Fossil records have proven that ferns have been around since over 350 million years – which makes them way older than dinosaurs. This family of plants do not flower or produce seeds but reproduce through spores present in their leaves or fronds. The absence of showy blooms has actually boosted their popularity among gardeners for their refreshing dark green foliage. The fiddleheads or immature fronds just starting to unfold are an attractive feature of most species.

Types of Ferns

Many ferns are tropical evergreen plants, ensuring to keep your garden vigorous even in the winter months, depending on the climatic conditions in your area. They are deer resistant as well. Most garden ferns can be grown both indoor and outdoor when provided the right care. Still, there are certain varieties that do better as a houseplant than when grown in the yard, and vice versa.

Different Types of Indoor Ferns

1. Boston Fern (Sword Fern)

Boston Fern

Rather easy to take care of as long as you plant it in well-drained fertile soil, and keep it moist without turning soggy. Misting may be necessary to maintain moisture in winter.

Sunlight Requirement: Lots of indirect sunlight

Height/Width: 2-3 feet; 3 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 9-11

Ideal for: Dark green feathery arching fronds make it suitable for hanging planters, and balconies.

2. Holly Fern

Holly Ferns

A common name for multiple types having a similar appearance and growing conditions, including the Japanese and northern holly ferns. Incredibly tolerant to drought, heat, and water, it has characteristic dark green shiny fronds with prickly edges that resemble that of holly plants.

Sunlight Requirement: Partial to full shade

Height/Width: 1-2 feet; up to 3 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 6-11

Ideal for: Decks and porches

3. Maidenhair Fern

Maidenhair Fern

A high-maintenance variety requiring moist conditions at all times, though its fronds cannot tolerate misting. Additionally, it needs soil rich in organic matter. Often grows well in moist areas in the house like in the corner of a bathroom.

Sunlight Requirement: Lots of indirect sunlight

Height/Width: 1 foot; 1-2 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8

Ideal for: The lacy effect created by the flowing fronds of soft little leaves on dark stems makes it one of the best options for hanging planters

4. Staghorn Fern

Staghorn Fern

As the name suggests, the fronds of this variety resemble the antlers of a stag. Reasonably easy to take care of as long as you make sure not to overwater, as it is susceptible to root rot. Ideally grown in humus-rich coarse soils with excellent drainage. It needs to be mounted.

Sunlight Requirement: Bright indirect sunlight

Height/Width: up to 3 feet; around 2 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-12

Ideal for: Many people use a board to mount the plant on the wall in similar way antlers are displayed

5. Cretan Brake Fern

Cretan Brake Fern

Easier to take care of indoor than some other varieties, this clump-forming fern has dark green-white long, curved fronds. Needs plenty of humidity and regular pruning of dead and discolored fronds to survive and grow.

Sunlight Requirement: Bright indirect sunlight

Height/Width: 0.5-2 feet; around 1 foot

USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-10

Ideal for: Excellent choice for any brightly lit room, or even the porch (as long as it gets enough humidity)

6. Blue Star Fern

Blue Star Fern

Quite tolerant of low light conditions and slight overwatering, making it a good choice for beginners. Still not recommended to keep it in standing water. The large blue-green fronds are tough enough to hold their shape and divide into multiple fingers to form a star-like shape.

Sunlight Requirement: Indirect sunlight to full shade

Height/Width: Up to 2 feet; 1-1.5 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 9-12

Ideal for: Low light areas of the house, as well as the bathroom

7. Bird’s Nest Fern

Birds Nest Fern

Once established, it is less fussy about moisture than other varieties and can tolerate dry soil for a while if you skip a watering session. Also known as crispy wave fern, plants that receive more light produce crinkled fronds resembling seaweed, while those growing in full shade have flat fronds more like proper leaves. When growing in a container, it needs to be mounted, like the staghorn.

Sunlight Requirement: Indirect sunlight

 Height/Width: 2-3 feet; 1-2 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 9-11

Ideal for: Hanging planters, balcony gardens

8. Button Fern

Button Fern

 

The name comes from the leathery compact round leaves that look like buttons, attached to a long curvy stem that turns dark red as the plant matures. With a slow growth rate, it can be slightly fussy but does well in a pot as long as the soil is well-drained, yet moist all the time. Does not tolerate hot, dry conditions.

