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Epiphytic ferns

Botanical name: Asplenium, Davallia, Polypodium, Nephrolepsis and others

Common name: bird’s nest fern, hare’s foot fern

These ferns come from tropical forests, where they cling to tree branches rather than growing in the ground. With their rosettes of lush fronds, they make attractive houseplants, enjoying high humidity and indirect light.


There are several different types popularly grown as houseplants, varying in appearance. The bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus) has long, glossy, unfurling fronds that form a shuttlecock shape. Hare’s foot ferns (such as Phlebodium aureum and Davallia canariensis) have thick furry roots that emerge from the pot and slender-stemmed fronds that are either narrow and glaucous or delicate, feathery green.


Epiphytic ferns prefer bright but indirect light, and warm humid air, above 16°C (60°F). They like an open, moisture-retentive but fast-draining compost that is slightly acidic (ericaceous), and are best watered with rainwater or filtered water. Let the compost get almost dry before thoroughly watering. Feed with a weak orchid fertiliser when in active growth.


The leaves will scorch in direct summer sunlight, and damp compost for long periods can easily kill the roots. Avoid watering with hard (alkaline) tap water as much as possible, to help maintain the acidic conditions they need. Watering with very cold water, especially in winter, can also be harmful.

Did you know?

These ferns need high humidity to keep the foliage lush and unblemished, so stand the pot in a saucer over a larger tray of moist gravel. A bright, steamy bathroom is usually an ideal spot for them. Also see our video guide to raising humidity for houseplants.

Growing guide

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