What is Bolbitis?

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  • Written By: N. Phipps
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2019
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Originally from South Africa, Bolbitis is an attractive aquatic plant. Also known as African water fern or Congo fern, its feathery-looking, dark green foliage is commonly used as a backdrop for aquariums. Depending on the light conditions, African water ferns may range in color from dark green to nearly translucent green. These plants can provide an interesting contrast next to other aquarium grown plants.

In its original habitat, the plant can be found growing submerged in lakes, rivers, and streams. It’s also accustomed to shade. In an aquarium setting, Bolbitis tends to be rather particular about its growing conditions. Growing the plant in high light often promotes the growth of algae, specifically Black Beard algae. The foliage will also turn more translucent.

Lower light, on the other hand, results in dark green leaves. Therefore, it may help to shade Bolbitis plants with duckweed or something similar. Carbon dioxide fertilizing can encourage vigorous growth too, although fish waste can sometimes be just as sufficient. It’s important to keep both the light and carbon dioxide levels well-balanced. This not only ensures the most ideal growing conditions but also results in hardier plants.


When growing Bolbitis plants, it’s also important not to grow them in gravel or other substrate. The African water fern does not tolerate being planted this way. In fact, it can lead to rhizome rotting, which will eventually kill the plant. Instead, the plant should be attached to a piece of driftwood or rock by gently wrapping the rhizomes around it or using thread or fishing line. While in nature their roots cling easily to rocks within sandy beds, in an aquarium, it may be easier to use soft wood.

Another important factor to consider when growing African water fern is its placement in the tank. Bolbitis generally prefers to be situated near some type of current or water flow. Once all the growing conditions are met, this is a relatively easy-care plant. Although it’s considered slow growing, established plants may grow rather quickly, even taking over if not pruned on occasion. In addition, the plant can be divided by separating new rhizomes from the mother once they produce at least four or five leaves.

Bolbitis plants offer a natural appearance and structure to aquarium settings. They also help oxygenate the water and provide cover for fish, and occasionally food. There are two species most commonly grown: B. heudelotii and B. heteroclita. The latter is oftentimes grown as a terrestrial or emerged potted plant.



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