What is Nephrolepis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Nephrolepis is a small genus of ferns found growing as natives in tropical to subtropical parts of the Americas. In their native range, they grow as perennials and can become quite large. Outside their native range, several species are cultivated in gardens as decorative annuals and they are also cultivated as houseplants. These ferns make popular houseplants because they are somewhat more durable than other fern species, and are better-suited to the indoor environment as a result.

An individual Nephrolepis fern can grow quite large, producing upright or trailing fronds, depending on the species. The fronds include numerous tiny slightly toothed leaflets, with spores arrayed on their undersides. This fern genus prefers the shaded environment found under trees and shrubs, and the ferns do not do well in bright, sunny conditions. They also prefer warm, humid environments similar to those found in tropical regions.

In the garden, people use Nephrolepis species as groundcovers, typically in shady areas such as along a side of the house that does not get sun exposure, or under large trees in the garden. These ferns will propagate with runners and can spread across an area to become quite dense. Unlike many plants that produce runners, they are also relatively easy to control if they become undesirable or gardeners want to limit their growing range.


In the house, Nephrolepis species can make excellent houseplants. They should be grown in an area of the house with filtered light, and should be kept away from fans and vents, as they dislike strong breezes. If the house is not very humid, spraying around the fern can help keep the plant healthy. It is advisable to taper off water in the winter, when the fern is not actively growing, but not to allow the fern to dry out. Trimming away dead foliage and periodically rotating the plant for even growth is recommended.

One popular Nephrolepis cultivar for the house is the Boston fern. Many nurseries carry this plant. It is also possible to propagate from divisions. People with mature plants periodically need to divide and repot their plants as they grow to keep them healthy, and may have divisions available or be able to set some aside the next time they repot. Propagation of ferns from spores is also possible, but rather challenging for people who are not familiar with the process of preparing soil for spores and creating optimal environmental conditions for sprouting them.


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