Not all types of ferns can thrive indoors, but the Boston fern is a versatile and rugged houseplant beloved in homes and offices alike. They’re one of the most commonly raised ferns worldwide for this reason. While they may be named for the US city of Boston, they’re not native to the north of the country but rather Florida to Africa and South America. This guide will take you through all the amazing uses and benefits of Boston Ferns and how they might improve your home in multiple ways.
- About Boston Ferns
- The Benefits of Boston Ferns
- Wraping Up
About Boston Ferns
You can tell that Boston Ferns have been a popular houseplant for decades just by the variety of names it has. You might see this particular species, Nephrolepis exaltata, referred to as a:
- Sword fern
- Lace fern
- Dwarf feather palm
- Boston sword fern
- Fluffy ruffles
- Tiger fern
- Dotted fern.
No matter the name, the fern remains the same and needs the same care. This allows you to build a collection of different varieties of Boston fern without having to provide varying environments for the plants.
Boston ferns have large leaves with the classic fern shape, showing off individual fingers of growth arranged down a central spine that curves as it grows. Some varieties have small frilly or curly foliage instead.
Boston ferns are native to many tropical areas worldwide, including the Americas, Asia, and multiple parts of Africa. This fern is part of the Nephrolepis genus, of which it is the best-known species. The underside of the mature leaves can develop dark or brown dots in a repeating pattern as the plant spores, which is not a sign of pest damage or disease.
The ideal growing conditions for the Boston fern are easy to replicate indoors with a little care. Boston Ferns prefer indirect light and don’t need a lot of it to stay green. Too much light can lead to fronds turning yellow.
The plants prefer a higher humidity level, but they can get by with occasional misting or placement near a humidifier. These ferns can handle a broader range of temperatures than many other indoor plants, and they don’t need much fertilization. The ferns do prefer consistent watering and moist soil.
With a wide range of potential benefits, the Boston fern is a great choice to add to any home or office space.
The Benefits of Boston Ferns
Boston ferns are like most houseplants and generally serve an aesthetic purpose over all else. However, some practices hold live plants as potential spiritual symbols, while recent studies have shown plants have the potential to improve air quality. Find out how a Boston fern might benefit your indoor environment with the proper care.
1. Air Purifying Properties
Boston ferns experienced a surge in popularity a few years ago when new studies on how live plants can improve indoor air quality were first released. Studies conducted over multiple years found that Boston ferns could absorb formaldehyde, toluene, and xylene out of the air in varying amounts. All of these compounds can irritate breathing issues and may increase the risk of cancer over time.
Improving your home air quality may take quite a few Boston ferns, but it is worth the effort to many homeowners concerned about indoor air quality.
2. Feng Shui Value
A spiritual method of arranging buildings in line with natural features and supernatural forces, Feng Shui originated thousands of years ago in China. Today, it’s often applied through careful decor more than alterations to entire layouts or floor plans.
Adding plants like the Boston fern into certain parts of the home may increase the energy generated for your career, family growth, or relationships. Since it doesn’t feature a spiky growth habit like a cactus, it’s considered a good choice for most Feng Shui purposes. The arching foliage, in particular, has a graceful appearance that lends it a soothing spiritual quality rather than a chaotic one.
For more, see our in-depth guide to the meaning and symbolism of ferns.
3. Low Maintenance
With the right conditions, Boston ferns don’t need much special care or attention. They need to stay out of direct light and receive enough moisture, but there’s otherwise not much else to do for them.
Some houseplants need constant pruning or strict fertilizer regimens, making it hard to keep them in good shape. This isn’t true for the Boston fern. It’s as easy as giving the plant enough water to keep the soil consistently moist and misting it once every few days to boost the humidity around its foliage.
Unlike many other indoor plants, it actually stays humidified by spraying alone due to the dense way the fronds pack together.
4. Allergy Reduction
Ferns have a larger surface area than many other plants due to the way the fronds are aligned with dense foliage. This provides lots of space for dust to settle out of the air, attracted by the humidity around the fern.
When you rinse the Boston fern in the shower or set it outdoors to let the rain clean its leaves, you’re removing particulates from the air without any need for electricity. Putting out enough Boston ferns in a dusty area could reduce particulates to help soothe indoor allergy symptoms.
5. Indoor or Outdoor Placement
Many houseplants can only handle indoor placement and need protection from drafts all year round. Boston ferns are versatile because they can go outdoors to decorate shaded and partial shade areas throughout the summer at least.
They’re often suspended in hanging baskets on covered porches where the roof provides protection from direct light and too much wind or rain. They can be used in planters and can even work outdoors for perennial growth in the most Southern locales of most of the United States.
Simply bring the ferns back indoors when temperatures are scheduled to drop below 50 degrees F at night.
