Crocodile Fern (Microsorum Musifolium ‘Crocodyllus’)

One of the most important aspects of having a successfully planted vivarium is having the proper knowledge about each plant in the enclosure. There are countless amounts of species out there to choose from and the options are endless. Each plant has its own maintenance requirements as well as a unique look. For that reason, it is imperative to put the time and effort into doing the proper research. Crocodile Fern, for instance, is an extremely interesting plant to add to a vivarium. Knowing how to care for this plant will determine whether or not it is an asset to the enclosure. This post will provide a comprehensive care guide with all there is to know about Crocodile fern.

Quick Stats:

Scientific Name: Microsorum Musifolium

Family: Polypodiaceae

Common Names: Crocodile Fern, Crocodyllus Fern, Alligator Fern

Habitat: Tropical

Height:  1 – 5ft Tall

PH Range: 6.0 to 8.5

Temperature: 65°F to 75°F

What Is Crocodile Fern?

Crocodile fern is a tropical species of plant that is part of the Polypodiaceae family. It belongs to the Microsorum genus, which consists of approximately 50 species found across the world. Crocodile Fern’s scientific name is Microsorum musifolium. Like many other ferns, this plant is epiphytic in nature. This means that Crocodile fern has the ability to grow attached to trees or even in between rock cracks. The plant will absorb all nutrients and water it needs through the air, rain, or tree.

Crocodile Fern (Microsorum Musifolium 'Crocodyllus') Care Guide

Crocodile Fern Facts

Besides Crocodile Fern, Microsorum musifolium is also known as Crocodyllus Fern and Alligator Fern. The plant gets its name due to its unusual appearance. The fronds, or leaves, of a Crocodile fern, strongly resemble the back of a crocodile. Due to its shallow root structure, this plant does not need to be buried deep. In fact, it doesn’t have to be buried at all. As mentioned before, these ferns can naturally attach themselves to trees and other unusual locations. Rather than depending on the soil to nourish itself, it makes use of its surroundings. This plant is considered a rather hardy plant that will not require an extensive or complicated care regimen.

Description

Microsorum musifolium has broad and light green leaves that grow in a rosette-forming manner. They are segmented, leathery, wrinkled looking, and marked with dark green veins. It is their texture and scale-like look that gives them the appearance of a crocodile’s skin. At first glance, the leaves will look as if they sprout directly from the base of the plant. However, they actually grow from tiny roots known as rhizoids that grow just under the surface. Rhizoids have a thin hair-like look and they help the Crocodile Fern anchor itself to surfaces as well as to conduct water.

A Crocodile fern might also display some yellowish or brown pigmentation on its leaves. Such an occurrence is almost always a warning sign that something is wrong. The plant might be receiving too much water, sunlight, or not enough of either one. Crocodile Fern is definitely not a small plant. Although it can be trimmed and its growth will vary, it can ultimately reach a height of up to 5 feet.

Habitat

Microsorum musifolium is native to tropical areas of southern Myanmar, Indonesia, Borneo, Philippines, Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, New Guinea, Thailand, and a rainforest valley near Cairns, Australia. It will usually be seen growing in very humid and shaded locations. Crocodile ferns tend to prefer moss-covered trees and cracks on the ground to attach themselves to and grow. It will use its rhizoids to grab on and absorb all the nutrients and water it needs from its surroundings.

Microsorum ferns do well in warm to moderate temperatures, but can also tolerate some levels of cold. As long as the temperature does not fall below 55°F, the plant will be fine. If it does fall below that number, the plant’s fronds will begin to change in color and die off. Colder temperature will also cause the Crocodile fern’s growth rate to slow down. The ideal temperatures for this fern to thrive are in ranges between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

PH Preference

Like most other ferns, Crocodile fern prefers water and soil that is on the acidic side of the scale. However, this fern can also tolerate and do well when located in surroundings with a neutral pH level. A PH level of 7 is considered neutral. Meanwhile, a PH below 7 is acidic and a PH above 7 is alkaline. The ideal PH for a Crocodile fern will range anywhere from 6.0 to 8.5.

Vivarium Type

This type of fern will do great in a variety of vivarium types. When deciding if rather or not to use this fern in a particular type of enclosure, be sure to go with setups that have tropical/moist terrain areas. Here are recommended vivarium this fern will do well in:

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

Vivarium Placement

Crocodile fern is a terrestrial-based plant. Although it does require a high level of humidity it should not ever be sitting in water. The plant’s eccentric look makes it a perfect decorative tool to dress up empty parts of a vivarium. Crocodile fern can pretty much be placed anywhere in an enclosure.

It is imperative to keep in mind that this is not a small plant. If healthy and properly cared for, this fern can grow quite large. When deciding where to plant a Crocodile Fern make sure that it will have enough room to grow. Also remember that this fern is epiphytic, which means it can be placed higher up on bark like backgrounds. This might create a more interesting look, while also giving the Crocodile fern more room to expand and be seen.

Substrate

Crocodile fern is not too picky when it comes to the substrate. Nonetheless, it will have a better success rate in moist rich soil that is neutral or acidic in pH. In place in the soil, this plant will require a rich potting soil mix that has an ample amount of organic material. The potting mix can be store-bought or made at home. If making some at home, try mixing one-part coarse sand, one-part charcoal chips, two parts garden soil, and two parts composted leaves.

