Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)

Nephrolepis exaltata is a tropical species of sword fern in the Lomariopsidaceae family.

It is most commonly known as Boston Fern and makes for a great terrarium fern.

For this particular reason, many hobbyists use it as an ornamental plant inside their vivariums.

Quick Stats:
Scientific Name Nephrolepis exaltata
Common Name Boston Fern, Boston Sword Fern, Wild Boston Fern, Boston Blue Bell Fern, Tuber Ladder Fern, Fishbone Fern
Family Name Lomariopsidaceae
Habitat Tropical Rain Forest
Temperature 60°F to 75°F
Height 4 Feet Tall
pH 5.0 to 5.5
Lighting Bright

What Is Boston Fern?

Boston fern is a plant that belongs to the Nephrolepis genus under the order Polypodiales.

As the name suggests, this plant is part of a group of plants called ferns.

Ferns are vascular plants that reproduce through spores and don’t have seeds or flowers.

Ferns are different from mosses due to them being vascular.

This means that, unlike mosses, ferns have particular tissues that carry nutrients and water as well as have a dominant sporophyte life cycle phase.

Boston fern is a terrestrial plant that can be grown outdoors in temperate climates.

However, it is also able to easily adapt itself as a vivarium plant.

Boston Fern (Nephrolepis Exaltata) care guide

Boston Fern Facts

Besides Boston fern, Nephrolepis exaltata is also commonly known as Boston sword fern, Wild Boston fern, Boston Blue Bell Fern, Tuber ladder fern, or Fishbone fern.

Due to its creeping nature, it is usually used as a hanging plant or in similar conditions.

This fern is relatively simple to take care of and does not require a whole lot of maintenance.

For this reason, Boston Fern is a great plant for beginners to use.

Unlike most other ferns, it is a rather tough plant with a higher tolerance for light and water conditions.

Nephrolepis is also one of the top-rated plants for removing air pollutants from the air and helping increase humidity.


Nephrolepis exaltata has wide fronds with alternate pinnae on both sides of the plant’s “stem” also known as the midrib.

Fronds are basically the leaf part of a fern and in this plant, they tend to be pale to medium green in color.

There are two rows of clumps of spore having organs called sori.

The fronds on the Boston fern curve over and can grow up to about 4 ft long.

In layman’s terms, this is a plant with a long stem and lots of small leaves attached on each side.

Some people even describe it as having a large feather-like appearance.

If Boston fern begins to dry out or die it will develop a brownish/golden color.


Nephrolepis exaltata is a species of plant native to tropical regions all over the world.

It is extremely common in Mexico, Northern South America, Central America, Florida, the West Indies, Africa, and Polynesia.

Boston fern loves the shady and moist location, which is why it is usually found in swamps and forests.

This plant is also known to be seen naturally growing epiphytically on Sabal Palmetto trees.

The Boston fern will attach itself to the surface of the palm and survive by absorbing its nutrients and moisture from the air and rain around it.

Nephrolepis exaltata thrives best at 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, it can survive temperatures as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit for short periods of time.

PH Preference

Ferns, in general, prefer shady locations that have an acidic substrate.

Soil with a PH of 7 is considered neutral. A PH below 7 is acidic and a PH above 7 is alkaline.

Boston fern, in particular, prefers a low PH level of 5.0 to 5.5.

Vivarium Type

This type of fern will do great in a variety of vivarium types.

When deciding if rather or not to use this moss in a particular type of enclosure, be sure to go with setups that have tropical/moist terrain areas.

Here are recommended vivariums that this fern will do well in:

  • Paludariums – Half aquatic/ half terrain-based enclosure.
  • Terrariums – Fully terrain-based enclosures with little to no aquatic features.

Vivarium Placement

Boston Fern is a terrestrial-based plant. Therefore, it should not be placed fully or partially submerged in water.

This plant tends to cascade down and makes the perfect accentuating tool for decorating a tank.

With that in mind, any location higher up in a vivarium is typically preferred.

The Boston fern can be placed in a bucket-like structure towards the top of an enclosure and allowed to freely hang down.

Some hobbyists enjoy using this plant to cover up the backgrounds and walls of a tank.

The plant can be attached to the surface/ substrate with some kind of thread until it holds on by itself.

For optimal growth and health, it will be best to place it somewhere high in humidity.


When it comes to the substrate, Boston fern does best in rich, moist, and slightly acidic soil.

The proper substrate can make a world of a difference in this plant’s growth and overall appearance.

Combining equal parts of garden soil, sand, and peat moss has proven to be an almost perfect mix for Boston ferns.

The peat moss will help maintain the soil damp, while the sand provides that much-needed drainage.

A lack of appropriate drainage can lead to rotting roots and eventually the plant’s death.

Another important thing to keep in mind is to avoid burying the fern’s crown.

Doing so will lead to crown rot and the eventual death of the plant as well.


Nephrolepis exaltata prefers bright, indirect sunlight.

