The Water Sprite, also known as India Fern, is one of the most common freshwater plants that fish keepers can easily purchase from their local fish stores. It is also one of the easiest plants to care for in an aquarium setup.

In this article, you’ll learn all about the Water Sprite, how to care for it, propagate, and get the most out of it in your home aquarium.

What Makes a Water Sprite?

Before you learn about how to care of this simple yet versatile aquatic plant, you should familiarize yourself with the basic parts of the Water Sprite as well as its overall physical appearance. This will help you have a more solid grasp of its needs and uses as an aquarium plant. Below is a breakdown of the Water Sprite’s parts and distinguishing features.

  • bright green in color
  • extending from delicate stems and branching out in finger-like patterns
  • thin and bright green
  • extending outward to support the growth of new leaves and younger stems
  • tangled and reddish-brown in color
  • the roots grow thicker and longer depending on where the plant is positioned in an aquarium

The Water Sprite goes by many names, particularly because it is known in different regions as one of the most practical and low-maintenance plants for fish hobbyists. Its scientific name is Ceratopteris thalictroides, but it is also commonly called Water Fern, Oriental Waterfern, and even Water Hornfern in various regions across the world.

Care Sheet: Water Sprite

The Water Sprite does not require as much attention as the Blyxa alternifolia that requires specific amounts of fertilizer and light per gallon of water. However, if you want to grow and propagate Water Sprites for your home aquariums, you still need to understand its most basic needs and the conditions in which it will most likely thrive.

Below is a summary of the main items you need to take note of when it comes to caring for your Water Sprite.

Maximum Adult Size 12 inches in height
Minimum Tank Size 10 to 15 gallons
pH Level 6 to 8
Water Hardness Level 3 to 8 dkH
Water Temperature Range 73 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit; 23 to 27 degrees Celsius
Light Level Medium to High brightness
Growth Rate Moderate to Fast

The Water Sprite is a pan-tropical plant. This means that it is capable of growing in different regions found in both the eastern and western hemispheres of the world. This ability to thrive in almost all kinds of substrates and temperatures makes it an extremely hardy plant.

That is why one of the most common problems associated with Water Sprites is not that it is difficult to grow in a home aquarium but that it grows faster and taller than novice fish keepers might anticipate.

Proper Water Sprite Care Techniques


One of the things that make the Water Sprite a popular aquarium plant is that it can be left to float or spread its roots through the substrate with minimal supervision. It is absolutely beginner-friendly, but it can also hog a lot of aquarium space if left unchecked. In this section, our experts will share their tips and techniques when it comes to properly care for your Water Sprite at home and eventually preparing it for propagation or growth maintenance.

– Positioning Your Water Sprite

Deciding on where to plant Water Sprite is an important step in ensuring it does not overcrowd your aquarium or it does not suffer from stunted growth later on.

In general, Water Sprites should be grown in the middle layer or the background of your tank. This will leave space for your fish to swim freely in the foreground while also allowing your Water Sprite to grow unhindered.

Consider the other aquatic plants you intend to have in your aquarium when you place your Water Sprite in the middle layer of your tank. On the other hand, if you decide to plant your Water Sprite in the far background of your aquarium, be sure that it is not positioned too close to the filter as its leaves might get sucked up into the machine.

– Floating Water Sprites for Shelter and Shade

You can leave Water Sprites floating on the surface of your aquarium water, and they will spread their leaves horizontally while their roots shoot in a downward direction. A floating Water Sprite provides natural shade for your fish, effectively shielding them from harsh light.

In addition, floating Water Sprites are able to absorb any excess nutrients, minerals, and substances that might pollute your tank. This is why they are highly recommended for aquarists that have had trouble controlling the presence of algae that result from polluted water.

– Rooted Water Sprites for Stability and Safety

If you choose to plant your Water Sprite in your aquarium, be sure to use a fine gravel type of substrate. Cover the young Water Sprite’s roots lightly in the substrate, and leave only the crown or the top part of its leaves peeking out. Ideally, your substrate should be 2 to 3 inches deep so that your Water Sprite has enough space to spread its roots and gain stability.

