Willow Moss (Fontinalis Antipyretica): Care & How to Grow


In the amazing world of the aquarium hobby, moss isn’t exactly the first aquatic that comes to mind for decorating the tank. There are definitely plants more common than moss, such as the Amazon sword or duckweed. Moss can bring a lot of benefits to your aquarium, and one of the many underrated species of moss is the fontinalis antipyretica, or more commonly known as willow moss. This species of moss gets its name “willow moss” because of the way it closely resembles a willow tree. Willow moss adds a beautiful look to any aquarium and is easy to pair with other plants. Since they add a lot of benefits to your aquarium, this guide will inform you on why willow moss would be a great addition to your tank.

Willow Moss Origins

Willow moss is a type of vivarium plant that does very well in most aquatic tanks. It is a freshwater moss that is a part of the fontinalaceae family. It is believed that willow moss is native to the upper regions of North American, but it can also be found in Europe, Asia and Africa. Willow moss is most familiar with fast flowing rivers and springs but can also do well in still water. This aquatic plant resembles other types of moss and comes in various different shades of green and can grow up to 24 inches in length.

Willow Moss (Fontinalis antipyretica) Growing in Nordic River

Benefits of Willow Moss in an Aquarium

Willow moss will definitely add a beautiful aesthetic to your enclosure, but it also brings lots of benefits to your tank. For example, willow moss absorbs nitrates and other nutrients from the water, resulting in enhancing and improving the water quality. It helps level out the amount of oxygen in the water by releasing oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. If you are adding willow moss to a breeding tank, this plants serves for the perfect protection for the eggs of egg-scattering fish, such as the lemon tetra. The eggs are able to land on the moss and hide until they hatch. Additionally, the willow moss can provide food for the hatched fry since moss sometimes have microorganisms within their leaves and branches.

How to Care for Willow Moss

Willow moss requires little care, making it a perfect addition to low maintenance aquariums and ponds. With willow moss being a cold water plant, the best temperature for this plant to thrive is between 59°F and 82°F. Because this plant requires very minimal care, it is considered quite hardy and it’s able to survive in various conditions without too many special care requirements. Additionally, willow moss can handle bright lighting but do best in low-lit settings. It’s best to avoid direct sunlight and any other lighting. Sunlight can also warm up the water in the tank, resulting in an uncomfortable space for the plant. With regular tank water clean outs and following these few guidelines, your willow moss is sure to thrive. Since willow moss can grow up to 24 inches in length, you can trim the stems without hesitation to keep your plant looking nice. Willow moss is truly perfect for anyone who is a beginner in the aquarium world.

Tank Requirements for Willow Moss

As mentioned before, willow moss is a cold water plant and needs water that reaches temperatures between 59°F and 82°F. Willow moss can survive through various conditions, including a high pH level of 8.5! Nevertheless, the best pH level for this aquatic plant is 5.5 and up to 7.5. It is important to note that adding carbon dioxide is not necessary, though it may help the growth process of your willow moss, if that is what you are looking for. On its own, willow moss grows at a slow to moderate growth rate.

When it comes to types of enclosures, make sure that the enclosure has some type of aquatic features to it since willow moss needs water in order to survive. Paludariums are a great option because they are a half aquatic, half terrain-based enclosure. Since they allow for a variety of animals and plants, paludariums are beautiful to the eye and pleasing to look at. Another type of enclosure are ripariums, which are mostly aquatic with minimal amount of land features. They mimic beautiful shorelines and river banks with part of its plants and hardscape above water. Lastly, another excellent type of enclosure for the willow moss are aquariums, which are fully aquatic and have little to no land features. No matter what enclosure you decide to go with, willow moss will pull it all together nicely.

Willow Moss. Kurt Stüber [1], CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

How to Grow Willow Moss

There are a couple of ways to get your hands on willow moss. You can find some online, you could possibly find it at a local aquatic nursery, or you can get some from a friend who is propagating their own willow moss plant. When purchasing willow moss, make sure that it does not have any pests such as snails. Once you have your new aquatic plant, it is quite simple to insert them into your aquarium as well as a pond. An easy way to plant willow moss is to grab an elastic or piece of thread, tie it to a stone or driftwood and place it under water. It will most likely attach quickly, and it will attach to other surfaces in the tank such as rocks and substrate. Once you notice that the plant is attached to a surface in the tank (usually 2-4 weeks), you can remove the elastic or string and it will do just fine on its own. Another way to add willow moss into your tank is to simply allow it to choose its own location by letting it float on top of the water. It will eventually find a surface to attach itself on to.

Once you have a well grown willow moss plant, you have the option of propagating it to have multiple individual plants. To grow more willow moss, simply detach pieces of the mother willow moss plant and add them in water until you are ready to establish them into an enclosure. This will not hurt the plant and it is actually the most preferred way to harvest the willow moss plant. Once you are ready to establish the propagated plants into a tank, simply follow the few steps mentioned above. Willow moss grows easily on it’s own and doesn’t need much attention or care. Willow moss can even grow on its own through stolons, which are plant runners that have the ability to grow rhizoids and latch onto a surface to being their growing process.

Giant Willow Moss

There are several varieties of willow moss, giant willow moss being one of them. This variation is native to Europe and is found in calm and slow moving waters, such as lakes. Most moss species are small in size, whereas the giant willow moss is large, hence the name. The giant willow moss has dense branches and leaves, therefore it grows into thick dark green bushes. It requires moderate amount of light as well as extra carbon dioxide in order to survive. It thrives in waters of 78°F, anything warmer will put the giant willow moss at risk. Surprisingly, giant willow moss is hard to come by! Unlike the smaller willow moss, many aquatic nurseries don’t carry them. If you happen to come across a giant willow moss, consider yourself lucky!

Fun Facts About Moss

You can never go wrong when adding moss to your aquatic enclosure. Moss is such an amazing plant! In fact, moss was the very first plant on Earth. There are more than 10,000 different species of moss that can be found all over the world. Moss is more commonly found in moist locations, but there are also types of moss that are able to thrive in cold temperatures and without water. Throughout the centuries, moss has been used for diapers and pillow stuffing! Moss does not have roots. Instead they have rhizoids, which are thread-like cell filaments that allow them to attach to surfaces. Due to not having roots, moss gets its nutrients from the air, and sometimes they absorb pollutants as well. The pollution causes the moss to change in color, shape and appearance. This makes moss an excellent and inexpensive indicator of air pollution!

Moss is an excellent addition to your aquatic enclosure. Since it’s a very simple plant to take care of, it’s a perfect place to start if you are new to the amazing aquatic hobby. Not only does it benefit your enclosure, it brings the whole tank together and creates a beautiful aesthetic masterpiece. Though it isn’t the most popular aquatic plant, you cant go wrong with choosing the willow moss to be a component to your amazing aquarium.  

Fish Laboratory

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

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