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What Is a Lace Fern?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 20 April 2014
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Lace fern, also known as hay-scented fern, is a perennial native to Hawaii and Japan. It can live for more than five years and has delicate, arching fronds. It is a rather tall plant, reaching from 24 inches to 26 inches (60 cm to 99 cm) in height and up to 6 feet (1.8 m) in width. Its leaves are evergreen in color, and lace fern is most commonly grown for its foliage, because the plant does not flower. In the wild, it typically grows as a carpet in forests.

The fronds of lace fern are semi-triangular in shape and a rich green color. The roots of lace fern are fibrous, and the stem closest to the root is covered in small white hairs. The plant does not flower, and therefore produces no seeds, so it is cultivated by slicing the root ball into halves or thirds and replanting them. This fern also produces spores on the underside of its leaves that, once they fall, produce more lace ferns. While lace ferns can do wonderfully in a pot, they are best suited to being planted in the ground, both for space reasons and for warmth.

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Lace fern is a shade plant and frost tolerant down to 28 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 degrees Celsius). Considered a tropical plant, lace fern does best in high humidity, making it ideal for certain parts of the home and for greenhouses. The plant must be kept moist at all times and should be watered with warm water. Rich soil, such as African violet mix, is ideal for potting when used with small stones or pebbles placed in the bottom of the pot to increase drainage and humidity around the roots.

Known in Hawaii as Palapalai, lace fern is used there to decorate altars to the hula goddess Laka. Hawaiians believe lace fern to be one of the favorite plants of the goddess. It is also commonly used in the construction of leis, the flower necklaces worn by Hawaiian natives. It grows in abundance in the forests of Hawaii, meaning it can be found in a majority of leis and floral arrangement on the island.

This tropical plant, while relatively hardy and fast growing, does require extra care when taken out of its natural environment. Seasoned gardeners have been known to keep the lace fern alive and thriving in even the coldest areas, though it requires extra attention and work to do so. Despite this, plenty of homes and gardens outside of Japan and Hawaii have successfully made lace fern a part of their plant collection.

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