10 Best Ferns to Grow Indoors 2023
Ferns are some of the best ornamental plants for adding color and texture to indoor locations. Place them in just about any brightly lit room to create a carefree, fresh, and tropical vibe. Though many ferns have a seemingly modern appearance, with highly adaptable features and a tolerance for various moisture levels, these eye-catching plants have been around for centuries.
Able to withstand the tests of time, dozens of ferns can easily thrive given the limitations of indoor environments. In the wild, these plants are usually found in warm, humid, and partially shaded locations. Thus, they are perfectly suited to the comforts of a well-kept home. In fact, many species are more likely to survive indoors than in the potentially harsh outdoor conditions of temperate regions. In subtropical to tropical areas, however, they can be grown both indoors and outdoors.
With over 10,000 extant species of ferns found all across the globe, it can be overwhelming to review locally available selections and pick out exactly which ones would look great in your space. Able to grow and expand to various heights and spreads, ferns are nothing short of diverse. Yet their leaf patterns, root structures, and modes of reproduction are largely conserved. The features and care needs of the ferns listed below make them the quintessential houseplants.
1) Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
Often, the first features that come to mind when one contemplates buying ferns are exactly those of N. exaltata. Commonly referred to as the Boston fern, sword fern, or fishbone fern, this evergreen plant is one of the most commonly grown houseplants in the US. There’s no mystery to its popularity as it is attractive, highly textural, easy to care for, and remarkably versatile.
Set apart by the neat, pinnate formation of leaflets on its bright green fronds, the Boston fern grows to about 16 – 35 inches (40 – 90 cm) tall. Each of its fronds can measure as long as 98 inches (250 cm)! These can remain erect or may gracefully arch over a pot’s edges once they are weighed down by mature leaflets. The leaflets’ edges are lightly serrated and wavy, giving them a buoyant appearance.
The Boston fern is a recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit. Among all commonly cultivated ferns, it is known for having the highest tolerance for dry conditions. Nonetheless, it grows best when its soil is regularly watered and provided with drainage. Its fronds rapidly develop in indirect, bright light, so it should be placed close to a sunny windowsill. In case of low indoor humidity conditions, they respond well to being misted.
2) Golden serpent fern (Phlebodium aureum)
Named for the scale-like appearance of its creeping rhizomes, the golden serpent fern is a tropical to subtropical species. Its rhizomes allow it to spread vegetatively, creating widespread colonies in humid and moist areas. To increase its chances of successful dispersal in the wild, it also produces spores along the undersides of its fertile fronds.
The leaves of the golden serpent fern are evergreen and deeply lobed. In optimal conditions, these can grow quite long and wide. Mature leaves, which may eventually develop undulating margins, can measure as long as 50 inches (1.3 meters) long and 20 inches (51 cm) wide! Of course, unless they are provided with ample space, humidity, and nutrients, it’s rare for them to reach this size in indoor locations. Depending on the cultivar, the fronds range in color from bluish to silvery-green.
As healthy specimens of P. aureum are able to tolerate partial sun to deep shade, this fern is one of the most ideal options for adding texture to the darker parts of your home. Of course, although its tolerance for low light allows it to thrive in the understories of densely planted forests, it would still require some sun exposure to survive. If you intend to situate this fern in heavy shade, make sure all other parameters are optimized.
3) House holly-fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
C. falcatum is popularly referred to as the holly fern because its fronds resemble the appearance of holly leaves and stems. Each of these has around 6 – 10 pairs of slightly serrated and wavy leaflets. Leathery and glossy, the leaflets taper to a fine point and curve toward the tip of the frond. They can thus be described as sickle-shaped.
Now naturalized in some parts of the US due to the wind-facilitated dispersal of its spores, the holly fern can easily escape garden cultivation and become established in moist substrates. Hardy to USDA zones 6 – 10, it favors mild temperatures. Its healthiest specimens are able to withstand cool conditions, though indoor cultivation is more ideal in regions where winter temperatures dip to negative values.
