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Windelov Fern

Posted by Zoila Eimers on

Windelov Fern


This delicate-looking fern belongs to Polypodiaceae family and genus Microsporum which contains more than 50 various genera. Windelov fern is one of the most admired specie of this family. Scientifically the plant is called Microsorum pteropus and commonly called Windelov java fern. It is an epiphytic aquarium plant having very fine branches making it the most attractive and alluring aquatic plant. This popular and undemanding fern provides a beautiful aquascape and a grazing area for shrimp and fish. This plant is named after Holger Windelov the founder of Tropica (a famous company of aquatic plants).

Origin and Habitat

This small fern originates in Southeast Asia mainly from Indonesia. In the wild, this fern is found on tree trunks, ground, rocks, submerged in the water and along banks of waterfalls and streams, or like grass under shade in tropical rain forests. On the forest floor, it is reported that it gets an endless supply of acidic water which is perfect for its proper growth. This plant will be found growing in shade always. So, all these conditions need to be imitated in the aquarium. It is also known to be domestically propagated in nurseries of Taiwan.


There are 2 segments of Windelov fern; leaves and rhizome. The function of the rhizome is to anchor the plant to the surface so it can better adjust itself. Leaves are leathery in texture and are found in many shapes such as spiky, trident, narrow and bushy. Here are the types.

  • Narrow Leaf: These leaves grow steep and can reach up to 4-8 inches with the whole plant reaching up to 12 inches.
  • Needle Leaf: These are rarely found in the plant, very thin, can grow up to 6 inches in length.
  • Trident leaves: These contain 2-5 forks/lobes and are also not very common. 
  • Windelov leaves A unique one with very fine branches and leaf tips. These can grow up to 8 inches in size.

The color of leaves also ranges in different shades of green. Also, on top of its leaves pom-pom like bushes are present which give this fern an interesting look. The intensity of light affects the color of leaves; high and strong light intensity makes them darker in color. On the underside of leaves, you will see some brown/black bumps in circular shapes which are normal and usually use as a means of propagation. The plant is best for show tanks, heavily planted tanks, or huge community tanks because of its size. There are also many variants of this plant that exist having different sizes and leaf shapes.

How to care for and maintain the fern.

It has very bright green and delicate leaves and is often seen attached to aquarium décor. This beautiful plant is tough and does not need any special treatments. If you are a beginner you will have some difficulty in growing plants in the aquarium so windelov fern can be your go-to plant. In the start, it will grow extremely slow because it takes time to adjust to the tank conditions. After it settles itself, it will grow with amazing speed. This fern can grow differently in both low and high-light aquariums. In lower light, it was found that the fern leaves become wider and top bushes get smaller. If you plan on planting this fern make sure its rhizome is not buried in the substrate or it will rot and the fern will die. Supply your aquarium with average(low-moderate) lighting and abundant nutrients. If you are planning to grow this fern in your aquarium tie it to a driftwood piece, to decor, or a rock so that its grasp gets firm. After that, it will take off like crazy.

The caring and maintenance of the plant will solely depend upon your idea of what kind of look you are trying to achieve. If you want one or two plants and a lot of space try to keep it small by cutting off new plantlets. If you are going for a jungle look leave the plant to grow however it wants, and it will become dense automatically. As mentioned before the fern takes up nutrients from the water by using its leaves so no substrate fertilizer is needed. But if you want that plant will maximize the growth speed add a liquid fertilizer. Tips for adding this fertilizer are to add it every time you change the water of the aquarium. Prune your plant regularly to remove burn parts and keep it in pristine and fresh conditions. The tip for pruning is that cut the leaves closer to the rhizome. The fascinating part of the fern is that when you are cleaning your tank you can easily move it from one side to another. This feature comes in handy when you have lots of fish in the fish. Make sure the pH is maintained between 5-8, temperature between 15-28°C and 3-8dGH hardness. This fern is best suitable for a 10-gallon tank so try not to grow it in tanks smaller than this size.