When used as a rooted plant, Water Sprite leaves tend to be thinner and longer compared to the thicker and wider leaves that can be found on their floating counterpart. Such leaves provide shy fish with places to hide and swim through. The roots of the Water Sprite also make the substrate more stable and less prone to nitrate buildup.

Maintaining the Aesthetic Quality of Your Water Sprite

Aside from positioning your Water Sprite properly in your aquarium and being aware of how this will affect your tank’s inhabitants, you should also expend some effort towards keeping your plant clean and healthy.

Aesthetically pleasing Water Sprites are, more often than not, healthy plants that efficiently contribute to the water quality and substance regulation in your aquarium. In contrast, Water Sprites that do not have bright colors or healthy-looking leaves and stems are probably not giving off any benefits for your fish and tank.

The easiest way to maintain the aesthetic quality of this plant is to trim Water Sprite on a regular basis and remove any dead leaves or debris you might notice. Such simple actions, when done often, make for a healthy and beautiful Water Sprite.

Water Sprite Propagation

Now that you understand how to properly position and care for the Water Sprites in your aquarium, you can move on to studying how to propagate these wonderful aquatic plants with ease.

This will allow you to share them with fellow hobbyists, perhaps sell them to your local fish store, or use them in new tank setups you want to build at home. Propagating your Water Sprites also leads to healthier and happier plants in the long run, making this a win-win situation for you and your aquatic fauna.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to propagate your Water Sprites, with techniques that our resident aquarists have used and refined over the years.

1.  Plant the Main Water Sprite in a Nutrient-Rich Area

Choose an area in the middle layer or background of your aquarium that has easy access to light and is relatively undisturbed by any of the large tank inhabitants. You can add liquid fertilizer to your substrate or water as a way of directly injecting more nutrients into a certain area of your aquarium.

Having access to enough light will encourage your Water Sprite to grow quickly and spread its roots through the substrate if you decide to plant it, or else unfurl broader and stronger leaves if you decide to leave it floating. In addition, when placed in an area that you believe to be both nutrient-rich and calm will help your Water Sprite to grow without being immediately bombarded by the attention and presence of your fish.

2. Take 2-Inch Cuttings From the Main Plant Whenever Available

As part of your plant maintenance routine, you should aim to take 2-inch cuttings from the main Water Sprite whenever you think it is becoming overgrown. Save these cuttings for propagation later on, or use them as part of organic compost. You will find that Water Sprites that are regularly trimmed will eventually follow the shape and space you want them to occupy.

Once you have gathered enough cuttings from the main plant, introduce them to new areas of the aquarium as floating or rooted Water Sprites. You can also add these cuttings to other tanks you might have or share them with other fish hobbyists.

3. Clean the Excess Leaves or Young Shoots From the Main Plant

Finally, do not forget to clean any excess leaves or young shoots that stem from the main plant. Be sure to remove any roots or rhizomes to discourage wild plant growth.

These leaves or shoots might find their way to the surface of the substrate or attach themselves to the surface of any wood decor you might have. Aim to control such irregular growths to keep your Water Sprite in tip-top shape while also maintaining a clean tank.

As you can see, it is not that difficult to propagate Water Sprites. After a few cycles of positioning, trimming, and replanting, you will find maintaining Water Sprites is more of a calming routine than a difficult chore.

Common Challenges With Water Sprites

Like all living things, the Water Sprite has its fair share of problems. Most of them can be solved by being vigilant and attentive to the tank water quality and the amount of waste present in an aquarium. Read on to find out what aquarists find to be the most common problems when Water Sprites are involved and how to prevent or solve them.

– Overcrowding

Water Sprites are fast growers. They can spread from one end of a tank to another in just a few months if left completely unchecked. This makes them top contenders for overcrowding your aquarium, limiting the space your fish can swim in, and taking too much of the water’s nutrients that little to none is left for the other tank inhabitants.

