15 Different Types of Ferns (Indoor & Outdoor Varieties)

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Ever watched a dinosaur documentary? Remember those long-leaf plants in the background that look like palms but smaller and thinner?

Well, those are ferns.

Probably the OLDEST of all plants. And they’re STILL THRIVING all around the world.

So, it’s not a mistake to say ferns are among the easiest plants to grow. 

But more importantly, among the most versatile out there (they grow almost ANYWHERE).

There are THOUSANDS of different types of ferns, though. 

If you want to have the most success with the plant in your garden or home – then you better pick the ideal one.


What Is a Fern? (And Why You Need One!)

Let’s start with the obvious – WHAT IS A FERN? And how is it different from other ornamentals and perennials?

Well, first and foremost, it reproduces via spores.

Ferns DON’T produce any type of flower or seed. You can expect it to look green throughout the year with almost no color change (even with seasons). 

But there’s a catch…

You may also find ferns that DO BLOOM every year. These are “false ferns” because they look exactly like a fern but don’t even produce spores.


In short, you could say a fern is any plant that has long leaves spreading to the sides and lives in tropical regions. 

Exceptions apply, as some ferns are actually winter-friendly. But that could be a more accurate description to follow (you’ll see why later!). 

Why should you plant a fern at home?

There are many reasons for this. The most common is that ferns grow practically anywhere in a tropical environment. 

But there’s a lot more to ferns than that. 

Here are some benefits to consider:

  • They grow in a wide array of soils as long as they’re humid enough
  • Most will survive in either full sun or partial shade 
  • The almost-always green leaves make ANY PLACE look gorgeous 
  • Thrive in pots, gardens, between rocks, and baskets 
  • A typical fern can live anywhere from 10 to 100 years 
  • They need no dividing or manual propagation to survive


Ferns are a must-have for anyone who dreams of building a tropical garden (or anything close to that). 

Does that sound like you? Then you’ll love all the types of ferns we’re going over. But first…

How Many Types of Ferns are There?

This is an easy question: there are at least 20,000 fern species.

Yes, you read that right.

More than twenty thousand ferns that you could bring to your garden or enclosed patio.

And they all require pretty much the same things.

Now, are we going over all of them? Obviously, no.

We decided to only review the 15 fern species you’re likely to find more enticing (and easier to grow at home).

Check them up below. 

15 Best Fern Species to Plant in a Garden (or Pot)

1. Asparagus Fern (Asparagus aethiopicus)

Asparagus Fern

What does asparagus have to do with a fern?

The obvious answer: the shape.

Even though they look NOTHING like asparaguses, the cylindrical shape with needle-like spine leaves makes it similar from afar.

What sets it apart from other types of ferns is this fuzziness. They can grow to a few inches high (about 20 inches) and the same distance to the sides. But the leaves will still look almost hairy.

The color tends to be bright with a lime-green tone. Because of that, you can guess it is more of a partial-shade plant than a full-sun one. With too much sunlight, it may quickly burn and get dark.

You can hang these in baskets, plant them in pots, or keep them in the garden (as long as you live in a winter-free location). 

NOTE: Many people don’t consider it a fern – BUT IT IS! Don’t listen to those people. 

2. Australian Tree Fern (Alsophila australis)

Australian Tree Fern

The biggest of all ferns. 

Its name represents the plant well, given it is less a fern than a tree. But the leaves give it away – there’s no place to hide those!

You can expect an Australian Tree fern to grow over 30 feet in some cases (most stay within 5 and 15 feet). They look like palms from a distance and boast the LARGEST leaves of all ferns as well.

Even the trunk can reach 6 inches in total circumference. And in the right conditions (tons of moisture), it can cover an area of up to 20 feet in diameter. 

They are often soft green and thrive in humid areas. You can grow them in full sun or partial shade without a difference. And they 100% prefer garden soils with tons of space over any other planting area.  

3. Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus)

Bird’s Nest Fern

It’s an awkward name for a plant, but one that fits it perfectly.

As soon as you look at it, you’ll know why. 

It has thicker leaves than the typical fern, looking almost like banana leaves (for their dark-green tone). These leaves can grow as large as 60 inches and make the entire plant over 4 feet in diameter.

