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29 Different Types of Fern Plants You Need to Know

A photo collage of a types of fern.

Table of Contents Show

Quicklist: Types of Ferns

  1. Evergreen Ferns
  2. Deciduous
  3. Herbaceous
  4. Semi-Evergreen
  5. Boston Fern
  6. Staghorn Fern
  7. Holly Fern
  8. Maidenhair Fern
  9. Cinnamon Fern
  10. Bird’s Nest Fern
  11. Australian Tree Fern
  12. Asparagus Fern
  13. Ostrich Fern
  14. Japanese Painted Fern
  15. Royal Fern
  16. Blue Star Fern
  17. Cretan Brake Fern
  18. Polypodium Vulgare
  19. Arachniodes Simplicity
  20. Asplenium Trichomanes
  21. Lady Fern
  22. Sunset Fern
  23. Kimberly Queen Fern
  24. Austral Gem Fern
  25. Bracken Fern
  26. Japanese Climbing Fern
  27. Rabbit Foot Fern
  28. Silver Lace Fern
  29. Macho Fern

Ferns vary in size from about two to three millimeters tall and 10 to 25 meters in height. They are vascular plants from the Pteridophyta division, which includes approximately 10,560 seedless, flowerless species that reproduce by spores.

Depending on the type of species, ferns can live up to 100 years. Although they are dispersed worldwide, they’re usually found in specific habitats such as moist, shady forests, crevices in rock faces that face away from the sun, acid wetlands, and tropical trees.

Ferns are among the oldest types of plants in the world. Fossil records trace back all the way to 360 million years ago during the late Devonian period. There are also fern species that only appeared roughly 145 million years ago in the early Cretaceous period.

Parts of a Fern 


Common Ferns by Growth Location

Types of Indoor Ferns

Fern growing indoors

Modern dining room with hanging and potted fern plants.

While ferns generally grow in tropical climates, with a little care and work you can easily grow one of these amazing plants in your home, which is a great way to add beauty and life to your space. These plants are very low maintenance, as long as you provide them with the right kind of care and environment.

Indoor ferns will not do well when they are exposed to low temperatures for a long period of time. You want to make sure that your home is between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.

Additionally, since ferns like to have a little extra moisture when compared to other houseplants, keep them in a plastic pot instead of moving them to a clay pot, as this will help to retain moisture.

Do not place the fern in direct sunlight, as that can burn the plant, rather, keep them in indirect light so that they will still have enough energy to grow. By pruning back damaged fronds, getting rid of pests right away, and fertilizing your fern during its active growing season, you can make sure that your fern has everything it needs to survive and thrive indoors.

Here are eight excellent houseplant ferns.

Types of Outdoor Ferns

Outdoor hanging fern plant

While ferns may grow wild around your home in the woods, transplanting one to your garden or picking up a new fern from the store to line your path needs some planning.

Even though ferns are incredibly forgiving and will generally be able to survive without a lot of care after they are established, they do take a little bit more work at first to ensure that they are going to grow as well as possible.

Your first step is to choose the right fern for your space. Some are better at withstanding droughts than others, while there are some ferns that do a great job living in rocky or acidic soil.

 Make sure that you mulch the fern regularly and water it during dry periods, especially if the fronds begin to droop or start to look a little dry. Additionally, in the spring, you will want to take time to divide ferns that have grown too big, as this will prevent them from taking over your garden.  

Also, if you don’t want real ferns indoors our out, check out this fake fern we bought

Fern Types

Evergreen Ferns

Evergreen fern plants in the forest.

By planting an evergreen fern you can enjoy something green in your garden throughout the winter. Ferns will not die back to the ground and you will be able to enjoy the way that they look throughout the winter. 


10 OSTRICH FERN Rhizome/root- (Matteuccia struthiopteris)

Unlike evergreen ferns, deciduous ferns are going to lose their green every single year. The plant stores chlorophyll, which ensures that it will be able to produce fresh new growth in the spring.

