Aquarium plants Articles Plant caresheets

Growing Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)

Last Updated January 27, 2020
Windeløv java fern

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.

Minimum recommended tank size10 gal (38L)
Care levelEasy
Temperature60-83 °F/15-28 °C


The way Java fern should be planted is a bit different from what most aquarists are used to. The species 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 has evolved to anchor itself to porous rock or driftwood using its amazingly strong roots instead. To make up for not growing in soil, it has adapted to absorb most nutrients through its leaves instead.

This means you can tie Java fern to driftwood or porous rocks like lava rock using some thread, fishing wire or just good old super glue. 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. In fact, you’ll have to make quite the effort if you ever want to remove it from its anchor point!

Photo by Pinpin

Care & tankmates

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.
How to grow Java fern in your aquarium!
Hover over image to pin to Pinterest

Problems with Java fern

Although Java fern is a very easy plant and suitable for planted aquarium beginners, you may still encounter some problems with it. For example, we often think more light will always be better for our plants. this is often the case, but not for Java fern and definitely not if you’re not balancing things out by adding extra nutrients and/or Co2. If you’re having to remove a lot of transparent or dead, brown leaves from your Java fern, the lights you’re using may be a little too strong. Time to turn things down a little.

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.

Buying Java fern

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! 

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  • Reply Lexus U April 20, 2018 at 7:08 pm

    Hello! Newbie Java fern mom here. So It looks healthy as far as I can tell but seems to have growing extra plants from it’s leaves? They each have a green center nub..which then has smaller brown fury like testicles growing from it attached to mostly the tip portions of the plant. Any ideas about this? Thanks in advance!

    • Reply Mari April 22, 2018 at 10:02 pm

      Hahaha! Yes, this is normal. Java ferns grow little plantlets which are eventually released and float around until they find a surface to attach to. You can just leave them until you find them floating and then replant or place them wherever you want 🙂

  • Reply devoney November 15, 2017 at 6:21 am

    Hi there! This is a bit of a long problem, sorry.
    I have two java ferns in my tank, which is a 5-gallon Solo Desktop Aquarium, planted, with a betta, a waterweed, and 5 marimo moss balls. There is a 50-watt heater and 40G sponge filter, set to a low current with the control valve. Currently I’m not sure if my tank is cycled because the sponge filter is still very new (replaced the Solo filter with it a month ago) and I have been testing the water parameters since then, which all say I have 0 anything in my tank (ammonia/nitrates/nitrites). Not sure if this means cycled or just I have enough plants to filter it all?
    Anyways, I have had problems on and off with the tank, but currently my java ferns are not growing very quickly (or at all from what I can see), and the adult leaves are getting brown spots and holes, and I’ve lost a few leaves. Last week I found one baby fern that had gone completely white with a few yellow patches. They have barely grown since getting them 4-5 months ago, only produced a lot of babies, but now they really seem to be suffering.
    Not sure what’s wrong with my tank?? I’ve been dosing Flourish Potassium for about two weeks and no changes. Please help!

    • Reply Mari November 22, 2017 at 11:41 am


      I can’t tell you much about whether your tank is cycled either. 0 nitrates is suspicious but then again liquid nitrate tests aren’t always accurate and can falsely display 0. So I’d double check that (you can Google how to make sure your test is working) and if it still displays 0 I’d just keep a super close eye on it. One thing – next time you can make sure the tank stays cycled by running both filters for a month or so before removing the one you want to take out (unless the previous one was broken, that’s just bad luck).

      As for the Java ferns, it can be super difficult to figure out why they’re not doing well. Dumb question maybe, but are they attached to rock or driftwood as they should be? They can die off when planted in soil. If that’s not it, I did find a thread that lists a couple of things you can consider here. Hopefully the solution is in there.

      Good luck! I hope the ferns recover or you can at least figure out the problem. 🙂

  • Reply Jason February 22, 2017 at 1:45 am

    Great article. What if I am getting brown spots on the fern?

    • Reply Mari February 23, 2017 at 10:15 am

      I find they do get brown spots even when nothing is wrong. If it’s getting really bad your lights may be too strong or you may be dealing with some type of nutrient imbalance/deficiency.

  • Reply Laura June 9, 2016 at 2:28 pm

    Hi there. This was a good article. I’m just starting my first aquarium. I have a Java fern and no fish yet. I just tested my water and my pH is 8.2. I tested my tap water and it’s the same. Is this going to be a problem and if so what can I do about the pH? I’ve read that it isn’t good to use those lowering pH drops. Thanks for any help you can give.

    • Reply Mari June 12, 2016 at 5:47 pm

      I don’t think it’ll be too much of a problem, Java fern is very hardy 🙂

  • Reply Michael September 27, 2015 at 11:50 pm

    Thank you for the information on Java fern. I always enjoy your posts and find them very informative.

    • Reply Mari September 28, 2015 at 11:31 am

      I’m very glad to hear that! Always happy to help. 🙂

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