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Water Sprite Plant (Ceratopteris Thalictroides)

Planted aquariums have become an extremely popular hobby in recent times. Most people no longer favor the idea of having fake vegetation in their enclosures. I mean, I don’t blame them. Having live plants not only enhances the aesthetic appearance of any setup, but they are also highly beneficial to its overall sustainability and health. One of the most common aquarium plants used in the field is the Water Sprite Plant. This post will provide a complete care guide as well as important information you should know before trying to grow the plant.

Quick Stats:

Scientific Name: Ceratopteris Thalictroides

Family:  Pteridaceae

Common Names: Water Sprite, Indian Water Fern, Water Fern, Oriental Water Fern, Water Horn Fern

Habitat: Freshwater, Pantropical

Height: 12 Inches Tall

PH Range: 5.0 to 7.5

Temperature: 68°F to 82°F

What Is Water Sprite Plant?

Ceratopteris thalictroides, more commonly known as Water Sprite Plant is an aquatic plant known for its low maintenance and care requirements. It is a member of the Pteridaceae family which has over 50 different types of genera. This particular fern belongs to the genus Ceratopteris, which is one of the only two genera of the Ceratopteridoideae subfamily.

Ceratopteris consists of at least four species: Broadleaf Water Sprite (C. Cornuta); Floating Antlerfern, Water Horn Fern (C. Pteridoides); Triangle Water Fern (C. Richardii); and Water Sprite (C. Thalictroides). Despite being an aquatic plant, Water Sprite does not have to be fully submerged at all times. In fact, one of its distinctive qualities is its ability to grow emersed. Meaning that the whole plant does not need to be completely underwater to thrive.

Water Sprite Plant Facts

Besides Water Sprite, Ceratopteris thalictroides is also commonly referred to as Indian Water Fern, Water Fern, Oriental Water Fern, & Water Horn Fern. This plant is easy to cultivate, fast-growing, and can thrive in a wide array of environments. Even though it is considered to be a freshwater plant, Sprite Fern can survive and grow successfully in slightly brackish water as well. The fact that this species of fern can be found in nearly every continent makes it extremely easy to come across or purchase.

A very interesting fact about the Ceratopteris species is they have become quite important in the study of genetic processes. The life cycle or germination period of these ferns are much faster than those of most other plants. For this reason, it makes it much easier for scientists to see the results of experiments that they need to carry out. In the wild, Sprite Fern will generally only survive for a year. However, when grown in a vivarium it will live almost indefinitely.

Description

The Water Sprite Plant is light green in color with the stem being slightly darker than the leaves. The leaves will grow out from a central stem and spread out in a feather-like design. It’s safe to say that overall, Ceratopteris thalictroides resemble their terrestrial relatives. If grown in the right environment and conditions, this aquatic fern will grow rapidly and become an intricate cluster of leaves and stems. They normally grow anywhere to 1 foot in length. Water Sprite also has long roots, which they use to grab on to the ground but can also be left to simply free float.

As mentioned before, this versatile fern can be grown both planted/attached or simply free-floating. A planted Water Sprite will usually produce thinner leaves when floating, due to it being able to receive more light. Unlike most other aquatic ferns, this plant does not have rhizomes. Instead, it develops a primary thin root system. If the plant is floating, it will also grow thinner and finer secondary roots to absorb nutrients.

Habitat

Ceratopteris thalictroides are native to pan-tropical regions in almost every continent. The versatile plant has adapted to a very diverse range of habitats. It can be found in still or slow-moving waters all around the planet including Australia, South America, and North America. Unlike other ferns, this floating plant can survive and do well in sunny to partially shady locations of water. These locations provide the perfect temperature range for the fern to thrive ranging between 68 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

PH Preference

The Water Sprite Plant is an exceptionally tolerant fern. This plant will do remarkably well in all PH ranges, except highly alkaline. However, for optimal growth, it will need a PH between 5 and 7.5, with more acidic water being better. Keep in mind that a PH level of 7 is considered neutral. Meanwhile, a PH below 7 is acidic and a PH above 7 is alkaline.

