christmas tree moss

Christmas Moss Care, Propagation, & Issues

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Christmas moss makes a great alternative to Java moss if you’re sick of run-of-the-mill mosses. Just like Java moss, it makes a fantastic addition to bare bottom breeding tanks and a great hiding place and first food source for fry. But it adds a pop of texture to aquascapes that Java moss can’t. 

Christmas moss also grows faster, denser, and more horizontally than Java moss. This allows you to make thicker walls, trees, and lawns in less time (and with less money!)  

christmas moss tree

Christmas moss is also known as Vesicularia montagnei, or less commonly, Christmas tree moss. There are a few “variations” of this moss, like mini and Brazillian – which are recently-described species of Vesicularia – that are still sometimes called “Christmas moss” but they’re technically not.

Like any plant, Christmas tree moss has its downsides, and it’s not the perfect moss replacement for every tank. Although their care and water parameters have some overlap, Vesicularia montagnei is more finicky then Java moss, and its care requirements are more rigid.

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Table of contents

Christmas moss care snapshot

FAQ

Distribution & Natural Habitat

Christmas moss comes from Asia, India, Japan, and a few other tropical or semi-tropical locations. In the wild – weird thing to say – it doesn’t typically grow in water. In most cases, you’ll find it skirting around rivers and lakes on rocks, but it’ll also grow in forests on rocks and trees.

On rare occasions, you might be able to see it in rivers or lakes when the water’s flooded up to where it was growing. 

Aquarium Care

Difficulty: Moderate
Size: 3″ (4 cm) tall
Propagation: Creeping & clippings
Fertilizer: Liquid
Speed Of Growth: Moderate
Temperature: 72 – 82 F (22 – 28 C)

pH5.0 – 7.5
Hardness: 5  – 15 dKH
Placement: Attached
Origin: Southeast Asia
Aquascaping: Accent
Availability: Common online

Most of the time, the biggest issue you’re going to see is that the parameters changed too fast, and the moss melts. It’ll also start to melt if the tank gets too hot. Fortunately, if the tank gets too cold, it won’t grow much instead of melting.

It does better when there’s a decent amount of water movement in your tank, but a torrent will likely send the moss flying off whatever you attached it to.

Attaching Java Moss

Some people have more issues attaching Christmas moss than other mosses. There are a few ways to attach Vesicularia montagnei with varying degrees of success. Your success largely depends on your setup and where you’re planning on putting your moss. 

Dry Start Method (DSM)

This works well if you’re trying to make a mat or a wall out of Christmas moss. It also works when you want to attach it to wood or rocks, but it doesn’t attach quite as well to those surfaces with DSM alone. You can still superglue it and DSM it, but there’s not a ton of payoff with that method.

This is a great video about the dry start method – and he does it with dwarf baby tears, which is a much more difficult plant.

But there are the usual ways of attaching it as well, much like java moss.

Anchoring With Superglue

aquarium safe superglue

This is by far my favorite method as I’ve found it to be the least frustrating one. If you want to go this route, find the gel version of superglue. I have used the exact one pictured so I know it’s safe, I cannot make recommendations on other ones since I’ve never used them, but I’ve certainly heard a horror story or two about superglue mishaps from other brands and formulas.

It’s as easy as take your plant, take your object, figure out how you want it to sit on said object, place superglue on the rhizome of the plant and placing it on the object where you want it. You’ll need to hold it for a few seconds until it starts to grip, and once it’s white, it’s good to go back in the tank. I’ve heard people can superglue plants underwater, but I’ve never attempted to put uncured superglue in a tank, so I can’t advise.

This method is super quick, easy, and gives the aesthetic result you want without a ton of hassle. The downside is that you’ll see the white from the superglue until the plant covers it or it gets covered in mulm (which seems to like to collect on it.)

This is the best option when you have fish that are, for lack of better term, plant aggressive or you’re trying to anchor the plant to a rock.

Anchoring With Thread

anchoring moss with thread

I’ve never had much luck with this method, and it only works well(ish) on thin pieces of driftwood. You take your thread, wrap it around the moss tight enough to hold it in place, but not so tight as to not allow it to “breathe,” and hope and pray it holds it.

