Wild Boston fern has erect fronds up to 3' long and 6" wide in
tufted clusters arising from underground stems called rhizomes. The
individual pinnae (leaflets) are as much as 3" long and shallowly
toothed, but not further divided. The round sori (clusters of
spore-bearing organs) are in two rows near the margins on the
underside of the pinnae.
There are dozens of cultivars of this species. Some of the more
popular selections include 'Rooseveltii plumosa' and 'Fluffy
ruffles' which have pinnae that are deeply incised and feathery on
the tips. 'Bostoniensis' (Boston fern) has broader fronds that arch
gracefully downward and probably is the most tolerant of indoor
conditions. There is also 'Golden Boston' which has yellow fronds, 'Hillii'
which has doubly pinnate fronds, 'Childsii' which has broad 3 or 4
pinnate, overlapping fronds and 'Verona' has very drooping, 3 or 4
Boston fern is a common native fern in humid forests and swamps in
Florida, and occurs also as a native in South America, Mexico and
Central America, the West Indies, Polynesia and Africa - a testament
to the ability of wind to disperse tiny spores! Boston fern often
grows on the trunks of cabbage palms. Some of the selected cultivars
have escaped and established in Florida.
Light:Partial shade to shady outdoors and bright, filtered light
Moisture: Boston fern likes a moist but not soggy, soil, rich in
organic matter. This is the most drought tolerant of the commonly
cultivated ferns, but it thrives only under conditions of high
humidity. In containers, put a couple inches of pebbles beneath the
potting medium and keep them (but not the potting medium itself) wet
to increase humidity. Mist Boston fern every day or so if the
relative humidity is below about 80%.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. Boston fern is killed to the ground by
frost but will re-emerge in spring.
Propagation: By division of rooted runners. The various cultivars
will not come true from spores.
Outdoors, Boston fern is usually grown in moist, shady sites
beneath ornamental trees or shrubs, or as a ground cover. It makes a
good ground cover for the north side of the house or under shade
trees where little else will grow. Under favorable conditions,
Boston fern will spread by underground runners. Indoors, the species
and its many cultivars are often grown in hanging baskets or on
pedestals. They are especially suitable for the bathroom or kitchen
where they will appreciate the high humidity.
Boston fern and its cultivars are the toughest and most widely used
of all ferns. They were the typical "parlor ferns" before the advent
of central heat and air. Even today they can survive for a year or
two in centrally heated homes, and still look pretty good.
Some authorities place Nephrolepis in the family Davalliaceae (Davallia
family), others in the Polypodiaceae (polypody family), and still
others in the Oleandraceae (ladder fern family).