The dormant period that these plants experience in the winter allows them to store up enough energy to be able to survive the active growing period. 


Herbaceous fern plants.

These ferns will not only lose their green and die back in the late fall and winter, but they also will die completely down to the ground. They do not have any permanent woody structure that provides the shape of the fern throughout the winter.

One problem that some people have when they plant herbaceous ferns in their garden is remembering where they are, as they will die back completely to the roots. It’s important that you mark where your fern is so that in the spring when it is time to start planting in your garden you will not accidentally dig it up or plant a new plant on top of it.


A close up photo of a semi evergreen fern plant.

These ferns fall somewhere between deciduous and evergreen ferns in terms of how they grow. Some semi-evergreen ferns will shed their foliage, but only for a very short time and they don’t experience the long dormant period that deciduous ferns do.

Another reason why ferns may be labeled as semi-evergreen is that they lose the majority of their foliage, but not all of it, for part of the year. Finally, ferns may have this label because they will lose some of their foliage due to certain weather conditions, such as a cold snap, or they will lose their foliage due to certain insects.

Specific Varieties of Ferns 

Boston Fern

Boston Fern

This is one of the most popular ferns to be used as a houseplant and is commonly seen on front porches in the late spring through the early fall. While it’s not hard to take care of these plants, they do require specific care or the fronds will start dying back and the plant will not look healthy.

It’s important that your Boston fern is in a cool location in your home and has plenty of indirect light and humidity for it to be able to thrive.

During the winter, you will want to make sure that you take steps to keep your fern as humid as possible, or it simply won’t be able to survive the dry air of your home environment.

Lightly misting the fern a few times a week or setting it on a tray of pebbles with water will help to provide the moisture and humidity that this plant needs to thrive. It looks great in a hanging basket due to the long fronds that reach down.

Staghorn Fern

Staghorn Fern

This is a very distinct-looking fern, and while it can be grown for some time in a pot as a houseplant, due to how quickly the fern grows, you will soon need to consider how you are going to transplant it.

Many people opt to mount their staghorn fern on a board and keep it secured there. By hanging the plant on the wall in this way, you won’t have to worry about it outgrowing its pot or how you are going to provide the care that it needs.

These ferns will rot quickly when watered excessively, which is why mounting them is such a great idea. When mounted, you can plunge the entire board and plant into the water to allow it to get damp and then allow the plant to dry out completely before being watered again.

Being mounted on a board also makes it very easy to spray the plant with water and provide it with the high humidity it needs to survive.

Holly Fern

Holly Fern plants on patio cement ground

Holly ferns can be grown indoors, but because they do so well in dark areas of your garden, they are often used outside in landscaping and gardens. Because the plant doesn’t need as much sunlight as other ferns, you can easily grow it inside without worrying about stunting its growth or causing any damage. These ferns can reach two feet tall and will spread about three feet wide.

They make a great plant to add interest to the back of your garden or they can be grown in the shade of your porch without any problems. If you live in an area with mild winters, then you may be able to leave this fern outside in the cold.

Maidenhair Fern

Maidenhair Fern

These ferns have very attractive feathery-like fronds that are soft and will add charm to your landscape or your home. They will thrive in wooden and moist areas of your garden, making them an ideal fern to plant if you want to improve the appearance of your shade garden.

Not only can they be grown on their own or in a container for extra impact, but they also make great ground cover when you plant a number of maidenhair ferns close to each other in the same location.

When growing a maidenhair fern as a houseplant, it is important to remember that they do not like being repotted and prefer to be in smaller containers. Make sure that you do not place your maidenhair fern near vents in your home, as they can cause the plant to dry out and suffer.

Cinnamon Fern

Cinnamon Fern

These taller ferns can easily reach higher than four feet in height and have two distinct types of fronds, making it fairly easy to tell this fern apart from others in your garden.