A peat-based potting mix with some added perlite will also work very well and retain better levels of moisture. The sand and charcoal chips will provide the appropriate drainage that a Crocodile fern needs to avoid rotting roots. While, the peat moss, garden soil, and composted leaves will help maintain the moisture needed to keep the fern from drying out.

If the Crocodile fern is grown epiphytically, it will not need a substrates layer at all. Instead, make sure that the surface the plant is attached to has a neutral or acidic PH. It will also be beneficial to have some type of moss on the surface to help with the humidity and water retention. The fern will most likely need to be tied with cotton thread at the beginning until it can stay on its own.

Lighting

Crocodile ferns will grow best in bright light, without direct sunlight. Too much direct sunlight will cause the fronds on this plant to become pale or have scorch marks on them. Providing some direct sunlight can be beneficial and help the plant grow well, however it must be in the morning in small amounts.

If the vivarium will not have any artificial lighting there are a few pointers that could be very helpful. Try placing the vivarium near a window that will provide the lighting it needs. A northern or eastern window specifically will provide the best type of light exposure. When setting up lighting inside of a vivarium, LED lights will work extremely well. Try to go for cooler colors that resemble a partially shaded day. Avoid any type of light that has high levels of UV rays.

Buy Crocodile Fern

When shopping for Crocodile fern, expect a few key indicators you are buying the best quality plant. Since this fern does not grow from seeds, an existing plant must be bought. It will not necessarily need to be an adult or a large plant. It would be a good idea to buy the plant reasonable in size, in order to have more to work with. The purchased fern should be green, vibrant, and healthy-looking. Try to avoid any browning or wilting leaves. Those are usually signs of a plant that is not doing so well. Click the image below to find out more about the current price and other relative info of Microsorum musifolium:

Crocodile Fern Care and Propagation

Microsorum musifolium is a fairly easy plant to care for successfully. Even though it does not need much, there are a few things that should be provided to obtain optimal growth. Making sure that the plant receives the right amount of water and moisture will have a huge impact on this fern’s health. Besides that, the roots and fronds should have enough room to grow freely. Too small or tight spaces can stunt the growth is a Crocodile Fern. Removing any dead fronds and periodic trimmings will also promote the healthy growth of the plant.

Like many other species of ferns, this pteridophyte is also vulnerable to certain diseases and pests. Fern scale is one of the most common pests seen in Crocodile ferns. They are tiny little creatures that give the appearance of white flaky spots on the stem and fronds of the plant. Small amounts of insecticide oil applied to the affected areas can help get rid of this annoying problem. Due to overly high levels of humidity or overwatering, this plant also has the risk of developing a fungal condition. Pruning the fern when it begins to look too full will provide better airflow and help lower the chances of this condition.

How to grow

Crocodile fern can be propagated through two methods: spore production and root division. The easiest way will undoubtedly be through the process of division. The rhizomes of the plant should be carefully separated. Try not to break off any roots, since that will shock and damage the fern. Then take the new pieces and plant them at a new location. Make sure that the soil or substrate is rich and moist. Do not add too much water and make sure that there is enough drainage, or the new ferns won’t survive.

Ferns can also be propagated through the use of spores. But this method is not always recommended since it’s not always successful within a vivarium.

Watering

Most ferns tend to require high levels of humidity and a stable watering routine. Microsorum musifolium is not the exception in this case. The substrate or surface that the fern is growing it should be moist at all times. That is unless the temperature drops. Higher temperatures will require more moisture and watering, while a colder climate will need far less. If in colder temperatures the plant should only be watered once the soil has dried at the very top. When grown epiphytically, Crocodile ferns must be misted daily to avoid the rhizomes from drying out. Be sure not to overwater the plant. If the soil becomes, sodden, and completely saturated for long periods of time the fern could suffer drastically.

Plants Similar To Crocodile Fern

Even though some hobbyists enjoy sticking to a specific theme when building an enclosure, that does not mean that only one type of plant must be used. Adding diversity and versatility is crucial to creating a captivating vivarium. Mix up the look of your vivarium with different flora that can easily co-exist in the same types of environment. Not only will it be more pleasing to the eye, but it will also make the tank look more realistic. Furthermore, if for some reason you are having a hard time getting your hands on this plant… Here are some other options that may do well with or in the place of Crocodile fern:

Boston Fern (Nephrolepis Exaltata)
Floating Fern (Salvinia Natans)
Mosquito Fern (Azolla Filiculoides)

Conclusion

Crocodile fern is one of the many astonishing creations of nature. My overall opinion about this fern is that it would be a great addition to most vivariums. Definitely wouldn’t use it for an extremely dry, desert-themed builds. An aquarium or fully aquatic setup would also not be a suitable environment for the plant to survive. I would, however, recommend it for terrestrial builds that want to go for a very tropical look. Microsorum musifoliums few and easy care requirements make it an easy vivarium plant for even beginners to use.  Not to mention its scale-like crocodile appearance that will grab anyone’s attention from a simple glance. This complete care guide will provide all of the tools needed should you decide to take on this fern.