6. Lack of Flowering
A lack of something might not sound like a benefit, but it can be when dealing with allergies. Some indoor plants flower and produce pollen that can irritate the eyes or sinuses. While Boston ferns are known for producing spores, these powder deposits rarely linger long enough to cause the same kind of reaction.
It’s also possible to prune off mature Boston fern fronds before they develop the dark spots that indicate spore production, so it’s not an issue. If you have pets that like to chew on plants that flower, a Boston fern may be a good choice to avoid their attention.
7. Easy to Hang
Some houseplants just aren’t meant for growing in a hanging basket. While Boston ferns don’t climb or grow long vines like some plants, they do enjoy hanging up and receiving a good amount of airflow around the entire plant.
Since the individual fronds can reach two to three feet long and have a gently arch to their shape, a Boston fern often has a graceful appearance when hung up in a basket. Hanging fern baskets tend to feature this fern in particular due to its rounded growth habit and adaptability.
Multiple ferns are often planted in the same basket, creating a dense mound with a rounded appearance.
8. Two Distinct Looks
The majority of Boston ferns have a larger, more distinct frond style that has the iconic fern look most people are looking for. But there is also the option of choosing a ruffled, small-leaved style that has a completely different look. Those varieties are often mistaken for Maidenhair ferns, which are much more difficult to keep in the average indoor environment.
You could keep both types of Boston ferns to create a diverse look throughout the home while enjoying the same care requirements for all the plants. There’s no need to change how much water you give them or the amount of light available just because of the variation in foliage.
9. Slow Growing
Boston ferns are one of the slower houseplants to grow and mature. Even with good care, it can take five years or more for a small potted fern to reach its full potential width of three feet tall and just as wide. This can be a benefit for homeowners or office workers that only have a limited space to work with.
Keeping fertilization to the minimum needed for green fronds ensures the plant remains small for months and years due to its slow growth rate. It also reduces the need for trimming and repotting, which can be constant with other houseplants.
10. Disease and Pest Resistance
Most ferns suffer from relatively few diseases and don’t attract a lot of pests, including the Boston fern. Its disease and pest resistance can make it a good choice for places where other houseplants have suffered in the past.
As long as the plant receives enough steady watering and is kept out of direct sunlight, it shouldn’t develop issues with its roots or host pests between its fronds. If one part of the plant is affected by something, you can also try propagating the plant through division and discarding the damaged part of the fern.
11. Ease of Propagation
You can technically create new Boston ferns by using their spores, but the easiest method is to simply divide a mature plant into two or more new ferns. You remove the Boston fern from its pot and use a sharp hand spade or trowel to divide the root mass as cleanly as possible.
Give your new Boston Fern plants a spongy soil mix that holds water well, preferably one with plenty of peat moss, and you’ll have a number of ferns instead of just a single plant. You can fill your entire home after a few years by strategically dividing your Boston fern on a regular schedule.
12. Dwarf Varieties
Full-sized and standard Boston ferns can reach a mature size of three feet wide or even bigger. While they start out small and grow somewhat slowly, you’re not stuck dealing with a plant this large if you want something smaller. Dwarf varieties are available that reach a maximum size of only one foot tall and wide or even smaller. This allows you to add a houseplant to a small space where there may not be room for a full-sized Boston fern. Look for cultivars like the ‘Compacta’ variety to ensure your houseplant doesn’t get too big for the space.
13. Color Options
A standard Boston fern features a dark green color on its fronds that blends in well with many dark woods and similar color palettes. For a more eye-catching look, consider variegated cultivars like ‘Tiger’. This variety of Boston fern has stripes that are visible on the individual leaves on the fronds, making it an exciting addition to any indoor decor scheme.
If you prefer a solid color but want something other than dark green, there are also gold or chartreuse varieties to explore. Your decorating options are open with such a variety in both color and texture for the humble Boston fern.
14. A Better Night’s Rest
Since the Boston fern has the potential to improve indoor air quality both by absorbing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and trapping dust on its fronds, keeping a few in the house could help you get a better night’s rest.
Boston ferns, particularly in the bedroom, may help reduce allergy symptoms over the night that keep you from staying fully asleep. Reducing congestion may take more than just selecting the right houseplants; these ferns can’t hurt when you’re trying to create a cleaner and more welcoming sleep environment. Your houseplants might just help you get more rest, especially if you rinse them regularly to keep dust levels low on their fronds.
If you’ve never raised a Boston fern before, give it a consideration for a part of your home with indirect light. You may enjoy cleaner indoor air or not, but at the very least, you’ll have the beauty of gracefully arched fronds to bring nature inside the home. Give these ferns a try for their multiple benefits and easy care to breathe new life into any indoor space.
Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.