Ferns purify the air, retaining ancestral genes from when the earth’s atmosphere was more unfavourable than it is today. Although ferns get a bad reputation for being finicky, their evolutionary journey suggests that they are survivors, so long as their basic needs are met. Ferns are generally hassle-free and grow faster than any other tropical plant if they receive enough light. Ferns can completely regrow from the crown. The fast regeneration coupled with their air-purifying properties makes them one of our favourite plants.
Before ferns, there were only mosses, lichens, algae, and fungi and then around 360MYA, the landmasses of the earth collided, forming the supercontinent Pangaea. Ferns spread throughout Pangaea, covering it almost entirely and is the reason why ferns exist and have existed on all land masses. This spread led to the explosion in fern diversity at the beginning of the Carboniferous Period, rightly dubbed “The Age of Ferns”.
A large part of the planet at that time was warm and tropical and with ferns overtaking the entire landscape and other plants also thriving, the atmosphere changed and the oxygen in the air increased ~15% to ~35%. This caused a subsequent fall in the Carbon dioxide level, which was fixed by these plants and absorbed into the soil. This is when a majority of our fossil fuels were formed. That’s right, coal and oil come from dead plants - dead ferns and not dinosaurs.
Given their long ancestry, ferns have thousands of varieties. Their size varies from 2 to 3 mm to 10 to 25 metres tall. Ferns are essentially tropical plants and lovers of humidity and warmth, with little care a variety of them can be grown in indoor gardens. Some common but stunning fern varieties for your home are:
- Boston fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata) the most common house fern with vigorous growing pattern and arching fronds that can grow up to three feet long.
- Staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) has large leaves that resemble deer antlers.
- Rabbit’s foot fern (Davallia fejeensis) has furry rhizomes that grow at the base of the plant.
- Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum) has thick segmented fronds and is very hardy.
- Maidenhair fern (Adiantum tenerum; Adiantum capillusveneris) has cascading leaflets and grows well in low-lighting.
- Bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus ‘Avis’) has wide, flat uncut fronds and can grow up to four feet long.
- Cobra fern (Asplenium nidus 'Crispy Wave') a beautiful, trendy fern that looks sculpted, with shiny green, hard pleated leaves.
- Cotton candy fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) has cuddly feathers that grow about 15 to 20 cm long, but have a remarkably fine, lace-like appearance.
- Asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus) has feathery fronds and can grow up to four feet long and three feet wide.
Ferns are the oldest plant on the planet, they have been here before the dinosaurs and survived centuries of environmental catastrophes that have wiped out species. The winning quality that stands out in this is there survival spirit, they are survivors. This should give you the confidence to get one home and have the confidence that they will fill your home up with tropical greenery.
Ferns have few requirements and if they are met, your ferns will forever be happy. Its said that if maintained well, a fern can live for more than a century. Here are some of the care tips to grow ferns:
Pot in well-draining soil : Ferns are not finicky about the growing medium but keeping in mind the fact that they grow on forest floors on a layer of fallen leaves, tree bark, and decaying matter that does not hold any water. So, give the fern a loose well-draining growing media made of 1 part soil, 1 part coco peat, 1 part perlite/pumice, 1 part coarse gravel or tree bark.
Place in medium light : Since the ferns grow under canopies of trees, the best place for them is in an area with bright indirect light and no direct sunlight. Keep them out of direct light and a few feet away from south or west facing windows. Also, they prefer the same living temperatures that we do.
Keep the soil moist : While ferns don’t like constantly wet soil, never let the plant dry out. Ensure that the soil is moist at all times, like a wrung out sponge. Water thoroughly and avoid overwatering. Ferns also enjoy humidity, keep it out of hot drafts and mist frequently to avoid the browning of frond tips. IF you have a humidifier keep it nearby or place an open container with water to maintain a humid environment. Ferns make for great hanging plants in bathrooms with good light, owing to their high humidity environment.
Fertiliser: Fertilise your ferns from march to august with a generic plant fertiliser every 2-3 weeks. Take care to not over-fertilise and err on the side of caution to avoid fertiliser burn. Use the same fertiliser, diluted to its half strength, for misting every other week.
Problems : Fern is strong, but it can still run into some problems. There is nothing to worry though, they easily recover if the problems are tackled quickly. Stop fertilizing when your fern is in trouble, it will only stress out your already stressed out plant.
Brown leaves: too much direct sunlight or not watering enough. When the leaves getting crispy and brown are in the centre of your fern, it is usually because of overwatering.
Brown leaf tips: If only the tips of the leaves are brown, then it is usually because of very low humidity.
Dropping leaves: It’s normal for the fern to drop leaves occasionally. However, If more leaves are suddenly dropping, it usually indicates underwatering.
Yellow leaves: it is more often than not a case of overwatering. Nevertheless, it can also be from using hard cold water or the humidity is too low.
- Use a well-draining potting mix to avoid water logging and good root growth.
- Maintain high humidity and keep the soil moist at all times, but not soggy.
- Give it plenty of indirect light but no direct light. Early morning light works fine but not afternoon light.
- Mist regularly or use a humidifier to maintain humidity. You can also use a open container of water next to the plant.
- Cut away dead fronds to make space for new ones.