The large, green fronds around the outside of the plant are sterile, while the cinnamon-colored fronds that grow from the middle of the plant are fertile and plume-like. Together, the two fronds will give the plant a multidimensional feel that will set it apart from other ferns that you may have growing in your garden.

Make sure that you plant your new cinnamon ferns after your last expected frost so that the cold doesn’t kill them. They can be planted close together in the garden to form a backdrop for other flowers or they will help to improve the appearance of swampy areas in your yard when planted a few feet apart from each other for the most impact.

Bird’s Nest Fern

Bird’s Nest Fern

This fern may not, at first glance, even look like a fern, since the fronds are not airy and feathery, but rather thicker and look much more like elongated leaves than fronds.

The center of the fern looks like a bird’s nest, which is where the plant got its name. The fronds have a crinkled or wrinkly appearance and may resemble seaweed. In the wild, bird’s nest ferns are epiphytic and will grow attached to other things, such as a building or a tree.

Because of this, while you can grow this type of fern in a pot, they love to be mounted, much the same way that a staghorn fern does.

If you grow your bird’s nest fern in more light, then it will have crinkled fronds, while ones that don’t get as much light will have fronds that are flattened. Of course, as with any fern, an overabundance of light will cause your fern to yellow and can eventually kill the entire plant.

Australian Tree Fern

Australian Tree Fern

While this type of fern can technically be grown as a houseplant, in the wild they can grow up to 40 feet tall. They have large fronds that can be anywhere from four feet to twenty feet long, depending on whether or not the plant is located outside. The fern will not change colors in the fall.

If you do decide to plant this fern in your garden, then you need to make sure that you provide it with weekly watering, especially during dry weather, which can quickly kill your new fern.

Because the fern can survive in shade to full sun conditions, it is a great choice if you are looking for a standout fern. This plant doesn’t like fast changes in its growing conditions, including temperature, sunlight, or humidity.

Asparagus Fern

Asparagus Fern

Normally displayed in a hanging basket on the porch in the summer and brought inside to improve the appearance and air quality of a home during the winter, the asparagus fern will provide the best foliage growth when it is placed in a shady spot. While rare, sometimes the fern will flower and produce very small white flowers that are attractive.

The asparagus fern may appear very fuzzy and soft, but it actually has small thorny spurs on the fronds, making it a good idea to always wear gloves.

When the asparagus fern is happy and healthy, it will produce small red berries that can be planted to easily propagate the plant. As a houseplant, the asparagus fern can be tricky to take care of and will need daily misting to prevent the fern from turning brown and dying.

Ostrich Fern

Ostrich Fern

If you have an area in your garden where you have problems growing plants due to the amount of shade, then it’s time to try an ostrich fern. These ferns are a great way to create a stunning backdrop for other plants in your garden and grow up to six feet tall when well-established and cared for.

Because this plant grows in large clumps and produces very tall and arching fronds, it is reminiscent of an ostrich’s tail features, from which it gets its name.

There will be smaller fronds that will grow in your fern, which are the fertile fronds. They will remain standing even after the taller fronds have all died back for the winter. While this plant can be grown inside, it is difficult to provide it with the humidity that it needs to thrive, but homeowners love that they can harvest fiddleheads from the fern for their meals as a special treat.

Japanese Painted Fern

Japanese Painted Fern

These colorful ferns are a far cry from the typical green that most people think of when they picture a fern. The fronds are silvery and have a bit of blue on them along with red stems.

There are a few different cultivars of this type of fern, and they will all vary in appearance, although they have similar growing needs.

Japanese painted ferns love getting morning sun and need very rich soil to grow well. If you try to plant your fern in less-than-ideal soil, then you will need to make sure that you fertilize it regularly to keep the plant growing the best that it can.

It’s a good idea to amend the soil with compost before even attempting to plant a Japanese-painted fern so that the plant will have the best chance of thriving.

Royal Fern

Royal Fern

Royal ferns are very large and have interesting leaves on the fronds. They are resistant to deer and rabbits, which makes them great to plant in your garden if you have problems with animals eating your plants. Make sure that there is enough room for the plant to reach its full size, which can be up to six feet tall with a three-foot spread.

