Ferns are some of the easiest and sturdiest aquariums plants used in the hobby, and truly recommended for beginner aquarists that have never kept planted aquariums before. Many aquarists erroneously believe that planted aquariums are really tricky to keep, when the truth is that live plants actually make fish keeping much easier.
Live plants reduce stress in fish by providing shelter and many commonly kept fish species (especially among popular beginner species) hail from densely grown waters. They will therefore feel more at home in a planted aquarium and the reduced stress levels will make them more resilient to parasite attacks, bacterial infections and a wide range of other health problems. Plants can also reduce fighting by breaking up a large territory into several smaller ones, and will also provide shelter for bullied specimens. This can naturally be accomplished by other forms of aquarium decoration, but live plants are the only ones who will help keeping your water quality up by binding large amounts of organic waste. Live plants will also convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.
Ferns are a good choice for beginners, since you can find many ferns that require minimum lighting and do not require any extra carbon dioxide. Many fern species will do well with the fertilization produced by your fish and the carbon dioxide the fish exude when breathing. Ferns can also adapt to a wide range of different water temperatures, pH-values and water hardiness.
Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus) is an ideal choice if you want to though, durable plant for your aquarium. Java Fern is native to South East Asia and should not be kept in aquariums with really strong light since this can burn the leaves and cause transparent patches. Java Fern will therefore appreciate a normal beginner’s aquarium with nothing but standard incandescent aquarium lighting. Attach your Java Fern to a rock, a piece of driftwood or similar in the aquarium instead of planting it in the substrate. The leaf stalks grow from a rhizome root so if you want more plants, you simply divide the root. New plants can also arise from plantlets that form at the older leaves. If you want a Java Fern that grows really quickly, try to find the hybrid sold as Java Fern ‘Winderloy’.
If you want a more exotic and less commonly kept fern than Java Fern, why not try the African Fern (Bolbitis heudelotii)? This plant is also sold as African Water Fern and features dark green leaves with deep grooves. In Africa, you can find wild African Fern growing along the waterways from Ethiopia to South Africa. Compared to Java Fern, the Africa Fern needs more potent lighting. It is therefore not recommended for beginners, unless you are willing to do some reading, check the water conditions and invest in stronger lighting. If you manage to keep your plant alive until it reaches a height of 25 cm, it will become much hardier. The recommended water temperature for African Fern is 23-27 degrees C, the water hardiness should be in the dH 2-12 range, and the pH should be kept between 5.8 and 7.5. African fern can be propagated by splitting the root.
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