If you intend to grow this ornamental fern indoors, place it in an area that receives indirect bright light. Though it does have a tolerance for full shade, low light levels can reduce growth rates and result in stunted leaves. One of its popular cultivars, ‘Rochfordianum’, has a preference for bright light and should be placed in sunnier parts of the home.
4) Bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus)
Known for its enormous fronds, which are simple, entire, and ruffle-edged, the bird’s nest fern looks as though it belongs in the canopies of tropical forests. In the wild, it actually grows as an epiphytic plant and can indeed be situated as far above the ground as the leafy branches of tall trees! Much like the roots of an orchid, this fern’s fibrous roots are able to latch onto tree bark and collect the necessary nutrients while remaining exposed.
Of course, bird’s nest ferns that are grown indoors can seldom be provided with a tree to latch onto. Instead, their roots can be roughly shaped into a ball and placed in a pot with some coco coil, husk, or orchid media. They can also be rooted into soil, though the substrate will need to be well-draining and peat-based.
Resembling banana leaves, the large fronds of this species grow in a rosette formation around a funnel-like center. Outdoors, decaying leaves often accumulate in this funnel, providing the roots with the necessary nutrients for growth. New leaves emerge, as curled fronds, from this area as well. Sensitive to direct sunlight, the leaves should be afforded filtered light or partial shade.
5) Maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris)
Commonly cultivated for the eye-catching appearance of its cascading fronds, the maidenhair fern makes for a perfect houseplant. Its remarkably delicate fronds arise in clusters. Each frond is subdivided into small, curvy-edged pinnules that are borne on a wiry central rachis. When this fern is grown in a hanging pot, its fronds gracefully arch over the edges and point downward.
In the wild, the maidenhair fern favors the consistently moistened substrates of humid biomes. Its fronds often dangle from hollows and crevices in the limestone formations of rainforests, woodlands, springs, and broadleaf forests. As its stems and leaves are delicate, it favors regions of the understory that are well-protected from the elements and receive dappled to full shade.
If you intend to grow this fern indoors, make sure to place it in a room where temperatures are kept above 12˚C (54˚F) all year round. To maintain desirable growth rates, the fronds should be provided with filtered or bright, indirect light. High humidity levels and ample ventilation are necessary to keep potential pests and diseases at bay. Once your maidenhair has overgrown its pot, you may divide its rhizomes and propagate them.
6) Button fern (Pellaea rotundifolia)
This evergreen fern, which is also called the ‘New Zealand Cliff Brake’, is a compact species with an almost succulent appearance. Its leathery, dark-green leaflets are borne in pairs along fronds that can measure up to 18 inches (46 cm) long. As suggested by this species’ epithet, rotundifolia, the leaflets are rounded.
Unlike most ferns, this particular species does not take well to prolonged exposure to moisture and humidity. It favors a well-draining substrate and can tolerate fairly dry conditions in indoor locations. In fact, it is quite popular as a houseplant because it is far from needy and has minimal water requirements. To keep its fronds healthy, make sure to provide it with a slightly acidic and well-draining substrate. Moreover, keep its leaves sheltered yet exposed to full or partial sun.
A recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit, the button fern is generally disease-free when it is cultivated in optimal conditions. Maintain the appearance of the fronds and encourage new growth by trimming them back whenever they have wilted or developed brown tips. Note that high temperatures can cause the leaflets to begin to die back.
7) Two-branched staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum)
Notable for its broad and bifurcated fronds, the shape of which uncannily resembles stag or elk horns, P. bifurcatum is a common houseplant. In the wild, it occurs as an epiphyte on the damp bark of rainforest trees. Its sterile fronds are morphologically different from its fertile ones. The sterile, basal fronds are heart-shaped and become increasingly brown as they mature.
