21 Different Types of Ferns for Indoor Gardens
Are you thinking of adding some ferns to your indoor garden? There are many different types of ferns that make fantastic houseplants. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton shares her favorite ferns for indoor gardens, with names, pictures, and botanical information for each!
One of the most iconic indoor plant groups everyone seems to have an opinion about is ferns. They have a reputation for being tricky to grow but have become a kind of collector’s item thanks to the wide range of choices and unique growth habits.
The classification of these plants is a science on its own, but to be brief, ferns are plants that reproduce by spores. That means they don’t produce seeds or flowers, but their leafy form is enough to provide immense interest in your indoor garden. Their ability to grow well in low light also makes them ideal houseplants.
With the right conditions like plenty of water and humidity, anyone can grow a number of ferns without hassle. Try one of these popular options to start your fern-growing journey, or choose a few for an instant fern collection.
Bird’s Nest Fern
The award-winning Asplenium nidus, also known as Bird’s Nest Fern, is one of the most popular ferns around. This is a great option for beginners as these plants are long lived and need little care to survive.
In fact, that’s one of the reasons why a Bird’s Nest Fern was my first ever houseplant. Well, that and the fact that it was on sale. But as a complete plant beginner, I managed to keep this plant alive for years without trouble. It certainly doesn’t fit the ‘fussy’ label given to many ferns.
Originating from tropical regions, these species can be spotted growing on trees as epiphytes. Crinkled long leaves unfurl from a central point, hence the ‘nest’ in the common name.
Confined to a container, the long fronds can reach up to 1-2 feet indoors, but outdoors they grow much larger. With the correct watering technique and a large enough pot, I’m confident beginners will have no trouble keeping this species alive.
Adiantum, the genus of plants commonly called Maidenhair Ferns, is another popular choice for its delicate nature and soft fronds. Tiny dark green leaves emerge from dark brown to black stems, giving the plant a somewhat Victorian aesthetic.
Maidenhair Ferns also originate from tropical areas where rainfall and humidity remain high, keeping the soil moist. Although it looks dainty, many Adiantum species are tough, sprouting from creeping rhizomes at the base. They enjoy dappled shade to full shade, making them great for low-light areas in your home.
Unlike some other ferns that can only be grown from spores, these ferns can be divided by the rhizome to make new plants. This is ideal for those looking to expand their collection.
This fern, scientifically Asparagus densiflorus, is not technically a fern at all. It is actually part of the asparagus family of plants – yes, the asparagus that’s edible.
However, this plant is on this list because it behaves similarly to any other fern. It is commonly referred to as a fern, despite the different growth habit. It produces flowers and berries rather than spores. The Asparagus Fern has foliage so reminiscent of a fern that it is often grouped into this category.
The Asparagus Fern is native to coastal regions in South Africa and Mozambique. The long, arching stems have spiky leaves like needles, far from the soft foliage of the Maidenhair Fern. It makes a wonderful cascading plant for hanging baskets or pots on a shelf.
There are a few different types to choose from, although some are considered invasive in certain environments. Luckily, as long as they are confined to a pot and kept indoors, you should be safe.
The added bonus of growing a ‘fern’ that’s not really a fern is that they are less demanding about watering. This is ideal for those who tend to forget a watering or two.
While discussing ‘fake’ ferns, we can’t forget Asparagus setaceus. To add to the classification confusion, this species is also called an Asparagus Fern. It can be labeled a Lace Fern too, helping you tell them apart. This species is a popular indoor plant for its delicate foliage that looks great in a container.
The leaves of this species are thin, small and soft, standing out almost horizontally in layers across the plant like a miniature tree. They also sport little spines on the stems. This is not often a problem for houseplant growers. But it can get quite annoying for cut flower arrangers that adore this leafy plant.
Lace Fern is also a climber that can reach several feet long. However, it will be bushier if the stems are pruned back. Like other ferns, it needs to be watered well in spring and summer with a reduction in fall and winter. If the leaves start dropping, consider giving the plant more bright indirect light.
Also known as Japanese Holly Fern, Cyrtomium falcatum has lush green foliage with holly-like leaves, hence the common name. However, the leaves have a flowing texture and are much softer compared to regular holly.
Holly Ferns are great accent plants for humid environments like bathrooms. They also grow well when combined with other ferns in a single container to make a unique feature. Their compact shape is well suited for positions on shelves or a desk in your home office, as long as they receive moderate to bright light throughout the day.
Native to southeast Asia, Holly Ferns are evergreen but tend lose their leaves in colder regions when temperatures drop. The species in my collection produces adorable leaves that start out almost lime green in color, darkening to a glossy green later on, providing continual interest and wonderful contrast.
Kangaroo Foot Fern
Microsorum diversifolium, also known as Kangaroo Paw or just Kangaroo Fern, comes from the warmer regions of Australia and New Zealand. It can reach about 1 foot high and 3-4 feet wide in a large container. It’s well-known for its finger-like grey-green leaves with dark veins.
