Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)

If you have ever tried grown plants, you would know getting started can be quite intimidating.

Especially when it comes to planted tanks and other types of vivaria. After all, not everyone has magical green thumbs right at the beginning.

Fortunately, there are plenty of plants suitable for beginners that make a great addition to any tank.

Java Fern, for example, is one of the most common aquarium ferns to get started with.

Whether you are new to the hobby or an experienced hobbyist, this fern will not disappoint.

This article will cover all the essential information needed to successfully grow Java Fern.

Quick Stats:
Scientific Name Microsorum pteropus
Common Name Java Fern, Narrow Leaf Fern, Needle Leaf Fern, Windelov Fern, Lance Leaf Fern
Family Name Polypodiaceae
Habitat Freshwater, Brackish water
Temperature 65°F to 85°F
Height 14 inches
pH 6.0 to 7.5
Lighting Bright

What Is Java Fern?

Microsorum pteropus, more commonly known as Java Fern is an aquatic plant known for its simple care and uncomplicated requirements.

It is a member of the Polypodiaceae family which has over 60 different types of genera.

Microsorum is a genus within the family and has over 50 distinct species of tropical ferns.

Java Fern happens to be one of the most popular and widely known species within the genus.

Despite being an aquatic plant, this fern has the ability to grow fully submerged, partially emerged as well as above ground.

Making Java fern extremely versatile compared to most over ferns.

Java Fern (Microsorum Pteropus) Care Guide

Java Fern Facts

Java Fern originated from South East Asia and is known to be a jungle plant. It typically grows on the ground, rocks, and tree roots on streams and waterfalls.

Therefore, making it an epiphyte. As mentioned before, this fern has the ability to grow in a variety of water levels.

There are actually many different varieties of this fern. The size of the plant and the shape of the leaves will depend on each variety and where it came from specifically.

Some of the leaves may be narrow, wide, twisted, or even forked.

The four most common types of Java fern available are the narrow leaf, the needle leaf, the Windelov, and the lance leaf.

Although Microsorum pteropus is a freshwater plant, to many people’s surprise, it is also capable of surviving in mid-end brackish water.


Java Fern is a small to medium-sized aquatic plant that often grows just over a foot tall.

Even though the specific look of the plant will differ depending on the specific variety, in general, they are all composed of 3 main important parts.

The roots of this fern are one of the most interesting features. They are dark brown, and thin, and look like hairs that attach themselves to surfaces.

Instead of absorbing and carrying nutrients, these roots serve as anchors to the plant.

If they do not attach themselves to something they will keep on growing in the hopes of finding a surface to cling to.

Like most ferns, Java fern also grows rhizomes. Rhizomes are clumps of wiry stems that grow beneath the surface of a plant and allow it to absorb nutrients as well as store energy.

In this fern, the rhizomes tend to grow longer and thicker as the plant ages. Some people even refer to these as the heart of the plant.

Last but not least, there are the leaves of Microsorum pteropus. Again, the defining and distinct characteristics of the leaves will depend on the type of Java Fern specifically.

However, when healthy most leaves are hardy, dark green, and have a leathery texture.

This fern tends to only grow a few leaves that reach up to 12 inches long and 1.5 inches wide.

When grown in low light, the leaves usually stay relatively low in height and form more of a bush-like look.

Black lines running through the leaves are not a sign of poor health. In fact, they are the plant’s veins. Aside from their aesthetic purpose, the leaves are also another way that this fern absorbs nutrients.


One of the easiest ways to make sure a plant is being cared for correctly is to have a look at its natural habitat.

Creating a similar environment to where the plant grows naturally will help the plant acclimate much faster.

Java moss is native to South East Asia and can be naturally found in Thailand, the Philippines, China, and Malaysia.

It can often be found growing on riverbanks attached to rocks, tree roots, driftwood, and other wet surfaces.

Due to where it grows, Java Fern remains slightly moist at all times and does not like dry conditions.

The temperature in those environments is not too specific and tends to fluctuate. For this reason, the plant will thrive in any temperature ranging between 60 and 83 degrees Fahrenheit.

PH Preference

Another interesting quality of Java Fern is its ability to grow in a rather wide range of pH levels.

In its natural environment, the water is usually relatively soft and acidic and it’ll grow fastest in these conditions.

However, the fern can still survive and continue to grow in harder water with a higher pH.

For optimal growth and cultivation, Java Fern should be provided with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5.

Vivarium Type

This type of fern will do great in a variety of vivarium types. When deciding if rather or not to use Java fern in a particular type of enclosure, be sure to go with setups that have dry terrain areas.

Here are recommended vivariums that this plant will do well in:

  • Paludariums – Half aquatic/ half terrain-based enclosure.
  • Ripariums – Mostly aquatic-based enclosures with some terrain features present.
  • Terrariums – Fully terrain-based enclosures with little to no aquatic features.
  • Aquarium – Fully aquatic-based enclosure with little to no dry terrain.

Vivarium Placement

As mentioned before, Java Fern is most popularly used as an aquatic fern. The plant will not prosper or survive in dry environments.

Avoid placing the plant above ground where there isn’t a sufficient amount of water if the humidity levels aren’t abnormally high.

Since it can grow partially submerged, the roots can grow underwater while the leaves remain in the open area.

Java fern is usually considered a mid-ground or background plant depending on the size of the fern and the enclosure.

