Nothing oozes the richness of Fiji’s rainforest floor more than a rabbit’s foot fern. Whether you grow them in the ground in their hardiness range, or in a hanging basket as house plants, the lush and familiar feeling they bring is incomparable.
What distinguishes a rabbit’s foot from other ferns is the furry rhizomes that protrude from its base. In container gardens or indoors where it’s kept as a houseplant, this striking feature makes for an interesting specimen. Even in shaded parts of an outdoor garden, the lacy fronds of rabbit’s foot ferns improve with age.
But what goes into rabbit’s foot fern care? Let’s discuss!
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Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Rabbit’s Foot Fern, Hare’s Foot Fern|
|Scientific Name||Davallia fejeensis or Davallia solida var. fejeensis|
|Height & Spread||2 feet tall and 40 inches wide|
|Light||Bright, indirect light|
|Soil||Well-drained average garden soil|
|Water||Let top inch of soil moisture dry between watering|
|Pests & Diseases||Aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, botrytis blight, root rot|
All About Rabbit’s Foot Fern
The rabbit’s foot fern is currently classed under the botanical name, Davallia solida var. Fejeensis. It was previously known as Davallia fejeensis, a name currently considered a botanical synonym. Commonly, the plant is also known as deersfoot fern, hare’s foot fern, Shinobu fern, and ball fern. Tropical Fiji is this plant’s native habitat.
It’s there that rabbit’s foot ferns live on forest floors in damp, shady conditions. Outside their native range, they’re either deciduous or evergreen depending on the regions in which they’re grown. Because their preferred temperatures are between 65° Fahrenheit and 75°, they are mostly cultivated indoors as houseplants.
Just like other ferns, the rabbit’s foot is comprised of dense clusters of verdant fronds. They are epiphytic and don’t derive nutrients from the soil, but instead grow between rock crevices and on trees, pulling nutrients from the water and air around them. Their root system consists of fuzzy rhizomes that grow at their base.
They grow up to 2 feet tall, and anywhere from 1 foot to 3 feet wide. Their fronds are either 3 or 4-pinnate and become covered with sporangia on their undersides, which release spores to create new plants in their habitat. As a houseplant, they rely on human intervention to propagate. Their rhizomes allow rabbit’s foot ferns to creep and spread wherever they grow.
Regardless of the climate in which they’re grown, they’re perennial plants – even outdoors – that return when conditions are favorable. They should be repotted every few years, as their furry rhizomes will spill out of pots, virtually taking over the soil surface and container edge. When it comes to ferns, these are much easier to care for, though they require some of the basic fern conditions to thrive.
There is a similar fern with a comparable growth habit, called the squirrel fern, or Davallia bulata. While care for this plant is basically the same, the two plants call different regions their home, with fejeensis hailing from Fiji, and bulata hailing from Japan and China.
One important thing to remember about this plant (and ferns in general) is they don’t take kindly to exposure to tobacco smoke or scented candles. Both contain toxins that can damage this sensitive plant. Along similar lines, this plant is excellent for a home with children or pets because it has no known toxicity.
Caring for Rabbits Foot Fern
Rabbit’s foot fern care is simple! Let’s talk about what you need to grow rabbit’s foot fern.
Sun and Temperature for Rabbit Foot Fern
Like other ferns, rabbit’s foot needs bright, indirect sunlight – about 6 to 8 hours per day for adequate growth. Outdoors, the shade of trees, porch coverings, and shrubs suffice. Indoors, place your hanging basket or container offset from a brightly lit east-facing window. Too much direct sunlight causes problems, including limp fronds and singed tips.
You can easily grow your rabbit’s foot outdoors in USDA zones 10 and 11. Feel free to keep it outdoors when temperatures are between 65° and 75°. When temperatures drop below 55° or are above 80° consistently, bring it indoors. In a warmer region, give your plant a shady spot.
Water and Humidity
Especially during the growing season, keep your rabbit’s foot fern’s soil moist. Consider its tropical native habitat. Humidity and moisture, therefore, are important. Like other ferns, rabbit’s foot needs high humidity at 40% to 50%. Planting it outdoors near a water source or in consistently damp media is good. Too much moisture creates conditions for disease proliferation. Water when the top ½ inch of soil is dry.
Indoors, mist it lightly once per day with distilled or filtered water. Alternatively, both indoor and outdoor plants appreciate a pebble tray which raises the humidity in its vicinity. If you prefer, a humidifier set to 40 to 50% works too. In the dormant seasons of winter and fall, you won’t need to water your rabbit’s foot as much.
To water this houseplant, place it under a lightly trickling faucet. Once per month, allow water to flow through the pot to flush out any salinity that has built up in the soil. Other times, water just enough so the top few inches of soil have moisture. Do not overwater.
Provide your rabbit’s foot with a well-draining potting mix. Make your own with fir bark, perlite, compost, and shredded sphagnum peat moss to provide a composition of sediment it can latch onto. If you don’t have these elements available, a general potting mix combined with agricultural sand works. Potting soil contains peat, which helps retain moist soil, and sand provides drainage. A neutral pH of 6.6 to 7.5 is best.
Use plastic containers, or keep your Davallia fejeensis as hanging plants. Shallow pots are perfectly fine, as much of the root growth occurs above the soil. If you’re using a shallow pot, you’ll need to repot your plants more often. Don’t forget about your hanging baskets either.
