Java moss is one of the most common freshwater aquarium plants. There is a very good reason for this as it is very hardy and easy to grow in a range of conditions.
Native to South East Asia, java moss is found widespread throughout freshwater ecosystems including rivers, lakes, and marshes. It is found attaching itself to a range of different objects, such as rocks, driftwood, and other living plants.
Java moss has a wide range of uses in the home aquarium. Due to the ease of care and this wide array of uses it is easily one of the most common and widely available freshwater aquarium plants, and can be found online and in pet stores. It is very common in aquascaping as it can be shaped easily, and also in breeding tanks, where fry find shelter in the small leaves.
IN THIS ARTICLE
Java Moss General Information
Java moss is a member of the Hypnaceae family, and has the scientific name Taxiphyllum barbieri. It has small stems which branch at irregular intervals and possesses small leaves of around 2 mm in length. The length of the stems and leaves will depend on the lighting conditions. In low light the plant will grow taller to try and capture light. In general though java moss is quite a dense and contained plant.
It is a great plant for both aquariums and terrariums, as it can grow happily both above and below the water line. When grown out of water the leaves are larger and more dark green than if it were grown under water.
As with all mosses, Taxiphyllum barbieri doesn’t possess true roots. Instead it has rhizoids which attach it to the substrate and anchor it to the surroundings. Rhizoids are essentially evolutionary precursors to roots, and are most morphologically similar to root hairs. While roots are multicellular, rhizoids are most often unicellular. Rhizoids are found in fungi, algae, and Bryophytes, an informal grouping of the liverworts, hornworts, and mosses, which are all non-vascular plants.
The primary function of rhizoids is to anchor the plant to the substratum. Rhizoids aren’t fussy and will happily attach to anything they find themselves on. While they do aid in the uptake of nutrients and water, it is debated to what degree. The main source of nutrients is through direct uptake from the leaves.
Java moss was one thought to be the species Vesicularia dubyana, which is actually a very similar Brazilian moss called Christmas tree moss. Christmas tree moss is more demanding than regular java moss, though quite similar in appearance.
Java Moss Care
In the following section we will explain all aspects of java moss care, starting with the ideal growing conditions and how to properly maintain this plant in a tank environment
Java moss is an extremely hardy aquarium plant and so can survive and actually thrive in a wide range of conditions. However to get the best out of the moss in your tank you want the conditions to be within the ideal range.
The ideal temperature range for java moss is between 69.8 and 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 21 to 27 degrees Celsius. While this range is the ideal, it will also happily grow in water as low as 59°F (15°C) to as high as 86°F (30°C).
The general hardness should ideally be maintained between 3-12 dGH. That being said it will also do well in water up to 20 dGH.
In terms of lighting, java moss thrives in both high and low intensity lighting. Makes it perfect for both high tech and low tech aquariums, and so ideal for beginners and experts alike. It will grow slightly differently in high light and low light however. In high light it will be a lighter green and will grow shorter and denser. With lower light it will grow a darker green and the stems will become longer and slightly more sparse as it seeks light.
Java moss does need a moderate water flow to remain at its healthiest, so having it positioned by the filter outflow or an aquarium wave maker. This water flow will keep the plant healthy, bringing it plenty of nutrients and helping to keep algae at bay.
Maintaining java moss is fairly easy. It can be left alone pretty much undisturbed and it will thrive in most tank conditions. However if you want it to look it’s best you may have to do a bit of work on it.
Trimming is the best way to undertake java moss care. It is easy to trim into the shape and look that you want. Trimming also helps to reduce the amount of debris which gets caught in the leaves. Having debris caught in the moss is extremely common, especially with carpets. The easiest way to remove debris is by removing the decoration that the moss is attached to and rinsing it under plenty of tank water.
Java moss generally doesn’t require any aquarium plant fertilizer or CO2 regulators. Only if it is looking really brown do you want to be putting fertilizer into the water. This is because a major issue with this moss is algae growth. If you are fertilizing the water algae will feed off this as well and unwanted algal growth is much more likely. If your moss is in need of a boost make sure to use liquid plant fertilizer, and to only use sparingly.
