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Houseplants to discover - Ferns

Various botanical names, including Nephrolepis exaltata (Boston fern), Davallia fejeensis (rabbit’s foot fern), Asplenium nidus (bird’s nest fern), Platycerium bifurcatum (elk horn fern) and many others.

Ferns are very popular indoor plants. Most have deeply cut pinnate (feather-shaped) fronds, but others, such as the bird's nest fern, have entire leaves. Young fronds, called fiddleheads, are coiled up at first, then unfurl to reach their full size. They're usually green, but some are reddish at first and others are marked with silver.
Fern fronds arch out from the base of the plant, often from creeping rhizomes. Some even have furry above-ground rhizomes that resemble animal paws, such as the rabbit's foot fern.


Most ferns do best in medium light and can often tolerate shade provided their other needs are met. Do avoid intense direct sun, especially in midsummer. A location near an east window will suit most ferns.


Ferns are not drought-tolerant, but neither do they appreciate constantly soggy soil. Get into the habit of watering them thoroughly as soon as the soil starts to dry out.


Apply an all-purpose or foliage plant fertilizer from spring to early fall at a quarter of the recommended rate.


Most ferns grown as indoor plants are of tropical origin and will therefore require warm temperatures year-round. Minimum: 10ºC (50ºF). They can be placed outdoors in the summer in a shaded location.


High atmospheric humidity is very important for most ferns. In fact, small ferns do best in a terrarium where the air is always saturated with moisture. The use of a humidifier during the winter, when the air in homes is usually very dry, is highly recommended.


Every 2 years, in a general houseplant mix.


You can multiply most ferns by separating the offsets that form near the mother plant. In the case of ferns with creeping rhizome, cut sections of rhizome and press them into fresh potting mix to produce new plants.


The ferns commonly grown indoors are rarely toxic to humans, dogs or cats. Be aware, though, of indoor plants that look like ferns but are not, like the so-called asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus), a non-fern which is slightly poisonous.

Further Information

Don't hesitate to remove the yellowed fronds of any fern nor the long, thin, hairy, wandering rhizomes produced by the Boston fern.