Wild Boston ferns typically grow near swamps and in tropical forests, on hammocks and along roadsides. This plant, also known as a sword fern, became a popular indoor plant back in the Victoria era of the 19th century. Today the Boston fern continues to be one of the most popular house plants. They’re commonly grown in containers, hanging baskets or on bookcases and shelves. Besides beautifying a home, Boston ferns are beneficial in purifying the air and are grown to filter out unhealthy air pollutants, according to the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
The Boston fern (Nephrolepis exalta) is the most widely grown species of the Nephroplepis family, which consists of about 30 tropical varieties. It’s an herbaceous (nonwoody) evergreen plant that grows upright. The plant’s leaves are known as fronds and grow in clusters from the base. Its bright green fronds have an elliptical outline and are arranged alternately. Although the fronds are initially scaly, they become smoother as the plant develops. Leaves are shaped like sickles near the plant’s base.
Size and Geography
Boston ferns have fronds ranging in size from six inches to seven feet long. Typically, the ferns spread out to an average of two to three feet wide.
Boston ferns are native plants to Mexico, South America, Central America, Polynesia, the West Indies and Africa. In the United States they’re mostly found growing in humid swamps and forests in Florida and in other warm states, including Texas, Arizona, Louisiana and the Hawaiian islands.
There are more than 50 cultivars of the Boston fern. One of the most popular varieties is the Florida Ruffle, which is a medium-sized fern with stiff fronds. This species has a broad base that creates a thick canopy over its crown, which can cause maintenance problems for growers during production.
Fluffy Duffy is small plant with fronds that extensively overlap, giving the plant an unusual three-dimensional look.
Dallas is a fairly new cultivar that has fronds with broad short leaflets. Although its fronds are short, the plant’s crown spreads quickly, which makes it a popular choice for growers.
Like all ferns, Boston ferns do best in high quality bright light, but they should not be planted in full sun. Regular misting helps mimic the natural rainfall as found in a native forest environment. These plants need to be indoors during winter in a colder growing zone. According to About Ferns.com, to survive these plants need temperatures higher than 45 to 50 degrees F.
Frond graying, which is a gray covering on a fern, is one the main problems that develop in Boston ferns. The condition causes a reduction in runners, which are the fern’s long fuzzy shoots. The problem can be controlled by ensuring that a plant receives enough water and that the potting medium is always moist. Leaf tip and runner burn are also common problems. Symptoms include leaflets and frond tips that turn brown and then die. Using good quality irrigation water can help reduce the condition.