This lush tropical plant grows quite slowly. But it makes up for it with a unique appearance that is sought-after in the houseplant world. Although I’ve struggled to grow these in the past, they are still my favorite fern in terms of looks.
Like other ferns, this species needs plenty of water and humidity to thrive. They spread through underground rhizomes that can be used to divide the plant every couple of years. The leaves cascade over pots, ideal for hanging baskets in a medium-light area of your home.
Microsorum musifolium ‘Crocodyllus’, the Crocodile Fern, has an interesting look that has made it incredibly popular online. The wide floppy fronds are adorable on their own, but also feature a distinctive crocodile skin pattern that gives this plant its common name.
In their native habitats in southeast Asia and Australia, they grow as epiphytes, protected by the dappled shade of tall tree canopies above them. These plants need tons of water and humidity to maintain their lush leaves. That means they can be more high maintenance than other fern options.
The Crocodile Fern is a must-have collector’s item for fern lovers and general houseplant lovers. They can grow 2-5 feet in ideal conditions, quickly becoming the most eye-catching feature in your home.
Rabbit’s Foot Fern
Davallia fejeensis looks similar to other ferns, but has unusual claw-like stems that creep over the edge of pots. It’s these modified stems, covered in soft hairs, that give this plant its common name – Rabbit’s Foot Fern.
Originally from Fiji, this fern grows naturally in the shade of trees. It clutches to rocks and tree limbs with its fluffy ‘feet’. The green leaves that sprout from the plant can reach 1-2 feet long, with a soft cascading nature that looks great in pots and hanging baskets.
The furry stems, sometimes called rhizomes, are a helpful indicator to tell you when the plant needs water. If they are looking a bit dry, water thoroughly and allow the excess to drain. Avoid overwatering as these ferns are sensitive to rot.
Cretan Brake Fern
The Pteris varieties of ferns are plentiful and found in many countries around the world. They are also known as ‘Brake’ ferns, a term that comes from a Middle English word for ‘fern’ with an unclear origin.
Nevertheless, they are great indoor ferns with adorable fronds that make attractive feature plants. The Cretan Brake Fern (Pteris cretica var. albolineata) is a popular variety for its two-tone foliage, sporting light green to silver centers and dark green edging.
These interesting plants have a palm-like appearance and grow to around 1-2 feet. Out of all the fern types, they are one of the easiest to care for, requiring minimum maintenance for strong growth. That, along with their unique foliage, makes them ideal plants for indoor gardeners.
The Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) is a traditional houseplant that was incredibly popular in the 1970s. Look through any images of indoor gardens from that time and you’ll likely see a lush Boston Fern exploding out of a hanging basket.
The Boston Fern is also called a Sword Fern after its long stalks with opposite leaves forming a soft sword shape. These plants are famously lush and dense, growing to around 2 feet tall, albeit very slowly.
Once you find a good spot for this fern, they tend to stick around forever. But finding that spot can be tricky. I have to admit, I have tried to grow Boston Ferns many times. Each time I have somehow failed miserably. But that’s probably down to my bad luck with these beauties, as many other indoor growers produce massive healthy plants with no trouble at all.
Keep your Boston Fern away from drafts in a warm spot with indirect sunlight and water often. Explore some of the other varieties of this fern, like Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Golden Boston’ which features golden to lime green leaves that contrast well with other green plants.
Pellaea rotundifolia, also known as Round-leaved Fern after – you guessed it – the rounded leaves that form on the sides of dark stems. These plants are like mini sword ferns, but with round leaves and a quirky growth habit that twists and turns.
The Button Fern is a popular option for a low-light area with lots of humidity and easy access to water, like a bathroom or kitchen. They come from New Zealand and Australia and have the ability to survive the occasional missed watering, making them one of the tougher ferns to choose from.
Compared to other ferns on this list, they are relatively small in size, growing about 12 inches in height. As long as you have the right conditions, this makes them great for placing on bookshelves or in your home office.
Also known as the Fishtail Sword Fern, Nephrolepis falcata has large leaves similar to a Boston Fern. The fronds cascade over pots and hanging baskets in a lush cluster, but feature a distinctive fishtail effect at the ends.
The Fishtail Fern plant can grow to an impressive 3 feet long and 7 feet wide. If you plan on growing indoors in a pot, make sure you give them plenty of room to expand.
In tropical and subtropical climates like its origins around southern Asia, Malaysia and the Philippines, they make perfect patio or balcony plants. In colder regions, they are ideal for growing indoors in a bright area that is warm and draft-free.
Japanese Painted Fern
Athyrium niponicum var. pictum is an unusual fern known for its intense silvery-grey foliage. As the common name suggests, the leaves appear almost individually painted by hand. The color contrasts well with other green ferns and looks excellent in minimal or muted interiors.
This plant is native to Japan and several areas in eastern Asia. It remains compact at around one foot tall and wide, growing well in containers with minimal care.
