- Korean Tassel Fern, Japanese Lace Fern, Holly Fern, Bristle Fern
- Silver Lace Fern (Pteris Ensiformis)
- Ferns Temperamental but Worth the Trouble : Greens: Despite their finicky ways, ferns have long been among the most popular house plants.
- Polyblepharum Tassel Fern
- Caring For Your Hardy Ferns
This evergreen fern from Japan and southern Korea does very well in the Pacific Northwest. Polystichum polyblepharum has finely divided but overlapping pinnae, the primary sub-division of a fern frond, so the semi-evergreen fronds appear lush and full and grow from a central rosette. The stems and covered with a light dusting of copper colored hairs which contrast with the dark green of the pinnea. The fronds are lustrous and add a sparkle to the woodland floor. As the fronds unfurl they flip backward appearing like a tassel, hense the common name. As they mature they right themselves to the more normal frond appearence. It would combine well with asarums and Blue hostas like Hosta ‘Halcyon’.
Plant Type: fern
Foliage Type: evergreen
Plant Height: 2 ft. 0 in. (0.61 meters)
Plant Width/Spread: 2 ft. 0 in. (0.61 meters)
Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 to 9
Flower Color: none
Sun/Light Exposure: light to deep shade
Water Requirements: regular watering
Colors & Combos
Great Color Contrasts: silver, gold, blue
Great Color Partners: variegated, chartreuse
Korean Tassel Fern, Japanese Lace Fern, Holly Fern, Bristle Fern
Requires consistently moist soil; do not let dry out between waterings
Partial to Full Shade
Grown for foliage
Unknown – Tell us
18-24 in. (45-60 cm)
24-36 in. (60-90 cm)
12-15 in. (30-38 cm)
15-18 in. (38-45 cm)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)
Where to Grow:
Grow outdoors year-round in hardiness zone
Can be grown as an annual
Unknown – Tell us
Unknown – Tell us
Unknown – Tell us
Soil pH requirements:
5.1 to 5.5 (strongly acidic)
5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed
This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:
El Cerrito, California
Garden Grove, California
Pleasant Hill, California
Thousand Oaks, California
Pompano Beach, Florida
Elizabeth City, North Carolina
Mount Olive, North Carolina
Raleigh, North Carolina(2 reports)
Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania
Conway, South Carolina
Mc Kinney, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Charleston, West Virginia
Silver Lace Fern (Pteris Ensiformis)
Other than Silver lace fern, Pteris Ensiformis is also commonly known as Slender brake fern, Sword brake fern, and Variegated brake fern. All of its many common names are references to the plants distinctive look and are often variations of names to other ferns similar in appearance. For instance, brake plants are a type of various ferns that all have leaves that branch out in a very uniform, feather-like way. Silver lace and variegated both refer to the multiple shades of white this type of fern exhibits. The sword and slender terms obviously point out the narrow, oval-like shape the individual leaves make as they grow.
Silver lace ferns having a very striking appearance that easily makes them identifiable when compared to other types of ferns. The clusters of green and white striped stems that grow out from this plant can reach as tall as 16 inches in length. The most noticeable feature on this fern is its multicolored arrangement of fronds. Variegated brake fern has a pinnate of leaves that have a cream-white colored center and fade into a bright green color towards the trim. These lace-textured leaves can grow out to be as long as six inches.
The root system of this fern is in the form of rhizomes. Rhizomes are balls of roots that grow in masses allowing the fern to absorb needed nutrients from the substrate it is planted in. The silver lace fern uses spores to propagate but will often sprout new clusters of stems from roots that venture far enough away from the parent rhizome. This plant can grow quite big if left unpruned, reaching heights as high as 18 inches and widths as wide as 16 inches.
The native habitat of Silver lace fern is usually a damp, humid tropical or subtropical like environment. This plants origin is found in Southeast Asia, China and parts of Polynesia. Being a fairly hardy plant, this fern can handle temperatures as low as 55 degrees Fahrenheit but the ideal habitat should stay between 60 and 75 degrees. This fern is a shade dependent plant mostly growing in areas where trees provide a nice canopy out of direct sunlight.
