Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)

The Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’) was still a cute little thing when I got it from the nursery, but it’s since put forth an explosion of new growth. One of the most popular ferns to grow at home, the Bostern fern also doubles as an air purifier, removing the toxic chemicals formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene from the air. I’d actually placed this one in a room to do its magic, and, uh, it started browning, so either (1) there wasn’t enough light in the room, or (2) that room really needed to be aired out. Like a true wuss, I assumed the latter and hardly stepped in there. Little fern got moved outdoors onto the balcony, where it isn’t little any more. Boston fern fronds can reach almost a metre in length, so we’ll see where this goes (literally).

young boston fern

Back when it was young and indoorsy

One reason why Boston ferns are so popular is that they’re pretty easy to grow, even indoors. A member of the sword fern family, it’s commonly found in humid forests and swamps of northern South America, Mexico, Central America, Florida, the West Indies, Polynesia, and Africa. Thus, it needs high humidity, moist soil, and indirect light- preferably medium light levels, without which it might begin to wither. An idea soil composition would be 50% peat moss, 12% horticultural bark, and perulite. It can tolerate a wide range of temperatures, surviving well in areas with four seasons, dying back in the winter and re-emerging in the spring, and also in hot humid Singapore, where temperatures can reach 33 degrees (Celsius) in the daytime and 26 degrees (Celsius) at night. It doesn’t require much fertilization- ideally only twice a year. Yellow leaves indicate malnutrition, whilst browning leaves may indicate too much fertilizing.

Boston ferns can be pruned hard by cutting side fronds at the base. Re-potting is as simple as slicing the root ball and re-planting the pieces, although care should be taken to avoid too large a pot- this can cause root rot by holding more moisture than necessary. Another way of propagating the plant would be via stolons- thin, leafless, offshoots that will grow roots when in contact with soil. The problem with it being so easy to grow is that it’s become an invasive species in some parts of Africa, out-competing native ferns.

mature boston fern

Outgrown its pot. I should probably prune it

For those with cats and dogs exploring vegetarian nirvana, or perhaps just trying to ruin the houseplants, fret not: they’re not poisonous, and will probably just add some fibre to your pet’s diet. Strangely enough no one’s attempted to eat Boston ferns, but given that only fiddleheads (curled up fronds of certain types of ferns) are edible in the wild, I suppose that’s a no.

boston fern frond

Fondly fiddling with fronds

Although the fern sounds like a right joy to cultivate, it can be rather picky at times. Touching the fronds can cause browning, and it’s susceptible to a number of bugs, including whiteflies, mealybugs, thrips, and slugs. Otherwise, its lovely arching fronds make the Boston fern an incredibly pretty addition to the garden.



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