Water sprite is a lovely plant that can make a big impact on your aquarium (both functionally and aesthetically). No matter what your goal is, this is a plant that you should definitely consider getting!
In this care sheet we’ll cover everything you need to know if you want water sprite to thrive. General care, planting, trimming, and propagation is covered!
Table of Contents
The water sprite plant (Ceratopteris thalictroides) is a favorite among aquarists and aquascaping fanatics. The delicate, lace-like leaves offer a nice contrast to other popular aquatic plants. Meanwhile, the vivid green color creates an eye-catching element to your underwater oasis!
Luckily, water sprite plants are readily available at most stores. You might see them with the label of “Indian fern” or “water fern.”
Versatile and easy to grow, the water sprite is an excellent choice for virtually any tank. Fish love them, and most aquarists won’t have a hard time keeping these plants healthy. Plus, the water sprite can adapt to your carefully cultivated environment!
The Benefits Of Having It In Your Tank
There are many reasons to consider getting a water sprite plant.
Like all live plant species, water sprites can have a positive impact on water conditions. The roots pull nutrients from the water to thrive. Two of those nutrients, phosphorus and nitrogen, typically come from food and animal waste!
While many view aquarium plants as nothing more than decor, they can become an integral part of the ecosystem.
Another notable benefit is the plant’s ability to keep algae blooms at bay. As the plant matures, it will spread to cast shadows throughout the tank. The limited light exposure depletes algae of its fuel, preventing massive and unsightly blooms.
Finally, your fish will enjoy having water sprite plants nearby. Shy fish species can utilize the plant for shelter and cover. Even more rambunctious fish will use it, choosing to zip through the delicate leaves in a fit of play.
Author Note: It’s not just fish that take advantage of it! Invertebrates like shrimp and snails will use the plant for everything from shelter to food. If you plan on breeding fish, water sprites can protect fry from hungry adults and maximize survival rates.
Ultimately, water sprites do a lot to enhance your tank! They can improve the water conditions while giving your tank inhabitants a better quality of life. On top of all that, the plants are an excellent aesthetic addition.
Water sprites are a fine-leaf plant. The plant’s nickname, “water fern,” is an excellent descriptor. The leaves explode from a central stem and have a thin, finger-like shape. It’s very similar in appearance to land-based ferns.
Collectively, the leaves are lacy and thin, which is perfect for smaller fish.
Author Note: On a healthy plant, the foliage is light green. Stems are usually a couple of shades darker, but the entire plant will consist of that natural green hue. Brown, yellow, or faded leaves are a sign of poor health and stress.
There are a couple of ways to plant water sprites. The growing conditions will largely dictate its overall shape.
When planted in the substrate, it’s an excellent midground and background species that can fill empty stops. With careful pruning, you may encourage it to grow short and bushy like in the foreground.
If you choose to float the plant, it grows more like a surface cover. The leaves widen to create a large swathe of shade for your fish below.
Size & Growth Rate
These plants are quite flexible when it comes to growth. However, the level to which the plant thrives is entirely up to the level of care you provide.
One of the most challenging aspects of caring for water sprites is keeping up with its fast growth rate! These plants don’t take long to reach their maximum height of about 12 inches.
If you’re not careful, they can also be somewhat invasive! Poorly maintained plants will quickly develop offshoots, resulting in massive plant spread. Before you know it, the water sprite can take over an entire tank!
Fortunately, there are many ways to manage its size and growth rate (more on that later in the care sheet).
Water Sprite Care
Compared to other aquatic plants, water sprite care is quite easy. Its adaptability makes it a go-to choice for beginners and seasoned aquarists alike. Thanks to the fast growth rate and relatively undemanding requirements, it’s a plant that most will have no problem keeping healthy.
Of course, water sprites are still living plants with some essentials needs. Here are some crucial care guidelines you shouldn’t ignore.
Technically speaking, water sprites can grow in any tank size. In the wild, they grow along the banks of rivers and slow-moving streams. They’re usually rooted in mud and experience varying degrees of submersion.
That said, most aquarists agree that a minimum of 10 gallons is the way to go. A 10-gallon tank will offer enough nutrient support and space to accommodate the plant’s needs.
Author Note: If you have the means to go larger, do so! A larger aquarium will encourage the plant to reach its full potential.
As far as water parameters go, water sprite plants aren’t fussy. They thrive in standard tropical freshwater environments and are hardy enough to withstand slight fluctuations here and there.
One of the best things about water sprite care is that you can rely on this plant to stay pretty healthy regardless of how you fine-tune the water conditions. You’re free to focus on the needs of your fish and invertebrates rather than a finicky plant!
For the best results, stick to the following parameters.
- Water temperature: 68°F to 82°F
- pH levels: 5.5 to 7.5 (Slightly acidic water is preferred)
- Water hardness: 3 to 8 KH
Author Note: As always, inspect your plant regularly. Pay close attention to the quality of the leaves whenever you perform a water change. Discoloration and wilting could be a sign that you need to make some adjustments.
Water sprite plants require a moderate amount of lighting. In most cases, your standard aquarium lights will do just fine.
