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Fern Houseplants: A Popular Plant For Lush Greenery

Fern indoor plants have a unique and intricate appearance that adds texture and interest to any room. These plants also have air-purifying benefits, making them both beautiful and beneficial around the home.

Other names for this plant...

Varies based on species

About Fern Houseplants

Fern houseplants are prized for their unique, delicate, textured foliage and air-purifying properties. They are also easy-care and low-maintenance, making them ideal houseplants for beginners.

Ferns are characterized by their feathery leaves (fronds) and lack of seeds, instead relying on spores to produce new plants.

Botanical Names

Ferns, one of the largest groups of vascular plants (tracheophytes), belong to the botanical division or phylum Polypodiophyta in the Aspleniaceae family.

The phylum Polypodiophyta is divided into several classes, including Polypodiopsida (the true ferns), Psilotopsida (the whisk ferns), and Marattiopsida (the marattialean ferns). With over 12,000 species, ferns are one of the most diverse groups of vascular plants.

Plant Type

Most ferns are herbaceous vascular plants (tracheophytes). This means they grow in soil and have true leaves, roots, and stems. They reproduce by dropping spores.

Other types of ferns, like the staghorn fern, are epiphytes. This means they attach to other surfaces, like tree bark, to grow. They get their nutrients from the air, rain, and debris accumulation around the plant.


Ferns are diverse plants native to different regions worldwide, from tropical rainforests to temperate woodlands. Some species of ferns are native to specific areas, while others have a more widespread distribution.

Some common fern types grown as houseplants are native to tropical regions of South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia. In contrast, others are native to temperate areas of North America, Europe, and Asia. The specific native habitats of fern houseplants can vary greatly depending on the species. Some species are grown as houseplants even though they are not native to any particular region.


Fern houseplants are known for their distinctive appearance, which includes the following characteristics:

  • Ferns have long, delicate green fronds in various shapes and sizes, ranging from finely divided and feathery to broad and lush. The fronds may be simple or compound or lobed, divided, or undivided.

  • Many ferns have underground root systems called rhizomes, which store food and produce new fronds.

  • They can grow as single specimens or colonies, and their growth habit can be clumping or spreading, depending on the species.

Fern fronds are described as leafy, feathery, or lacy.

Types Of Ferns

Some types of fern houseplants include:

  • Nephrolepis exaltata (Boston Fern)

  • Asplenium nidus (Bird's Nest Fern)

  • Adiantum raddianum (Maidenhair Fern)

  • Polypodium aureum (Golden Polypody)

  • Davallia fejeensis (Rabbit's Foot Fern)

  • Platycerium bifurcatum (Staghorn Fern)

  • Phlebodium aureum (Blue Star Fern)

  • Selaginella kraussiana (Rose Spikemoss)

  • Pteris cretica (Ribbon Fern)

  • Microsorum pteropus (Rattlesnake Fern)

  • Nephrolepis cordifolia "Duffii" (Lemon Button Fern)

  • Microsorum musifolium (“Crocydyllus” Crocodile Fern)

  • Microsorum diversifolium (Kangaroo Paw Fern)

  • Polystichum munitum (Sword Fern)

  • Pellaea rotundifolia (Button Fern)

  • Cyrtomium falcatum (Holly Fern)

  • Athyrium niponicum (Japanese Painted Fern)

  • Cheilanthes (Lip Fern)

  • Asparagus setaceus (Asparagus Fern)

  • Asplenium nidus (Crispy Wave Fern)

Fern Styling

Fern houseplants can be styled in many ways to suit your preferences. Here are a few popular ways to style fern houseplants:

  • Ferns with delicate fronds, such as the Boston fern or maidenhair fern, look beautiful when grown in hanging baskets. The fronds trail down the sides of the basket, creating a lush, tropical look.

  • Some ferns, such as staghorn ferns, can be grown attached to pieces of wood or bark, mimicking the plants' natural growing environment. This is a unique and eye-catching way to display ferns.

