The Fern is a staple plant of forest or jungle environments worldwide. While Ferns may be widespread and native to almost any humid or temperate climate, they’re also profoundly symbolic and rich in meaning. What’s more, there are hundreds of types of Ferns, with some varieties having their own distinct meanings and cultural significance. 

The Meaning and Symbolism of Ferns: Your Complete Guide

The Meaning and Symbolism of Ferns

No matter the type of Fern, these plants are usually a symbol of lush growth, humidity, and exotic locations. You’ll often see them added to jungle or forest scenes in movies, even when the environment wouldn’t naturally support them, just to get the right sense of wildness. 

Beyond bringing a sense of growth to a scene, Ferns have interesting meanings in floriography or the language of flowers.

Ferns in the Victorian Language of Flowers

Many Ferns are native to or cultivated in England, so it’s no wonder the Victorians had meanings for specific varieties among them. Historically, ferns were most commonly associated with sending a clear message of sincerity. It was an excellent way to let someone know you were honestly fascinated with them and not just trying to play games. 

If you thought someone was acting too boldly, you could also tuck a Fern frond into a bouquet to signal that prudence was in order. That could make it a good way to slow down someone’s advances. 

For others, it was a symbol of magic. The flowering Fern, in particular, was considered a way to symbolize that you were lost in a reverie or dream. Remember that Ferns don’t truly flower, but some form large spikes of packed sporangia that some consider flower-like. 

On the negative side, the Adder’s Tongue Fern symbolized that you wanted to detract from someone’s reputation or rebuke their behavior.

Fern Colors and Their Meaning & Symbolism

Most Ferns are green in some way, often with a dark blue-tinted shade or a lighter lime green. Light green is often associated with growth, youth, energy, and excitement. Dark green symbolizes wealth, stability, family, elegance, and the earth.

The Meaning of Ferns in Ancient Times

The Meaning of Ferns in Ancient Times

The Greeks considered Ferns to be feather-like and sometimes even included them in myths as the fallen feathers of various fantastical birds. Ferns symbolized rebirth to the Romans because of their unfurling emergence each spring despite having disappeared the fall before.

The Meaning of Ferns in Religion and Spirituality

Christians often associate the Fern with humility for how it emerges from the ground as little more than a tight coil. It’s also used for its symbolism of sincerity that began in the Victorian era. 

Wiccans also consider the Fern a sacred symbol of the connection of the physical and spiritual realms. It’s regarded as a gateway to magic and a way to symbolize your journey to find the divine in the everyday.

Japanese Flower Language and Ferns

Japanese Hanakotoba, or the language of the flowers, holds the Fern in high esteem as a symbol of the family. The individual segments of the frond are the family members, and they have to work together to form the whole of the plant. 

Newly emerging fiddleheads are often gifted at births to symbolize a new family member. Potted Ferns are popular as houseplants because they symbolize the family’s thriving when given proper care.

Ferns and Feng Shui 

Ferns and Feng Shui 

Ferns (and plants in general) are associated with the color green, which is considered to have healing energy in Feng Shui practices. They are also associated with the wood element, which invites the essential energy of activity and growth into a space. Wood is also associated with vitality, compassion, flexibility, and kindness. Additionally, wood feeds the fire element, which fuels growth, reaching out, and confronting change.

Certain types of ferns, such as the Boston fern, are known to be natural air purifiers. They help remove indoor air pollutants like formaldehyde and xylene. From a feng shui perspective, clean air contributes to a balanced and harmonious environment.

Feng shui also emphasizes the importance of shapes. While spiky plants (such as cacti) may be associated with unhelpful energy, ferns have soft fronds that can introduce calm and serenity into an area.

As with all plants, consider their placement carefully. In feng shui, it’s also essential to avoid placing plants in bedrooms (as they can introduce too much yang, or active energy) or in the middle of the house (known as the “Tai Chi” or “heart” of the home). However, placing ferns in living rooms, hallways, or near the entrance can enhance and welcome positive energy.

Myths and Folklore associated with Ferns

For Estonians and other Slavic cultures, the Fern flower was a mythical bloom that only appeared on Midsummer’s Eve. It was supposed to be a powerful magic charm that granted wealth and success to the holder, along with the ability to understand the speech of animals. 

It also symbolizes fertility in many European cultures, possibly because young people who went into the woods to seek the imaginary flower might meet up and find love instead. Even the seeds of this mythical flower are supposed to convey magical powers to whoever can find them.

The Silver Fern and New Zealand

New Zealand uses the Silver Fern as a national symbol but does not yet have the fern design on its official flag. Numerous campaigns have failed on close margins to make a Silver Fern flag the national emblem. 

Silver Ferns are important to the native Maori who call New Zealand home. The Ferns have a light-colored coating on the underside of the fronds that reflects light. It symbolizes being close to the environment and living in connection with everything else.

Edible Ferns and Symbolism

Edible Ferns and Symbolism

The curled emerging fronds of many Ferns, known as fiddleheads, are eaten as boiled vegetables worldwide. Only certain species can be eaten this way, so don’t try eating any random Fern sprout you find. Fiddleheads are considered good luck and a kind of spring tonic that offers lots of minerals and nutrients to give you good health.

The Meaning and Symbolism of Fern Tattoos

A fern tattoo, like many other tattoos, can have various meanings and symbolism. Most commonly, a tattoo depicting a fern represents new beginnings due to its growth pattern. 

As previously noted, In some cultures, especially in Maori tradition, the fern, specifically the silver fern or “koru,” is symbolic of family and ancestry.

For those passionate about the natural world, a fern tattoo can signify one’s deep connection to nature, the wilderness, and the intricacies of the natural world.

About Ferns

Ferns are an entire family of plants unrelated to the rest of the world of flowering plants. These plants use spores instead to reproduce, much like fungi. 

They’re considered closely related to horsetails and not at all related to mosses or many other plants that look like Ferns. 

Ferns tend to prefer humid and temperate climates, but they can thrive in some areas with frigid winters. Some Ferns are edible when freshly emerged from the ground and still in the fiddlehead shape, but others are toxic. Other species are used to produce essential medications.

The Meaning and Symbolism of Ferns – Wrapping Up

The next time you see a Fern uncurling from a mossy bank or garden bed, you’ll have a new appreciation for its beauty. Ferns are rich in meaning and symbolism and offer a wealth of positive benefits.

Editorial Director | Full Bio | + posts

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.

Author Andrew Gaumond

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.

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