Vivarium Type

This type of fern will do great in a variety of vivarium types. When deciding if rather or not to use Water Sprite in a particular type of enclosure, Be sure to go with setups that have fully aquatic areas. Here are recommended vivariums Ceratopteris thalictroides will do well in:

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

Vivarium Placement

As mentioned before, the Water Sprite Plant is a fully aquatic and floating fern. Therefore, the flora will not do well in environments that are too dry. Avoid placing the plant above ground where there isn’t a sufficient amount of water. If grown planted, this fern will do well in the background or midground of an aquarium. It can be used as a filler to cover empty or unattractive areas/equipment.

Remember to keep the plant away from any filters. The leaves and stems of the Water Sprite can get sucked in and be damaged or clog up your filtration system. When grown floating, the plant can simply be left to wonder on its own. It will add a nice hint of color to the water surface. Last but not least, the roots of this fern can also attach themselves to porous surfaces such as rocks or driftwood. This process can be sped up by using a fishing line or cotton thread to wrap the roots to the desired surface until it fully attaches itself.

Substrate

Floating ferns are generally substrate-less plants. The Water Sprite Plant is not an exception when it comes to this. This fern will have the ability to either grow on a substrate, free float in water, or attach itself to a surface. If grown planted, Ceratopteris thalictroides can use pretty much any substrate available. Simply make sure to only cover the roots and keep the crown exposed.

Lighting

As far as lighting goes, Water Sprite will thrive in medium to high lighting conditions. Nonetheless, it will still grow under lower light or shade. The less light that the plant receives, the slower that it will grow. When setting up lighting inside of a vivarium, LED lights will work extremely well. Try to go for colors that resemble a bright day. Avoid any type of light that has high levels of UV rays.  If the vivarium will not have any artificial lighting, try placing it near a bright window that does not get too much direct sun exposure.

Buy Water Sprite Plant

When buying Water Sprite Plants, you should know exactly what you’re looking for. The most crucial thing to know is what should not be acceptable. The plant should be bright green in color and support its own weight. Brown or yellowing leaves are a clear indicator that something is not right. If the fern cannot “stand” on its own, return it. Also, make sure that the plant has plenty of leaves without any holes or tears and the roots are long. Click the image below to find out more about the current price and other relative info:

Water Sprite Care and Propagation

Water Sprite is a plant that barely requires any care once it has been established in a setup. Aside from making sure, it has plenty of water and enough light, the only thing to pay attention to is its size. Trimming and proper upkeep will be an absolute necessity with this fern. Although it is not considered an invasive plant, it will completely cover all available water surfaces if allowed to grow freely. Doing so can deprive ground plants of required light as well as clog up filtration systems.

How to grow

Water Sprite Plant will reproduce like many other aquatic ferns. The main way will be through the use of adventitious shoots. In other words, tiny leaves will form on an older one and then break off. These new leaves can be left to float in the enclosure or planted directly in the substrate. In a short period of time, the new plants will begin to grow. Ceratopteris thalictroides can also be grown another way. If part of the stem is broken off with plenty of leaves, then it can start to grow roots and survive on its own. Make sure the new plant has enough leaves in order to make a separate plant.

Watering

Water Sprite is an aquatic plant and will at least remain partially submerged at all times. Therefore, it will most likely not require any watering. However, an important factor to keep in mind for a healthy plant is to stay away from direct water flow. This free-floating flora does best in standing water or very slow moving water. Too much movement in the water can damage the fern and stunt its growth.

Plants Similar To Water Sprite

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 make the tank look more realistic. 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 Ceratopteris thalictroides:

Autumn Fern (Dryopteris Erythrosora)
Java Fern (Microsorum Pteropus)
Button Fern (Pellaea Rotundifolia)

Conclusion

Water Sprite Plant is an extraordinarily versatile plant that will barely require any of your attention to growing. A swamp-like type of setup would be the best suitable environment for the plant to survive. Ceratopteris thalictroides few care requirements make it an easy plant for even beginners to use. It can help dress up and accentuate empty water space, while also helping provide shelter to animals and other plants living in the enclosure. Have you ever used Sprite Fern in one of your setups? If so, did you plant it or grow it free-floating?