This fern belongs to the group of plants known as Lady Fern plants (Athyrium) – a feathery group often found in shady, damp woodlands. The variety Japanese Painted Fern is one of the best of this group for its multi-colored foliage, making it an ideal collector’s item.
Heart Leaf Fern
The adorable Heart-Leaf Fern features wonderful heart-shaped leaves that make it a perfect gift for Valentine’s Day. I find this fern (Hemionitis arifolia) tricky to grow amongst other ferns as it can be a bit fussy, although other gardeners do consider it one of the easier types to grow.
The dark green hearts sit above fuzzy brown stems that are so thin, the leaves appear as if they are almost floating. Their compact size means they can get lost amongst other plants, but look great in individual containers on their own where the leaves can truly shine.
Watering is the toughest part of keeping this plant happy. The trick is to let the top inch of soil dry out, but never let the soil dry out completely – a balancing act that needs attention to get right. Place it in bright indirect light rather than low light to keep it healthy and producing its cute leaves.
A list of ferns would be incomplete without discussing Tree Ferns. There are different varieties to choose from, each with distinguishing characteristics but a similar stature.
Tree Ferns, as their name suggests, need plenty of space to grow. In the wild, some reach an amazing 50 feet tall. But as a houseplant confined to a container, they will reach closer to 10 feet tall when given the space.
Besides their size and lush lacy foliage, they have the cutest unfurling habit. Tight hairy swirls form at the base of the plant and roll open, spreading out slowly to reveal new foliage. This makes the lack of space for other houseplants all the more worthwhile.
With plenty of water, high humidity and bright indirect light all day, your Tree Fern will not disappoint.
Leather Leaf Fern
The aptly named Leather Leaf Fern (Rumohra adiantiformis) is a tough-as-leather fern with dark green leaves. These leaves have been used by florists for years for their stunning look and long-lasting nature.
As a houseplant, Leather Leaf Ferns are easy to care for, growing to around 3 feet tall in a bushy form. With regular watering, bright light and a hanging basket or large pot to cascade over the rim, it will quickly become one of your favorite plant features.
Epiphytic Platycerium ferns, also known as Staghorn Ferns for their horn-shaped leaves, are one the most interesting groups of ferns in the world.
They grow from short rhizomes, producing a basal frond that acts as a shield and sticks to a tree or piece of wood, protecting the roots.
They then sprout green horn-shaped fronds in colors that range from grey-green to light green. These plants absorb nutrients and moisture by trapping water and forest mulch between the fronds.
What makes Staghorns even more unique as houseplants is that they can be mounted on a wooden board and attached to a wall to become the ultimate living décor. They will need plenty of bright natural light, along with regular misting, to look their best. They are also pet-friendly, which is a benefit to pet owning households.
Miniature Tree Fern
Known botanically as Blechnum gibbum, the Dwarf or Miniature Tree Fern is named for its resemblance to large Tree Ferns. But, far from the towering nature of Tree Ferns, this species only grows to about 3 feet.
Miniature Tree Ferns produce lime-green fronds that sprout from the center like a fountain. This evergreen plant will eventually form a trunk like the Tree Ferns do, growing well in a container with loads of humidity and regular water.
This plant provides great contrasting color with the darker green fern options and is easy to grow as a bonus.
Hen and Chicken Fern
Hen and Chicken is the common name given to several types of plants that grow from offsets or plantlets that form on the ends of the leaves.
Asplenium bulbiferum does the same thing, which is quite an unusual feature for a fern. This habit also gives the plant its other common name, Mother Fern. Once the little plantlets touch soil, they will make a new plant.
This fern has long arching fronds that are lacy, dark green and lush. They grow up to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. In their native region of New Zealand, they are found growing under shady trees and in rocky crevices.
Squirrel’s Foot Fern
Davallia mariesii has distinctive creeping rhizomes that are covered in fur, much like the Rabbit’s Foot Fern, giving it the appearance of a squirrel’s foot. This is the most attractive part of the plant and why it’s a popular choice for plant collectors.
From the rhizomes, dark green leathery leaves emerge, forming a messy bundle growing in all directions. Once you have a good spot for it, try not to move it and you won’t encounter too many growth problems.
The rhizomes are the heart of the plants, and they cannot be allowed to dry out or the plant will die. Regular watering and misting are needed to keep this epiphyte happy. They grow well in low light and cannot be exposed to direct sunlight or the leaves will burn.
Another award-winning fern is the miniature Asplenium trichomanes, found on most continents of the world in rocky outcrops. It forms a neat rosette of glossy green leaves that develop opposite each other on dark brown stems.
This plant needs a lot of water and a temperate climate to grow well. It’s an attractive fern with a fountain-like shape that is good for low-light areas in the home, especially bathrooms where there is limited choice for houseplants.
Now that you’ve been introduced to the world of indoor-friendly ferns, all that’s left is to figure out which type will be the perfect addition to your indoor garden. Whether you stick to the tried and true Boston Fern or pick something a little more obscure like the Hen and Chicken fern, there are plenty of options no matter the size or shape of your indoor garden.