How to Grow Water Sprite in a Fish Tank

By Jecinta Muturi @aquariawise

Water Sprite Aquarium Plant—How to Grow it in a Fish Tank

Water sprite is one in a hand-full of floating aquatic plants you can grow in a freshwater aquarium. The plant is available in many local pet stores, though it retails by a couple of names including Indian fern, water fern, Indian water fern, oriental water fern or water horn fern.

Impressively, water fern will grow whether planted in a substrate or floating in your fish tank.

Starting water sprite is also quite easy even by new aquarium owners and will establish in both small and big fish tanks.

Generally, water sprite grows in soft to the moderately hard water with a ph anywhere from 6.0 to 7.5 under low to medium aquarium lighting.

That said, in this article, you’ll learn how to grow and care for water sprite in your aquarium whether floating or in a substrate. We’ll also look at how to propagate water fern and also compare it to water wisteria.

What is Water Sprite? (Overview)

Water sprite is a common aquascaping plant with bright green leaves that is perfect both as a mid-ground and background freshwater aquarium species.

The delicately branched leaves are very decorative and provide good contrast with other foliage forms.

Water fern is widely distributed around the globe and can be found on nearly every continent, but it’s usually considered a pantropical species.

It is a fern species scientifically identified as Ceratopteris Thalictroides and belongs to the genus Ceratopteris.

Water fern reproductive technique is similar to other ferns where plantlets growing on the mother plants are released into the water when ready.

Thankfully, this growth is easy to achieve given the right conditions. In fact, development is so quick you should be trimming your plant in a short while.

However, you can leave a few shoots to hang outside your tank which should improve the overall aesthetics of the tank. In smaller aquariums with open tops, the water sprite will grow out and form beautiful surface leaves.

Water sprite thrive best when grown in a substrate but even when left to float will still growing strong and healthy. Besides, new plants will still break off and float in your water regardless of whether the mother plant is anchored in a substrate or not.

Adding to the plant’s versatility, water sprite grows best in medium light but will grow in low light no problem albeit a little slower. Growing it in low light is particularly important to keep algae in check more so in established aquarium.

If you want your water fern to grow faster, consider CO2 and fertilizer addition. However, be cautious about what you put in your tank if you are keeping fish too.

Water Sprite vs Water Wisteria

Both water sprite and wisteria are pretty tough plants and look eerily similar, so it’s tough to pit one against the other.

Water sprite is generally a rosette fern instead of a stem plant, and can grow out of control quite rapidly hence it’s better when you have a good size tank. Plus it comparatively looks a little sturdier and might be a tad tougher than wisteria.

On the other hand, water wisteria is a little more broad-leafed with a couple of different looks given varying conditions; the more the light, the more feathery it will look.

In high light, wisteria won’t branch out like water sprite, which means it just might be what you want in a medium size tank. Nonetheless, your wisteria might get bigger than water sprite eventually.

Woefully, broad leaves on water wisteria are easily torn by fish which is less likely to happen to water sprite.

Also, bigger leaves don’t necessarily mean more foliage, if anything, water sprite gets really bushy despite the thin needle-like leaves.

But beyond these subtle differences, both plants are good for sucking nitrates, though other plants like hornwort are good too, maybe even better.

That being said, for a significant nitrates reduction in your aquarium, you would need to have a heavily planted tank with about 75 percent of the substrate covered regardless of the plants you use.

Plus the majority of aquatic plants will absorb ammonia before nitrates. They only use nitrates only to the extent when ammonia is so low that plants cannot meet their nitrogen needs.

So when you have a high nitrates problem, it’s best to go for a more reliable solution like a canister filter filled with bio-media.

How to Grow Water Sprite in a Freshwater Aquarium

Due to a poor root system, water sprite will mostly retrieve nutrients from the water, and for this reason, it can grow both as a floating plant or in a substrate.

Planted Indian fern work well if your need is more beauty than filtration in the fish tank. Hence, use plant it to spruce the mid and backgrounds of your tanks.

On the other hand, floating water sprite is best for shade and water filtration because the plant will directly sip nutritious minerals like nitrates from the water; which are otherwise toxic and may kill your fish.

Let’s look at both growing methods concisely.

Floating Water Sprite in Your Fish Tank

Floating water sprite on the tank surface will ensure the plant soak up nutrients from the water more and also provide hiding spots for mid and top-dwelling fish.

Your floating water sprite will access more light as well, which means better growth, both from the direct nutrients and better lighting.

A classic pro of floating water sprite is the plant provides a screen such that only small amounts of light get to the bottom of your tank which keeps algae growth in check.

The less light penetration is also beneficial when growing other plant species that thrive in low to medium light and for fish that enjoy low-light aquariums. These species include fish native to temperate regions of the world where natural light barely penetrate the water in rivers and lakes.

Also, since floating water sprite still need root anchors, the plant will launch onto other plants, aquarium surface and decoration like driftwood which then creates unique splendor inside your tank.

To float Indian fern plant, simply drop the stem and leaves into the aquarium water. In a few days, the plant should develop roots that hang below the rest of the plant and absorb nutrients from water.

As a matter of fact, this ease of starting water sprite is one reason many hobbyists prefer floating plants to planted options.

Planting Water Sprite in Gravel (Substrate)

Planted water sprite can reach up to 23 inches in size which makes it a great centerpiece plant for both large and small fish tanks.