Sunlight Requirement: Lots of indirect of filtered sun

Height/Width: 1-1.5 feet; up to a foot

USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-10

Ideal for: Hanging planters; lace-like appearance creates a nice contrast with other ferns

9. Lemon Button Fern

Lemon Button Fern

Sometimes called the fishbone fern, this variety has a compact neat look with long feathery fronds having roundish leaflets. It grows well in moist acidic soil and can even survive in a seaside climate and salty soil. Sometimes confused with button fern, though this one lacks the reddish color of stems.

Sunlight Requirement: Ample indirect sun

Height/Width: 1-1.5 feet; about 1 foot

USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-11

Ideal for: Hanging planters, ornamental houseplant

10. Kangaroo Paw Fern

Kangaroo Paw Fern

Another species with similar furry running rhizomes, it is characterized by 6-7 inches long crinkled or smooth dark green glossy fronds. The plant can tolerate some sunlight and frost. It has a low-growing spreading habit, so some care is needed to keep its growth in check in a pot.

Sunlight Requirement: Indirect sun/partial shade

Height/Width: 1-1.5 feet; up to 3 feet (or wider if growing outdoor)

USDA Hardiness Zone: 9-11

Ideal for: Hanging planters; good for groundcover when growing outdoors

11. Rabbit’s Foot Fern

Rabbit Foot Fern

Native to Fiji, mature rabbit’s foot fern grows creeping furry rhizomes that run above the soil surface, thus giving rise to the name. Never try to cover these growths with soil as that will lead to root rot. It can tolerate occasional drying of the soil, but try to keep it constantly moist.

Sunlight Requirement: Bright indirect sun

Height/Width: 1-3 feet; up to 2 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 10-12

Ideal for: Porches, decks, anywhere where the furry rhizomes will be visible

12. Crocodile Fern

Crocodile Fern

Named for the distinct pattern on its leathery crinkled fronds that resembles a crocodile’s skin, this rare fern is one of the most recognizable types. Being quite delicate, it cannot tolerate even the lightest frost, making it suitable only for growing as an indoor plant in most places. The fronds grow in a nice rosette form.

Sunlight Requirement: Filtered sun or full shade

Height/Width: Up to 4 feet; 3-4 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 9-10 (can be grown indoors in other zones)

Ideal for: Large planters, hanging baskets

13. Kimberly Queen Fern

Kimberly Queen Fern

Relatively easy to take care of, though does not tolerate winter frost. Sometimes referred to as sword fern due to its thin, long fronds. Foliage may begin to dry and become brownish unless the climate is kept nice and humid. They look nice when combined with potted flowers like begonia and New Guinea impatiens.

Sunlight Requirement: Full shade

Height/Width: Up to 3 feet; 2-3 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 9-11

Ideal for: Large planters and hanging baskets

14. Tiger Fern

Tiger Fern

A rather new cultivar of Boston fern, the green-yellow variegation of its fronds is a particularly eye-catching feature. The cascading fronds with long leaflets make it look stunning when grown in a container. Relatively tolerant to heat in colder regions.

Sunlight Requirement: Full or partial shade

Height/Width: 1-2 feet; 1-1.5 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 9-11

Ideal for: Hanging baskets and planters

Types of Outdoor Ferns

1. Ostrich Fern

Ostrich Fern

Often considered the most majestic of all outdoor ferns, this variety gets its name from the long feather-like appearance of its fronds that resemble an ostrich’s tail feathers. It needs regular watering to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Watering less frequently can help in controlling its growth rate.

Sunlight Requirement: Partial to full shade

Height/Width: 4-6 feet/up to 5 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-7

Ideal for: Tall hedges, borders, groundcovers and planting with flowers like rose

2. Australian Tree Fern

Australian Tree Fern

As suggested by the name, it is one of the large tree fern varieties. It resembles a palm tree with its long lacy fronds that alone can grow up to 15 feet. Not tolerant to drought at all, the Australian tree fern needs weekly watering to keep the soil moist at all time. Has a slow growth rate.

