Leptochilus pteropus – Java fern

Leptochilus pteropus, better known as Java fern, is a popular fern. This aquarium plant grows slowly in all conditions. Even with little light or little plant food, this plant often still does well.

Leptochilus pteropus – Java fern

One of the most famous aquarium plants is the Java fern or Leptochilus pteropus as its scientific name is. They are still available in many stores under the old scientific name Microsorum pteropus, which has become a synonym.

It is probably one of the best-selling aquarium plants. They are easy to keep beautiful and even in dimly lit aquariums they often do well. Java fern can grow into large lush bunches of green leaves.

Leptochilus pteropus has lanceolate, narrow leaves that are pointed or rounded. Each leaf is formed from a single short stem, which in turn is attached to the rhizome. The color of the leaves is olive to dark green. The leaves usually grow very slowly but surely.

A broad-leaved Java fern is also commercially available: Leptochilus pteropus Latifolia. Latifolia loosely translated from Latin lati = broad and foli = leaf. The leaves can grow up to about 30 centimeters long and 5.5 centimeters wide.

Leptochilus pteropus - Java fern in the wild - Malaysia
Leptochilus pteropus – Java fern in the wild – Malaysia

Origin of Java fern

This beautiful plant originally comes from Asia. They are found on the Indonesian island of Java, where they are also named. Additionally, they can be found in Malaysia, Thailand and some parts of China. Due to its wide distribution, there are a number of geographical variants that differ in the size and shape of the leaf.

Java fern usually grows along the water on the banks that are sometimes flooded. The plant does not always grow under water all year round.

In addition to the natural variants, there are also a number of cultivated variants (cultivars) that show enhanced certain specific parts. Some cultivated varieties include the Leptochilus pteropus “Windelov” and “Trident”.

The Aquarium

Java fern is a slow-growing plant that requires relatively little light. They grow in both hard and soft water and with much or little light. You can easily secure Java fern in the aquarium by tying the rhizome to a piece of wood or stone. It is preferable not to place the rhizome in the substrate because it can then rot and the plant dies. For tying, use some dark thin rope that can decay in the water. Sometimes fishing line or elastic is also used, the disadvantage of this is that you must not forget to remove it from the aquarium later.

Some Java fern enthusiasts even make an entire back wall or side wall of this plant using a grid. The rhizomes of several plants are secured in the grid with some thin rope. The plants then grow into an entire wall of Java fern.

To keep the plant beautiful, it does require some maintenance. The leaves grow close together, causing waste to remain between the leaves. This waste blocks light and fresh water, which can cause the leaves to die. Maintain the plant regularly by removing old leaves and running your hands between the leaves to loosen dirt. The remaining leaves then have more space to absorb light and receive fresh water again. A healthy plant can grow leaves that grow up to about 50 centimeters long. The optimal temperature is around 22 to 28 degrees Celsius.

Plant nutrition

You do not need to give Leptochilus pteropus nutrient substrate or tablets at the base of the plant. This plant hardly absorbs any nutrition through its roots. Java fern obtains most of its nutrition from the water. Co2 and liquid plant nutrition help the plant grow, but this is not always necessary. Without nutrition, the plant usually grows well, just a little slower.

Almost all Java ferns suffer from brown spots on the leaves and transparent tips of the leaves. This is not easy to solve without adding large amounts of CO2. It won’t do any harm to the plant.

Java fern in combination with fish

One of the reasons why Java fern is so often used in aquariums is the toughness of the plant. The leaves are firm and are not eaten by fish. Even herbivorous fish that like to eat the leaves of other plants leave Java fern alone. Some people think this is due to a substance in the leaves, but more likely it is the tough structure of the leaves that makes the fish reluctant to eat it.

Java fern cuttings

A Java fern can be cut in two ways

  1. Adventitious plants – Over time, a healthy plant will grow young small plants (adventitious plants) on the old leaves. Let the small plants grow a little until they are big enough to attach somewhere. Pull the plant loose from the old leaf and the plant is ready to be moved to another location. In nature, the old leaf slowly dies. Eventually the leaf will come off and the young plant will float to its new spot. With a bit of luck it can become a new mother plant.
  2. Cutting the rhizome – On a large plant, all the leaves are attached to the rhizome. You can easily cut this rhizome. Make sure that each part of the rhizome has at least four healthy leaves. After replanting, the rhizome will grow and produce new leaves.



John de Lange

Copyright images

Fhurzan – CC BY-SA 3.0

Additional information





Common name



Colysis pteropus, Colysis tridactylum, Drynaria dubia, Drynaria tridactyla, Kaulinia pteropus, Lepisorus pteropus, Microsorum paucijugum, Microsorum pteropus, Phymatodes tridactyla, Pleopeltis aquatica, Pleopeltis paucijuga, Pleopeltis pteropus, Pleopeltis tridactyla, Polypodium aquaticum, Polypodium paucijugum, Polypodium pteropus, Polypodium tridactylum



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