Bolbitis heudelotii (Bory ex FÉE) Alston, or African water fern, is widely distributed in the African tropics. There it grows attached to rocks or driftwood with its roots, in spray zones and inundation areas of rapidly flowing rivers and rivulets. In West Afrika it is often found in the same habitats as Anubias barteri varieties.
Very much like Java fern (Microsorum pteropus) and Anubias, Bolbitis heudelotii possesses a creeping rhizome, on which the leaves and roots grow. Its submersed leaves are single to double pinnate, transparent and bottle-green, whereas the emersed leaves are single pinnate, of a matte green, and rather hard. The entire plant is brittle.
There seem to be several forms of B. heudelotii in cultivation, which differ a bit even when kept under the same conditions.
This fern is a slow grower (every 1 to 2 months a new leaf will form), and in the aquarium it develops best if attached to rocks or driftwood to which it will adhere with its fine yet rather stable roots. Like the rhizomes of Microsorum pteropus and those of Anubias plants, those of B. heudelotii should not be covered by substrate to prevent them from rotting.
A place with a strong current close to the filter outlet and the addition of CO2 are recommendable to further the growth of Bolbitis heudelotii. Soft, slightly acidic water is optimal.
This fern is easily propagated by parting its rhizome. The rhizome pieces should at least have three leaves. Very rarely, young plants may form on old leaves.
The pinnate, dark green, transparent leaves make this plant a beautiful addition to almost any aquarium layout. Of all the aquatic ferns cultivated in the hobby, Bolbitis heudelotii is probably the one that corresponds best with the image everybody has of a fern. It is most beautiful in the middleground of a tank layout. Together with driftwood and mosses, dense groups of African water fern can evoke the sense of a primeval jungle waterscape.
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