Water Sprite Plant Care Guide On Planting, Floating, Growing, & Propagating

Water Sprite is one of the most popular choices for aquarium plants. From its lush green pigment to its versatile usage, it isn’t hard to see why it has such a vast distribution. In fact, you can find it on almost every continent.

But most prominent of all is how easy it is to care for it and its tolerance of enduring most freshwater aquarium conditions.

In this guide, you’ll be walked you through everything you need to know about Water Sprites, from their maintenance to their propagation and more.

Overview & Origins: Water Sprite

  • Scientific Name: Ceratopteris Thalictroides
  • Family: Pteridaceae
  • Order: Polypodiales
  • Genus: Ceratopteris
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Low to Moderate
  • Maximum Size: 13.5 inches
  • Water Conditions: 68-82°F, pH 6.0-7.5, KH 3-8
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate
  • Propagation: Rhizome Division/Adventitious Plantlet
  • Tank Placement: Mid to Background

Water Sprite’s (Ceratopteris Thalictroides), is commonly referred to as Indian Fern and Water Fern. The reason for this name is that its leaves take after fern leaves, its land relatives. It’s grown in Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the plant lives in a multitude of habitats. Aside from fish tanks, Water Sprites grow in flooded forests, swamps, ponds, and marches, among other water bodies with still or slow water. Nevertheless, they can only live about a year in such natural habitats. However, they can thrive in home aquariums.

Furthermore, if you place a Water Sprite in the background or middle of your tank, the plant adds a vibrant green touch, with the green of its stems tending to be darker than that of its leaves. And you’ll find the leaves protruding from the stem almost like fingers from a hand. Also, as the plant grows, the leaves intertwine and overlap in a beautiful pattern.

Moreover, Water Sprites can handle most tank conditions, require little maintenance, and can be floating or planted. Consequently, these plants are a popular choice for freshwater community tanks. It also doesn’t hurt that they provide some shade, meaning that the tank won’t get dirty very often.

Water Sprite’s easy maintenance deems it an excellent plant to add to your tank if you’re a beginner. For those who are indeed just starting out, here’s a heads up about the nitrogen cycle – also known as New Tank Syndrome; this cycle effectively maintains a safe ecosystem for fish.

Without it, your fish will live in a pool of their own waste. Actually, they won’t live because the ammonia present in fish waste is very toxic. When you cycle your aquarium, beneficial bacteria convert ammonia into nitrite, which then becomes non-toxic nitrates.

Caring for Water Sprite In Aquarium

Here’s what you need to know about providing the ideal water conditions for your water sprite to thrive.

Tank Requirements

Undoubtedly, you want to put Water Sprite in a suitable tank of the right type and size. We’re talking about a fast-growing plant, so the minimum tank size for Water Sprite is 10 gallons. However, we’d say you should opt for a tank over 10 gallons large to be on the safe side. After all, you wouldn’t want the plant overruling your tank.

Water Parameters

  • Temperature: 68-82°F
  • pH: 6.0-7.5
  • dGH: 5 to 15°dGH

So far, we’ve detailed the acceptable ranges for pH, temperature, and other water parameters. Nevertheless, it would be best to make sure that these conditions aren’t constantly fluctuating (even within those ranges). And you can learn more about that here.

Stable conditions are a must, so aim for a fixed number; swinging water conditions are among the biggest fish community killers out there.

Lighting Conditions

For Water Sprite, lighting should range from medium to high because it grows optimally in spots with good light exposure, enabling its leaves to get bigger, leveling up your tank’s aesthetic appeal. Of course, factors other than light intensity contribute to the plant’s growth rate, too.

Substrate & Fertilizers

Water Sprite is hardy, so you can plant it in any substrate type, gravel or sand. Still, a nutrient-rich plant substrate certainly beats aquarium gravel.

As we’ve previously mentioned, Water Sprites grow fast and large. Hence, their roots consume large amounts of nutrients, such as potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus, to keep up the plants’ growth rate. Sometimes, this nutrient intake can go as far as causing a nutrient deficiency. As a result, you may notice holes in their older leaves.

For that reason, you’re advised to provide Water Sprites with fertilizers, CO2, and supplements, liquid or powder. Also, you can add trace elements to your water if it lacks a specific nutrient to regulate the uptake of nutrients.

Additionally, leaf browning is another issue that might occur due to poor fertilization. And you can combat it by using root tabs.

Let “everything in moderation” be your motto. Too many nutrients in a tank will cause bacteria and make your plants sick, so strive to find a healthy balance.


The consensus is that Water Sprites are easy to maintain. And the most critical aspect of maintaining them has to do with their size.

If the plant grows too large for the tank, you need to trim its outer stems, not the main stem originating directly from the roots. Next, remove the cut branches from the tank, or else they’ll start to grow roots and become new plants.

Instead of throwing out the trimmed stems, you can plant them in another tank.

How to Plant Water Sprite: Plant or Float?

You can either choose the traditional method of inserting the plant in a tank, planting it in a substrate, or using it as a floating plant.

The former method, planting, is generally the best. To use it, you have to choose a type of substrate and use it to create a layer. 2 to 3 inches should suffice.