The best features of the staghorn fern are brought out when it is mounted onto a slab of wood and hung as a focal piece on a bare wall. It can also be grown in hanging baskets, allowing for a 36-degree view of the antler-like leaves. The most striking specimens with the largest leaves usually cost a pretty penny. If you’re serious about cultivating indoor ferns, however, this collector’s piece should be worth the investment.
Slow-growing, staghorn ferns initially produce small and simple leaves. It can take years of proper care for this fern to produce its large, forked fronds. The brown, basal fronds provide many benefits to the fertile leaves while ensuring the crown of the plant is protected from the elements. They trap moisture for the root ball and help keep the plant anchored to the mount, pot, or substrate.
8) Long strap fern (Campyloneurum phyllitidis)
The long strap fern is usually found growing in the canopies of tropical to subtropical forests. Occasionally, this fern also becomes rooted to the surface of frequently moistened rocks and stones. Those found in the southeastern US favor the humid conditions of hardwood swamps and sloughs. They produce simple, elongated, and shiny leaves which grow to a maximum length of about 39 inches (99 cm).
The hairless fronds of the long strap fern arise from a relatively large rhizome. Small rootlets, which anchor the plant to its host, mount, or pot, also extend from the rhizome’s surface. Apart from its roots, another notable feature of this species is its geometrically arranged sori. As though an artisan arranged them, they are present as perfectly aligned specks on the undersides of mature fertile fronds.
C. phyllitidis is a good option for indoor locations because it can tolerate partial shade. Ideally, it should be placed about 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from a brightly lit, south-facing window. This distance should provide it with ample sunlight and prevent its leaves from becoming scorched or overheated. A regularly moistened, well-draining substrate should keep the rhizome and roots in good condition.
9) Rabbit’s foot fern (Davallia denticulata)
The rabbit’s foot fern is a fairly common epiphyte in both urban and forested areas throughout its native range. Its hairy rhizomes and fine roots secure its position along the trunks of trees. Occasionally, it may also grow from the crevices of rocks, fallen logs, and narrow gaps in between solid structures. It flourishes wherever its roots can gain access to rainwater.
As it favors high humidity, warm temperatures, and filtered to partial sunlight, the rabbit’s foot fern is suitable for indoor cultivation. It need not be mounted and grown as an epiphyte as its roots can persist in a pot of well-draining soil. Its root system does not grow deep into any form of substrate, so it will need to be planted in a shallow pot. A part of its rhizome may be left exposed as, along with the leaves, it will benefit from regular misting.
To keep this ornamental fern’s tripinnate fronds in good shape, make sure they receive ample ventilation and are protected from chilly temperatures. The fronds should be dusted occasionally as a layer of indoor dust can reduce their photosynthetic efficiency and compromise their capacity for gas exchange. With a little bit of care and attention, this perennial species should reach its full size (up to 24 inches or 61 cm) in no time!
10) Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum)
Known for its alluring colors and the heavily-tufted appearance of its fronds, the Japanese painted fern makes for a fantastic ornamental plant in indoor or outdoor locations. Due to its popularity and ease of care, it has several varieties and cultivars that have received the RHS Award of Garden Merit. A. niponicum var. pictum, in particular, is highly sought by collectors due to its colorful midribs and the silvery sheen of its leaflets.
The Japanese painted fern is a deciduous species with a medium growth rate and a preference for light shade. Its colors can significantly brighten and add complexity to just about any room of the home. Its eye-catching fronds arise in a whorl-like formation of layers from its basal roots. This gives it a well-balanced appearance and an extensive spread.
To maximize the growth rate and enhance the appearance of your Japanese painted fern, make sure to place it in a room with temperatures maintained between 18 – 24˚C (64 – 75˚F). Temperatures as low as 12˚C (54˚F) are tolerated, but prolonged exposure to the cold may damage the leaves and cause them to die back. To speed up growth and improve the quality of new leaves, you may fertilize this fern in spring or summer.