However, the level of light exposure the plant gets will have a big impact on its growth rate.
If you submerge the plant in a deeper tank, it’ll have a more challenging time reaching the light. As a result, you may experience slightly slower growth.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are floating water sprites. Floating plants are only a few inches from the light, so the leaves become much wider to take in all those rays!
Author Note: Ordinary tank lighting is all the water sprite needs. If the development rate is too slow for your liking, you can always supplement the light with aquatic fertilizers. There’s no need to adopt specialty lighting for these plants.
As mentioned earlier, you’re free to plant water sprites in the substrate or on the surface of the water. For the latter option, the type of substrate obviously won’t be a concern!
Floating water sprite plants will develop long, hair-like roots that dangle in the water column. The roots don’t latch onto a surface. Instead, they collect nutrients from the water to thrive.
For rooted plants, you have a couple of options. You can use sand substrate or gravel. The roots, while delicate, are tough enough to push through the small stones as the plant grows. Many aquatic plants aren’t as lucky, so using a rocky substrate material is very enticing for aquarists!
The best choice for any rooted aquatic plant is underwater soil substrate. Typically made of minerals like volcanic or clay, these materials are rich in nutrients. They’re a good option if you want to prioritize the development of your plants.
How To Plant It
Planting water sprites is a breeze.
First, look for healthy plants. Avoid any that have discolored or wilted leaves. Vibrant green plants are healthy enough to avoid the stress of transplantation.
To root the plant at the bottom of your tank, you’ll need about two to three inches of substrate. Examine the root mass of the plant and create a small indentation to accommodate it. We recommend choosing a spot that’s away from the filter intake, as leaves can easily clog your system if they fall off.
Author Note: Many sellers grow water sprites in cages or pots. You’ll need to remove the plant from the pot before you plant it. To do that, gently grab the plant by its crown. That’s the spot where the central stem meets the root mass.
Gentle lift the plant from the pot and insert it into the indentation you created earlier. Be careful not to damage the roots in any way.
Then, cover the roots and fill the hole you created with your substrate. The plant’s crown should be visible and level to the surrounding substrate surface.
It won’t take long for the roots to establish and spread.
If you want to float the plant, the process is even more straightforward! All you have to do is drop the stem and leaves into the tank water. In a few days, the roots will start to develop and hang below the central plant mass.
Trimming & Pruning
Trimming is paramount! Keeping up with the water sprite’s fast growth cycle is not easy, but it’s a necessity if you want to prevent invasive growth patterns.
Once you learn how to trim water sprite, it’s an easy and straightforward task. Using pruning shears, all you have to do is cut excess growth.
Avoid tugging the plant’s stem or leaves. Always use shears or scissors to make a clean cut. Otherwise, there’s a good chance that you could damage the healthy parts of the plant you want to keep.
When you’re pruning, focus on dying leaves and outer stems. You can cut the secondary stems to control the overall shape of the plant. However, try to avoid that main central stem. Cutting the main stem may cause the plant to die completely.
You’ll find yourself trimming the water sprite pretty frequently. Most aquarists will prune their plant every couple of weeks to prevent overgrowth.
Author Note: Make sure to remove all of the trimming waste! The last thing you want is decaying remnants to ruin the tank water.
Water sprite plants are a good match for most peaceful fish and invertebrates. The delicate leaves are perfect for smaller fish species, as it’s soft enough for them to swim through without getting injured.
Livebearing fish, such as mollies, guppies, and platies, also take full advantage of water sprites. Many aquarists like to use them in breeding tanks to keep the fry safe from hungry mouths!
Even shrimp enjoy the water sprite plant. You can often see them scavenging the leaves to find leftover food remnants. They also like to move through the dangling roots of floating plants.
Water sprite is a fantastic choice for some of the most popular community fish. Some examples include:
- Cherry Barbs
- Molly Fish
- Cory Catfish
- Platy Fish
- Betta Fish
- Glass Catfish
- Cherry Shrimp
- Amano Shrimp
Some snail species can coexist with water sprites as well. However, we recommend avoiding any species that feed on live plants, as water sprites will be their first target.
It’s also important to avoid any fish species that are known to eat or uproot plants. For example, most cichlids and types of goldfish are a no-go.
There are a couple of ways to propagate this plant.
The first is a natural process that often occurs without any human intervention. The water sprite plant develops adventitious plantlet shoots. Basically, they are tiny little plants that have their own root system.
The plantlet continues to develop on the main plant until it’s ready to stand on its own. Then, it breaks off and forms an entirely new plant.
This process is what makes water sprites so invasive. You can easily control the spread by snipping the shoots off when they appear. Alternatively, you can wait until they’re ready to grow on their own and plant them in the nearby substrate to expand your collection!
Another propagation method is to use a trimmed stem. Stems with a healthy amount of leaves will develop root systems when floating or anchored in the substrate.
As long as you have the right information, the water sprite plant is incredibly easy to care for. With its low-maintenance requirements and simple beauty, it’s no surprise that many aquarists add this plant to their tank.
If you have any questions that weren’t covered in our care sheet, feel free to send them over. We always enjoy helping out our readers.