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Types of Fern Varieties For Your Indoor and Outdoor Garden

Last Updated on January 19, 2023 by Plant Mom Care

Fern Varieties

Ferns have existed for millions of years – they flourished long before dinosaurs roamed Earth. There are approximately 10,400 species of ferns largely found in wet environments, with around 70 percent of the species thriving in tropical areas and the rest in temperate climates — although a few hardy varieties live in desert or Arctic environments. 

They have a variety of shapes, textures, colors, and sizes, with some tree ferns growing more than 40 feet high and tiny aquatic ferns that measure just a few inches high. They mostly reproduce by tiny spores or seeds.

Asparagus Fern

Asparagus Fern retro pot plant mom

This variety can grow outdoors where it creeps and spreads and is also cultivated indoors, making good specimens for hanging baskets or mixed containers.

This fast-growing plant has plenty of good qualities but can spread rapidly when planted outdoors in warm, humid areas through its fleshy roots. It is invasive in some US states, so check with local extension agents to see if it’s considered invasive in your location. 

Asparagus Fern cool plant pot mom

It produces delicate white flowers and birds are attracted to its red berries who also spread the seeds. While this fern appears soft, the needles are quite sharp and gardening gloves are advisable when you prune older plants. 

Asparagus Fern growing guide
  • Light: indirect bright light.
  • Soil: well-aerated and well-draining soil. 
  • Height: almost 3 feet tall.
  • Growth Rate: Fast

Read Our Asparagus Fern Care Guide

Maidenhair Fern


Maidenhair fern is endemic to North America. It has fan-like delicate leaf segments growing in clusters on thin black stems, with smaller leaves than other ferns. 

This popular fern cultivar is usually found growing on rock walls and fissures where water seepage sustains them. These visually stunning slow-growing ferns typically take almost 3 years to attain their mature size. They can grow and thrive outdoors in suitable USDA zones.

While they’re thought to be hardy ferns, they’re difficult to keep indoors, as they’re particular with their growing conditions since they need plenty of humidity – which is difficult to maintain indoors.

  • Light: indirect bright light. 
  • Soil: moist but well-draining soil. 
  • Height: 1 – 2 feet tall
  • Growth Rate: slow.

Read Our Maidenhair Fern Care Guide

Boston Fern

boston fern plant care guide from plant mom care

Boston fern is endemic to tropical areas of the Americas, Africa, and Polynesia. It is a popular plant in North America, easy to maintain, and doesn’t need plenty of sunlight. 

This plant loves humid, swampy, forested areas, and grows well in partially-shaded gardens in Florida or Southern California. Its sword-like, blue-green fronds grow upright and arch over when the fronds become larger. 

Boston Fern repotting
  • Light: indirect bright light. 
  • Soil: rich and well-draining soil. 
  • Height: 2 – 3 feet high.
  • Growth Rate: slow.

Read Our Boston Fern Plant Care Guide

Foxtail Fern


Foxtail fern is endemic to Africa. This perennial evergreen has lush, fluffy stems of needle-like leaves. This plant produces tiny white flowers and attractive red berries, a lovely addition to outside gardens and indoor collections. 

It’s an easygoing plant with minimal requirements – give it enough light, well-draining soil, space to grow, and judicious pruning and you’ll get a beautiful bushy plant. It has tuberous roots that make it drought-tolerant however, it can overwhelm smaller or fragile plants in the garden.

  • Light: indirect bright lighting.
  • Soil: well-draining soil.
  • Height: 2 – 3 feet high.
  • Growth Rate: slow to moderate.

Read Our Foxtail Fern Plant Care Guide

Bird’s Nest Fern

how to care for Birds Nest Fern

This epiphytic plant grows on other plants in its native habitat. The erect, bright green, spoon-shaped fronds grow from a rosette. While plants growing in suitable conditions outdoors have fronds almost 5 feet long, indoor plants usually have 2-foot-long fronds. When growing this fern indoors, a good location to keep it is in a bathroom near a shower or tub, with sufficient light.

New leaves will emerge from the center of the fern, which looks like a bird’s nest. Do not disturb the delicate new fronds when they emerge as they are very fragile and can easily get damaged or deformed.

Birds Nest Fern Repotting
  • Light: indirect bright light.
  • Soil: rich well-draining soil.
  • Height: 3 – 5 feet tall
  • Growth Rate: slow. 

Read Our Bird’s Nest Fern Plant Care Guide

Hart’s Tongue Fern

This evergreen perennial fern has leathery fronds that emerge from a short, thick underground rosette. The strap-shaped fronds have a cordate base and pointed tips, around 5 – 15 inches long and about 2 inches wide.

It grows on rocks in deciduous forests naturally. Mature plants grow on exposed, rocky outcrops and crevices, but moist and mossy areas are essential for spores to germinate. The spores are stored in sora under the fronds in horizontal strips and ripen around July or August.

  • Light: prefers shade with around 3 hours of sunlight every day.
  • Soil: rich, moist, and well-draining soil. 
  • Height: about 12 – 20 inches tall.
  • Growth Rate: slow.

Staghorn Fern

This fern is endemic to Australia and Asia. The fronds resemble elk or deer antlers, hence its strange name. It’s a slow-growing fern but becomes quite impressive and large when mature. 

This epiphytic fern is considered rather challenging to grow, but its uniqueness and availability make it very popular among cultivators looking for unusual plants. 

This fern plant is usually mounted on wooden plaques or other mediums. It has two distinct leaf types — small, flat fronds or shield fronds covering the roots and taking up nutrients and water and green, pronged fronds emerging from this base that can reach almost 3 feet long indoors and larger outdoors.