When comparing this plant to other ferns, it can seem to be a more alkaline tolerate plant. Silver lace fern does still very much need lower ph water conditions to survive. Ideal PH levels should stay around the 6.0 mark but the variegated fern can tolerate neutral levels of water around 7.0 for a period of time. I would recommend keeping the soil acidic so that there is room for sweeter water parameters if no choice is warranted.
This type of fern will do great in a variety of vivarium types. Aim to put silver lace fern in enclosures that have a good amount of land space available. Aquatic features are not necessarily required to maintain a healthy habitat but totally acceptable as long as this plant and its root system aren’t in direct contact with that area. Here are recommended vivariums Silver Lace Fern will do well in:
- Paludariums – Half aquatic/ half terrain based enclosure.
- Terrariums – Fully terrain based enclosure with little to no aquatic features.
As I mentioned earlier, silver lace fern is a terrestrial based plant. It will not do well partially submerged or fully placed under water. However, it does thrive in a moderately damp, well-drained substrate. The best place for this fern will be the background area where it has room to fill out and provide fullness to the enclosure. This is an accenting plant that shouldn’t be the bulk of the setup but provide a nice elegant supplement of color to add to the existing habitat. Many inhabitants will find that this plant can become the perfect shelter of refuge to safely slip away when stressed.
The ideal substrate for a brake fern should consist of a fluffy, damp acidic mix of soil. It should be soft enough for the fern to easily root through, yet firm enough to hold the weight of the plant in the upright position. I would recommend a mix of peat moss and sand or soil depending on what plants are coexisting in the same enclosure. The best depth of soil should be deep enough to bury the base of the fern up to its rhizome, leaving the top of the crown exposed. The substrate should be kept damp but also well-drained allowing excess water from watering to easily pour completely through the substrate.
The natural habitat of silver lace fern is a bright tropical environment with plenty of shade provided by a canopy of taller trees. Like many ferns, this plant does not do well exposed to direct sunlight. Mimicking the luminance of this type of habitat can be fairly easy to do in a vivarium. Aim for strong artificial lighting in the form of LED’s and avoid placing the vivarium near windows where sunlight can interfere with the ecosystem. Sunlight causes the fern to dry out and wither away fronds quickly. On that note, it would be a good suggestion to avoid lighting that produces UV lighting as well for the same reason.
Ferns Temperamental but Worth the Trouble : Greens: Despite their finicky ways, ferns have long been among the most popular house plants.
“How’s your fern?”
Once a humorous greeting offered by Steve Allen, this has always been and will continue to be a serious question to indoor gardeners.
Every year, millions of indoor plant enthusiasts wrestle with the sometimes difficult task of keeping ferns alive in a home environment. Whether they be the most traditional of ferns: the Boston fern, the most difficult of ferns: the maidenhair fern, or something in between, such as bird’s nest fern, button fern or rabbit’s foot fern, ferns require a bit more TLC than your average foliage plants.
Despite their temperamental ways, ferns have long been among the most popular house plants. They represent everything lacy and delicate, and continue to be ubiquitous in Southern California indoor gardening plots.
“Ferns are consistently among our top three sellers,” says Jane McCullough, indoor gardening manager at Armstrong’s, the Home and Garden Place, in West Los Angeles.
McCullough, who began her horticultural career as a naturalist with a degree in parks and recreation management, brought her outdoor greenery interest indoors several years ago.
Ferns are of particular interest to her, a fact reflected in the extremely large and varied selection to be found at Armstrong’s.
“The key to raising ferns successfully is finding just the right spot,” McCullough said. “Ferns need bright, but indirect light–an eastern exposure is usually best. And they need lots of humidity and plenty of water.”
Ferns are among the very small group of plants (conifers are another) that don’t produce flowers, reproducing instead by forming spores.
