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20 Best Types of Ferns to Beautify Your Garden

Gardens are often pictured as spacious open spaces where there is ample sunlight. We always succeed in picking the most beautiful plants for these spaces. But there are shady spots in a garden that we often avoid because we don’t know what to do with them. But what if I told you that certain plants thrive in these moist, shady conditions where no other plant can survive? 

Ferns are just the plants you need! So, what are Ferns?

Ferns or Polypodiophytes, are a group of plants that do not have a flower or seed and reproduce with the help of spores. They do not have well-defined leaves and instead have complex leaves called megaphylls. The Ferns produce coiled fiddleheads that uncoil and expand into fronds. So, technically leaves that you see on ferns are originally fronds. 

Ferns can grow well in moist, shady, and damp places making them the perfect choice for the shady places in your garden. But there are over 10,500 types of ferns discovered so far. How will you select the most suitable one? Here is a list of the top 20 different types of ferns in to choose from.  

Scientific NameHemionitis rotundifolia
Synonyms Round-leafed fern, Cliff brake
Soil typeMoist, well-drained soil
Sun exposurePartial sunlight

The button fern is a plant endemic to New Zealand and is found in the forests. They are small, evergreen, and compact ferns having more than 30 pairs of round, dark-green, leathery leaf-like structures (pinnae) on fronds. Although the plant is a fern, it does not grow well in the moist, humid conditions that most ferns thrive in. 

Button Fern and Boston Fern | Types of Ferns
Button Fern and Boston Fern
Scientific NameNephrolepis exaltata
Synonyms Sword fern, Boston Bluebell fern, Tuber ladder fern, or Fishbone fern
Soil typeDamp but not soggy soil
Sun exposureFull to Partial sunlight

The Boston fern is an evergreen plant that is native to the Americas and grows to a height of 40-90 cm. The fronds attain a length of 50-250 cm and the leaflets (pinnae) are arranged alternatively on the midrib of the fronds. The fronds are erect in N. exaltata  species. The “leaflets” are deltoid with slightly serrated edges. The Boston fern is a hardy plant that can survive even in frost conditions by going dormant during the period.

Scientific NamePteris cretica
Synonyms Cretan brake, Ribbon fern
Soil typeMoist, loose, richly organic soil
Sun exposureFull to Partial sunlight

The elegant silver and green variegations on the Fronds are the defining features of the Cretan brake or Ribbon fern. They have a silver-to-white stripe running down the center of the light green leaves. The Ribbon fern has arching fronds with more than 5 pinnae on each frond arranged opposite each other.  They can thrive well in temperatures above 2℃ but require protection from frost. They are best to be grown indoors in pots in areas where partial sunlight is present.

Cretan Brake Fern and Maidenhair Fern | Types of Ferns
Cretan Brake Fern and Maidenhair Fern
Scientific NameAdiantum raddianum
Synonyms Delta maidenhair 
Soil typeWell-drained soil
Sun exposureBright indirect sunlight

Adiantum comes from the Greek word ‘adiantos’ meaning ‘unwetted’ which refers to the shiny leaves which do not absorb water. The Maidenhair fern has shiny, dark leafstalks resembling Human hair, where the name ‘Maidenhair’ fern originated. They grow in the hardest places like rock crevices, coastal cliffs, river banks, coastal cliffs, forest floors, basalt banks, and along trails. The Maidenhair ferns require high humidity, well-drained soil, bright indirect sunlight, and a constant temperature for good growth. 

Scientific NamePhlebodium aureum
Synonyms Golden serpent fern, cabbage palm fern, golden foot fern, hare foot fern
Soil typeMoisture-retentive, well-drained soil
Sun exposureLow to moderate sunlight

The blue star fern has silvery blue-green finger-shaped leaves that make it attractive and a must-have fern in your indoor or outdoor garden. It is an epiphytic, rhizomatous fern and the rhizome is covered in golden-brown scales. They have long, deeply lobed fronds with 20-35 leaflets (pinnae). In areas with year-round rainfall, the blue star fern is an evergreen plant but in areas with dry seasons, they are semi-evergreen. So, irrigation should be properly done to ensure that the plant stays evergreen year-round in your garden.

Blue Star Fern and Ostrich Fern | Types of Fern
Blue Star Fern and Ostrich Fern
Scientific NameMatteuccia struthiopteris
Synonyms Fiddlehead fern, Shuttlecock fern
Soil typeMoist organically rich soil
Sun exposurePartial to full shade

Ostrich fern is an elegant plant that is revered for its splendid upright fronds. The fronds are long, branched, and arching and resemble the Ostrich feathers. The fronds originate at the base of the fern clump during the spring and later unfold to become visually striking structures. Ostrich ferns are deciduous plants and they shed their fronds during dry periods. Choosing a place for the ostrich fern is very important as the fern is very expansive and can cover large areas. The Ostrich fern sprouts are a delicacy in Japan and are extensively cultivated.