Fertilizing Rabbit’s Foot Fern
During its growth seasons of spring and summer, fertilize your rabbit’s foot fern with a water-soluble liquid houseplant fertilizer at ¼ strength twice per month. Alternatively, fertilize once per month with a fertilizer at half strength. Do not fertilize in fall and winter months, as there’s no active growth. This helps prevent root rot.
Pruning Rabbit Foot Ferns
If your fronds take on brown tips or pale fronds crop up due to improper care, snip them at the base with sterilized sharp pruners in winter. This is the time when your Davallia fern is in dormancy. Remove diseased fronds at this time as well. Most of the time, you won’t need to prune your rabbits feet plant at all.
Rabbit’s Foot Fern Propagation
Usually, during the repotting process, you can divide the plant via the surface rhizomes and plant them with attached fronds into new pots to make new plants. Each pot should have slightly more room than the rhizomes need, with the same or a similar growing medium. You’ll need a sharp knife so your rhizomes can be finely divided in the most precise way possible.
When you’ve divided out separate rhizomes, remove dead foliage, and cut your rhizomes down so they’ll fit into their new pot. Add about ⅔ potting media to the new pots and place 1 to 3 small rhizomes on top of the soil. Then cover them with potting mix to the top of the new pot. Water your divided fern with a watering can that has a tiny amount of slow-release fertilizer added. New roots will eventually develop at the plant’s base.
Repotting Rabbit’s Foot Ferns
If you notice browning fronds on your ferns grown as indoor plants, it may be time to re-pot your rabbit’s fern. Often browning or pale fronds are an indication that the furry rhizomes have grown so dense they are blocking water access to the potting soil. This is common in older plants. Wait until spring to repot your plants. At this time, you can propagate the rhizomes via the method described above.
To repot the plant, take the entire plant, root system, and all the potting soil out of the pot. If it doesn’t dislodge easily, you may need to remove rhizomes. Decide whether or not to carefully separate the rhizomes, each into their own pot. Take the main plant and place it in a new pot that’s slightly larger than its original. Before planting, trim any overhanging furry feet or dead foliage off your rabbit’s foot ferns.
Place the rhizomes on the surface of a potting medium in a new pot with soil about ⅔ full. Then cover with more soil, and water them lightly. Place them out of direct sunlight and wait. When you see new growth, you know your fern has taken to its new home.
Troubleshooting Rabbit’s Foot Fern
Compared to other plants classed as angiosperms, rabbit’s foot fern care is easy because they are prone to few pest and disease issues. Let’s talk about those now.
Most growing problems are a symptom of improper growing conditions. If your potting medium is too moisture retentive or you keep the soil moist for too long, limp fronds may result. In this case, either repot your plant into a better draining potting mix or stop watering until the soil dries. If you don’t catch this early enough, leaf drop may occur.
Crispy fronds are usually present due to over-fertilization and placing the plant in too much sun. Remember, only fertilize with diluted fertilizers, and keep your rabbit’s foot fern out of direct light, slightly offset from a direct sun source. Do not place these plants in front of south-facing windows. Provide a daily misting of water for humidity purposes. Low humidity is a problem people face with many ferns.
In rabbit’s foot fern care, if you encounter any pests at all, they’ll be common pests that are easy to control. Aphids may congregate on the frond and stem areas of your plant to feast on the juices of the fern. Outdoors spray them with a strong stream of water to force their mouth parts to release and knock them off the plant. Indoors, wipe them off the plant with a damp cloth, and follow up with a mist of heavily-diluted neem oil.
Mealybugs are another common pest of a Davallia fejeensis houseplant. These small, white, cottony insects hang out on stems and consume plant juices. Wipe them off your fern with a damp cloth, and follow up with a q-tip soaked in alcohol to pop them off the plant. Then treat with super diluted insecticidal soap.
Whiteflies, like the other two pests we’ve mentioned also eat plant juice. They look like tiny white moths that fly off the plant when the foliage is disturbed. Like aphids, you can blast them with water and follow up with highly diluted insecticidal soap or neem oil.
Botrytis blight comes in many forms and is caused by the pathogen Botrytis cinerea. This disease proliferates when your Davallia fejeensis has been left in improper conditions for an extended time. Look out for small yellow lesions on the leaves or rotted rhizomes covered in gray mold. Try removing the diseased parts of the plant first. If that doesn’t take care of the issue, repot it and treat with heavily-diluted copper fungicide.
Root rot can also occur and can cause the plant to wilt or droop. This is usually caused by fungal buildup in the soil that then attacks the plant’s root system. Make sure your growing medium is well-draining and that you don’t leave the plant in soggy soil.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How do you take care of a rabbit foot fern?
A: This piece explores that topic! Check out the info above.
Q: Is it easy to grow rabbit foot fern?
A: Yes. They are much easier than other ferns but require some of the same basic care.
Q: How big does a Rabbits Foot fern get?
A: Roughly 1 to 3 feet tall and up to 3 feet wide, though they stay smaller indoors.
Q: Why is my rabbit foot fern dying?
A: Check the Troubleshooting portion of this piece for more info.
Q: Should I cut the dead leaves off my fern?
A: You can prune off dead leaves in winter.
Q: Is Rabbits Foot fern poisonous to humans?
A: No! This plant is non-toxic to pets and humans.
Q: Can you propagate Rabbits Foot fern?
A: Absolutely! Most of the time, you can divide singular rhizomes or whole plants.
Q: When should you repot a Rabbits Foot fern?
A: Repot on a schedule of every two years, or when the furry rhizomes block water access to soil and the fronds are browning.