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Java Fern: Care, Tank Size, Planting & Growing

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By Lindsey Stanton

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Some aquatic plants become popular with aquarium enthusiasts due to their beauty or blooms, but others become popular because of the easy level of care they require. Java Ferns meet both criteria!

Java Ferns are lush, green plants that bring elegance and beauty to tanks, even without flowers. They are also hardy to even inhospitable environments, able to grow underwater or only partially submerged. They can withstand a temperature range of over 20 degrees and can live in freshwater or low to medium brackish water.

Java Ferns are an excellent plant option for beginners and are a great addition to tanks with different types of fish, including fish that are often hard on plants like goldfish. Here are the things you need to know about Java Ferns and their care!

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Useful Information About Java Ferns

Family Name:  Polypodiaceae
Common Name:  Java Fern
Origin:  Southeast Asia, China
Color:  Light to dark green
Size:  6–14 inches
Growth Rate:  Slow to moderate
Care Level:  Easy
Lighting:  Low
Water Conditions: 65–82˚F

pH 6.0–7.5

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
Supplements: None
Placement: Middle to back of the tank where there are rocks or driftwood
Propagation: Rhizome division, plantlets
Compatibility: Temperate to tropical freshwater tanks; brackish tanks

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Java Fern Appearance

java fern
Photo Credit: Joan Carles Juarez, Shutterstock

Java Ferns have a distinctively fern-like appearance, with tall leaves that attach to the plant’s base by short stem ends. There are multiple varieties of Java Ferns, but all have similar appearances. The main variations in Java Ferns are distinguished by differences in leaf shapes and textures.

Java Ferns have hair-like rhizomes that look very much like thin roots. These plants can be anywhere from light to dark green. How dark the plant becomes is determined by how much light it is receiving. Higher amounts of light mean more chlorophyll production, thus making the leaves darker.

These plants can propagate from rhizome division, but they also will propagate from plantlets. At the end of the plant’s leaves, tiny versions of new Java Fern plants will appear. These plantlets will drop off the ends of the leaves, finding a new home somewhere in the tank.

Where to Find It?

Java Ferns are native to Southeast Asia, having received their name from the island of Java in Indonesia. They thrive in high-humidity environments, particularly those with low or moderate lighting. They are often seen growing in and around waterfalls.

These plants are one of the most popular plants in the aquatics trade, so they are easy to come by online and in person. Their popularity means they are usually carried by online stores, local stores, and big-name pet stores.


General Care

Java Fern in an aquarium_Muddy Knees_shutterstock
Photo Credit: Muddy knees, Shutterstock

Java Ferns are easy-care plants, tolerate a variety of environments. They make a great option for fish tanks as well as water gardens. If their rhizomatic roots are submerged in water that is temperate or warm and there is high humidity, Java Ferns will likely survive.

These plants can reproduce by rhizome division or via plantlets. Java Fern leaves are usually green, but if they begin to darken near the tips, it usually means they are developing plantlets. Once mature enough to survive, the plantlets will fall off and root elsewhere. The leaf they fell from will continue to darken and die. Once the plantlet falls off, the leaf can be pruned to reduce wasted plant energy.

If the leaves of your Java Fern begin to brown or are becoming transparent, the plant is likely receiving too much light or the light it is receiving is too strong. Reduce the light strength or time daily to give the plant a chance to heal.

Java Fern leaves are usually green and have a somewhat thick, leathery texture. If the leaves appear thin or are abnormally colored, further investigation is warranted.

Types of Java Ferns:
  • Needle Leaf Java Fern is named for its tall, pointed leaves. These leaves are the thinnest of the Java Ferns. This variety reaches around 6 inches in height.
  • Narrow Leaf Java Fern has long, thin leaves. These leaves are broader than those of Needle Leaf Java Ferns. This variety of Java Fern reaches up to 12 inches in height.
  • Trident Java Fern has leaves that are narrow and branching. This branched growth gives the leaves the appearance of a trident. This plant reaches up to 8 inches in height.
  • Windelov Java Fern has a delicate, lacy appearance. The leaves start off more like normal leaf blades toward the bottom, but the upper parts of the leaves begin to have the appearance of being shredded. This makes the leaves look like they are made of lace-like material. This plant reaches up to 8 inches in height.

