Bolbitis heudelotii

Author: David Manthei

Common Names: African water fern, African fern, bolbitis

Division: Pteridophyta

Class: Filicopsida

Order: Polypodiales

Family: Dryopteridaceae (Lomariopsidaceae)

Native Distribution: Tropical Africa

Aquarium Placement: Background to midground

Requirements: Low to moderate lighting, good circulation

Plant Description

Bolbitis heudelotii, also known as African water fern, African fern, or simply as bolbitis, originates in the tropical regions of Africa. Bolbitis heudelotii was first described in 1934 by (Bory ex FÉe) Alston. However, the African Water Fern was described as early as 1845 by (Bory ex FÉe) Acrost, according to Flora Zambesiaca, under the genus and speciesGymnopteris heudelotii. In its native habitat it can be found as an epiphyte, attached to rocks or wood, in fast-flowing streams, or on stream banks in deep shade.

The African fern has gained widespread popularity in the aquarium hobby due to its uniquely textured foliage and growth form. Furthermore, its deep-green color can be used to add depth to an aquascape.

Uses in Aquascaping

Since it can grow tall, many aquascapers will attach bolbitis to rocks or wood that sit on the substrate rather than onto items that are going to be situated higher up.

Although this fern is very slow to start growing, taking up to two months to grow one new leaf in some cases, it can grow moderately fast once acclimated and established in optimum conditions. It prefers slightly acidic and soft water with good water movement, and CO2supplementation is appreciated but not vital. Increased lighting may also help to boost growth, but growth can still be healthy under what most would consider low light.

B. heudelotii makes a great midground to background plant with long, textured, dark-green fronds that can reach 6 to 20 inches in length. Often these fronds will have a semi-transparent look, especially with new leaves. It provides a nice contrast to nearly any other aquarium plant and can be used in a large grouping or as a smaller focal grouping. It looks especially nice when used as a dark backdrop for a bright-green foreground plant, or even for the dark red of a tiger lotus.


It can be easily propagated by cutting the rhizome with a sharp blade and attaching the cutting to wood, rock, or any other object. Care should be taken to ensure that the rhizome is not buried, as it will rot if buried.

Notes: Bolbitis is available via most online retailers and fellow hobbyists, and is also occasionally seen in local pet shops. While B. heudelotii may not be the greatest plant for the beginning aquascaper, it certainly has its rewards. With some patience and good care, it can make for an ideal plant for any hobbyist having at least some experience.