Bolbitis Heudelotii (African Water Fern): Ultimate Care Guide

Bolbitis Heudelotii Care

Bolbitis Heudelotii, also known as African Water Fern, Congo Fern or simply Bolbitis, is a hardy plant that can add a jungle vibe to your aquarium. Though they can take a long time to grow, Bolbitis can eventually reach a height of 16 to 22 inches (40 to 55 cm).

Similar to Buce, African Water Ferns are usually attached to hardscape such as driftwood or lava rocks. Being an epiphyte, Bolbitis aren’t planted in soil but rely on water movement to supply nutrients. Usually found in shady water sources with strong currents, you’ll want to make sure your aquarium has enough flow to keep your African Water Fern happy.

Learn the facts about this unusual aquarium plant!

Is Bolbitis Heudelotii Easy to Grow?

Though sensitive to water quality and flow, Bolbitis Heudelotii can be a hardy and low-maintenance addition to your aquarium. Don’t expect your African Water Fern to quickly take over your aquarium. Liquid fertilizer and injected Co2 may help your Bolbitis grow faster, but this is one of the slower-growing aquarium plants.

How to Plant Bolbitis Heudelotii

Plant Bolbitis Heudelotii by attaching the cleaned rhizomes to lava rocks, driftwood or other hardscaping with super glue or fishing line. Don’t bury the rhizome in substrate as this causes rot. Eventually your Bolbitis will attach itself to hardscape material and any temporary ties can be removed. Consider supplementing with a quality liquid fertilizer to help your plants adjust to their new surroundings.

Position inside the aquarium is key. Place your African Water Fern close to a filter outlet. This will provide the water movement needed to provide nutrients and help keep the leaves algae free.

Bolbitis Heudelotii
Bolbitis Heudelotii

Bolbitis Heudelotii Lighting Requirement

In its natural environment, Bolbitis Heudelotii prefers shady environments. Plan for 6 to 8 hours of low to moderate lighting per day. You can raise the intensity of light but this can lead to algae growth. If you are planning a very well lit aquarium with African Water Fern consider the addition of injected Co2.

Bolbitis Heudelotii Temperature

For best results, water temperature for Bolbitis Heudelotii should be between 22 – 25 °C (72 – 77°F). African Water Fern can handle temperatures between 20 – 28 °C (68 – 82°F), though this is less than ideal.

Bolbitis Heudelotii pH

Bolbitis Heudelotii does best in soft to neutral water with a pH range between 5.5 and 7.0. Be aware of your chosen substrate’s effect on pH. Crushed coral substrate, for instance, can quickly raise your tank’s alkalinity beyond what African Water Fern will tolerate.

Bolbitis Heudelotii Growth Rate

African Water Fern is a very slow growing aquarium plant. Expect a new leaf to form every 1 to 2 months. Water quality and temperature issues can slow this growth rate further.

Bolbitis Heudelotii Growth Height

Expect your plant to grow to between 16 – 18 inches. Bolbitis Heudelotii can reach of height of 22 inches given proper care. Because of its large size, most hobbyists anchor their Bolbitis near the aquarium bottom.

Co2 Requirement

Growth rate and health of Bolbitis Heudelotii can be improved with Co2 injection but it isn’t a requirement. Fish can produce enough Co2 to keep a small amount of plants happy. If you are planning on a heavily planted, well-lit aquarium, then Co2 injection may be necessary.

One particular reason for Co2 injection is algae suppression. This is the other reason to place your African Water Fern near your filter outflow or other current source: it helps keep algae off the leaves. Depending on your tank lighting you may have issues with algae growth, both in the water and on your Bolbitis leaves. Consider Co2 injection if you think algae could be an issue.

Bolbitis Heudelotii Propagation

Bolbitis Heudelotii is very easy to propagate. Cut a length of rhizome with some leaves on both sides and attach to your hardscape with fishing line or super glue.

Alternatively you can cut all the leaves off your rhizome before attaching to hardscape. Sometimes this creates healthier final growth.

If you are preparing many African Water Fern rhizomes you don’t have to plant them immediately. The trimmed, cleaned and moistened rhizomes can last a month or so before final placement.

How to Trim Bolbitis Heudelotii?

Using the sharpest scissors you have, cut the dead leaves as close to the rhizome as possible. Bolbitis Heudelotii is a very fibrous plant, using dull cutting tools can cause bruising or other damage. Trimming large leaves is also recommended and can allow newer, more vigorous growth.

How to use Bolbitis Heudelotii in an Aquascape?

When planning your Aquascape allow enough hardscape components for anchoring your Bolbitis Heudelotii. African Water Fern grows from rhizomes and these should never be buried in substrate as this can cause rot.

Though they can begin small–especially when starting from rhizome cuttings–Bolbitis can grow up to a height of 22 inches. It is usually best to start this plant in the lower areas of your aquarium to allow room for growth.

Your African Water Fern will naturally attach itself to hardscape elements such as lava rocks and driftwood. Initially you will need to help this process by anchoring with fishing line or a drop of superglue.

Can Bolbitis Heudelotii grow emersed?

Though commonly submersed in aquariums, Bolbitis Heudelotii can also grow out of the water when emersed. The leaves produced are different depending on how the Bolbitis is grown: single to double pinnate and light green when submersed; single pinnate, darker green and hard when emersed. If you are planning on transitioning your African Water Fern from submersed to emersed, or vice versa, the leaves will need to be trimmed away and new leaves should be allowed to grow.

Where can I find Bolbitis Heudelotii for sale?

Uncommon compared to other aquarium ferns, sourcing Bolbitis Heudelotii can be challenging. If ordering from an Internet source verify that you are receiving a plant that has grown submersed. African Water Fern can grow emersed and these plants can have issues transitioning to a fully submersed environment.

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the fish care tips that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish and aquarium healthy.

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