Scientific NameOsmundastrum cinnamomeum
Synonyms Osmunda fern
Soil typeSoggy moist soil
Sun exposureDeep to filtered sunlight

Number 7 on the types of fern plants is the Cinnamon fern. The fronds define the beauty of a fern. Cinnamon ferns are lucky in this aspect. The cinnamon fern has two types of fronds, a fertile frond and a sterile frond. The fertile fronds are short, erect, and spore-bearing and becoming cinnamon-colored. The sterile fronds are tall and spreading with broad, deeply lobed pinnae. Deep shade would also enhance their growth.

Cinnamon Fern and Japanese Painted Fern | Types of Fern
Cinnamon Fern and Japanese Painted Fern
Scientific NameAthyrium niponicum
Synonyms Silver fall, Japanese fern
Soil typeMoist, well-drained soil
Sun exposureDeep to partial shade

The Japanese Painted fern owns an unmatched elegance that stands out from the rest of the fern world. Unlike the greenish ferns, the Japanese ferns are more vibrant with silver-colored triangular fronds mixed with greyish-green and a purplish midrib. The fronds are variegated and arching. Other than that they are very hardy and can survive in extreme conditions like acidic soils and deep shade.

Scientific NameAsplenium nidus
Synonyms Spleenworts 
Soil typeMoisture-retentive, loamy, well-drained soil
Sun exposureLow to moderate sunlight

The Bird’s Nest fern is found in China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. They have bright green fronds that are arching and have pointed ends and a strong midrib. The fern can grow up to 60-90 cm in length. The fronds are extremely smooth. Spleenworts are an excellent choice for bathroom decorations as they can thrive in warm, and humid environments. It is preferable to plant the fern in a peat-based potting mixture for prolific growth.

Bird's Nest Fern and Staghorn Fern | Types of Fern plants
Bird’s Nest Fern and Staghorn Fern
Scientific NamePlatycerium bifurcatum
Synonyms Staghorn fern, Elkhorn fern
Soil typeMoist but well-drained sandy soil
Sun exposurePartial sunlight to partial shade

The staghorn fern is noted for its striking appearance and is an easy choice for your garden. However, the fertile fronds are round and flat, and anchor the plant to its position. Staghorn ferns are grown in hanging pots or mounted on walls. The staghorn ferns can grow tall to 60-90 cm in length. 

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Scientific NameDicksonia antartica
Synonyms Soft tree fern, Man fern
Soil typeMoist organic soil
Sun exposurePartial shade

Man fern is an evergreen tree fern that originated in Australia. They have an erect rhizome forming a trunk and grow to 15 m in length. The large spreading canopy of 2-6 m diameter is their most elegant feature.  The canopy is formed of large, dark green, strikingly textured fronds. The fertile and sterile fronds are arranged in alternative layers. Man ferns are extremely adaptive and grow well in acid, alkaline, and neutral soils.

Man Fern and Asparagus Fern | Types of Fern plants
Man Fern and Asparagus Fern
Scientific NameAsparagus aethiopicus, A. densiflorus 
Synonyms Common asparagus fern, Asparagus grass, lace fern, climbing asparagus, ferny asparagus
Soil typeWell-drained organic-rich potting mixture
Sun exposurePartial sunlight outdoors and bright indirect light outdoors

Asparagus fern comes in at number 12 in the list of ferns. The asparagus fern is not a true fern but is acknowledged as one because of its fern-like leaves. If unattended, these ferns spread rapidly in the garden like an invasive weed and will be difficult to control. There are sharp thorns on the stem so it’s advised to exercise caution while handling them. 

Scientific NameNephrolepsis biserrata
Synonyms Giant sword fern
Soil typeMoist but well-drained soil
Sun exposurePartial sunlight to full shade 

Macho ferns are the largest of all sword ferns. Due to their large size, the macho ferns are used for outdoor gardens however, they are apt for large spacious rooms indoors. The macho ferns thrive in shady, humid environments like swamps. 