Sunlight Requirement: Indirect sunlight in partial to full shade

Height/Width: Up to 30-40 feet; 3-10 (tree crown)

USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-11

Ideal for: Shaded gardens, borders in large gardens, outdoor container planting

3. Cinnamon Fern

Cinnamon Fern

It grows two distinct types of fronds – large, showy, sterile dark green fronds surrounding the plume-like fertile ones at the center, resembling cinnamons. Commonly growing in swampy areas, it can survive in various soil types including lime soil, and tolerate some direct sunlight, though then it cannot attain its maximum height.

Sunlight Requirement: Partial to full shade (can thrive in full sun if stays in standing water all day)

 Height/Width: 2-5 feet; 2-3 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-10

Ideal for: Groundcover (especially for any swampy areas), borders, a backdrop for flowering plants, around pools and water gardens

4. Japanese Painted Fern

Japanese Painted Fern

Its silvery blue-green fronds and dark reddish purple stems result in a unique appearance. It’s a deciduous fern, needing compost-rich well-drained soil with regular watering. Quite cold-hardy, it can tolerate temperatures down to -30°F.

Sunlight Requirement: Partial sun to full shade

Height/Width: 1-2 feet; up to 2 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9

Ideal for: Ground cover, hedges, and mass planting for summer gardens as it sheds its leaves in winter

5. Western Sword Fern

Western Sword Fern

A classic variety with the typical appearance of fern, characterized by glossy dark green toothed fronds growing in bunches. Requires consistently moist soil, but does not tolerate overwatering.

Sunlight Requirement: Partial sun to full shade

Height/Width: 2-4 feet; 2-3 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9

Ideal for: Groundcover, hedges, poolside planting, container planting

6. Hart’s Tongue Fern

Hart’s Tongue Fern

With its long dark green fronds that look more like leaves, this one has a unique appearance. Mature leaves have long dark brown marks – the sori containing the spores. Evergreen plants remain green and lush throughout the year.

Sunlight Requirement: Ample filtered sun

Height/Width: 1-2 feet; up to 2 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9

Ideal for: Edging, groundcovers, underplanting for flowers like roses, as well as shrubs

7. Mother Fern

Mother Fern

Produces delicate arching fronds that hang gracefully, resembling carrot greens. Tiny plantlets grow from the frond-edges of mature plants, earning its name. Evergreen in warmer climates with consistently moist soil. Can tolerate cold, but only for a short period. Can be grown as a houseplant in colder regions.

Sunlight Requirement: Partial to full shade

 Height/Width: 1-3 feet; up t 3 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 9-11 (for growing outdoor)

Ideal for: groundcover in shaded areas in your garden

8. Christmas Fern

Christmas Fern

An evergreen fern that holds its fountain-like vibrant green foliage in the winter, though they may lie somewhat flat to the ground when it’s too cold. Prefers well-drained moist soil, but can survive in dry conditions, though might not grow as well. It can also tolerate some direct sunlight when the soil is kept wet.

Sunlight Requirement: Partial to full shade

 Height/Width: 1-2 feet; 2-3 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Ideal for: Mass planting, ground cover in shade gardens, short hedges

9. Royal Fern

Royal Fern

Also known as the flowering fern, the fronds appear pinkish when they appear in spring, later turning bright green. Produces copper or brown fertile flower spikes. Automatically adds a natural wild charm to any shaded soggy area in your garden. Can take full sun when gets lots of moisture every day.

Sunlight Requirement: Partial shade (early morning and evening sun)

Height/Width: 2-5 feet; up to 3 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Ideal for: Planting medium for orchids and other similar flowers, groundcover, garden borders

10. Chain Fern

Chain Fern

A tall, wide variety with a unique appearance where the veins of the fronds create a feathery net-like pattern. The plant has a compact form, with rosettes of glossy dark green fronds, not growing out of control easily. If they get enough water, established plants can survive in full sun.

Sunlight Requirement: Partial shade

Height/Width: 4-5 feet; up to 5 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-10

Ideal for: Tall borders, hedges in areas where you can have some privacy

11. Leatherleaf Fern

Leatherleaf Fern

Evergreen plants growing dark green glossy leathery fronds. Plants need constantly moist yet well-drained soil to thrive, but can survive in less than perfect conditions, maintaining its green and vigorous foliage for a considerable time.

