Bolbitis Water Fern: Growing African Water Ferns

african water fern
Image by Tsunamicarlos

By Bonnie L. Grant

Submerged water plants that work in the warm liquid of a fish tank are few and far between. Some of the tropical fern species, such as Bolbitis water fern and Java fern, are commonly used as greenery in tank situations. African water fern grows from a rhizome which can easily be attached to a rock or other surface. They are easy to manage in soft water with either fertilizer or no fertilizer. Below you will find some African water fern info so you can use this lovely plant to aquascape your tanks.

What is an African Water Fern?

Fish keepers will know the Bolbitis water fern, or African fern (Bolbitis heudelotii). It is a tropical shade epiphyte found around bodies of water and boggy regions. The fern is a robust specimen and useful as a natural plant in fish tanks. It will grow on a rock or piece of wood, which helps anchor the plant to the floor of the tank or even the wall.

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Bolbitis is found in fast-moving tropical waters. It is an epiphyte and anchors itself to rough rocks or pieces of wood. Also known as Congo fern, the plant is dark green with delicately cut leaves. It is slow growing, but can get tall and is most useful as a bottom plant.

The rhizome should not be buried in the substrate but rather tethered to an appropriate piece of lava rock, bark or other medium. The fern can grow 6 to 8 inches wide and as tall as 16 inches. This is accomplished at a snail pace since growing African water fern leaves can take up to 2 months.

Growing African Water Ferns

In order to grow the fern in water, it must first be attached to a medium. Release the plant from its nursery pot and clean off the rhizomes. Hold the rhizomes in place on the chosen medium and wrap them onto it with fishing line. Over time the plant will self attach and you can remove the line.

The fern prefers slightly acidic to soft water with gentle current and medium light, although it can adjust to brighter light levels. Keep the plant looking its best by removing dying fronds at the base of the rhizome.

Propagation of Bolbitis water ferns is through rhizome division. Use a sharp, clean blade to ensure a sterile cut and then tie the new rhizome to a rock or piece of bark. The plant will eventually fill in and produce another thickly fronded fern.

Use a diluted liquid fertilizer at start time that is consistent with aquatic use. The best growth is achieved by plants situated near the bubbler or current source.

African Water Fern Care

These are fairly easy plants to maintain as long as the tank and water health is good. They do not do well in brackish or salty water, and should be grown in fresh water only.

If you wish to fertilize after its initial planting, use a balanced liquid fertilizer once per week and infuse the water with CO2. Fertilizer is not necessary in a low maintenance tank where fish waste will provide nutrients.

Keep temperatures between 68 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit/20 to 26 degrees Celsius.

African water fern care is minimal and this easy-to-grow plant will decorate your natural tanks for years to come.

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