Tank Requirements

When you are growing this fern in your tank make sure the conditions are similar to their natural environment. Make sure you have filters and powerheads as a continuous supply of oxygen. Its growth rate is not very fast at first but can be elevated using CO2, nitrogen, and other supplementation. Although CO2 is not needed in huge amounts for this plant. Lighting conditions should not be too strong otherwise the plants will start browning and wilting. Subdued Incandescent bulbs with 1.5/2 watts light have proved to be best for growth. Bare bottom tanks are also excellent for the plant because it doesn’t extract nutrients from the substrate. Make sure the pH in the water is maintained between 5-8, temperature between 15-28°C and 3-8dGH hardness. This fern is best suitable for a 10-gallon tank so try not to grow it in tanks smaller than this size.

Propagation of Windelov fern

There are two ways to propagate Windelov Fern;

  1. Cut the rhizome into 2 parts and replant both parts separately. Both will start growing into a new one.
  2. When small new plantlets sprout out from the spots under the leaves, detach them and plant them. For cutting the plantlets always use sterilized equipment. These plantlets will grow into a new one. Make sure you tie the new plants

Tankmates of Windelov fern

Windelov Fern is compatible with a vast variety of fish, even those fish who eats leaves try to stay away from this fern. The reason might be the feathery and leathery texture of the leaves. Although reports are saying that Cichlids and plant shredding fish can try to nibble on this plant so be cautious if you want this fern in your aquarium. At the beginning of planting this fern it will be susceptible to damage if you have aggressive and large fish so try to avoid housing such fish when the plant is trying to adapt to tank conditions.

How to plant the fern?

Rhizomes of the fern need to be kept in the open. If we bury them in the substrate the plant will eventually die. So, the most suitable practice is to tie the plant with any rock or similar object. Rough surfaces proved to be better than smooth surfaces for example a large piece of lava rock and driftwood works best. You can use a thread, zip ties, or rubber band to tie the plant with the chosen object. After some time, you will notice that the roots have adhered themselves to that object. After confirming that the roots are perfectly attached and secure you can cut out the ties. The fern can widen to 6-8 inches and 13.5 inches in height so it is suggested that plant it at the back of the tank or in the middle. Although if you are trying to accomplish a forest look then you can plant it in the front. It can be planted in groups or alone according to your preference. Another option is to let the fern float in the tank, in that case, its rhizomes will grow in length to meet some object to adhere themselves.

Common Problems with the fern

Many problems arise when you do not research properly before buying and setting up plants in the aquarium. Beginners think that all plants require a substrate for the growth so they bury the plant in it which leads to the death of the said plant. Another problem is that people get impatient when the plant is not growing. This fern takes its sweet time in the growth process. If after the first few weeks it is still not growing you can use the fertilizer option. Another miscalculation is that the brown spots under the leaves are mistaken for dying parts which is not true. As mentioned in previous sections these spots are the places from where new plantlets will produce. If we go deeper into this particular problem, we will notice that sometimes these spots do not produce new plantlets which is an indication of nitrogen deficiency. Sometimes similar brown spots appear on other parts of plants which is an indication of burn. So, when this happens try changing the light's intensity in your aquarium. You also have to take into account the related diseases of the plant; one such disease is Java fern melt. In this condition, brown spots will rot and cause the plant to slowly die. It happens because of nutrient deficiency, high light intensity, or because of blue-green algae abundance. An extra tip is that if you are experiencing a problem of algal bloom in the aquarium try cleaning the tank extensively or get any specie from the cleanup crew which will keep your tank in pristine condition. Another tip is following the instructions properly and changing the water regularly will make life easy for you and your aquarium. 

Reasons to have this fern in your tank

Windelov fern is best suitable for freshwater aquariums. It doesn’t matter if you are experienced or a beginner the plant has tremendous traits and it won’t bother you too much. It is easy to maintain and propagate this plant and there is a wide scope of fish you can have with it in the tank. Have a go for this fern and enjoy it in the aquarium.

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