Nephrolepis cordifolia: Fishbone fern

Family: Nephrolepidaceae
Common name: Fishbone fern, Narrow sword fern, Ladder fern, Tuber ladder fern, Tuberous sword fern, Herringbone fern, Erect sword fern

A beautiful bushy fern commonly seen in gardens, Fishbone ferns are very hardy and require very little maintenance. They can grow to a height of of 60-80 cms with beautifully radiating leaves having narrow leaflets or pinnae.

The fronds have deep brown stems, which is a good contrast to the long, green leaves. These leaves are about 20-40 cms long with pairs of alternately arranged leaflets, which are 4-6 cms long. They have irregular margins and rounded tips. Fishbone fern leaves are bright green in ferns that grow in the shade, and yellowish green in bright sunlight.

Reproduction in Fishbone ferns is through spores contained in sori, dark round spots on the underside of the leaflets. These sori are clearly visible in mature leaves, but are covered with protective tissue in younger leaves.

A mature Fishbone fern produces thousands of spores, which are dispersed by wind or water. When these spores land on viable surfaces, they germinate into baby ferns.

Fishbone ferns can also reproduce vegetatively through underground stems called rhizomes or through small tubers. When grown in large pots having enough space, ferns will produce small plants around it through the trailing underground stems.

A very closely related species called Boston fern or Nephrolepis exaltata does not produce root tubers. The capability of ferns to reproduce using multiple failsafe methods, and spread quickly over large areas make them an invasive weed, especially in woodland areas in certain parts of the world.

They can be removed by hand plucking them from the soil, but spores would remain in the soil, producing a fresh batch of ferns in no time. Fishbone ferns can replace native plants in forests, shrublands, open areas, isolated urban spaces, forest edges.

But in spite of their invasive nature, they are favorites among gardeners, as ornamental plants that can grow as dividers between flowerbeds, by the edges of pavements, along the borders of the garden or as beautiful hanging plants in balconies.

They are easy to grow and care for, in living rooms, indoor spaces, shaded areas of your gardens. They love moisture and should be watered well regularly. Misting also helps maintain the freshness and color of the lovely fronds. They do not need direct sunlight, but they cannot survive in dark corners either. It’s better to place the Fishbone ferns near well-lit windows that get some indirect sunlight.

Propagation is through spores, underground stems or tubers.

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