The specific placement will ultimately depend on the variety of the plant that is being used.

Some types tend to grow taller with their leaves sticking out, while others stay shorter and closer together.

Those factors can help determine whether to place the plant in the front, back, or upper part of a tank.


Unlike most plants, Java Fern does not require any substrate at all.

As a matter of fact, it does not reach its full potential when planted on any type of aquarium substrate.

If the roots are buried, the plant could either die or grow extremely slowly. Microsorum pteropus has evolved to attach itself to porous surfaces using its rooting system.


Java Ferns are not too picky when it comes to lighting. They do extremely well in dim light and will actually suffer if the lighting is too strong.

When setting up lighting inside of an aquarium, LEDs and subdued fluorescent bulbs will work extremely well.

Avoid any type of light that has high levels of UV rays. One easy way to tell if the lighting is too strong for the plant is to look at its leaves.

If they begin to turn brown and appear transparent, then that is a clear indicator to cut back until the fern can recover.

Buy Java Fern

When looking to purchase Java Fern, there are a few key indicators you should look for.

Buying the best quality plant will help give you a good shot at growing the fern successfully.

The fern should be snail free along with any other type of pest.

The plant should arrive with healthy and unharmed rhizomes.

If these are damaged, it will make it extremely hard if not impossible to grow or propagate the Java Fern.

Try to stay away from sources that provide dried-out or dull-looking plants.

Click the image below to find out more about the current price and other relative info:

Java Fern Care and Propagation

The best type of care for Java Fern is maintaining good water quality.

Liquid fertilizer can be used every once in a while to promote new growth and keep the fern healthy.

Although Microsorum pteropus does not require much care and maintenance there are a few things that should always be kept in mind to give this fern the best chance at success.

Adequate amounts of water and lighting will help make sure Java Fern remains strong and vivid.

How to grow

An easy way to reproduce Java Fern will be through the process of division. The parent plant should be taken and separated into individual pieces.

Then, simply spread out the smaller parts and replant them to allow new growth to begin.

Since Java Fern cannot be buried in the substrate, make sure to attach the baby ferns to a porous surface like rocks or driftwood.

The fishing line or the cotton thread will do the trick until the roots fully anchor themselves.

Microsorum pteropus can also be propagated through the use of Plantlets.

These are tiny new plants that will begin to grow on old leaves and can be broken off safely from the rhizome.

The plantlets will start off as little black spores on a leaf and eventually turn into very small leaves.

Once separated, the Plantlets can be attached to a new location and allowed to develop.

Although this method works, it is definitely considered to be more complicated than through division.


If Java Fern is being used as an aquatic plant and remains partially or fully submerged at all times, it will most likely not require any additional watering.

The plant will be able to absorb as much water and nutrients as it needs on its own through its rhizomes or leaves.

Instead, make sure to keep up with periodic water changes and cleaning of the tank to provide the fern with healthy water.

If the plant is being used above ground, then keep the latching surfaces constantly wet and the humidity levels within the enclosure high.

Plants Similar To Java Fern

Even though some hobbyists enjoy sticking to a specific theme when building an enclosure, that does not mean that only one type of plant must be used.

Adding diversity and versatility is crucial to creating a captivating vivarium.

Mix up the look of your vivarium with different flora that can easily co-exist in the same types of environment.

Not only will it be more pleasing to the eye, but it will also give the tank a more realistic look.

Furthermore, if for some reason you are having a hard time getting your hands on this plant…

Here are some other options that may do well with or in the place of Microsorum pteropus:

Delta Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum Raddianum)
Floating Fern (Salvinia Natans)
Rabbit Foot Fern (Davallia Tyermanii)


Overall, Java Fern is a great addition to a tank when used as an aquarium plant.

Whether you are just getting started or simply looking for something new to add to your planted tank, this fern is highly recommended. 

It is extremely easy to care for, and propagate and does well with a wide variety of fish.

To top it all off, there are also a few different varieties of plants available.

This gives each of you the freedom to choose the one that best fits your aesthetic needs and wants.

What more could you ask for… Have you had any experience growing Java Fern? If so which one was it and how did it go?

Frequently Asked Question

Yes, Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus) is relatively easy to care for. The plant requires medium to low light and prefers a slightly acidic to neutral pH level with temperatures between 6585°F. It should be pushed fully into substrate but not covered. Water changes should be done every two weeks and a gentle liquid fertilizer can be added every few weeks as needed.

Yes, Java Fern is a great addition to aquariums. It is a slowgrowing, hardy, lowlight plant that does not require additional nutrients or CO2 for growth. Its horizontal, rhizomelike stems can be easily managed by trimming and dividing. It can grow either with its roots attached to rocks or driftwood, or it can be planted in substrate. Java Fern is a great choice for beginners and veteran aquarists alike.

Yes, Java Fern will attach itself to surfaces with its rootlike rhizomes and is a great plant for beginning aquarium hobbyists because it does not require any special attention. Its lowmaintenance nature makes it easy for new hobbyists to care for and an excellent choice for aquarium beginners.

No, Java Fern does not need CO2 to grow and flourish. It is considered a low light plant and can grow without the additional use of CO2.

Yes, you can put Java fern on soil. Java ferns prefer loose, nutrientrich soil that is slightly acidic.

Java ferns typically reach between 1215 inches in height and width.

Need More Help?

Didn't find the answers you were hoping for? Check out our troubleshooting archive for more helpful information.