  • Ferns can also be grown in a closed terrarium, where they can thrive in a controlled environment with high humidity. This option is great for species that prefer a moist environment, such as the bird's nest fern.

  • Ferns can be planted in a large planter with other plants, such as succulents or flowering plants, to create a lush, tropical look. Ferns with different growth habits, such as the sword fern and button fern, can be used together to create an interesting, layered look.

Large Boston ferns are perfect for hanging or raised baskets.


Most fern houseplants prefer bright, indirect light and can become scorched or yellowed if exposed to direct sunlight. Finding the right balance of light for each fern species is important, as some species can tolerate low light levels while others require more light to thrive.


Fern houseplants should be kept consistently moist but not waterlogged. It's best to water the soil thoroughly and allow the top layer to dry out before watering again. This will help prevent root rot, a common issue with ferns subjected to over-watering.


Fern houseplants typically prefer a warm, stable room temperature between 60 and 75°F (15 and 24°C). Avoid placing ferns near sources of cold or hot air, such as air conditioning or heating vents, as sudden temperature changes can stress the plant and affect its growth.


Most fern houseplants, like the staghorn fern, prefer high humidity, as many species are native to tropical environments. Maintaining a high moisture level helps the health and growth of the plant, especially during the winter when the air tends to be drier. Place a humidifier in the area of the plant if necessary.


Fern houseplants typically prefer well-draining, rich, and moist soil. A mixture of equal parts peat moss, perlite, and potting soil works well for most ferns. A layer of mulch on top of the soil can help retain moisture and maintain a stable soil temperature, which is essential for the plant's health.


Pruning fern houseplants is vital for maintaining their shape and promoting healthy growth. Cut any yellow or brown fronds just above the soil line using clean, sharp scissors. This will help keep the plant looking its best and prevent the buildup of dead or diseased foliage that could attract pests or encourage disease.


Ferns generally benefit from regular fertilization, especially during the growing season. A balanced, water-soluble fertilizer should be applied every 2 to 4 weeks at half the recommended strength.

Overfertilizing can lead to fertilizer burn and damage to the plant. Stop fertilizing during the winter, when ferns typically enter a period of dormancy.

Height & Growth

The size of fern houseplants varies greatly depending on the specific species, growing conditions, and age. Some species are relatively small and may only grow a few inches tall, while others can reach several feet or more.

Most fern houseplants will be between 6 inches and 2 feet tall when grown in a pot.


Most fern houseplants are not toxic to humans or pets, although exceptions exist. Some species of ferns, such as the bracken or brake fern (Pteridium aquilinum), can produce compounds toxic to livestock, and others may cause skin irritation.


Research the specific fern species you have to see if it's toxic to pets.

Common Problems

  • Yellowing fronds can occur when the plant is not receiving enough light or too much direct sunlight.

  • Brown leaf tips are often a sign of low humidity, under-watering, or over-fertilization.

  • Wilting can occur when the plant is not watered frequently enough or if the soil does not retain enough moisture.

  • Pests like spider mites, scale, and mealybugs like living on ferns. Regularly inspecting the plant and promptly treating any infestations can help prevent damage to the plant.

Ferns like bright, indirect light and can scorch in too much direct sun.

How To Propagate Ferns

You can propagate ferns by division, spores, cuttings, or air layering.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do house ferns need sunlight?

Fern houseplants do not require direct sunlight, but they do need bright, indirect light to thrive. Direct sunlight can be too intense and cause the fronds to turn yellow or burn.

Instead, place the plant in a location that receives bright, filtered light, such as near a north- or east-facing window. If the light is too low, the plant may become leggy and have a sparse appearance.

What is the origin of the word "fern"?

The word "fern" originates from the Proto-Indo-European "pornóm," meaning "feather" or "wing."

What is the most popular type of fern houseplant?

The classic Boston or sword fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) is the most common indoor fern. It has long fronds in the shape of swords. Varieties include the variegated tiger fern.

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