The plant can be used to aquascape as a mid-level in the middle part of your aquariums. Then place smaller plants in-front and larger background plants at the back.

If you have a smaller tank that can only accommodate tiny plants, use water sprite in the background behind sprawls of aquatic carpet plants.

When planting your water fern in the substrate, be sure not to bury the seedling too deep, only cover the roots and keep the crown (where the roots meet the stem) exposed. Also, have at least 2 to 3 inches of gravel to anchor the roots.

To plant, dig a small pit in the substrate, then place your water sprite in the hole while holding it by the crown.

Young Indian fern plants have weak roots and stems so be careful not to damage them. Ideally, handle the plant gently right from when you purchase it to the time you place it in the aquarium.

Once you’ve placed the water sprite in the pit, move some of the gravel around the roots to firmly anchor the plant.

However, if the process is too tasking, just tose the plant into your tank and let nature take its course.

Can You Attach Water Sprite to Surfaces?

Yes, you can attach water sprite to porous surfaces like lava rock or driftwood.

Use fishing wire or thread as you would when styling Java moss walls or carpets.

The plant will gradually anchor itself and should grow normally given water sprite rapid development.

How Do You Take Care of Water Sprite?

Luckily, taking care of water sprite is generally easy, though some hobbyists may argue it’s easy to moderately hard.

All in all, the plant is beginner friendly, and you only need to do occasional CO2 and fertilizer dosing and keep the aquarium light at a low to medium setting.

Water sprite is adaptable to a wide range of water conditions and light levels, but be careful the plant does grow like a weed taking over your tank pretty quickly if not careful.

You’ll, therefore, need to trim the plant every once in a while. It’s also prone to leaf browning.

Water Sprite Tank Size and Water Conditions

In the wild, water sprite is common in the moderate deep waters of wetlands and swamps. Due to the fragile leaves, stems, and roots, the plant thrives in low movement water under a range of natural light intensities.

Therefore, replicate this environment by planting your water sprite away from direct water flow in a standard aquarium.

To attain the best growth, the plant will need aquarium water to be soft with a temperature between 68°F and 82°F and a ph of 6.0 to 7.5.


Ordinarily, you should plant water sprite under low to moderate light. However, plant development is highly dependent on light intensity so you will get varying results.

Your water sprite will grow slower under low light conditions and faster in moderate to high light setups. Moreover, longer hours of light will encourage rapid growth.

However, the rapid water sprite development given the right conditions come at a hefty price.

For instance, more light and a longer exposure will boost algae growth. Plus rapid growth of water sprite may get out of hand, and you end up with a tall bushy mess inside your aquarium.

Floating water sprite plants are especially prone to more light compared to those planted in the substrate. They grow in a web-like cover with wider, harder and flatter leaves, while planted water fern grow like normal fern plants with thin needle-like leaves.

CO2 Dosing and Fertilizer

Water sprite growth rate can be accelerated with doses of aquatic plants fertilizer and CO2 addition.

Add nutrients when you have a big tank that is heavily planted to boost the nitrogen available to the plants. However, in a small aquarium with few plants, the normal water sprite growth rate is sufficient given the available nitrogen.

Ina general sense, if you have to dose aquatic plants, make sure your tank is well set up for the extra nutrients. Adding too much will lead to bacteria which may damage your plants instead.

How to Trim Water Sprite

Water sprite overgrowth need to be trimmed once a while since too many leaves will venture out of the tank after it’s filled out. Plus the foliage will keep plants growing in the bottom from accessing light.

When trimming, you’ll need to follow the growth branch by branch trimming the plant the edges from the outside going in making sure you remove as many chunks as necessary.

Once you’ve cut a few branches, but you still have a thick foliage cover trim the leaves growing between adjacent branches instead of taking out to many big chunks from the plant.

Focus on small baby growths that are yet to mature over developed ones.

Granted, once you’re done with the trimming, you will have a lot of waste water sprite, so before you tose it away, consider giving it to other aquarists who want to start in their tanks. Alternatively, take the trims to your local fish store and turn it into credit.

Sadly, it’s not always you’ll find people to give your trimmed water sprite or even a local store ready to convert it into credit so you may have to throw it away with other weeds.

Water Sprite Propagation

Propagating water sprite is quite easy. The plant reproduces the same way that all ferns do, where plantlets form on the parent plant and release into the water.

Because of this, you will notice numerous floating plants in your aquarium, which will then grow into full plants, and believe or not, that is all the propagation you need.

However, if you don’t have a water sprite already, you can buy new plants from your local fish store or get a couple of trims from a friendly aquarist who own this plant.

Broken off leaf tips that are fairly new and healthy are the best to start. Float the plantlets on the water surface or plant directly in the substrate.

Water Sprite Compatibility(Tankmates)

Water sprite is a hardy plant ideal even for community tanks that host different freshwater fish, inverts and plants.

Their needle-like leaves provide good cover for fish to hide and lay their eggs. Water sprite also provides cover for fry and trap food for aquarium cleaners like shrimps.

However, snails that devour live plants might pose a challenge, but only when they are too many. One or two snails may actually be good for taming water sprite elusive growth.

Water fern is also compatible with almost all water aquatic plants including Anubias, Anacharis, hornwort, Java fern or water wisteria.

Good fish to keep in a tank planted with water sprite include:

Enjoy your planted tank.

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