Why Java Ferns Are Great for Betta Tanks

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Are you setting up a betta tank for the first time? Then you should know how placing a few plants in the tank can play an essential role beyond just beautifying the tank.

For one, plants would serve as ideal hiding places for your sometime shy betta. Believe it or not these Siamese fighting fish can get stressed out too. When that happens more often than not, they love to take shelter in the shadow of these plants with flowing leaves as they try to evade any threats real or imagined. And two they provide a resting place that some fish find hard to resist.

But there is a debate as to whether live plants or fake plants are the best for betta tanks. And for real. You can get some pretty realistic looking silk plants.

Actually, it’s really no big deal either way. You can go for either of them.

Still each option does present its own pros and cons. For instance fake plants require less maintenance but you’d have to make sure they don’t have rough edges that might harm your betta’s delicate fins and tail. On the other hand, live plants would be perfect when you’re trying to mimic a natural habitat for the betta. But the danger lies when you fail to maintain them.

Still, many betta fish experts would recommend having live plants over the fake ones since they they do more than just add another visual feature to your tank. They actually can help to keep an optimum environment for the betta. And java ferns would be a top pick among many seasoned betta fish keepers. Here’s why and then some.

Java Ferns In 10 Seconds or Less

  • Easy to care for as long as you don’t bury the rhizome.
  • Good for the over tank ecology. Plants like this help to keep nitrate levels in check.
  • Light is the key as light levels are what determines how fast these plants grow and so what other care they may need.

What Are Java Ferns?
Microsporum pteropus, otherwise known as Java ferns, are plants native to Southeast Asia. Interestingly they are an amphibious type of aquarium plant. Which means they can both thrive in and out of water. Usually these plants grow at a maximum height of 10 inches. Their leaves spring from the rhizome (characteristic of a fern), and they are elongated and shaped somewhat like a sword.

Here’s a quick vid that shows what a tied on java fern looks like:

Why Java Ferns?
What makes Java ferns so great for betta tanks is the fact that they really do an excellent job in keeping your tank water up to snuff. (Which if you know anything about betta fish care then you know how important maintaining water quality is.) Keepers of bettas who have used Java ferns note how these plants have actually kept toxin levels at near zero even when they’ve gone out of town for a couple of days. (Let me also point you to this java fern overview that cites user comments you might also find helpful.)

Of course, this doesn’t give you an excuse not to change your water regularly. But indeed Java ferns act like little living biological filters since technically they help break down ammonia into nitrates which are less harmful.

Another reason why Java ferns are popular among betta keepers is that these plants require minimum lighting yet can also reproduce fast.

Care Instructions
Java ferns naturally float in the water so you need to have a sort of substrate that will keep the plants submerged. What you can do is tie the fern to a piece of cured driftwood. You can use a thin nylon fishing line for tying which you can eventually remove once the fern has attached its roots firmly to the wood. Or you can make use of rubber bands in attaching the fern to the wood or any other ornament really that you can fasten it onto to give it roots a change to take hold.

How to Buy
Like you should in buying your betta, only purchase a plant from a reputable pet store or online supplier to make sure you get only the healthiest plant to go with your healthy betta. To do that you’ll want to carefully inspect the plant and look for any signs of snail eggs or young snails that may be present in the tank where the plants are placed. Also look for any sign of plant disease.

Betta Bit: Of course the last thing you want to do is introduce some sort of invasive species into your tank environment – be it some bacteria, unwanted snails, another parasite or whatever. The best way to insure that DOES NOT HAPPEN is to do a quick bleach dip.

  • Whip up a 5% concentrate bleach wash
  • Leave the plants sit for a couple of minutes in this solution.
  • Then rinse thoroughly.

This should discourage any wannabe hitchhikers from gaining access to your betta’s world.

Caring for Java Ferns
Lastly, caring for the plants is essential to make sure it doesn’t become a source of diseases that could strike your betta any time. So be sure to remove any dead leaves present in the tank. Also, do not overcrowd your tank with these plants. Remember that live plants can easily multiply so placing one or two Java ferns in a medium sized tank should suffice.

It’s also likely sooner or later you’ll need to feed them since your fish will only be able to do so much here. (Providing nutrients from their waste.) Especially if you are limiting the amount of betta fish food, live or otherwise, you let your fish eat. Now everyone has their fan favorite when it comes to plant fertilizers. So you might use Leaf Zone, Aqueon Aquarium Plant Food or Seachem Flourish to name just three. There are others. And the amount to feed you’ll only really figure out by trial and error unfortunately. Just so you know too much food will mean more unwanted algae growth. So if you get that you’ll know why.

Another reason these plants are so popular is they readily adapt to different lighting conditions. More or less light just means they will grow more or less faster. But being able to do well even in low light is good since bettas are said to like darker, tannin colored waters anyway.

While java ferns are readily available if you just can’t get hold of one, there are also other live plants that work well in a betta tank such as the water sprite, Chinese evergreen, water lily, eelgrass species, and crypts. So have fun decorating your tank.

About Lucas
Putting a name with a face I'm Lucas Smatana. Like you I'm passionate about betta fish and hope to share my enthusiasm. The idea here is to make sure you get helpful info and useful ideas on betta fish care that really work. To insure your betta keeping experience is a good one both for you and your fish. So that you and your pet enjoy a long, happy and healthy relationship.

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