If the plant is cramped, then it will not be as healthy as possible, nor will it be able to grow to its full potential. Make sure that you take time in the fall to prune back any fronds that are browning and keep the soil moist, especially during the dry season or in the summer when the fern may be susceptible to hot temperatures and dry ground.

Blue Star Fern

A pot of blue star fern on the table.

This is an easy houseplant to grow because it handles low light incredibly well and is very difficult to overwater. The dusky green of the leaves combined with their interesting design makes this plant one to consider. The fronds are not at all delicate and the leaves are wide enough to hold their shape.

Because this fern doesn’t get much higher than one foot tall or wide, you never have to worry about it taking over your home. Make sure that you use potting soil that will drain quickly so that the roots of the plant aren’t constantly damp.

Cretan Brake Fern

Cretan Brake Fern

This type of fern is a very popular houseplant and is enjoyed so much partially because of the interesting shape of the leaves and the way that the fronds hang and move.

They are clump-forming ferns that have wiry threadlike stalks growing from rhizomes in the soil. Because of this, they do look a little similar to palm trees to me, even though there isn’t a main stem on the plant.

While they do require high humidity like all other ferns grown indoors, they are significantly easier to take care of than some other fern options. Regular pruning is important to keep the plant looking healthy and to ensure that there is enough new growth each year. By cutting the fronds close to the bottom when needed, it’s easy to control these ferns.

Ferns that are ideal for different purposes, sizes, and locations

A. Best Ferns for Gardens and Landscaping

Polypodium Vulgare

The prevalent polypody is one of the few ferns that can withstand high levels of light. It can grow as an epiphyte on branches or logs, but it can also thrive on the ground. Using rhizomes, it spreads to new areas.

Arachniodes Simplicity

The pale yellow patches at the bottom of each leaflet give the illusion of zesty lines in this fern’s spidery growth. It’s impressive to see a colony that has grown over time, making it lovely for landscapes.

Asplenium Trichomanes

In addition to being native to the United Kingdom, maidenhair spleenwort can be found in many parts of the European Union, Asia, as well as the Americas. The vicinity of north-facing stone walls is ideal for this plant.

B. Best Ferns for Containers and Pots

Lady Fern

A close up photo of a Lady fern in a wooden pot.

An easy-to-grow container plant with finely textured attractive foliage. The plant should be placed in partial shade if the weather is chilly. Lady fern can be grown in hanging baskets or small to medium-sized pots as long as the soil is kept moist. USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 10 are ideal for them.

Sunset Fern

Foliage plants like this one are a joy to look at. Its name derives from the exquisite gradation of hues that occurs in the picture. As long as the soil is kept moist, this sturdy plant will maintain a beautiful appearance throughout the summer and fall.

Ferns like this one can be grown in small groups or as a single specimen in a garden setting.

Kimberly Queen Fern 

Found mostly in USDA Hardiness Zones through 11, these ferns from Australia have straight, deep-green fronds that can withstand wind and hail, making them an excellent choice for the garden. As long as it receives regular water, it can thrive in full sun for a short period.

C. Best Ferns for Indoors

Austral Gem Fern

The waxy fronds of the Austral Gem fern are almost plastic-like in appearance. Low to medium light and wet potting soil are ideal conditions for this easy-to-grow houseplant. It reaches a height and width of roughly 12 inches.

Australian Tree Fern 

Large green leaves with bronze-brown hairs on the bottom are typical of Australian tree ferns. At 10 feet in height and width, it takes on the appearance of an actual tree. In Zone 10, it can be cultivated as a houseplant, but it is not hardy outside.

Bird’s Nest Fern

The thick, non-divided leaves of the bird’s nest fern, which is a gorgeous houseplant, set it apart from its peers. As a result, it appears to be a rich, live bird’s nest.

See our entire list of houseplant ferns.

