tank, you’ve come to the right place. The Java Fern might be the perfect plant for you.

Java Fern Background And Habitat

Java Fern 2
Photo by Deepakkumar Sivarajan

Also known scientifically as Microsorum pteropus, the Java Fern is a common aquatic plant that is incredibly easy to raise in an aquarium. This plant is found in the wild in Southeast Asia, where it grows in countries like China, Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia. Although its appearance varies slightly in all of these locations, there are several growth patterns and leaf type that all fall within this category.

Java Fern is unique in that it is a rhizomatous plant. Its roots and leaves both grow and develop from a dense horizontal stem. This is not uncommon in aquatic plants – there are many plants, Java Fern included, that are adapted to grow outside of the soil. Instead of being rooted in the soil, they float.

These plants are evolved so that it anchors itself onto any porous surface with its roots. These don’t allow the plants to absorb any nutrients in this way – instead it gathers the nutrients it needs from the leaves.

Java Fern is an excellent option for beginners because it doesn’t require a lot of technology or care to survive. It needs minimal light and does not require extra nutrients or CO2, like some plants do. If you have lots of fish, Java Fern is usually a safe choice, too. It is not commonly eaten by herbivorous fish because the leaves are so hard.

As we mentioned, wild Java Fern is found in the most densely forested areas of the Philippines, China, and Malaysia. Usually, it is found on riverbanks where it roots itself to rocks and other substrates. It has strong roots that help prevent it from being swept away by the current during the rainy season flooding.

This plant is unique in that it has adapted to be able to live both beneath and above the surface of the water. As a result, it can be grown either submersed or fully immersed. It does not like to be totally dried out because, when it is found in the wild, it stays slightly moist at all times from the spray of the river.

Types Of Java Fern

Java Fern 5
Photo by jpog232

When you are setting up your tank for Java Fern, you will need to consider the variety that you would like to grow. There are many different varieties of Java Fern that have been cultivated all over the world. Some of the most popular cultivars are detailed below.

Regular Java Fern, as the name implies, is the most common variety out there. It has long, sword-shaped green leaves and can be found just about everywhere. Windelov, on the other hand, looks much different. It has branched leaves that almost look like lace. The Narrow Java Fern produces narrower leaves, as you might suspect, than the other two species. It looks somewhat like grass in appearance.

Trident is an uncommon variety of Java Fern, but definitely still one you should consider. It has a unique leaf shape that includes a narrow leaf stem and a thick leaf that splits up into narrow ends. Petite is a miniature Java Fern cultivar that looks just like the regular variety, only smaller. It’s a great option if you’re worried about not having enough room in your tank for your Java Fern. The final type of Java Fern we will tell you about, latifolia, has broad leaves. These leaves are much broader than most other varieties, in fact.

How To Set Up Your Tank For The Java Fern

Java Fern 6
Photo by Sara Spaedy

Java Fern is not a plant that needs a lot of light to survive. As long as your tank is equipped with a basic, inexpensive LED light (or even the light your aquarium came with), you should do just fine. Too much light can actually cause issues in growing Java Fern, as it will be susceptible to leaf scorching or algae growth.

This plant can thrive in a wide variety of temperatures, with an ideal range that encompasses about 25 degrees. It can grow well in tropical tanks as well as in unheated aquariums. Therefore, it is the perfect plant for tanks with just about any kind of fish, including fancy goldfish and paradise fish.

Java Fern isn’t overly sensitive to water parameters. It usually needs somewhat soft, acidic waters and will grow more quickly and more vigorously in these conditions. You can even grow it in somewhat brackish waters or those with a high pH.

Java Fern can grow in about any size of tank. Ideally, you should place it in a tank that is at least 10 gallons – the plant’s growth won’t be inhibited, but it might grow too large for the tank and consume all of the empty space. This plant can grow quite wide and tall, so that it will easily outgrow a small set-up. There are, however, some dwarf varieties of Java Fern that can be grown in smaller tanks.

You don’t have to fertilize this plant very often, but it can benefit from a few extra nutrients every now and then. Otherwise, you don’t need to do much to get your tank ready for the Java Fern.