As for height, it’s not the tallest. A typical Bird’s Nest fern grows to about 3 feet at its max. 

The best part about it? It can grow practically ANYWHERE. This includes rocks, soil, and even trees. Even better, it thrives in partial shade with sufficient humidity. 

4. Blue Star Fern (Phlebodium aureum)

Blue Star Fern

One of the smallest ferns as well as one of the most unique looks. 

The Blue Star fern boasts blue-green leaves with a slightly pale tone. These leaves are different from other ferns, as they boast a main frond with petal-like leaves coming to the sides.

You can expect it to grow anywhere from 12 to 20 inches at MAX. This includes when you grow it indoors or outdoors. 

It is not much of a problem to grow as it thrives in either gardens or pots as necessary. Either way, you will need to keep its soil moist most of the time.

NOTE: There’s no need to keep the soil WET. You should strive to maintain it moist by watering once or twice a week at max. 

5. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)

Boston Fern

The Boston fern is so easy to grow and maintain that it’s one of the most sought-after species. And it doesn’t stay behind it looks either.

You can enjoy its dark-green leaves with a slightly oval shape on each frond. It’s also an evergreen that can grow surprisingly small, at around 35 inches tall in the right environment.

The plant requires a lot of moisture (misting is key to its survival) and little to no sunlight to keep its foliage dense and looking bright. Given these conditions, the plant thrives either indoors or outdoors.

You can consider it a pot plant as it is not too large and a perfect addition to any garden bed (under larger plants). 

6. Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum)

Cinnamon Fern

Another popular variety that’s also humidity-dependant.

The Cinnamon fern typically grows close to bodies of water, as it is a humidity lover that doesn’t survive any other way.

This plant can grow to over 5 feet tall and about 3 feet in diameter in the right environment. 

The leaves are green, often brighter than the typical fern. Under the sun, they look almost shiny, making this fern one of the most attractive of the species. 

For the curious: the name comes from the light-brown fronds that grow in the middle from time to time.

NOTE: This fern struggles both indoors and outdoors without enough humidity. It’s mostly recommended for places with nearby water gardens or Koi ponds. 

7. Cretan Brake Fern (Pteris cretica)

Cretan Brake Fern

Want an indoor fern that requires little care? You may find the Cretan Brake a perfect choice.

The reason being its tropical origin. While it demands some humidity, it doesn’t mind warm environments with shade. 

You may consider it a medium-sized fern, as it can grow to about 2.5 feet tall and no more than 2 feet in diameter.

As for the look, you can find it boasting large fronds with widely separated leaves. These smaller leaves are often thin and feature a light-green tone with a sword-like shape. 

8. Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)

Holly Fern

Few ferns can match the versatility of the Holly fern.

It is one of the most resilient of its type, thriving in almost any environment as long as there’s enough shade (it hates full-sun exposure). 

You can find it growing on rocks, soil, sand, and even trees themselves.

The leaves are glossy, sometimes growing to about 2 feet and getting as broad as 3 feet. 

NOTE: There are many Holly ferns: the Japanese, the East Indian, and the Hawaiian (see a common factor there?)

9. Hart’s Tongue Fern (Asplenium Scolipendrium)

Hart’s Tongue Fern

Another glossy-leaf fern, Hart’s Tongue is also one of the most exotic.

The leaves are light-green with a shiny appearance, often bright when the sun hits, making it impossible to ignore.

It is an excellent addition to any home as an indoor plant, yet it prefers being outdoors. In fact, this plant thrives in hardiness zones from 5 to 9 (meaning it can resist most winters without problems). 

You can grow it on gardens, pots, and different kinds of soils, including sandy and chalky. In the right place, it can grow to about 2 feet tall and 2 feet in diameter. 

10. Lady Fern (Athyrium niponicum)

Lady Fern

Many people think of the Lady fern when they think of a fern. 

The long fronds and thin small leaves, plus the light-green tone, make it so.

But there’s another reason: this is probably the most popular of all ferns. 

And it’s not a secret why. It is one of the easiest to grow and thrives either indoors or outdoors.

The plant can grow to about 3 feet. It grows well on different kinds of soil as long as it’s humid. And it can even withstand mild winters.

It prefers partial shade over full-sun exposure. Many people consider it a hanging-basket plant. 