Growing Java Moss
Growing java moss is quite a simple process, but it is easy to make simple mistakes. By reading the following section you will learn how to grow this moss in your fish tank successfully.
Firstly, you need to find an appropriate attachment point for Taxiphyllum barbieri in your tank. This can be pretty much anything that you want covered in the moss; driftwood, rocks, or cork.
To successfully attach and grow java moss, you need to give the rhizoids time to anchor themselves to your chosen attachment point. The rhizoids will take around 3 weeks to fully integrate and grow onto its attachment point. Therefore you can’t simply put the moss into your tank on a rock and hope it will grow; you need to give it a helping hand otherwise it will break free and drift in the tank.
There are a few different ways of attaching java moss. It is possible to use superglue to attach the rhizoids to your chosen substrate, but this is fairly tricky. You want to glue the rhizoids, not the green fleshy part of the plant to the substratum. But don’t worry too much as java moss is hardy and will still grow if some of the leaves are stuck in glue! What is also important is to not use much superglue. Less is definitely more in this scenario. This is because the superglue basically forms an impenetrable barrier. Rhizoids don’t just attach the moss, they also aid in nutrient and water uptake, so are needed in contact with the water for the overall health of the plant.
Perhaps the easiest and simplest way to attach your java moss and get it started in the tank is to use fishing line. Simply place your moss on the chosen piece of rock or branch, and wind the fishing line around until it doesn’t fall off. It should be fairly tight so the moss can’t fall off. Ensure the line is against your chosen substratum, and you can move the leaves as you wind it round so it won’t have a pinched look to it initially. After a few weeks the rhizoids should have grown attached, so you can remove the fishing line if you wish, but be careful as the rhizoids will have attached to it as well. It’s totally fine, and a lot easier, to leave the fishing line in place as well.
Technically string will work the same way, but you don’t want to use string in your tank. Most strings are dyed, and made of organic materials. The die will leak into the water, and the string will break down and can be harmful to your fish. Fishing line won’t do either!
How to grow Java Moss
There are a few different ways in which to grow java moss in your aquarium. The most common are to have java moss trees, a Java moss carpet, or to instead have it as a floating plant.
Java Moss Trees
It is possible to create some amazing displays using java moss trees. To create java moss trees you need to find some appropriately sized driftwood pieces. You can use wood you find yourself, but it isn’t recommended as the tannins found in simple fallen wood will leach into the water, along with other compounds as well. Driftwood bought from amazon has been treated, and as it is older are much less likely to leach compounds. It is also advised to soak them before using them.
To create a stunning tree display, choose a piece of wood with lots of branches, or simply glue some pieces together. Check the completed tree in your tank to ensure that it actually fits!! Next you want to attach the moss to the tree. You can either superglue the rhizomes to the tree or use fishing line to hold it on. Put the new mossy tree into your tank. Once the moss has established itself on the tree and the rhizomes are fully integrated it will start growing along the branches.
Java Moss Carpet
Having a java moss carpet in your fish tank can look absolutely stunning. A carpet is a continuous mat of the plant which covers a large area of the tank. Having a Java moss carpet on the back or sides of the aquarium can look absolutely stunning, in both large and small aquariums. While you can have a java moss carpet on the base of the tank l which will look great, it is difficult to keep clean as debris will accumulate quickly amongst the delicate leaves and be very difficult to remove!
To create a successful java moss carpet first you need to make a trellis that the moss can grow on. The easiest way of doing this is to purchase a mesh that won’t degrade in the tank. Cut this mesh to the size that you want and add suction cups in the four corners if you are placing it on the back or sides of the tank.
When you have this mesh ready, it’s time to add the moss. Again you can use superglue or fishing line. On a mesh it is probably easier to use the superglue method, especially if the mesh is quite fine. You really don’t need to handle the moss too carefully, it is very durable and can take some punishment. Add a small bit of your to the mesh and push the rhizoids onto it to adhere the moss to the mesh. Loosen the moss in your hands first so you cover the largest surface area possible with the piece of moss. As the moss grows through the mesh it will thicken and end up looking lush!