How To Grow The Java Fern Plant

Java Fern 3
Photo by Chris Drozdowski

Growing Java Fern is not difficult. While it does have some care requirements you will need to heed, it is not too difficult to grow or to care for. This plant requires minimal light and grows quite slowly. It prefers temperatures of 60 to 83 degrees Fahrenheit and a pH of 6 to 7.5.

Java Fern is unique in that it has evolved to have the ability to grow outside of a substrate. Its roots don’t need to be anchored in substrate – you can easily grow it outside of the soil. In fact, if you try to grow this plant in soil, it will often suffocate and die.

Instead, this plant will produce strong roots that attach to other surfaces, like wood and rock. This will prevent it from being swept away by the current. This growing style can be advantageous as well as challenge for fish keepers. You will need to find a surface for your plant to attach to until the roots take hold, but you can easily use some fishing wire or superglue to accomplish this. Ideally, you should attach your plant to a material like textured driftwood or lava rock to keep it in place.

Java Fern grows and moves in a way that you won’t find with other plants. It can be used to create a tree, a wall, and other kinds of ornamentation in your tank. You don’t need to anchor, glue, or tie your plant if you don’t have the motivation to do so, either – you can purchase a pre-planted Java Fern that is attached to different types of driftwood and rocks. Many aquarium stores sell it in this fashion, and it gives you the advantage of having a plant that is already established and rooted – you don’t have to worry about it coming loose.

How To Care For Your Java Fern Plant

Java Fern 4
Photo by Jonathan “Howie” Howard

Once you have placed your Java Fern in your aquarium, there’s not much that you need to do in order to maintain it. It’s not a quick-growing plant – in fact, unless you’re adding lots of fertilizer or CO2 to your tank, you might not even think it’s growing at all! It will take some time to get established, and even after it has obtained a foothold, it will grow quite slowly.

Nonetheless, this plant requires minimal maintenance – there’s not much that you will need to do in order to keep your plant healthy. Often, you may only need to prune it from time to time, and even that is optional – simply pruen just if you feel like it or if you notice any dead leaves. Dead leaves aren’t necessarily a sign that you are doing something wrong; often, it indicates that there is some leaf decay among your plants.

Benefits Of Raising A Java Fern Plant

Java Fern 1
Photo by Jubs13

There are tons of benefits associated with growing Java Fern in an aquarium, which is a common reason as to why so many aquarium hobbyists select it. It might be small when you start out, and although it grows slowly, it will reach an impressive size over time. You just need to be a little bit patient!

Left unpruned, this plant can develop quite the jungle-like aesthetic in your tank. It will add a unique appearance that will only add to the exotic appeal of your aquarium. Even if the aesthetics of your tank don’t matter much to you, there are plenty of other advantages to growing Java Fern in an aquarium.

For starters, this plant is a favorite among fish. Its tall, broad leaves offer plenty of cover, making it a great place for your shy fish or young fry to hide from predators or more aggressive fish. The surfaces of the leaves are textured and quickly become home to a layer of biofilm, which your dwarf shrimp will happily gobble up.

Live plants also help keep your aquarium healthy. They don’t necessarily eliminate the need for you to clean your tank or conduct regular water changes, but they do help keep water parameters stable as they help remove compounds like phosphate and nitrate. These compounds can be incredibly harmful to your fish in large quantities, so keeping plants like Java Fern in your tank is a great way to reduce any risk.

Java Fern is also a good option if you have herbivorous fish. Many people scorn the idea of keeping a planted tank around herbivorous plants – they are often consumed by hungry fish and, in essence, just become expensive, difficult-to-maintain sources of fish food.

This is not something you have to worry about with the Java Fern. This plant produces hard, tough leaves that are difficult for a fish to pull apart. Some aquarists even theorize that most fish don’t like the taste of Java Fern, as it’s downright unappealing. As a result, you won’t have to worry about your fish munching on your Java Fern, as they will prefer to instead move on to tastier food sources.

Another unique -albeit frequently argued- benefit of raising Java Fern is that it can thrive in a somewhat brackish environment. Some people argue that the plant will die off more quickly this kind of setting, but just based on anecdotal evidence, this plant usually ends up doing just fine in a brackish setting. However, the lower salinity you are able to offer the plant, the better.