D. Best Ferns for Shade

Japanese Painted Fern

the beautiful Japanese painted fern beside the streets.

Ferns can grow up to 12 to 18 inches in height, but this one is a smaller variety. Using rhizomes, it can grow up to two feet in length. As long as they aren’t exposed to direct sunlight, these ferns will thrive. The fronds of different cultivars can be slightly different in color.

Holly Fern

The evergreen leaves of this robust fern have a gritty, striking feel. Most enjoy light to complete shade and can reach upwards of 30 inches tall, with fronds that are equal in length. Even in the cold wetness of the northern side of structures, they give birth to their offspring.

E. Best Ferns for Full Sun

Bracken Fern

If you’re looking for an easy-to-grow perennial, go no further than the Bracken Fern. Humidity and dryness can’t get in the way of its ability to thrive. Excessive moisture leads to root rot, which can be harmful to the plant.

Full sun is preferred. However, Bracken Fern is tolerant of light shade. Even though it thrives in a wide variety of soils, it likes slightly acidic to neutral soils (pH 5.5 to 7.5).

Japanese Climbing Fern

A close up photo of a Japanese Climbing fern.

Lygodium japonicum, the perennial Japanese Climbing Fern, can completely cover and choke out entire trees in its path of growth. In certain places, it’s regarded as intrusive.

A wide range of moisture levels can be tolerated, and it is resistant to both humidity and drought. Full light is preferred for the Japanese Climbing Fern, although it may also withstand partial shade. Soils that are slightly acidic or neutral are preferred in this plant (pH of 5.6 to 7.5).

Maidenhair Spleenwort

The perennial evergreen fern Asplenium trichomanes, often known as maidenhair spleenwort, spreads via underground rhizomes.

In xeriscaping, it prefers mild to dry moisture levels. While Maidenhair Spleenwort enjoys direct sunlight, it will grow in shady conditions as well. For this reason, it likes a more acidic environment (pH of 5.1 to 6.5).

F. Best Ferns for Terrariums

Rabbit Foot Fern

This plant’s rhizomes are thick and hairy, resembling a hare’s foot in texture and appearance. A closed vivarium is unlikely to have this plant on hand. Its environmental requirements, on the other hand, make it an excellent candidate for inclusion in a big tropical terrarium.

This plant is pretty easy to grow and can reach a height between 12 and 24 inches with the right moisture levels plus soil. 

Silver Lace Fern

It’s among several ferns that may be grown in vivariums. Colorful pinnate fronds produced by this flora may greatly liven up an enclosure. This easy-to-care-for plant can reach a height of 12 – 16 inches with little effort on your part.

G. Ferns for Porches

Boston Fern

A close up photo of a Boston fern in a hanging pot.

The Boston fern is a symbol of graceful summertime living, especially in the South, where it thrives in urns, flower stands, as well as hanging baskets. 

The Boston fern, reaching a height and spread of three feet by three feet, remains a popular choice for both indoor and outdoor spaces today because of its versatility. 

Macho Fern

This fern may grow up to six feet broad and six feet tall, which makes it ideal for a porch. The fronds of macho ferns are large and dark green, with long, arching branches. 

Put Macho Fern in hanging baskets, or huge urns, pots, or tubs that are large enough to hold the plant. Macho ferns are robust in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11 when sown on the earth.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are ferns toxic to cats? Are ferns toxic to dogs?

A photo of a dog with the fern plants in the forest.

Most traditional ferns, used as houseplants, are safe and non-toxic to both cats and dogs. This includes the Boston fern, the staghorn fern, and the maidenhair fern. When in doubt, always verify that the type of fern you have at home is safe just in case your furry friend tries to chew on it or ingest it.

How often to water a fern?

Ferns make wonderful houseplants thanks to their beautiful looks and easy maintenance. Most fern species thrive in a moist environment, so check the soil moisture daily and water it as soon as it becomes dry. You may water outdoor ferns less often, but make sure that they have a consistent amount of one to two inches of water in the soil every week.