After that, you dig a hole in the substrate and lay your plant in it. Be sure to conceal the stem’s base enough that it’s barely seen. As for the roots, bury them entirely. The substrate layer will keep the plant from floating around in the tank.

Alternatively, the latter method relates to offshoots breaking away from the original plant and becoming floating plants. If you want to float a Water Sprite, immerse its stems in the water column. Gradually, it’ll grow roots, which will extend downwards. Then, the roots will help absorb nutrients through the water column.

When you float Water Sprite, it grows thicker; its leaves, bigger; and its roots, thinner and longer.

Now that we’ve covered what floating and planting Water Sprites in a substrate are and how they work, let’s weigh the advantages and disadvantages of both.

Generally, planting is better for Water Sprite’s growth, and here’s why. Unlike floating, you can decide on the exact placement of the plant. Therefore, you can ensure it has enough space to grow and avoid overcrowding.

However, floating is more aesthetically pleasing because you get to enjoy such vibrant colors towards the tank’s surface. But more than that, the plant has wider leaves.

This would be an excellent time to remind you of how light intensity impacts the plant’s growth. And since it’s closer to the surface, the plant is exposed to more light. Thus, its leaves are big compared to those of a planted one.

Another winning card for a floating Water Sprite is the fact that it provides shade for numerous aquatic plants that need it.

Also, it serves as an algae repellent. Water Sprites reduce algae to a minimum in some semblance to the cat-mouse dynamic, so they’re excellent additions to your tank if it has an algae bloom. And you’ll see that when you no longer need to clean the tank as often.

There’s one final specific advantage that floating has over planting if you have large cichlids. Where such large species usually graze on the plant’s leaves, leaving it a mere stub, cichlids neglect to do so if the plant is floating.

How to Propagate Water Sprite

We’ve briefly alluded to the first way Water Sprite reproduces, but let’s dissect it further. Simply put, adventitious plantlets will grow out of the mother plant and eventually break off. These shoots naturally plant themselves or float in a water column.

Secondly, Water Sprite can propagate if you sever a few inches of the stem with enough leaves. Afterward, it’ll grow roots, becoming a separate plant.

Consider whether your tank is big enough for more than one Water Sprite before propagating it to avoid overcrowding.

Tank Mates for Water Sprite

Water Sprites are good aquarium plants for most community tanks, benefiting fish and plants in one way or another, including shy fish, shrimp, and small fry and fish.

As a rule, Water Sprite is compatible with most peaceful fish species, including killifish, mollies, platies, bettas, guppies, corydoras, and glass catfish.

Goldfish are a big no-no in a tank with Water Sprites, as they won’t hesitate to eat them.

As for its compatibility, Water Sprite gets along very well with many plants, including Java Fern, Hornwort, and Anacharis.

How to Use Water Sprite in Aquarium

Water Sprite works best in the mid to background of a tank. However, the plant shouldn’t be in a direct water flow to avoid the breakage of leaves.

There are multiple uses and benefits to Water Sprite. Providing shade is one that we’ve already discussed, making it the perfect plant if you have shy fish, like Cherry Barbs, as they’ll find the ideal spot to hide.

In addition, the plant’s thin roots may trap leftover food, so shrimp can scour them and hide there. Furthermore, these leaves make for a perfect habitat for newborn fry and small fish. And, of course, we can’t forget how it keeps algae at bay.

Additionally, these plants benefit other plants and fish in your tank and also look stunning. The plant’s bright green leaves bring a livelihood to your freshwater community tank. And floating Water Sprite can create the most incredible leaf patterns too. So, if that’s a priority for you, perhaps floating would better suit your purposes.

How to Choose Healthy Water Sprite

When buying Water Sprite, keep an eye out for a few red flags if you don’t want to get stuck with a sick or dying plant. For one, if the plant isn’t green, it’s in poor health. Healthy Water Sprite is green with slightly darker stems. You don’t want one with yellow or brown leaves.

Needless to say, avoid plants with leaves that have holes, cuts, or tears or that can’t stand straight or support their weight. Finally, watch out for Water Sprites with short and few roots.

Is Water Sprite Right For You

Overall, Water Sprites tend to be wonderful plants in community tanks for many reasons. They’re easy to propagate, care for, and maintain. If you trim them, cycle the tank, give them some nutrients, and place them in still water and good lighting, these plants will thrive.

Undoubtedly, they help make a pleasant-looking tank with vivid colors, fern-like leaves, and intricate patterns. But, we also can’t forget their more practical benefits from providing shade to reducing algae levels and creating a good home for fish and fry. Also, the aquarium plant is compatible with most peaceful fish species and numerous types of plants.

And most importantly, you get to choose between planting Water Sprite in a substrate and floating it in a water column. Merely consider the pros and cons of both methods to decide.

With little effort on your end, Water Sprites can be a complete game-changer for your tanks; your fish will thank you for it!

Christopher Adams
Christopher Adams

Hey there, my name is Christopher, and I've successfully ran freshwater aquariums for the past few decades. The mission of this site is to make it simple for anyone to run their own freshwater aquarium.

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