Sunlight Requirement: Indirect sun or full shade

Height/Width: 2-3 feet; up to 3 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-11

Ideal for: Groundcover, underplanting for flowers and ornamental bushes, outdoor large hanging planters

12. Japanese Tassel Fern

Japanese Tassel Fern

Another evergreen variety with graceful, arching fronds that alone grow over a foot in length. Immature fronds bend backward and hang like tassels before straightening themselves gradually. It has a slow growth rate, being short yet robust when mature.

Sunlight Requirement: Full shade or filtered sun

Height/Width: About 2 feet; 2-3 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9

Ideal for: Evergreen hedges, borders, shade gardens, underplanting for ornamental trees like Japanese weeping maple

13. Autumn Fern

Autumn Fern

Derives its name from the golden or copper red papery appearance of its young fronds that appear in spring, gradually turning dark green as they mature by summer. Has inspired a number of cultivars and varieties, with ‘brilliance’ being a popular one. Evergreen in frost-free regions, but can grow as deciduous in colder areas.

Sunlight Requirement: Full shade

Height/Width: 2-3 feet; up to 2 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9

Ideal for: Borders, hedges, mass planting

14. Lady in Red Fern

Lady in Red Fern

A soft-textured type with lacy bright green foliage extending from red or purple stems. Though a perennial, it is hardier to draught and sunlight than other similar ferns. Relatively low-maintenance, and has a slow growth rate.

Sunlight Requirement: Full to partial shade

Height/Width: 2-3 feet; 3-4 feet

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8

Ideal for: Companion planting along with flowers like plantain lilies, foamflowers, and coral bells

Aquarium Fern Types

1. Java Fern

Java Fern

Not exactly a houseplant as it is popular as an aquarium plant, there are various leaf shapes available, like ‘lance’, ‘needle’, and ‘trident’. Can grow half or fully submerged in water, and has a slow growth rate. The long curvy ‘leaves’ look nice when floating in tank water. Does well with occasional indirect sunlight.

Height/Width: 1-1.5 feet; up to 1 foot

Ideal for: Aquarium planting as background

2. African Water Fern

African Water Fern

A delicate fern with attractive dark green fronds that work well for soft water aquariums, the African water fern is also easy to take care of once established. Though slow-growing, it does get quite tall and works well as a bottom plant.

Height/Width: 1-1.5 feet; 0.5-1 feet

Ideal for: Aquarium planting as background or foreground

The fiddleheads of certain ferns, including the western sword, ostrich, and royal are edible, commonly eaten as a vegetable. Though do not consider using all fern types for edible purposes as some have carcinogenic or cancer-causing effects.

Other Fern Varieties Less Commonly Grown in Gardens

There are hundreds of other fern varieties that are not commonly grown in gardens but can be found in wild habitats like riversides and mountains. Here are some notable wild ferns:

  1. Water clover fern
  2. Ancient fern
  3. Wire fern
  4. Licorice fern
  5. Eagle fern
  6. West Indian tree-fern
  7. Silver fern
  8. Chinese ladder brake
  9. Giant fern
  10. Wood fern
  11. Hawaiian tree fern
  12. Tasmanian tree fern
  13. Whisk fern
  14. Japanese climbing fern
  15. Eastern hay-scented fern
  16. Rattlesnake fern
  17. Southern shield fern
  18. Adder’s tongue fern

Things to Consider Before Deciding to Grow Ferns Indoors or in Containers

As they are quite hardy in shaded conditions, growing ferns outdoor is not that much of a challenge. But there are a few things to know before getting one for a houseplant:

  • Being a native of the tropical regions, ferns cannot thrive unless provided with constant moisture. So, it is recommended to install a humidifier in your home if ferns are growing there.
  • Repotting every 1-2 years is also essential for keeping them healthy and green. Spring is the best time to repot as it is the active growing season for the plant.
  • Make sure you have enough space in your house to bring in any potted ferns kept outdoors so they don’t get exposed to frost.
  • Whether growing indoor or outdoor, make sure to have some spot where your ferns can have ample indirect sunlight, as both too much and too little sun makes their leaves turn yellowish and pale.

Now, if you are new at growing and keeping ferns, you can check out our article about how to take care of ferns for a basic idea.