How do ferns reproduce?

Ferns reproduce from spores, but they do not flower like many other plant species. Mature ferns naturally start to produce spores underneath the leaves. When the spores germinate, they grow into small, heart-shaped plants that can be removed and propagated into the new soil.

Do ferns need sun?

Most ferns grow on the forest floor underneath the shade of tall trees, so they typically prefer indirect sunlight. Avoid placing your fern in direct sunlight where the fronds can get burned and turn dry and crispy. A north or east-facing window should provide just enough light to keep your fern healthy and happy.

Do ferns have seeds?

No, ferns do not have seeds. These plants belong to an ancient variety of plants that were developed long before flowering plants. Instead of producing pollen or flowers, ferns use spores as a way to reproduce.

These small clusters can be found on the underside of the fern’s leaf or frond and they appear in different patterns, depending on the type of fern.

Can ferns survive winter? How cold can ferns tolerate?

Some fern species can survive in winter, but make sure if you’re planting them outdoors that you choose species suitable for your specific hardiness zone.

Most ferns won’t survive in temperatures under 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut your fern fronds back in the autumn and cover them with mulch to protect them during the cold winter months.

Are ferns deer-resistant?

Ferns produce a bitter toxin that makes them unappealing to most deer and other mammals. In most cases, your ferns should be deer-resistant so you can plant them outside in confidence. Most deer will avoid trying to eat any plants that are thorny, fuzzy, fragrant, or poisonous.

Do ferns need a lot of water?

Ferns prefer to live in a moist environment, which means that the soil must remain wet, or else the fern can turn brown and ultimately die. Make sure that your ferns are watered regularly and check the soil often to ensure that it’s wet enough for your fern to thrive.

What are fern leaves called?

Fern leaves are called fronds. This name distinguishes them from the leaves found on flowering plants. Fern fronds have both reproductive and photosynthetic functions, while the leaves of flowering plants are used for photosynthesis only.

Where do ferns grow?

Ferns typically grow in shaded, damp forests. They can live in both tropical and temperate zones, and some species grow on rocks and are found in rocky habitats. Very rare fern species can be found in some regions of the Arctic.

How long do ferns live? Will ferns come back?

Ferns can live for many years, and in some cases, may even live for decades. With the proper care, your fern should live as long as you do (or even longer). Ferns are perennials, which means that they do come back each year, making them an excellent outdoor plant for gardens and landscaping.

Can you eat ferns?

Some species of ferns are edible, including the bracken, lady, and ostrich fern varieties. Ostrich ferns are the safest to eat and the most popular, and they taste like a unique combination of green beans, broccoli and asparagus.

The fiddlehead fern is one of the most commonly known varieties of edible fern. It’s important to note that some species of ferns are toxic, so when in doubt, it’s best to avoid eating them altogether.

When to plant fern?

If you’re planting ferns outside, early spring after the last frost is the best time, but they can also be planted in the summer.

Do ferns have flowers?

No, ferns do not have or grow any flowers. Instead, they produce spores as a means to reproduce.

Can ferns grow inside?

Yes, ferns are a very popular indoor houseplant. Make sure that you keep the soil moist and place your fern in an area of the home with no direct sunlight.

How fast do ferns grow?

Most types of ferns are slow-growing plants that may take a few years before they reach their full size. The speed at which your fern grows will vary depending on the variety you have and where it’s grown. Keep your ferns in filtered or indirect sunlight and water them regularly for the best results.

Is a fern a tree?

No, a fern is not a tree because it does not produce a trunk or have any woody growth. Trees must also have a height of at least 15 feet when mature to be classified as trees, and most ferns don’t get that tall at full maturity.

Can you trim a fern?

Yes, you can trim a fern. In fact, it’s recommended that you trim away any brown or dead leaves or fronds and remember to trim your outdoor fern back during the autumn or by early winter to promote the healthy growth of new fronds when spring arrives.