Water Sprite Care, Floating, Propagation and More…

Water Sprite is an incredibly hardy freshwater plant. These plants are commonly found in slow-moving waters and are perfect for almost all aquariums. Water Sprite is a beautiful green plant that helps make your fish stand out and instantly become more vibrant.

As well as their picturesque appearance, Water Sprite have easy care requirements and can grow rapidly under bright lighting. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about Water Sprite…

Water Sprite 101

Water Sprite (Ceratopteris thalictroides) is a freshwater aquatic plant that is commonly known as Water Fern or Indian Fern. Water Sprite comes from the family of ferns Pteridaceae and is found in nearly every continent in the world.

This plant thrives in slow-moving water such as ponds and marshes and can grow either emersed or submersed. Water Sprite is most often used as a floating plant or as an accessory to rocks and driftwood. Their thin and branched leaves give aquariums a very wild appearance.

Beginners love this plant because of their easy care requirements. Just remember that they can grow taller than 13 inches so they require attention when it comes to maintenance. Overall you can expect to pay between $3-$10 per Water Sprite plant depending on its size.

What Does Water Sprite Look Like?

The Water Sprite has thin branching leaves that wave with the flow of the water in the aquarium. These leaves are usually bright green. Stems are usually less than 0.25 inches and slightly darker in comparison to the leaves. These will continue to darken as the plant matures.

In ideal conditions the Water Sprite plant can grow relatively fast at up to ~3 inches per month. Water Sprite can grow up to around 13 inches. When floating, Water Sprite can form an intricate structure of tangled roots that can grow to a length of 1 foot.

Because of the beautiful appearance of the roots, lots of people keep this as a floating plant. The leaves will also grow longer when the plant is floated compared to being planted in the substrate. Interestingly this plant is often confused with Water Wisteria. To spot the difference read our Water Wisteria guide.

Placement And Lighting

This plant has many different uses in an aquarium. Water Sprite is commonly used as a floating plant because it acts as a floating filter. Their leaves will extend outwards and grow bigger when they are floating. The roots will extend several inches into the water and will continue to grow very fine and thin roots while taking up the nutrients in the water column.

This placement gives the plant a very natural appearance in the aquarium. However you can also keep the Water Sprite plant as a middle and/or background plant. Using the plant this way helps to add a lot of detail and depth to other décor within the aquarium.

Light Requirements

Water Sprite grows best in moderate to high light conditions. However this plant will still survive in low light levels. You should provide 2-3 watts per gallon from full spectrum bulbs with the wavelength range of 5000-7000K. Light exposure should be around 10 hours per day.

The growth rate of Water Sprite largely depends on the conditions it is kept in. At high light levels this plant will grow quicker and become bushier and longer. When kept in low light levels Water Sprite will still grow but at a considerably slower rate.

Tank Mates and Compatibility

Water Sprite makes a great addition to many tanks because they are compatible with lots of fish species. Popular and very bright species like Siamese fighting fish, Paradise, and Sparkling Gouramis are all compatible with this plant.

So too are a large number of Tetras including Neon, Cardinal, and Ember Tetras – their colors will pop in front of this plant. Guppies and Mollies are also popular matches for this plant.

Water Sprite is also perfect for some non-fish tank mates too. Their roots can hoard edible matter which is great for different Shrimp species such as Cherry Shrimp and Bamboo Shrimp. As for other plants they make popular additions to live planted aquariums that already contain Hornwort and Java Fern.

If you plan to plant Water Sprite within the sediment then it is best to avoid destructive Cichlids such as Oscars because they are known to dig up rooted plants. Goldfish will also snack on this plant so it is best to avoid these too.

You should also avoid keeping this plant with snails too. Water Sprite is often loved by snails but will become a snack for most of them.

Water Sprite Plant Care

Tank Requirements

The Water Sprite plant is an incredibly hardy plant that can thrive in a wide range of conditions. You should the water temperature between 68-82°F and the pH can range between 6-7.5. Water hardness should be kept between 3-8 dKH. Also you should not keep this plant in an aquarium smaller than 10 gallons because it will quickly outgrow these nano tanks.

How To Plant Water Sprite

Water Sprite can grow in various substrate (including gravel and sand), but it is best to plant them in aquarium soil which is rich in nutrients. Before planting them you need to decide on their placement.

Make sure to give each Water Sprite plant enough space – we suggest around 1-1.5 inches between each plant. Remember that these plants grow fairly fast and when placed too close together, they can get tangled up with each other. The leaves of this plant are also very thin and fragile, so we recommend placing them away from direct water flow.

Once you know where to place your Water Sprite you can start to plant them. Water Sprite needs to be buried between 2-3 inches within the substrate with the roots fully covered but the crown still visible. The crown is the section of the plant where the roots meet the stem.

