Java moss

Java Moss: Amazing Low Light Beginner Plant

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Let’s set the record straight before we get going here: one crucial consideration is making sure what you have is java moss. Taxiphyllum Barbieri, formerly Vesicularia dubyana is not Christmas moss (Vesicularia montagnei.) Although it’s commonly suggested that they’re the same plant or have interchangeable common names, they’re not, and they don’t. Christmas moss isn’t the only name that gets tossed around as a “common name.” Taiwan moss (Taxiphyllum Alternans), willow moss (Fontinalis antipyretica), bladder moss (Physcomitrium pyriforme), flame moss (Taxiphyllum sp.), triangle moss (Vesicularia sp.), and several other mosses have also been suggested as common names for java moss. Again, they’re not the same plants. Every single plant on the above list is a different species.  

Are we on the same page now? Java moss is Taxiphyllum Barbieri or even Vesicularia dubyana. Alright, now that we’re all on the same page, this moss might be one of the best low light plants you can buy. You don’t need a substrate to plant it, it doesn’t require intense lights or fertilizers, and it tolerates a wide range of temperatures. It’ll happily attach itself to just about anything but is just as happy floating around your tank.

It’s native to Southeast Asia, usually in slow-flowing waters or stagnant pools, and it’s not uncommon to find it growing in blackwater habitats. It’s a popular choice for aquascapers, shrimp keepers, and fish breeders who breed fish that need spawning mops. One of the few reported instances of pea puffers spawning in captivity involved moss as a natural spawning mop. Some corydoras also enjoy spawning in this moss.

Java Moss species card

Java Moss FAQ

Java moss has many uses – from a natural spawn mop to aquascaping, protecting fry from predation to cleaning up water quality by filtering debris.

The cost depends heavily on your location but, usually, a golf ball size portion will cost you about $5. You can sell it to local fish stores or online if you find you have too much, and you can usually make decent money off it.

It can float, but it’s worth bearing in mind that you can’t float it in a ball. Instead, spread it out in a thin “sheet” of moss, so all the moss is exposed to light. Otherwise, patches that aren’t exposed to light will rot and die.

Java Moss is considered invasive in some places… according to the internet. However, exactly where those places are is cloaked in ambiguity. Most sites say it’s “considered invasive” but don’t point to scientific research (which seems to be few and far between and difficult to locate) or specific locales. If you know of any credible sources, please let me know in the comments!

Java moss is commonly grown out of water and, in fact, usually is at farms. It grows much faster out of water than in, so most farms that produce it make more money (and faster) by growing it out of water. This practice is the reason when you put your moss in water it usually dies. With that said, it’s a versatile plant for aquariums, paludarium, and vivariums.  

Java Moss Overview

Difficulty: Easy – melting can be an issue
Size: 4″+ (10 cm)
Propagation: Cuttings
Fertilizer: Liquid
Speed of growth: Moderate
Temperature: 59 – 86F (15 – 30C)

pH: 5.0 – 8.0 – although likely higher
Hardness: 3 – 12 dKH
Placement: Floating or attached
Origin: Southeast Asia
Aquascaping: Foreground or attached
Availability: Very common

Java Moss Care

Java Moss tolerates temperatures from 60 – 86 F (15 – 30C) however, it does grow better in cooler waters from around 72 – 76 F (22 – 24C). It tolerates a variety of water conditions, from a pH of 5.0 – 8.0 and soft water from 2 – 12 dKH. It doesn’t usually need fertilizers, fancy lights, or CO2 injections – which makes it an ideal plant for a low-tech aquascape.

While it does fine floating, it does better when anchored to something – much like java fern. If you know how to anchor java fern (or similar rhizome plants or mosses), the same methods apply for anchoring moss.

aquarium safe superglue

Anchoring With 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 moss, take your object, figure out how you want it to sit on said object, place superglue on the object and place the moss where you want it. I find it easiest to spread the moss in a thin “sheet” before I do this.  You’ll need to press the moss in 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 moss covers it or it gets covered in mulm (which seems to like to collect on it.)

anchoring moss with thread

Anchoring 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.

Christmas moss

Anchoring With Fishing Line

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.

Java Moss Wall

Making a moss mat or wall

Mosses can attach to basically anything, even craft 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.

Java moss tree

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 dead bonsai trees (which you can find relatively easily) but you can use any kind of wood with a tree-like structure. 

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. 

Common Problems

Although it’s an easy plant to care for, it does have a few problems that commonly pop up.

Plant debris aquarium

Plant Debris

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. 

clogged aquarium filter

Clogging Your 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 decoposing plant matter turns into mulm and particulate matter, eventually all of it makes it 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.

plant melting

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.

if your plant isn’t new and it’s melting, that’s a whole other story that we can’t quickly cover here, so I wrote a whole article on it.

algae on plants

Algae

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.

Too much light is an obvious remedy to fix, If you have an adjustable light, you can reduce the intensity. Or you can opt for shorter light cycles and, if you have soft water fish, you can consider adding tannins to the water to dub down the lighting intensity. If those options don’t work for you, you could add floating plants to block some light so long as you don’t have high-light plants that would be affected.
Too many nutrients can come from overfeeding, overstocking, or adding too much fertilizer to the water.

You can fix this by feeding less, upgrading your tank size, reducing the number of fish in your tank, or adding fast growing plants into the equation.

shrimp cleaning java moss

Debris Collection

Mosses and other fine-leafed plants often attracts debris that settle and collect within it’s 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 clean up 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.

Maintenance

It doesn’t require much maintenance, it’s up to you how much work you want (or don’t want) to put in. However, if it starts to become overgrown, it’s best to thin it out some to ensure it doesn’t begin to choke itself. If you’re trying to create a mat, wall, or tree, it might need a higher level of trimming and shaping as well to keep it looking the way you want.

Propagation

Java moss can propagate through trimmings. Clippings and can be left to float – but be aware they may clog your filter. To start new growth, anchor the clippings in a similar way you did the mother plant. Depending on the size of this clippings, this can be difficult, and you may need to leave it floating until it’s large enough to anchor.

Benefits Of Java Moss

Java moss can provide shelter for newborn fry, it grows faster than Java Fern, and it’s almost impossible to kill. Shrimp and fry love to graze on the debris the moss collects and the abundance of infusoria that grow on it. It grows so well; many people consider it an invasive species. If you put it in your tank and decide against it, it can be incredibly frustrating to get rid of.

All around it does excellent in a breeding setup since it acts as a spot for foraging, hiding, and spawning. Java moss can also act as a natural water filter. Even if you keep bare bottom breeding tanks, it can be kept floating.

As far as non-breeding setups are concerned, there’s no limit to how you can ‘scape or decorate using java moss.

Further Reading & Sources

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