The idea is, once the moss is fully anchored, the thread will deteriorate in the water and you’ll eventually be left with just well-anchored moss. I’ve always found that when trying to attach moss to rocks, thread will not work. It’ll be too loose in most spots and the moss will eventually wiggle free – or at least some of it  – this is especially true if your fish like to inspect the foreign object you just plopped in their personal space. Most do.

Anchoring With Fishing Line

Christmas moss

The method for fishingline is basically the same as with thread; take your line, wrap it around the moss tight enough to hold the plant in place, but not so tight as to damage it, and – again – pray it holds.

The only difference between the fishing line method and the thread method is that fishing line won’t deteriorate in the water. This is especially helpful if your moss growth is super slow because you can wait until you’re sure it’s anchored rather than wait until the thread decides to disintegrate.

Once you’re sure it’s anchored, you go in and cut the line off. I have had the same issues with fishing line that I’ve had with thread – it wiggles free, it’s never tight enough, it only works well on thin pieces of driftwood, etc.

Moss Wall

Java Moss Wall

Mosses can attach to basically anything, even foam! Mats and walls are usually too expensive to buy your way there and, if you’re starting from scratch, they take forever to grow in and start out clumpy looking, but the finished result is impressive to say the least. It offers a ton of hiding places for fish and fry and just looks lush and awesome!

If you opt for foam blocks, you can just superglue the thin enough to leave room for growth, secure the blocks (usually with a suction cup or superglue if you want a wall) and you’re done. This is also a great workaround for someone who wants a mat of moss under the substrate – if the foam block is thin enough you can place the substrate around the block to camouflage it and you’re good to go.

You can also sew or superglue some moss onto some craft mesh with the same space idea, although this is a flimsier and more time-consuming option.

Moss Tree

Java moss tree

You can make a moss “tree” by attaching your moss to some wood with any of the above methods. Many people opt for bonsai trees (or something like that) but they can be hit or miss. If you’re going for something specific, you can grab some spider wood or glue mini spider wood together yourself. You really won’t see the “branches,” it’s mostly the structure that matters.

I, again, find it easiest to attach the moss with superglue, although you can try tying it, you’re unlikely to get the effect you’re hoping for long-term. 

Lighting

Lighting requirements aren’t challenging, but they’re a bit more demanding than some other mosses. You want to attach Christmas tree moss somewhere where it’s not going to be shadowed by other plants. But if you happen to have high-powered lights, you might want to consider attaching it somewhere towards the bottom of the tank, so you’re not overlighting it and causing algae issues. Like all moss, once algae gets into it, it’s nearly impossible to get it out entirely.

Algae in Christmas moss

Under high light, it’ll grow more horizontally than vertically, and under lower lighting conditions, it’ll grow vertically. How tall or wide you want your moss to grow is something you’ll want to consider with your light if you’re going for a specific look.

Fertilizers & Substrates

You don’t need a planted substrate for Christmas moss, but liquid fertilizers help – especially if you have other plants. If you’re going for the dry start method, you’re going to want to add fertilizers when you fill the tank up with water to help it reestablish. Christmas moss doesn’t need co2, but it will grow faster with it.

Christmas moss bushy growth

I’ve included the best liquid fertilizers and Co2 kit below if you don’t know where to start.

Common Problems

Christmas moss problems are problems you’re likely to experience with pretty much any moss. Since Christmas moss is more prone to melting during temperature or pH swings, consistency is the first thing you’re going to want to look at.

It also has additional problems with not staying anchored to the surface you want it to, which I cover how to fix below in the maintenance section. 

Melting

plant melting

Melting is incredibly common in aquatic plants as most of them are grown above water. If you pluck off the dying parts of the plant before they start rotting, the new aquatic growth should appear soon enough, and it’ll do just fine.

Algae

algae on plants

Algae growth is a common problem, it will eventually choke out plants or outcompete them. Algae is a sign of an unbalanced ecosystem, either there is too much light or there are too many nutrients in the water, without one of these opportunities it wouldn’t be able to take hold.

Plant Debris

Plant debris aquarium

Plant debris in your tank is a relative problem. If you’re a breeder, your fry and shrimplets will likely enjoy picking off the infusoria and other critters that munch on decomposing plant matter. Similarly, if you have snails, this issue will likely never amount to much. And, so long as you’re not a neat freak, this issue probably won’t bother you.