Although it can still grow with partial sun in shaded areas, it is not necessarily recommended.

Exposing this plant to direct sun for too long will dry or burn it out.

The perfect lighting scenario would be bright terrarium lighting or a spot that is not in direct sunlight.

This will make for a happy and healthy-looking Boston fern.

Buy Boston Fern

When shopping for possible Boston fern, expect a few key indicators you are buying the best quality plant.

The fern should be terrestrial pest-free along with any other type of pest.

The source of the fern will usually be sold in small or large garden pots, ready for you to propagate.

The batch should arrive fairly green and in good shape.

Click the image below to find out more about the current price and other relative info on Nephrolepis exaltata:

Boston Fern Care and Propagation

Nephrolepis exaltata is a plant that does not require much care and maintenance to see positive progress.

As long as the roots have enough room and the plant has adequate care, rapid growth should be expected.

Removing dead fronds and periodically trimming a Boston fern will also be extremely beneficial to the plant.

How to grow

The easiest way to propagate Boston Fern will be through the process of division.

Divide an existing parent plant into smaller individual chunks.

Simply re-pot the new pieces somewhere else and allow reformation to colonize.

The new Boston fern should begin growing in no time.

Make sure that each division has a section of healthy roots, which will make the process quicker and easier.

Ferns can also be propagated by spores, but this is a harder process that does not always work.


Most ferns tend to be a little sensitive to watering routines and the Nephrolepis is no exception.

The soil this fern is planted in should remain moist pretty much all of the time, except for when the temperature is cooler.

In colder temperatures, the plant should only be watered once the soil has dried at the surface.

Even though Boston ferns typically require lots of moisture, be sure not to over-water the plant.

If the soil becomes, sodden, and completely saturated for long periods of time the fern could die.

Plants Similar To Boston Fern

Adding diversity to an enclosure is key to an aesthetically pleasing enclosure.

Try mixing up the look of your vivarium with different flora that can easily co-exist in the same types of environment.

Furthermore, if for some reason you find this fern hard to acquire or would like to consider something similar to this plant…

Here are some other plants you might find may do well with or in the place of:

Floating Fern (Salvinia Natans)
Platycerium spp. "Staghorn Ferns" Care Guide | Vivarium Plants
Java Fern (Microsorum Pteropus)


There it is, a short and sweet beginner’s guide to owning and caring for a Nephrolepis exaltata.

Whether you are setting up a brand new vivarium or simply revamping an old one, Boston Fern is a great terrarium plant to go with.

Not only is it easy to take care of, but it is also an excellent way to take any enclosure to the next level.

This plant’s quick growth and vivid color will help bring life and attention to otherwise neglected areas.

Frequently Asked Questions


No, Boston Ferns do not need to be watered every day. During the summer months, watering the Ferns 12 times per week is usually sufficient. In the winter, watering can be reduced to 12 times per month. Also, make sure the soil stays moist but not soggy, as too much water can cause root rot.

Yes, Boston Ferns are great indoor plants! They require medium light and thrive in humid environments, making them a great option for your home, office space, or terrarium. Boston Ferns make a beautiful addition to any room in need of a little extra greenery. Plus they‘re easy to care for and will last for years if taken care of properly.

No, Boston ferns are not hard to care for. They require filtered or indirect sunlight and consistent temperatures between 6075°F. They also need to be regularly watered, but should be allowed to dry out between waterings. Overall, Boston ferns are not difficult to care for, as long as their environment and watering needs are maintained.

A Boston fern is a perennial plant. It is a lowmaintenance plant that typically requires light pruning and occasional watering. It is known for its lush, graceful fronds, which make it a popular choice for indoor and outdoor décor.

The lifespan of a Boston fern is typically around 5 years in optimal conditions. With proper care and maintenance however, they can survive anywhere between 1015 years

Did you know that one family in Virginia claim they have a Boston fern that has been alive for over 114 years? This is thanks to re-potting and propagation techniques that make it possible to regenerate single plants, prolonging its life span.


No, it is not recommended that you leave your Boston fern outside in the winter. Boston Ferns are not cold-hardy and can suffer damage from prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. It is best to bring them inside and store them in a room with bright, indirect sunlight and frequent misting.

Yes, Boston ferns can be planted in the ground. Prepare the soil for the ferns by mixing in compost, humus and peat moss to create a moist, rich area for planting. Choose a shaded spot in the garden to plant the fern. Dig a hole slightly wider and deeper than the ferns pot. Place the fern in the hole, and then fill the hole with soil and lightly tamp down. Water the newly planted fern wellThe same process can be followed when placing a boston fern in a terrarium.

The best time to split a Boston fern is in the spring or summer. To do this, gently remove the plant from its container and gently separate it into a few smaller clumps with your hands. You may also use a sharp knife or pruners. Replant each clump in its own container, placing the roots in moist, loose soil and a warm, humid spot. Water regularly and mist the leaves to keep the plant healthy.

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