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Home > Fish > Java Fern Aquarium Plant: Care, Planting & Growing Guide

Java Fern Aquarium Plant: Care, Planting & Growing Guide

java ferns

Java ferns are an exceedingly popular plant in the aquarium trade. These plants are hardy, withstand a variety of environments, and they are great plants for filling in space in your aquarium. They’re easy to come across, often being carried in small aquatics stores and big box pet stores alike, and they are an affordable aquarium plant.

Java fern can be a fantastic addition to your tropical freshwater tank, and it reproduces readily and in large numbers through an interesting cloning process. However, this plant isn’t without its quirks and faults, so keep reading for more information about Java ferns.


Useful Information About Java Fern

Family Name: Polypodiaceae
Common Name: Java Fern
Origin: Asia
Color: Green
Maximum Size:  14 inches
Growth Rate: Low to moderate
Care Level: Easy
Lighting: Low to high
Water Conditions: 68–82°F, pH 6.0–7.5
Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
Supplements: Optional
Placement: Midground to background
Propagation: Cloning
Compatibility: Freshwater to brackish water
java fern
Image Credit: Joan Carles Juarez, Shutterstock

Java Fern Appearance

The Java fern can grow on a variety of surfaces, thanks to its rhizomes that help root it in place. It consists of rhizomes and leaves, but lacks true roots. It has thick leaves that are often left alone by fish prone to eating plants, like goldfish.

There are multiple varieties of Java fern, but they all have long leaves that grow near each other, giving the plant a bushy and full appearance. The mature size of the plant is dependent on the variety, but most Java ferns don’t grow beyond 13–14 inches in height.

As they age, many Java ferns will develop dark bumps on the leaves. These are often incorrectly identified as everything from snail or fish eggs to fungal infections. However, dark bumps on the leaves are normal as these plants grow. They serve a reproductive function for the plant, much like the dark bumps that appear on the leaves of terrestrial ferns as well.

Where to Find Java Fern?

The Java fern is named for its origin on the island of Java, although it is native to a variety of parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India, and China.

When it comes to finding Java fern in the Western world, you don’t have to look further than the shelves of your local pet stores. This is one of the most popular aquarium plants and is extremely easy to find in brick-and-mortar stores and online shops.

java ferns in aquarium
Image Credit: You Touch Pix of EuToch, Shutterstock


General Care

  • Narrow Leaf Java Fern: A popular option for small tanks, this variety only reaches 4–8 inches in height. The leaves are more narrow than other varieties, giving this variety its name.
  • Windelov Java Fern: This is a unique Java fern variety that features leaves with delicate, branching leaf tips. It has a bushy growth pattern that makes it great for filling up open space. It can grow up to 8 inches in height.
  • Trident Java Fern: This is one of the less common and more unique-looking varieties. It’s named for its leaves, which feature lobed leaves that resemble a trident, although there can be up to five lobes per leaf. This is a shorter variety that is well-suited to small tanks.
  • Needle Leaf Java Fern: This variety of Java fern has leaves that are more sharply pointed than other varieties. The leaves only grow to around 6 inches, and this is one of the rarest Java fern varieties.
  • Fork Leaf Java Fern: Although hardier than many varieties, this Java fern variety is very rare in the aquarium trade. As the plant ages, it develops its mature forked leaves. It’s one of the tallest varieties, reaching up to 14 inches in height, making it suitable for medium to large tanks.
  • Latifolia Java Fern: This Java fern has some of the broadest leaves of all commonly kept Java fern varieties. It is a taller variety, reaching up to 14 inches in height, making it ideal for medium to large tanks. It has a very full and lush appearance.
  • Petite Java Fern: This cute plant is essentially your everyday Java fern but in miniature. It has a bushy growth habit, but its leaves stay short enough that this variety won’t overwhelm your nano or small tank.
  • Philippine Java Fern: This popular Java fern variety has brightly-colored, elongated leaves. It’s a good option for medium and large tanks, and it’s a low-maintenance plant.

Habitat, Tank Conditions & Setup

Tank Size

The tank size for Java fern is dependent on the variety. However, most varieties are best suited in tanks that are 10 gallons or larger. Some smaller varieties are suitable for nano tanks, but they may become too bushy and require regular trimming to keep them from taking up too much space.

Water Temperature & pH

These are true tropical plants, so they prefer warm water temperatures. Ideal water temperatures for Java ferns range from 68–82°F. They prefer a slightly acidic to neutral pH, with a preference for 6.0–7.5.

checking PH level of aquarium water
Image Credit: Joan Carles Juarez, Shutterstock


Java ferns don’t require substrate and prefer to be attached to surfaces. They will naturally attach to surfaces over time, but to keep fish from pulling them around, it’s best to glue or tie them to surfaces. They can be mounted to rocks, driftwood, and décor. It can be difficult to plant Java fern in substrate because if planted too deep, the plant can die.


All Java ferns require to thrive is low lighting, so essentially any type of lighting will help these plants grow. The more light they are given, the faster they will grow, though. If you want your Java fern to grow faster and healthier, aim to provide moderate lighting.


Java ferns are not picky with filtration or currents. As long as they are securely attached to a surface, they can tolerate relatively strong water movement. Normal tank circulation should be adequate.


Planting Tips

Planting Java fern is exceptionally easy. In fact, you can simply drop a plant in your tank, and it will eventually use its rhizomes to attach to a surface. However, if you have fish in your tank, you may have to attach the plant to a surface, at least long enough to keep it in place until it can grab onto the surface.

A few ideal surfaces to attach your Java ferns to include rocks, especially porous rocks like lava rock, and driftwood. Aquarium-safe glue can be used to attach the plants to surfaces, as well as clear fishing line.

java fern
Image Credit: Muddy knees, Shutterstock


The 3 Benefits of Having Java Fern in Your Aquarium

1. Reduces algae growth

Java ferns are a fantastic plant for helping to reduce algae growth for two reasons. The first reason is that they, like most plants, absorb nutrients from the water that can encourage algae growth. The second reason is their low light requirement. The more light your tank receives, the more likely it is to grow unsightly algae. By choosing plants that require minimal light, you’ll help reduce algae growth in your tank.

2. Improves water quality

By absorbing waste products from the water column for nutrition, Java ferns help improve the quality of the water. They also help reduce carbon dioxide levels in the water, overall improving water quality.

3. Provides shelter

Due to its growth patterns, Java fern is an excellent plant option for helping your fish feel safe. Its bushy growth and tall leaves provide shelter to shy fish and invertebrates.


Concerns About Java Fern

Thankfully, Java fern has not shown itself to be particularly invasive in the United States. When it comes to potential concerns for your tank, there are very few. The primary concern would be that this plant can get quite full and take up a lot of tank space, especially once it starts reproducing. Aim to trim your Java fern regularly and remove plantlets as needed to prevent overgrowth.

aquatic fern
Image Credit: chonlasub woravichan, Shutterstock


Final Thoughts

Java fern is a fantastic plant for your tropical freshwater tank. It’s hardy, easy to care for, and requires minimal lighting to thrive. This plant has thick leaves that are typically ignored by fish that like to eat live plants. It’s easy to plant and can be attached to just about any surface you can dream up. Just make sure to keep it trimmed back to prevent it from becoming too bushy, especially in smaller tanks.

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Featured Image Credit: Pavaphon Supanantananont, Shutterstock

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