How To Aquascape With Java Fern

Aquascaping is simply the task of decorating and arranging your tank so that it is aesthetically appealing. Java Fern is useful in this task, as it can be considered a background plant or a middle-level plant, depending on how large your aquarium is as well as the variety of Java Fern you choose. Some varieties of Java Ferns produce a fan-shaped growth pattern, while others do not grow in quite this fashion.

A common option for fish keepers is to create a Java Fern tree. To do this, all you need to do is attach your plant to a piece of driftwood or a rock. Then, you can strategically place it in your tank for a gorgeous appearance that imitate the branched appearance of a tree. To do this, you will want to avoid varieties of Java Fern that have long leaves, such as narrow Java Fern. Instead, pick a fanned variety like Mini Java Fern. Then, attach the plant to the top of your driftwood and you will be good to go.

Another popular choice is to make a Java Fern wall. This will create a fun jungle aesthetic in your tank. To do this, you just need to attach it to some mesh to create a gorgeous green screen. You should begin this task by making the back panel of your aquarium black by using cling film. This way, you will be able so see the mesh as you attach the plant.

Next, break your Java Fern into small pieces. This should allow you to cover most of the mesh. If things still look a bit sparse, don’t worry – the plant will fill in over time and cover the mesh in its entirety. Your next task is to attach the mesh to the back wall, ensuring that no curious fish can get behind it and become trapped. Sit back, and enjoy the new design of your tank – that’s all their is to it!

How To Propagate Java Fern

If you want to grow Java Fern for multiple tanks, this is something you can easily do at home. Propagating Java Fern is quite simple. To get started, you will need to choose from two different methods of propagation.

The first is that of rhizome division – it’s perhaps the easiest way to do this. As we mentioned, Java Fern is rhizomatous, meaning that its roots and leaves grow from a thick, woody, root-like base. This base grows in a horizontal fashion, moving slowly as it develops roots and leaves. Every part of it can grow, including pieces of rhizome that have no plant matter attached to them.

To propagated by rhizome division, all you need to do is snap the rhizome to break off a piece in your desired size. Attach it to another surface ad it should begin growing there.

You can also grow Java Fern form platelets. Java Fern actually produces new plants on its own, developing small miniature plants on the ends of its leaves. These ends will even have their own root systems and leaves! While these platelets normally don’t survive in the wild – they are usually knocked off by water current – you can use them to your advantage in an aquarium setting.

In your tank, you might find Java Fern plantlets stuck to the filter intake or simply floating around the tank. You can easily replant them after you collect them.

Challenges In Raising Java Fern Plants

Java Fern, as we’ve mentioned countless times, is not difficult to grow. However, there are some common issues that you may encounter from time to time.

For example, you may notice that the leaves of your plants are becoming brown. often , this is nothing to worry about – in fact there are some varieties of Java Fern that always have some amounts of browning on the leaves. The brown dots are the spots that later develop plantlets. Don’t worry unless your leaves become totally brown and dead. If this happens, there are a couple of potential culprits to blame.

The first is a lack of nutrients. While Java Fern does not need lots of nutrient dosing, if you have a large tank – or one filled with many other plants – you might find that there simply aren’t enough nutrients to go around. To address this, you would be wise to add a liquid aquarium plant supplement. You don’t have to add a lot, but start off with a small amount just to see how your browned plants respond.

Another issue that can cause leaf browning and die-of is too much light. Your aquarium lights might simply be too hot for your shade-loving Java Fern. Remember, this plant is native to forested areas where there’s not a lot of sunlight. You need to avoid blasting this plant with too much light!

Where To Buy The Java Fern

A popular aquarium plant, Java Fern can easily be found in most aquarium or generalized pets tires. However, most only sell the standard Microsorum pteropus, so if you want to grow one of the more specialized varieties that we’ve told you about, you will probably need to purchase it online.

Buying plants online is totally safe and an easy way to start your plant collection. These actually tend to be somewhat healthier than the plants found in aquarium stores because they are grown in a home or a nursery and haven’t been sitting in the store.

Is The Java Fern Right For Me?

You don’t have to have a green thumb in order to grow the verdant Java Fern! This plant is suitable for beginners and experts alike, and adding it to your tank is a surefire way to improve the quality of your water and the health of your fish. So what are you waiting for? Get some cuttings and get to planting today.

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