Macho Fern and Autumn Fern | Different Types of Ferns
Macho Fern and Autumn Fern
Scientific NameDryopteris erythrosora
Synonyms Autumn fern, Japanese shield fern
Soil typeMoist, well-drained, humus-rich soil
Sun exposureShade-loving

The autumn fern or the Japanese shield fern is a semi-evergreen fern that grows in light woodland shade on low mountains or hills in East Asia. they have 30-70 cm long bipinnate fronds with broad pairs of pinnae. Their most attractive feature is the coppery tint on the young fronds that transition to dark green on maturation. They thrive on moist, humus-rich, neutral soil with a pH range of 6.1 to 7.5. They are suitable for small spaces due to their slow growth rate and small spread area.

Scientific NameNephrolepis cardifolia ‘Duffi’
Synonyms Button sword fern, erect sword fern, little leaved sword fern, and fishbone fern
Soil typeMoist, loamy but well-drained soil
Sun exposurePartial to full shade

The Lemon Butter fern is called so because of the lemony scent it produces when crushed. They are a dwarf version of the common Button fern. The pleasant lemony aroma given off by the leaves is another good reason why they are the perfect indoor plants. When growing indoors, indirect bright light is suitable along with consistent irrigation.

Lemon Butter Fern and Christmas Fern | Types of Ferns
Lemon Butter Fern and Christmas Fern
Scientific NamePolystichum acrostichoides
Synonyms Christmas fern
Soil typeMoist well-drained soil
Sun exposurePartial to full shade

Christmas ferns are found growing in woodlands, streambanks, and rocky slopes and are one of the most common ferns in eastern North America. The fronds are evergreen even during the winter seasons, hence the name. The fronds arise from a central growth point. The developing fronds are coiled, scaly, greyish, and prominent and are called crosiers. The Christmas ferns are planted in clusters on slopes to control soil erosion.

Scientific NameAthyrium filix-femina
Synonyms Common lady fern, Female fern
Soil typeMoist, sandy, nutrient-rich, well-drained soil
Sun exposureShade to partial sun

Lady ferns are large, deciduous ferns that are native to temperate Asia, Europe, North Africa, Canada, and the US. Their fronds are feathery and their reproductive structures are concealed in an inconspicuous – deemed “female” way hence the name Lady fern or Female fern. The deciduous fronds are broad and light yellow-green colored. The reproductive structures or sori are found on the underside of the fronds. The fronds are green during the summer and turn golden-yellow after the winter.

Lady Fern and Dixie Wood Fern | Types of Fern plants
Lady Fern and Dixie Wood Fern
Scientific NameDavallia spp.
Synonyms Rabbit’s foot fern, Rabbit’s foot, Hare’s foot, Squirrel’s foot, Deer’s foot fern
Soil typeMoist, loamy but well-drained soil
Sun exposurePartial sunlight

Rabbit’s foot fern is a perennial fern that arises from creeping scaly rhizomes that consist of fine, fur-like mats of hairs on their surface. These furry, brown, and yellow rhizomes look like a rabbit’s foot. They thrive in cool temperatures in the range of 15 – 24℃ and cannot survive below 13℃. Humid conditions are good for the growth of the fern and is recommended to mist the ferns in the absence of humid conditions.

Scientific NameNephrolepis obliterata
Synonyms Australian sword fern, Kimberley queen fern
Soil typeMoist, well-drained soil
Sun exposureLittle or no sunlight

 The fern thrives in the temperature range of 16℃ to 24℃ and prefers bright indirect sunlight. They are sensitive to watering, so ensure that the soil is well drained between waterings. 

Australian Sword Fern and Western Sword Fern  | Types of Fern
Australian Sword Fern and Western Sword Fern
Scientific NamePolystichum munitum
Synonyms Western sword fern
Soil typeWell-drained, humus-rich, acidic soil
Sun exposurePartial to complete shade

The Western Sword fern can be found growing in the understory of moist coniferous woodlands at low altitudes. The fronds have numerous leaflets alternating on the stalk with serrated edges. the fronds spread horizontally when grown in shade and spread vertically with increased exposure to sunlight. The young plants have pale green leaves with short pinnae. It prefers cool weather but is hardy enough to survive droughts.

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Today we have gone through a list of 20 best types of fern plants that can make your gardens more attractive. Apart from their elegance what makes ferns the best choice in a garden is their easy maintenance. Ferns require very little caring and can grow in shady corners of the garden. You don’t need to think more, just select a beautiful fern from this list and go plant it in your garden.

Shuhaib Sherief
Shuhaib Sherief

Hi! I am SHUHAIB, an Agriculture graduate . I am deeply honored to contribute my knowledge and skills to the betterment of the Agriculture sector. Passionate in disseminating information on Agriculture in the form of creative blog articles on the internet.

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