Nephrolepis exaltata: Boston fern

Family: Nephrolepidaceae
Common name: Boston fern, Sword fern, Wild Boston fern, Boston blue bell fern, Tuber ladder fern

Boston ferns can adorn your gardens, balconies, terraces or pergolas, keeping it green, cool and exotic. These hardy ferns grow to a height of 7 feet in their natural habitats, but normal houseplants only grow 2-3 feet in height.

Their bright green fronds can vary from 2 to 7 feet in length depending on the species and is usually 2-4 inches wide. The leaves are pinnate with small leaflets growing alternately, about 1-2 inches long. These leaflets may be further subdivided into tiny, tertiary leaflets. The edges are smooth, serrated or twisted in some cases.

These ferns develop long brown epiphytic roots that are capable of absorbing water and nutrition. Boston ferns can grow as epiphytes on other trees, or logs; being nourished by their hanging roots.

Most leaves are erect, but some variants have droopy fronds, that look exceptionally beautiful in hanging pots and baskets. The leaves produce spores contained in tiny sori that can be seen underneath the leaves. Boston ferns also produce thin, tuberous rhizomes under the ground.

Ferns need moist soil, and thrive well in humid, tropical weather with good sunlight. Though they do not prefer bright, direct sunlight; they tend to die indoors in complete shade. Indoor Boston ferns must be kept near sunny windows and watered well. They can also be placed near rockpools; water bodies or even on logs in the garden.

For most plants, the indication for watering is when the top soil is completely dry. But for ferns, the soil should not be allowed to dry. Pots can be kept in vessels filled with pebbles in water, so that the fern is never short on water. Misting Boston fern plants is also a good idea.

Popular cultivars are Bostoniensis, Teddy Junior, Sonata, Montana, Greenlady etc., most of them grown as ornamental plants for their beautiful foliage. Nephorolepis exalta ‘Florida Ruffle’ is known for its thin, feathery fronds; Nephorolepis exalta ‘Compacta’ is a shorter, erect version; Nephorolepis exalta ‘Golden Boston’ has yellowish-golden leaves; and ‘Nephorolepis exalta ‘Fluffy Duffy’ has fine, downy fronds.

Propagation is through underground rhizomes, and also through spores. Each fern plant produces thousands of spores, which are dispersed by wind or water; and grows into a baby plant when they land on a viable surface. This is one reason Boston ferns are considered invasive species in some parts of the world.

Leave a Reply