In fact, that’s why Don Wood, by day a telecommunications technician and by night the president of the Los Angeles International Fern Society, took up growing ferns as a hobby.
“The great thing about ferns,” said Wood, who has close to 500 ferns both indoors and out, “is you don’t have to worry about getting the darn things to flower!”
Keeping them in lush, verdant good health is a full-time job, however, so herewith follows a lineup of some of the most commonly available ferns and care instructions for each:
Boston Fern: (Nephrolepsis exaltata bostoniensis). The most popular fern, the fern most synonymous with life in Southern California (e.g., “Fern Bars”), it can tolerate higher temperature than most ferns but dry heat can be deadly.
Give your Boston fern a bright, cool location–a northern window or a filtered eastern exposure is perfect.
Water it thoroughly at least once a week. Let it just barely dry out then water it thoroughly again. When watering, lift the fronds and water the soil so as not to rot the fronds at the crown. Mist daily–ferns need lots of humidity.
Cut away any dead fronds at each watering. These are natural–old fronds die off to make room for new growth. The threadlike runners ferns send out are supposed to produce buds, then new plants. But it rarely happens indoors, so cut them off if you like.
The key to succeeding with a Boston fern is to hang it or put it on a stand. Never set it on the floor, a table or a shelf. The plant needs adequate air circulation: The fronds must be able to breathe or the plant will quickly dry out and turn brown.
Here’s another tip: If you’ve got an outdoor area, buy two Boston ferns and rotate them. Keep one outdoors in the shade for a week while the other graces your breakfast area or bathroom. Then reverse them. A biweekly outdoor spring and summer vacation really perks up a fern.
According to McCullough and other fern lovers, the hardiest of the Bostons is a new hybrid called “Dallas fern.” “It’s generally hardier and less likely to drop leaves,” McCullough said.
Bird’s Nest Fern: (Asplenium nidus). I love this plant. Its beautiful rosette of spreading bright green fronds and the ever-present new fronds unfurling from its brown, almost mossy center make it a very interesting and striking specimen.
Although most bird’s nest ferns offered commercially are just a few inches to a foot or so tall–usually in four-or six-inch pots–I’ve also seen really huge ones that are at least five or six feet tall and wide enough to make an ostrich comfortable.
This plant needs filtered eastern or northern light, but high humidity is critical. You don’t need greenhouse conditions, but without enough humidity the edges of the leaves will turn brown and unsightly quickly. Keep the plant near a humidifier if possible. And remember: Like all ferns, this plant likes lots of water.
You propagate bird’s nest ferns–all ferns, for that matter–by sowing the spores that will appear on the undersides of the fronds. These will look like neat rows of round black objects. Lightly scrape them off into a paper bag and let them dry in the bag for three or four days. Then plant them in a tray of damp vermiculite. Keep the tray warm and the seeds should germinate within two or three weeks.
Button Fern: (Pellaea rotundifolia). This is a really attractive plant–low growing and spreading, with small, round, dark green leaves and fuzzy stems. As with most ferns, the key to success with a button fern is giving the plant lots of humidity. Keep it on a pebble tray filled with water, spray it daily, keep a humidifier nearby (for your health as well)–actually, it will do best in a terrarium.
Without this sort of extreme humidity, it’s likely to wither up and die within a few weeks after purchase. But despite being somewhat temperamental, button fern can be grown successfully in a cool, northern exposure as long as you’re willing to watch it carefully and give it the TLC it needs.
Irish Lace Fern: (Nephrolepsis exaltata “verona”). If I were forced to pick my very favorite fern from the standpoint of sheer lush beauty, I suspect it would be the Irish lace fern. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but I think you’ll love the look of this plant too.
The Irish lace fern is technically a dwarf variety of Boston fern, except that its light green fronds are much finer and lacier and far more delicate. The plant grows in a tight, dense manner that completely hides the soil and just begs you to reach out and stroke it. And it’s best that you do, because the Irish lace fern is among the most challenging plants to grow that I know of. But worth it!
