What To Do When Java Fern Is Growing Roots On Its Leaves

Last Updated on 2023-11-28

If you’re growing a java fern in your aquarium and notice roots growing on its leaves, don’t worry! In fact, this is a common occurrence in healthy plants.

In this article, we’ll discuss what causes these roots to form, what you can do about them, and how to use them to your advantage.

Key Takeaways:

  • Java ferns growing roots on their leaves is a common and healthy occurrence.
  • The roots, appearing as bumps or dark spots, indicate a process called apomixis, where the plant is creating clones of itself.
  • Sickly java ferns are less likely to produce roots on their leaves, highlighting the importance of providing proper light, warmth, and conditions.
  • Methods to reduce or manage root growth include removing roots, lowering light levels, reducing nutrients, using immature java ferns, and allowing algae to thrive.
  • Care tips for java ferns with roots include feeding the plant, ensuring adequate light levels, removing algae from the tank, ensuring free roots, and removing ready plantlets.

What Is Growing On My Java Fern?

You might notice that something strange starts growing on your fern when you’ve had it for a little while, and if so, you may be wondering what’s wrong and why something alien has taken root on your fern. Fortunately, this isn’t something that you need to panic about – and there’s a simple explanation.

Many java ferns start producing roots on the leaves, and these tend to appear as bumps or dark spots. This is a very common occurrence, and it is nothing to worry about.

Although the bumps may look worryingly like other plants or some sort of bacterial growth, they aren’t. You can leave them alone if you like, and they will produce baby java ferns within a few weeks.

Why Is My Java Fern Growing Roots On The Leaves?

If your java fern is producing roots on its leaves, it is propagating itself. Java ferns use a reproduction process called apomixis, which creates an exact copy of the parent plant in miniature form. Essentially, your java fern is creating a clone of itself.

If you watch these dark spots carefully for a few weeks, you will soon see miniature ferns developing from them. They are sometimes referred to as plantlets and can look quite concerning – but actually, they indicate that your plant is very happy and growing well.

A sickly java fern is unlikely to produce roots on its leaves because it will be focusing its energy on growing instead. If your java fern never produces any roots on its leaves, you may want to check whether it is getting the light, warmth, and conditions that it needs to flourish.

Otocinclus sitting o java fern in planted aquarium

How To Stop Java Fern From Growing Roots On The Leaves

You may not be able to completely stop your java fern from growing roots on its leaves, but you can try the following methods:

Remove The Roots

The simplest way to stop your java fern from growing roots on its leaves is to remove the roots. You can sometimes tug them off, or you may need to cut them with some sharp scissors. The plant will produce more with time, however.

Reduce The Amount Of Light

If you put your java fern in low light conditions, it won’t have as much energy and, therefore, won’t try to reproduce as quickly. Lowering the light levels will decrease the rate at which it grows roots on its leaves.

Reduce The Nutrients

The more food your java fern has, the more energy it can put into creating plantlets – and it will do so. You can slow down the production by reducing the level of nutrients in the water and feeding the plant less frequently.

Only Plant Immature Java Ferns

A baby java fern will not produce roots on its leaves until it has matured because it will focus on growing and establishing itself. If you really don’t want a plant with roots on the foliage, you should therefore use immature java ferns. You can swap for a new plant whenever your old one starts producing babies.

Allow Algae To Thrive

If you are still struggling, you might want to try letting some algae build up in your tank. Algae compete with java ferns for nutrients, so it will help to decrease the amount of food your plant can get. This should reduce the speed with which it is able to produce roots.

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How Do I Care For Java Ferns With Roots On The Leaves?

If you want to make sure your main plant stays healthy, try some of the following tips.

Care TipsDescription
Feed The FernProvide nutrients to support root and plantlet development.
Increase Light LevelsEnsure sufficient light without causing harm to the fern.
Remove Tank AlgaeMaintain low algal levels to support fern growth.
Ensure Free RootsAttach the fern to a surface for unhindered nutrient absorption.
Pop Off Ready PlantletsRemove mature plantlets to create space for new growth.

Feed The Fern

Your fern will be putting a lot of nutrients into producing those roots, so it’s a good idea to feed it from time to time. This will encourage it to produce more roots and plantlets because it will have the nutrients to spare. Plantophiles recommends adding nutrients directly to the water.

Increase The Light Levels

Java ferns also make energy from light, so ensuring that your plant is getting enough light will help. You don’t want to burn the fern, but having access to plenty of light will keep it healthy. Be cautious, however, as AquariumSource says that too much light could lead to a condition called melt.

Remove Algae From The Tank

As mentioned above, algae compete with the java fern for its resources. If you keep the algal levels in the tank low, the fern will thrive.

Make Sure The Roots Are Free

If your java fern’s main roots have been buried in the substrate, the fern will struggle to get the nutrients it needs. Instead, it should be attached to a surface where water can flow freely across the roots, nourishing the plant.

Pop Off Plantlets That Are Ready

Your fern can only produce a certain number of roots. According to ModestFish, plantlets that are ready usually get washed downstream, but if your aquarium is quite still, you may need to help by removing the plantlets to make space for new growth.

What Can You Do With Java Fern Roots?

Once you have removed the roots, you might be wondering what you should do with them, so here are a few suggestions.

Plant New Ferns

If you have room in your current aquarium, you might wish to plant the baby java ferns once you have detached them from the parent. You can simply glue them to a rock, just as you would an adult or half-grown fern.

Give Them To Friends

If you’ve got more java ferns than you need, you could consider gifting some to friends. Java ferns are fantastic aquarium plants, and many people will gladly accept them.

Sell Them Online

If you would rather make a little profit on your java ferns, you could consider selling them online. Make sure you familiarize yourself with any restrictions and check you’re providing healthy, pest-free plants before doing this.

Add Them To A Different Tank

If you don’t have room for your java ferns in your main aquarium, consider adding them to a different tank. They provide great foliage for fish to hide in, and they look beautiful even without nearby aquatic life.

Compost Them

For those who really don’t have a use for their java fern plantlets, composting is the only other option. They will break down into rich organic matter that can be used to feed other plants.

Check out this video by AquatikGuru on how to propagate java ferns!


Do You Bury Java Fern Roots? 

When planting Java fern, it’s recommended to tie the roots to rocks or driftwood instead of burying them in substrate. This is because Java fern is a rhizomatous plant that can rot if its roots are buried. 

How Do I Know if My Java Fern is Dying?

To determine whether your Java fern is dying, look for signs such as yellowing or browning leaves, slow growth, or black spots on the leaves. Adjusting the lighting, adding nutrients or removing dead leaves can help revive a struggling Java fern.

 Can I Grow Java Fern As A Floating Plant?

Java fern is a highly adaptable plant that can be cultivated by simply letting it float on the surface of the water. Even if some of its leaves detach from the main plant, they can still thrive and expand by absorbing nutrients while drifting on the surface.

Why Are My Java Fern’s Leaves Turning Black?

In case you notice that the leaves of your Java fern have turned black, it is possibly due to the lack of nitrogen in the plant. Other reasons for the poor health of the Java fern can be excessive light exposure, melting, or the occurrence of plant rot.


Java ferns are wonderful plants that have the ability to clone themselves by producing roots and baby plants on their leaves. If you are growing one of these in your tank, you will likely see dark bumps appearing on the foliage once it has matured.

That means that your fern is happy and healthy and making babies. Make sure you are feeding it and that the conditions are good, and you’ll soon have lots of baby java plants to enjoy. These can be sold, gifted, or kept for other aquariums!


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