The main cause of overcrowding is neglect. That said, this problem with Water Sprites is also the easiest to solve. You just have to create a plant maintenance schedule and stick to it. Once trimming your Water Sprites and uprooting excess plants becomes a habit, you won’t have to deal with overcrowding due to too much fauna at all.

– Waste Buildup

Aside from being potential causes of overcrowding, Water Sprites can also cause a significant increase in the rate that waste builds up in your tank. Similar to the first problem we tackled, this one is caused mainly by a fish keeper’s neglect.

Water Sprites only cause massive waste buildup if they are not trimmed or cleaned every once in a while. Their dead leaves will naturally fall off their stems and decay on the aquarium floor.

Their stems might rot or become infected with pests, and so make them top contributors to the amount of nitrate and ammonia produced in your aquarium. All of these things can be prevented by simple plant maintenance and by only planting high-quality and healthy Water Sprites in the first place.

– Nutrient Deficiencies

In some cases, even the hardiest of Waters Sprites can stop growing in an aquarium. They may have brown leaves instead of bright green ones, or they may have limp stems and pale roots. These are all signs of nutrient deficiencies.

To prevent or treat this problem, all you have to do is invest in high-quality liquid fertilizers and filtration systems. Fertilizers will provide your Water Sprites with much-needed nutrients that they might not get enough of from the immediate environment, while good filtration systems will help clean your tank water clean to be more conducive to Water Sprite growth.

Water Sprite Fish Compatibility

The Indian Water Fern is a great source of beauty and oxygen in most aquarium setups. But did you know that not all fish will take kindly to this type of aquarium plant? Some fish will nip the delicate leaves of the Water Sprite, while some aquarium inhabitants have a tendency to uproot young plants, making the tank dirty and killing juvenile Water Sprites in the process. That said, it would be wise to plan ahead when it comes to pairing your Water Sprites with different fish.

Below are the top-recommended fish that our experts believe to be most compatible with the hardy Indian Water Fern.

1. Tetras

Tetras are known for their peaceful nature. Most species of Tetras (with the exception of the Buenos Aires Tetra) also thrive in heavily planted tanks. Their small size and calm demeanor mean that they will use plants for shelter and security. They do not nip or destroy the plants’ leaves, stems, and roots.  As such, they would make great neighbors for Water Sprites.

2. Gouramis

Gouramis adore aquatic plants, especially those that float on the water surface. This means that placing Water Sprites in a tank with Gouramis is sure to be a hit. Your Gouramis will play and sleep under the shade provided by the floating Water Sprite and might even exhibit behavioral quirks you would not otherwise witness.

3. Shrimp

Water Sprites also pair well with non-fish aquarium members. They are especially beneficial to have around small shrimp species. The shrimp will use the leaves of the Water Sprite as a foraging ground for leftover food. They will also certainly take shelter in the soft and lush leaves of the Water Sprite whenever they feel threatened by other tank members.

Now, while most fish will pair well with Water Sprites in their environment, it is important to note that some types of fish are simply not going to behave well with this kind of aquatic fauna. Avoid placing Water Sprites in tanks with resident Cichlids, Goldfish, and snails. These types of aquarium inhabitants will make a routine out of chewing on the Water Sprites’ leaves or else destroying the delicate stems altogether.


We learned a lot of things about Water Sprite in this article. Below is a recap of the most important points we covered.

  • The Water Sprite is a freshwater aquarium plant that is highly adaptable to different kinds of water conditions.
  • It can be positioned in the middle layer or background of your aquarium.
  • The Water Sprite can be grown by planting it in substrate or allowing it to float on the surface of the tank water.
  • This plant is easy to maintain and propagate; it only needs to be trimmed every once in a while to avoid problems with overcrowding and waste buildup.
  • The Water Sprite is best planted in tanks with peaceful fish like Tetras, Gouramis, and Shrimp.

Now that you have all of this knowledge about the Water Sprite, you can apply what you’ve learned here to the actual plants you bring home. With what you’ve learned, you should have an enjoyable time planting, caring for, and propagating your Water Sprite.

5/5 - (18 votes)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here