After failing twice while trying to grow the plant in a terrarium, where it rotted for want of air, and twice more with plants in an eastern exposure, I finally tried to grow an Irish lace fern in a northern window.
I placed the plant on a pebble tray and set up a small humidifier–which I kept on almost constantly–about four feet away. I watered the plant from the bottom, and fertilized every other week.
The result has been a successful run of almost five years–probably the most rewarding plant experience I’ve ever had!
Maidenhair Fern: (Adiantum raddianum). It’s almost impossible to resist buying this plant. Definitely among the most beautiful of all ferns–because of its dark green fronds, dainty, feather-formed leaves and extraordinarily lacy lushness–the soft, delicate maidenhair fern must go into a terrarium.
Like most ferns, the maidenhair requires very special care: Keep it in a terrarium where it gets no more than filtered eastern light (a northern exposure is preferable), keep the soil moist and, even though it’s in a terrarium, you’ll have to spray at least once or twice a day to maintain enough humidity.
Sound like too much hassle? Then buy a small inexpensive maidenhair fern–something in a four-inch pot–and enjoy it while it lasts. But be warned that unless you provide the plant with the optimum, almost greenhouse conditions that I’ve described, your maidenhair fern will be just a potful of brown, organic crepe paper within a few weeks.
Rabbit’s Foot Fern: (Davalia fejeensis). This beautiful, unusual fern gets its nickname from the brown, hairy footlike roots (known botanically as rhizomes) that creep over the sides of the pot. The fronds are light green and delicate and grown on dark brown, wiry stems.
Like all ferns, this plant needs indirect light, lots of water and lots of spraying. It would love an occasional vacation outdoors in a shady spot. A couple of weeks two or three times a year during mild days (bring it in at night) will perk it up considerably.
Again, in cultivating the rabbit’s foot fern keep in mind that ferns do not like bright light and dry heat.
Staghorn Fern: (Platycerium bifurcatum) . If you’ve got the room, a staghorn fern is really a dramatic plant. Hung on a board on a wall, this striking plant could be mistaken for a hunter’s trophy. Its leathery, gray-green fronds grow up to three feet long, spreading from their base to form two or three wide forks at the tips of the fronds.
The staghorn fern–an epiphytic plant–is easy to raise. Make sure it gets only filtered light. The key to success, though, is frequent misting.
You can propagate new staghorn ferns from the offsets that grow at the base of the plant. These will look like miniature staghorns–because that’s what they are. Remove them from the sides of the mother plant with a sharp knife or a single-edged razor blade, then plant them in four-inch pots filled with a mixture of half sphagnum moss and half potting mix.
When the plants have developed at least a six-inch wingspan they can be attached to a redwood board or planted in a wire basket filled with sphagnum moss.
Table Fern: (Pteris spp.) . This is another excellent terrarium plant. Usually, when offered for sale, the table fern will be small, about three or four inches tall and two or three inches across. Its leathery, bright green fronds are sometimes variegated with white or cream-colored markings. These graceful fronds grow on dark-brown, wirelike stems.
Because this plant loves shade and humidity, the best place to grow it is in a terrarium or bottle garden. If you want to grow it outside of a terrarium, keep it in a northern exposure, keep the soil moist at all times, spray it at least twice a day and keep it on a pebble tray. Without lots of humidity, your pteris will dry up and die.
It also helps to grow this plant in a soil mixture of two thirds-potting mix and one-third peat moss.
Asparagus Fern: (Asparagus densiflorus sprengerii). Although it’s not really a fern (it’s a member of the lily family), here’s another durable house plant that most people think of as a fern, which makes it worth discussing in this context. With its thin, bright green fernlike stems and feathery needlelike foliage, asparagus fern (which is not an asparagus, either–it gets its name because new fronds appear looking like tiny, thin asparagus stalks as they slowly begin to unfurl)–makes a great hanging plant in front of a bright window or enclosed sun porch.