However, if you don’t fall into one of those three buckets, the mess will probably infuriate you. Additionally, it may cause water quality issues as the plant decomposes and leaches everything it absorbed back into the water. 

Debris Collection

shrimp cleaning java moss

Mosses and other fine-leafed plants often attract debris that settles and collects within its leafy clutches. This can give it a dirty or brownish appearance and, as we already discussed, most of these types of plants are difficult to clean up. This can be a problem if you don’t have a cleanup crew likes snails, shrimp, or corydoras in your tank as this particulate matter can also – on top of being unsightly – block out light and slowly reduce growth in (or kill) the plant.

Clogging Your Filter

clogged aquarium filter

Funny thing; aquarium filters. They don’t need large particles to clog, just a lot of small particles. Of course, large floating masses of plants will also clog them. 

So as your plant multiplies, sheds, or decomposing plant matter turns into mulm and particulate matter, eventually all of it makes its way to – as you probably guessed – your filter! No matter your filter type; sponge, canister, hang on back, sump, you’ll likely have to up your regular maintenance schedule n your filter.

Christmas Moss Maintenance

Christmas tree moss does best when it’s routinely trimmed. Most of the time, it’ll get too heavy to keep itself attached, and it’ll slide off whatever you had attached it to. Keeping it short (and light) is usually the best way to combat this. You’re probably going to want to get a good pair of aquarium scissors to make sure you’re not hacking up your moss.

Unlike plants, you can cut moss pretty short and have it still grow back fine. Again, I would be cautious about how much you’re mowing down until you get a good feel for trimming it. Aside from that, lighting and dosing fertilizers weekly (or with every water change) is all you’ll need to do for Christmas tree moss to grow.

Propagating Christmas Moss

Propagating Vesicularia montagnei isn’t the easiest affair, but it’s not complicated. The best way to do it is to take a chunk from your established moss and transplant it. You’ll want it to be a decent-sized chunk.

If this isn’t going to work for you, you can try taking your trimmings and creating mays out of them. With some patience and care, they should grow in just as well as the original mat.

The worst part of this – as with any moss – is attaching small bits of moss to mesh. It’s messy, tons of moss goes to waste, and some ends up floating away once you put it in the water. If you want to try this method of propagation, going with the dry start method to get it to establish faster. Once it’s fully attached, you shouldn’t have issues with bits floating off.

What About Fish?

You’ll want to put Christmas tree moss in a moderate-flow environment. You’ll want to avoid fish that need blackwater environments or overhead plants – so the fish need to be comfortable with bright lights. Other than that, most fish that like plants will be safe with Vesicularia montagnei (and visa versa!)

Pea puffers only spawn in moss, shrimp love it, and algae eaters love eating algae out of mosses, so there’s no shortage of fish options. But if you’re looking for your next project – or considering which tank to put it in – here are some options:

Crystal Red Shrimp (Caridina cantonensis)

crystal red shrimp

Crystal red shrimp, not unlike cherry shrimp, come in more colors than just red. They’re a similar size to cherry shrimp and make a great alternative if you’re looking for a little bit more of a challenge. They’re incredibly popular – although more expensive.

pH: 5.8 – 7.4
dKH: 0 – 4
Temp: 62 – 76F (16 – 24C)

Size: 1.25″ (3 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful
Swimming: Surfaces

Cherry Shrimp (Neocaridina davidi)

neocaridina shrimp

Neos enjoy munching on decomposing plant matter, grazing on algae, and picking sunken pieces of wood and plants clean. This makes them a perfect addition to a naturalistic tank. They come in a variety of colors including the oh-so-common cherry shrimp!

pH: 6.5 – 8.0
dKH: 8 – 20
Temp: 70 – 79 F (21 – 26 C)

Size: 1.6″ (4 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful
Swimming: Anywhere there’s food to pick, but usually bottom

Otocinculus (Otocinclus sp.)