Floating Java Moss
Floating java moss can be a very quirky way to introduce floating aquarium plants into your aquarium. In smaller tanks especially, such as 5 gallon and 10 gallon tanks, having floating java moss can be a great way of having a floating plant without risk of having the plant growing over the entire surface.
To create a piece of floating java moss the easiest way is to use cork. Natural cork is very buoyant, and is also very durable so won’t decompose in the tank. Attach the moss to the cork in the usual way, either with fishing line or very carefully with superglue. You can simply drop the mossy cork into the tank and it will float around, but it is better to attach the cork to something. If left to float about it could get caught in the aquarium filter intake. If you want a larger piece of floating moss simply superglue multiple corks together, or make a design.
While it is possible to simply drop a piece of moss into the tank directly and let it float, it will eventually sink. It will also probably get caught in the filter system, and won’t look anywhere near as neat and nice as if attached to cork.
The great thing about java moss is that it is pretty much compatible with all freshwater aquarium fish. It is extremely hardy and can take substantial punishment, so it is compatible with herbivorous fish and fish which are likely to nibble at the leaves. This is great for mid-sized fish such as freshwater angelfish which will nibble at plants in the tank.
It is great for small fish like tetras, guppies, and mollies as it provides shelter for the fish, especially if there are larger fish in the tank as well. Continuing from this it is fantastic for fry as it provides the perfect shelter for them to find shelter, food, and grow.
Having floating java moss is a great way to have a floating plant with labyrinth fish such as betta fish, paradise fish, and gourami’s such as the pearl gourami and dwarf gourami. Labyrinth fish can breathe air and so need access to the water’s surface at all times. Plants such as dwarf water lettuce grow quickly and can completely cover the surface – very bad for these fish.
Java moss isn’t only good for fish; invertebrates also love it. Shrimp such as cherry shrimp and ghost shrimp will often be seen on moss in search of food. Having java moss in the tank is actually a good way of luring shrimp out of their hiding places and making them more visible in the aquarium. If you have shrimp you’ll know how elusive they can be!
There are a few issues which commonly arise with java moss. These are the moss getting caught in the aquarium filter intake, and clogged in the filter compartments. For instance chunks of moss will get caught in the mechanical filter media as it is too large to pass through the fine media. As this builds up it will physically block the water from passing through the filter, decreasing its efficiency. This will also adversely affect water quality as the bits of moss decompose and release ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. A way to combat this is to trim the moss regularly to keep large clumps from breaking free. Also make sure to check your filter media and clean your filter regularly to remove caught moss. Adding a pre filter to the filter intake can help in catching moss before it reaches the media.
Another common issue is algal growth within the dense growth of the leaves of the moss. Perhaps the best way to combat unwanted algal growth is to keep the tank as clean as possible. Algae uses organic nitrogen and phosphorus to grow, and the main sources of these compounds within a tank are dirt, debris, and excess food waste. Keeping these to a minimum by cleaning regularly will keep algal growth down. Another way to keep algal growth down is to ensure that the moss is in an area which has good water circulation.
While these are mainly preventative measures, you can also remove algae once it has taken hold in the moss. However it can be more trouble than it’s worth, as java moss is pretty cheap and easy to get. Simply removing the algae-ridden moss and starting again is the easiest solution. If you want to keep the same moss though, you can try to cut the algae out of the leaves. Remember this moss is very hardy so it can take some punishment. Also giving it a hydrogen peroxide bath will help to kill the algae, though be careful of the strength of the solution, and ensure to rinse thoroughly before putting it back in the tank.
It’s important to remember that algae thrives in water with low circulation, high nutrient load, and high intensity lighting. If you try to avoid these and keep the tank clean and healthy then you should find your moss algae free.
Is java moss the right call for your aquarium?
Essentially, if you have an aquarium, then yes. Java moss can thrive in a wide range of conditions which means that no matter if you have a large tank or a small tank you will be able to find a place and use for it.
Being able to be grown as a tree, carpet, or as a floating plant, this moss is perfect for an aquascaped aquarium. The small leaves are also perfect for fry and small fish to hide in, making your community feel more comfortable and at home.
Featured image credit: Buchling, CC BY-SA 3.0, WikiCommons