(Microsorum pteropus)

If you have no patience, java fern might be one of those plants that you buy, keep for a while, watch it do absolutely nothing and throw it away in disgust. In fact, that's exactly what I did; when I first started keeping plants seriously, I bought some because it was supposed to be easy and would grow anywhere under any conditions. Uh-huh. So how come after two months I'm still looking at the same ugly five leaves stuck between two pieces of driftwood? Enough of this noise, I thought. Out it went, never to darken my doorway again, I thought.

I had gotten some java moss at about the same time, and about the time I pitched the big java fern plant, I noticed these little green leaves stuck in the moss. In fact, they had come with the moss, except they were much smaller to start with. I noticed to my surprise that they had actually grown, and when they got big enough, I realized that they were exactly the same stuff I had thrown away! But they weren't hurting anything, so I just left them stuck there.

A year later, I had to remove the java fern from the java moss--because I now had a clump of plants about a foot wide that had grown to the water's surface. Funny thing about this plant--it takes a while to get going, but once it DOES get going there's no stopping it, as long as you meet its very mild demands. All the java fern you see in these pictures, in three different tanks, originated from those little tiny leaves that came with the java moss; I never paid a dime for it, it just came along for the ride.

Java fern will grow under virtually any light or in any water conditions (i.e., acidic, alkaline, soft or hard) and will look beautiful under all of them; it will grow faster under more light, but it will grow very nicely under a 15 watt bulb in a 10 gallon tank, too, which is just what it's doing in the picture below. The java fern on the upper left is in the 45 gallon, with CO2 added and moderately high light (2 pc watts per gallon); at left, it's newly planted in a 20 high with 55 pc watts and DIY CO2. The one thing it DOES need, wherever it is, is a good, balanced fertilizer with plenty of iron in the water column; it has no roots to take up nutrients (those stringy brown things are strictly for attaching to surfaces, not for nutrient uptake), so solid fertilizers will do it no good whatsoever. If it doesn't get enough iron, that beautiful rich green will fade to a rather ugly, olivy color, and the leaves will begin to turn black. Don't confuse those ugly black edges with the brown splotches that show up on some leaves--those are spores, and will be the site of new plantlets before long.
will grow under virtually any light
you can stick it anywhere One of the neat things about java fern is that you can stick it anywhere--attached to the top of a piece of driftwood (as in the photo above), stuck under a rock (which is how the bunch at left started), etc. The one thing you don't want to do is plant the rhizome under the substrate, but you can still make it LOOK like it's planted there. The big bunch in the upper left photo looks like it's growing in the corner of that tank, but in fact it's just sitting there in a big lump, resting on the gravel. I actually pick it up to vacuum under it and smoosh it back down when I'm done; it's the cories' favorite hiding place. This works because it doesn't have a strong tendency to float like most plants do--it will pretty much stay wherever you put it, a most useful feature! It will get a death grip on natural driftwood--to the point where you will have a heck of a time getting it loose if you decide to move it. It's a lovely, tough, versatile plant with lots of uses, and you can keep it to any size you like. If it gets too big, just break off a chunk and put it somewhere else!


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