Habitat, Tank Conditions & Setup

Tank/Aquarium Size

Due to the height and width Java Ferns can reach, they are not recommended for tanks smaller than 10 gallons as they can overgrow the tank. However, in smaller, low-light tanks, these plants may grow successfully for a while before needing to be moved.

Water Temperature and pH

Java Ferns prefer warm, tropical environments with soft water. They thrive in water temperatures from 65–82˚F, however, they can survive water temperatures from 60–85˚F. They prefer a pH from 6.0–7.5 but can survive in pH up to 8.0.


Java Ferns should not be planted in substrate. They naturally grow attached to roots, driftwood, and rocks. In aquariums, these plants may need to be attached to porous surfaces by string or aquarium-safe plant glue. This will allow the rhizomatic roots to take hold of the surface. Once anchored, Java Ferns can be difficult to move, so ensure you are placing the plant on an item you intend to keep.


These plants can share tank space with other plants that survive in tropical or temperate tanks, like Anubias, Banana lilies, and Hornwort.


Java Ferns only require low lighting. They will grow fastest under moderate lighting. High lighting can scorch the plant’s leaves, damaging the plant and slowing growth, which is a common trait in ferns.


These plants do not have specific filtration needs. They will grow in low to moderate currents and will happily consume nitrate in the water.

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Image Credit: chonlasub woravichan, Shutterstock

Planting Tips

Java Ferns should not be planted into a tank substrate, preferring instead to anchor to surfaces. If planted into a substrate, the growth of the plant may be stunted. This can even cause the plant to die by preventing it from absorbing the nutrients it needs to survive.

Attach Java Ferns to surfaces in the tank, like driftwood, décor, or rocks. The plant needs to be attached to a porous surface in order to appropriately take hold. It can be anchored with string, glue, or plant weights until it has had time to attach to the surface.

Java Ferns can get tall as well as wide, so it’s best to plant them in the back or middle of the tank. Otherwise, the plant may grow large and block the view of the rest of the tank.

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The 5 Benefits of Having Java Fern in Your Aquarium

1. Shelter

The tall, broad leaves of Java Ferns make great hiding places for shy fish as well as fry and shrimplets. Fish like bettas enjoy swimming through the leaves of the plant. Once they reach a larger size, Java Ferns can even provide shelter to nocturnal fish during daylight hours.

2. Unappetizing to fish

Java Ferns pass the goldfish and cichlid test! These plants have a bitter taste and somewhat tough leaves, making them unappetizing to fish, even those known for uprooting or eating plants.

3. No substrate

Not requiring a tank substrate means that Java Ferns are an excellent option for bare-bottom tanks. They can be attached to tank décor, which means they can be moved around as easily as the décor they’re attached to. Once Java Ferns root onto a surface, though, they can be difficult to remove.

4. Water filtering

Java Ferns will aid in tank oxygenation as well as reduce toxins. They absorb nitrates from the water, helping keep these levels under control even in heavy-bioload tanks.

5. Hardiness

These plants are hardy to a broad temperature range as well as variable pH levels. They do not require supplementation and can grow successfully just by absorbing CO2 and nutrients from the tank water. Supplementation can increase growth levels, though. These plants are so hardy that they can even survive in brackish water once they have adjusted. Java Ferns also have a low light requirement, but grow well under moderate lighting, so they can be a good fit for different types of tanks.

Concerns About Java Fern

Java Ferns often start small when purchased, usually around 3–4 inches in height. This can be deceiving and may result in a plant that ends up far too large for the environment it is living in. This can negatively impact other plants in the tank as well as the tank animals.

If a Java Fern outgrows its tank, it can be removed but this may result in the death of the plant if there is not another tank for it to be moved to.

One issue that people may run into when attempting to attach a Java Fern to a surface is that Java Ferns will only attach appropriately to porous surfaces. This means that smooth rocks or tank ornaments made from plastic or smooth ceramic may not allow the plant to attach correctly.

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Final Thoughts

If you are in the market for a beautiful addition to your tank, Java Ferns may be for you! They are one of the most readily available and easy-to-care-for aquarium plants you’ll find.

Java Ferns are suited for small to large tanks, including brackish tanks. They are a lovely addition to paludariums, also known as partially aquatic terrariums, due to their ability to grow leaves above the waterline.

These plants are an excellent option for tanks with small fish or fish that enjoy having plants to hide in. They require minimal maintenance and supplementation is optional. They can be an affordable, graceful addition to your tank.

Featured image credit: Supanantananont, Shutterstock

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