Since these ferns are frequently mounted on wood plaques and hung on walls, they can add some green decor to the walls of your room.

  • Light: indirect bright light.
  • Soil: although young plants are started in a moist potting mix, these epiphytic ferns should be grown on a clump of peat or moss attached to a wooden plaque with wire or fishing line and hung on a wall. 
  • Height: 2 – 3 feet tall.
  • Growth Rate: slow.

Kangaroo Paw Fern

This fern is endemic to New Zealand and Australia and can reach a height of 1 foot. Its unique fronds and appearance are different from its fern cousins. 

The arching leaves are unlike other fern species as they are shaped like a kangaroo’s paw, hence the common name. 

The foliage is tough and leathery and makes it more resilient than other ferns that are usually cultivated indoors. When it grows in semi-shaded spots outdoors, the fronds look dusty blue, but when it grows indoors, the fronds are a glossy deep green.

Sori, the small spore-producing arrangements appear on the underparts of the fronds occasionally, releasing minuscule spores when mature. The spores can also be used to propagate this plant.

It grows easily outdoors in warm climates without freezing winters. Most people keep and grow the fern indoors. In its native habitat, this fern spreads through underground rhizomes and covers large areas, although it grows more slowly indoors. 

  • Light: indirect bright light
  • Soil: rich well-aerated and well-draining soil. 
  • Height: around 12 inches
  • Growth Rate: fast 

Crocodile Fern

This fern is indigenous to Southeast Asia and Northern Australia. The fronds have a distinctive resemblance to leathery crocodile skin, hence the common name. 

This fern is picky about its growing conditions and thrives better in humid and tropical environments. It can grow outdoors in zones 10 – 11 because this fern loves humidity, it can be kept in your bathroom or kitchen.

  • Light: indirect bright light.
  • Soil: rich, moist, well-aerated, and well-draining soil. 
  • Height: around 2 – 5 feet.
  • Growth Rate: slow.

Rabbit’s Foot Fern

This fern is found in most tropical areas and grows 2 feet high. Fronds are 12 inches long and attached to rhizomes with brown papery scales like a “furry” rabbit’s foot, hence the common name. This epiphytic fern grows on trees in its native environment.

It does well in hanging baskets or containers, with the rhizomes creeping over the soil and spilling over the sides, and creating fronds at regular intervals. It has a moderate rate of growth and takes many years for the hairy exposed roots to develop, but once established the fern can thrive indoors for many years.

  • Light: indirect bright light.
  • Soil: rich well-draining soil.
  • Height: 6 – 24 inches tall
  • Growth Rate: moderate

Japanese Painted Fern

This variegated fern is very different from the usual plain green ferns that most people are familiar with as its name says, it is very colorful with triangular, silvery fronds that have an arching habit. If this isn’t colorful enough, the fronds also have a little gray-green along purple midribs. 

This fern spreads via rhizomes and can even naturalize in time. Happily, this spreading is very gradual and allows you to divide the fern in spring and have several new clumps available to plant elsewhere in the garden.

  • Light: partial or full shade in southern areas.
  • Soil: well-draining soil.
  • Height: About 18 inches tall.
  • Growth Rate: slow.

Hay Scented Fern

This deciduous yellow-green fern has feathery fronds that have a fragrance of crushed hay. This fern grows in meadows and sunlit openings in forest canopies throughout the Adirondack mountains and turns golden yellow in autumn. 

It grows around 1 – 3 feet tall from slim, creeping rhizomes, forming loose clusters of erect fronds with long, tapered tips and spreads to form large colonies.

  • Light: full or partial shade. 
  • Soil: rich and well-draining soil.
  • Height: 24 – 30 inches tall
  • Growth Rate: fast.

Dryopteris erythrosora or Autumn Fern

This fern is native to Asia and has attractive seasonal foliage. New emerging papery fronds have bright copper-red/orange-red colors in spring. This spectacular fall-like color lingers for several weeks, giving this fern its common name. The colors of the glossy fronds change to bright green as the growing season progresses. 

It doesn’t spread too much so it’s suitable to grow in small spaces, making it a good groundcover for shaded borders or woodland gardens, but it also can be grown in outdoor containers and indoors because of its small size. This low-maintenance, easy-to-grow fern takes 5 years to reach its mature height of around 2 feet.

  • Light: partial to full shade. 
  • Soil: moist but well-draining.
  • Height: 18 – 24 inches tall.
  • Growth Rate: moderate.

Heart Fern

This fern originates from tropical Southeast Asia. It is often found growing on forest floors or the trunks of mossy trees in moist, humid conditions. This fern has heart-shaped leaves, hence the common name, and is grown as an indoor ornamental house plant in rooms, terrariums, and fairy gardens.

The dark green leathery leaves or fronds can reach 2 – 3 inches long with dark brown stems that reach a length of 3 – 5 inches, giving the fern a vertical height of 6 – 10 inches.

  • Light: indirect bright lighting.
  • Soil: loose well-aerated and well-draining soil.
  • Height: Up to 10 inches tall
  • Growth Rate: slow.

Lemon Button Fern

This compact dwarf cultivar of Boston fern is resilient and less picky than its relatives and its small size is perfect for keeping indoors, with its small leaves giving off a weak lemony fragrance in spring and summer. 

It is also easy to grow, hardy, and can tolerate a little neglect which makes it an ideal plant for novice growers. Many people use these ferns in vivariums or animal terrariums as they make great partners for amphibians and small tropical animals!

  • Light: indirect bright light. 
  • Soil: moist and well-draining soil.
  • Height: 12 inches tall.
  • Growth Rate: slow.

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