Otocinclus

Otocinclus, like most peaceful fish, enjoy company of their own kind – four or more is a good start. They enjoy cleaning algae and debris off glass, decor, and plants – but will always clean plants first if they have the choice. It’s important to add these guys to a well-established tank not only because it needs to have enough food for them to munch, but also because they’re highly sensitive fish. You’ll also need to feed them sinking wafers in addition to what they can find in your tank.

pH: 6.0 – 7.5
dKH: 6 – 15
Temp: 72 – 82F (22 – 28C)

Size: 1 – 2″ (3 – 5 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful, social fish, usually shy
Swimming: On surfaces

Bristlenose Plecos (Ancistrus sp.)

bristlenose pleco

Most plecos aren’t suited for the average aquarium, some growing up to two feet long – not the bristlenose pleco. They’ll happily munch on algae, green beans, zucchinis, cucumbers, sinking algae wafers, and of course leftovers and fish poo – although leftovers and poo make for a literally shitty diet.

pH: 6.0 – 7.5
dKH: 6 – 10
Temp: 60 – 80 F (15 – 27 C)

Size: 4 – 5″ (10 – 12 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful, can be territorial
Swimming: Everywhere that has structure

Pea Puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus)

If you’re up for a little bit of a challenge, these guys are super rewarding once you put in some work. They’re tiny, smart, curious, personable, and full of sass – plus no salt.  

pH: 6.8 – 8.0
dKH: 5 – 25
Temp: 72 – 82°F (22 – 28°C)

Size: 1″ (2.5 cm)
Temperament: Varied
Swimming: Everywhere

Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)

Angelfish can be aggressive, but typically only when they’re spawning or – when they’re not spawning – aggressive towards their own kind. They do best in groups of 6 or more to spread out the aggression and don’t do well with boisterous fish or fin nippers because of their long ventral fins.

pH: 5.5 – 7.6
dKH: 2 – 20
Temp: 76 – 86 F (24 – 30 C)

Size: 6″ (15 cm)
Temperament: Can be aggressive
Swimming: Everywhere

Guppies (Poecilia reticulata)

Guppy Care

Guppies, despite commonly-held opinion, can be quite fragile when settling. They’re prone to spinal issues and often will miscarry even under ideal circumstances. Many newcomers often report their guppies die within the first week they bring them home. With that said, they’re beautiful, colorful, fun and rewarding fish once they get settled in your tank!

pH: 7.0 – 8.5
dKH: 8 – 30
Temp: 76 – 82F (24 – 27C)

Size: 2.5″ (6 cm)
Temperament: Most are nippy
Swimming: Everywhere they can

Hillstream Loach (Sewellia sp.)

hillstream loach

Not the easiest fish to find, and you’ll likely need to special order them or order them online, but they are just a joy to have! There are almost 100 species of hillstream loaches, but most of them stay pretty small and need medium- to fast-flowing water. Typically, they do better in groups, but individual species research is definitely suggested.

pH: 5.5 – 7.0 – species dependent
dKH: 8 – 15
Temp: 72 – 78 F (22 – 26 C)

Size: 3″ (8 cm) usually
Temperament: Peaceful and active
Swimming: On structures

Types Of Christmas Moss

There are a few variations of Christmas moss (sometimes called Christmas tree moss,) they’re all unnamed or recently named species within the Vesicularia family – though usually labeled something like Vesicularia var. “name here”, and not usually labeled Vesicularia montagnei var., like anubias.

christmass moss

Christmas Moss (Vesicularia montagnei)

Vesicularia montagnei typically grows 3″ – 4″ tall, fern-like leaf structures that look similar to the branches on Christmas trees, hence its name. The structure can change depending on the lights, placement, nutrients, and other factors but, generally, these fern-like mossy bits aren’t compact once they mature.

Brazilian Christmas Moss (Vesicularia dubyana)

With a very similar shape to Vesicularia montagnei, size and density are the main differences here. Vesicularia dubyana tends to form more compact structures with shorter and narrower “leaves”, though the inner nodules are usually the same distance apart. Probably the most easily confused with – or missold as – peacock moss – but still confused with Java moss due to the new scientific names of both species.

Mini Christmas Moss (Vesicularia sp. var. “Mini”)

Growing even more compactly than Brazillian Christmas tree moss, Mini Christmas moss’ inner nodules are even closer together and the “leaves” grow even closer together – though usually the same height as Brazillian Christmas moss. Mini Christmas moss is probably the easiest to confuse with Java moss.

Further Reading & Resources

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