Another variety, A. meyerii, looks like erect, green “foxtails” and is most rewarding on a sunny windowsill. Both varieties will produce red and yellow berries that contain the seeds from which new plants can be grown.
Asparagus ferns are relatively easy to grow if you follow these care instructions: Make sure your plant gets plenty of light–too little light and the needles will be falling continuously, creating an unsightly plant–not to mention a housekeeping problem.
Asparagus ferns will benefit from an occasional outdoor vacation in the shade. Also, repot your asparagus fern when its bulbous roots emerge from beneath the soil. If you don’t want to put it into a bigger pot, trim the root system when it gets too big.
If you’d like more information on how to become a member of the Los Angeles International Fern Society, which has 400 members in 20 states and eight countries, you can write to P.O. Box 90943, Pasadena, Calif. 91109.
According to President Don Wood, the fern society puts fern lovers in contact with other fern lovers, publishes a journal that includes lessons on fern care and lists of sources for unusual and exotic ferns, and the group even keeps a spore bank for especially difficult to obtain plants.
Polyblepharum Tassel Fern
Hardy Ferns are such individualists. You’d think that planting different varieties from the same family all together in a group would make for a rather dull, if intense, planting. But no — each manages a distinctive look, and I for one would be hard pressed to tell you which was my favorite! No wonder the great Victorian gardener Gertrude Jekyll dreamed of a rock garden devoted entirely to Ferns, a “restful delight of cool and beautiful foliage.”
Even if your garden space is limited, find a place in the shade for Ferns. They ask for very little care, and repay you with ease of growth and breathtaking beauty. Most are easily divided after two or three years in your garden, increasing your garden beauty without costing you a dime. Best of all, they add texture like no other perennial — graceful and airy, despite their hardiness and willingness to grow.
In this article, I describe the very best Ferns for your garden this spring. And if you’re looking for a particular variety to plant in mass or to dot among your shade landscape, I’ve got some fine recommendations. Remember, all of these Hardy Ferns are guaranteed to succeed in your garden, and if you divide them regularly, they’ll “live forever”! Enjoy the ease and beauty of Hardy Ferns in every shady spot.
Among the most popular and widely-grown in American gardens, Hardy Ferns have come by their reputation honestly. An easier, more dependable, and lovelier Fern would be hard to imagine. The native North American species (A. felix-femina) is an absolute must for beginning gardeners, nearly growing itself. And the Asian species (A. nipponicum) contains the magnificent Painted Fern family, with some of the most beautiful frond colors in the world. The two species complement each other nicely, thriving in very moist to wet soil (waterside plantings are stunning!) and normal to alkaline soil.
Caring For Your Hardy Ferns
In the wild, Ferns thrive in the dappled shade of the woodland, finding their feet in rotted leaves and other rich soil ingredients. Very few (Brilliant Fern is one exception) can tolerate dry soils, and all prefer a good pampering their first two years — lots of water and humus!
Work the soil well and deep before you plant your Fern, raising the bed at least 3 inches above the soil level. If you have heavy soil, lighten it with rotted leaves or coarse bark.
Ferns need both moisture and excellent drainage, which can be a balancing act — a good, rich mulch works wonders. If rot is a problem, make the mulch gravel or other coarse, well-draining material.
Plant your Fern very shallowly, with the crown flush with the surrounding soil.
Keep garden debris away from the base of your Ferns if you can. Rot can be a problem when the crown of the fern sits in stagnant water — though some, such as the Tatting Fern, will happily rest in an inch or so of water on the bank of a stream or pond. If you see signs of Rot, apply a fungicide and chances are your Fern will shake it off!
If possible, water the roots and not the fronds.
If your Fern is evergreen, you might want to thin the old fronds in spring as the new ones appear. At the same time, apply a new layer of mulch for the new growing year.
Every 2 or 3 years, you can dig up and divide your Fern into several new plants to share with admiring friends or to increase your own garden’s beauty!