NOTE: There are many varieties of Lady fern. Some of them boast grey tones, others are bluish, and so on. 

11. Lemon Button Fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia)

Lemon Button Fern

Among the rarest varieties, the Lemon Button stands out FOR SURE.

There are many reasons why. 

For one, it is native to Asian and Oceanic countries, so it’s scarce in other parts of the world.

Two, it grows ONLY in shady areas with tons of humidity. This includes tropical environments and indoors.

Three, it can grow on rock, on different types of soils, and on tree trunks.

Four, the plant rarely grows larger than 1 foot tall and about 10 inches in diameter. 

And five, it has uniquely shaped leaves that extend gracefully all around. 

Despite all of that, it’s still beautiful and makes any place A LOT MORE attractive. 

12. Maidenhair Fern (Genus Adiantum)

Maidenhair Fern

The Maidenhair fern is popular for its ability to grow almost anywhere, as well as its impossible-to-dismiss beauty.

It is one of the densest, mainly when several plants are grown close to each other, giving a pretty bush-like appearance.

What sets the Maidenhair apart, however, is the oval leaflets in the fronds. These tiny leaves boast a light-green color that shines under sunlight.

Most Maidenhair ferns grow to about 3 feet tall and about 4 feet in diameter. They only grow as long as the humidity is high and the sun exposure is low. 

For that reason, it is often considered a GREAT CHOICE for indoor areas. 

13. Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia Struthiopteris)

Ostrich Fern

Have a big garden? Don’t hesitate to plant an Ostrich fern… you won’t regret it.

The fronds are among the largest, forming a vase shape as the plant grows. And it can grow really high, up to 5 feet (sometimes a bit more).

Because the leaves can also grow long to the sides, you may find Ostrich ferns really broad, taking up to 6 feet in diameter. 

As for their growth, they’re not too picky. As long as the soil is moist most of the time and under consistent shade, it shouldn’t be a problem.

We don’t recommend it as an indoor plant because it can grow tall, but you may still find it suitable with a large enough pot. 

NOTE: Despite being a HUGE plant, the leaves are among the most fragile. Too much sunlight can literally burn them off. 

14. Rabbit’s Foot Fern (Davallia fenjeensis)

Rabbit’s Foot Fern

HUGELY POPULAR. The Rabbit’s Foot fern grows well indoors and outdoors alike, tends to be planted in hanging baskets, and has a bushy look.

The leaves are triangular with dense fronds. You can spot a light-green color and a slightly glossy appearance in most cases.

It is a popular variety given how easy it is to grow. However, you need to ensure proper humidity, and it will thrive. 

Most Rabbit’s Foot ferns grow to about 2 feet tall and can reach 5 feet wide.  

15. Staghorn Fern (Platycerium Alcicorne)

Staghorn Fern

The Staghorn fern is another versatile variety, as it is native to Asia, Australia, and Africa, making it a plant that grows practically anywhere.

You can find it growing on trees and rocks and many other areas it can hang from. 

You read that right. It is typically a hanging plant. Instead of growing on pots or directly on the soil, it prefers hanging from baskets and tree bark.

The leaves are unique too. They boast a horn-like shape and are often glossy and thick.

An old Staghorn fern can last several decades and easily outlive other ferns. For that, it will need consistent moisture and tons of humidity. 

NOTE: There are about 20 different varieties of the Staghorn fern, and all of them look unusual. Some of them have brown fronds. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are ferns poisonous to cats?

Yes, most of them are. 

How often to water ferns?

At least once a week in humid areas, and no less than once a day in dry ones.

Can ferns take full sun?

Most of them can’t take full sun. As a result, ferns are typically partial or full-shade plants. 

Can ferns grow inside?

Yes, some of them will grow indoors (either in a terrarium, grow tent, or even a living room). 

Can ferns be planted in the ground?

Some ferns are so versatile they can even grow on rock, stone, and other harsh surfaces. 


Learned a thing or two about the types of ferns?

With so many to choose from, you may have a hard time finding the IDEAL one.

To make it easier, consider your available space and the type of plant you want. There are enough ferns for every possible configuration.

Choose wisely, and you’ll have an easier time growing it. 

Regardless of what you pick, a fern will ALWAYS be a great idea. So don’t miss the chance!

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