Be careful when planting Water Sprite because the roots are very delicate.

If you are going to use them as floating plants then you just need to place them on the surface of the water. Over time the roots will begin to grow downwards to take advantage of the nutrients from the water below. The leaves will also begin to grow slightly larger and wider because of how close they are to the light.

Maintenance and Care

Water Sprites are very good at absorbing nutrients so they do not need any CO2 supplements or fertilizers. However because this plant can take a significant amount of nutrients from the water it can sometimes lead to a deficiency in the tank. So you might need to add liquid fertilizers for the other inhabitants in your tank.

Because this plant is moderately fast-growing, it will need trimming regularly. To trim Water Sprite you need to be very careful as the leaves can detach from the stem very easily. You should only use aquascaping scissors.

Only trim the outer stems and leave the main stem alone. Trimming the main stem of the plant could do some serious damage and even kill the plant. Trimmings can be done biweekly to monthly and will depend on the placement of your plant. Generally speaking floating plants will grow quicker than when they are in substrate. In addition to trimming 20% water changes are needed every 2 weeks.

Common Problems

Browning: Unfortunately browning can be caused by numerous things. It could be an excess of iron concentration, too much light, or not enough nitrogen. You can avoid this by keeping the light intensity at the recommended requirements and doing regular water testing to maintain the appropriate conditions.

Melting: This is a very common problem with aquatic plants that are introduced to new tank environments. The plant will become dull and the leaves will become translucent and very fragile. If this happens there is no need to worry, just remove the melting leaves and wait for new ones to grow. As the plant adjusts to the new tank conditions their leaves will grow to replace the old ones.

Overgrowth: Water Sprite can easily outgrow its aquarium when it is not trimmed regularly. You should always trim this plant every 2-4 weeks to prevent it from outgrowing the aquarium.

Dark Color: As Water Sprites mature their color will become darker and slightly brown – this is completely normal and unavoidable. Your only option is to plant the shoots produced from the old plant and grow a new one.

Shedding: Water Sprite’s leaves are fragile and will occasionally break away and create debris. This debris can get stuck in the filter and clog it. To avoid this place the plant away from direct water flow and get a sponge pre filter.

How To Propagate

Naturally Water Sprite will propagate very easily. Their adventitious shoots will eventually break off from the adult plant and grow into a separate plant. This will happen naturally in aquariums that have enough lighting and space to grow.

If you want to speed up this process then they can also be propagated by cuttings of the stem. Using aquascaping scissors, stems can be trimmed off and planted into the substrate or left to float. Eventually the cuttings will develop adventitious root systems and continue to grow as an individual plant.

However, these little plantlets will eventually drop off on their own and form roots into the substrate so there is no need to forcefully detach them. A single water sprite plant can produce many of these individual plantlets.

Just remember that as more new Water Sprite begins to grow, more nutrients will need to be added to the aquarium because the demand for nitrogen will be high. If your tank becomes overcrowded make sure you remove any fallen plantlets before they root themselves.

Benefits of Water Sprite

  1. Floating filters: Water Sprite can consume large amounts of nutrients. This means they will take in all excess nutrients and provide shade to help prevent unwanted algae growth.
  2. Shelter: This plant can grow to the perfect length to provide shelter for shy tank mates and those who feel more comfortable under low light levels.
  3. Trap food: When Water Sprite are placed as a floating plant their roots become thinner as the plant grows. These very thin roots can trap edible debris from the water and provide the perfect place for shrimp to feed from.
  4. Beginner friendly: This plant will thrive in a wide range of conditions and is very hardy – this makes it ideal for beginners. They have a wide range of suitable water temperature (68-82°F) and pH value (5.5-7).
  5. Eggs and breeding: Water Sprite provides excellent cover for fish to lay their eggs. It is also a popular plant in breeding tanks as a cover plant for fish species that produce floating eggs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Water Sprite A Low Light Plant?
Water Sprite can survive in low light levels but their growth rate will be slow.

Can You Eat Water Sprite?
Surprisingly, Water Sprite plant is a common delicacy in many places around the world including Madagascar and Vietnam. However, you should not harvest any of the Water Sprite from your aquarium.


Overall Water Sprite is a popular and desirable plant. Their naturally webbed leaves bring a wildness to all aquariums. Just remember that although they have simple care requirements, this plant does require strict observation. Their growth rate is highly influenced by light conditions.

Water Sprite is a versatile plant that can transform a simple aquarium into a bright and natural-looking environment while providing shelter and foraging sites for a wide variety of fish. They make amazing live filters for nutrient-rich aquariums that struggle with algae growth.

If you are looking for a bright aquatic plant with a wild feel then the Water Sprite should be your next plant.

Let us know any of your questions in the comments section below…