Fern identification page.

Moderator - Brian Swale
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Sometimes people ask for help in identifying a fern.

While I like ferns, know quite a few, and have references to help with others I don't know, I do not have the resources or the experience to be as helpful as I would like.

As a trial, this page is available for people anywhere to submit images of ferns they want to know the name of, and perhaps a little about them.

I don't have the expertise yet to install a query form right here on the page, so another method is necessary.

If you want to have people give you their opinion on the identity of a fern, through this page:

  1. Scan a photograph of the fern and place it on a web-page.
  2. E-mail me at   bj@caverock.net.nz with "fern ID query" in the subject line, and in the text give the URL where it is to be found; or
  3. E-mail me at   bj@caverock.net.nz with "fern ID attached" in the subject line, and the image in an a attachment. Please use GIF or JPG format - not BMP.
  4. if you would rather use ordinary post, send a print or prints to me at:
            140 Panorama Road
            Christchurch 8008
            New Zealand.
    and I'll see what I can do.
If you want to give your opinion on the identity of a fern mentioned on this page, then:-

E-mail me at   bj@caverock.net.nz with "fern ID response" in the subject line, and in the text give you opinion, your reasons for that, and any references and other details of the species such as normal habitat and cultural requirements.

PLEASE NOTE: Sometimes (rarely) I have problems with my email and messages get lost. ( My C drive is always too full !! ) If you don't get a reply from me within about 3 days, please e-mail me again.

Advice needed urgently please
Christophe writes from Toulouse in the south of France, where it is distinctly winter now, that for several weeks he has had difficulty with two interesting fern species. Here is what he writes:-

"I am experiencing some trouble at growing a (commercially available) specimen of Hemionitis arifolia. Looking through the Internet led me to your website (by the way really interesting).

In short, the main symptoms are as follows: as soon as the fronds unfurl, they seem to dry out, while their stalk keeps elongating. Also, some of the adult fronds' margins may either turn brown, or simply dry out again.

A very similar phenomenon is also occuring on a specimen of Didymochlaena truncatula (young croziers never unfurl).

Some people have told me it is probably due to Botrytis attacks or waterlogging or droughts (?!) or large temperature variations, and claimed that these types of fern are very difficult to grow as indoor plant in a (french!) house, since they are supposed to require a very high level of humidity, and even temperature.

However, my apartment looks more like a fernery now with about 15 various "classic" indoor fern species, and with an average humidity level of 60%. (Most of my potted plants are cultivated on large dishes filled with porous clay beads to ensure high level of local humidity...)

Have you any idea or clue about such a problem? Is there a way to fight fungi invasions?

Thank you, first for reading this mail, and second, if you can help a french fern admirer! Let's forget about the last All Black/France rugby game in Stade de France last Saturday!

(For those not in the know, New Zealand played France at rugby, and won. The next game however, the French won handsomely. Brian).

Christophe, Toulouse France

I suggested to Christophe that the main problem was probably low humidity, and that he should also try increasing the light level as well. These measures have not helped after a month.

Here is what he wrote recently ( 16 December 2000)

"As you told me some tropical ferns do need a very high humidity level. Well I don't think it is enough..:

I have got now an electrically powered "cold" steam generator (looks like a fake flying saucer), which turns my flat into a very steamy place ;) [sometime I wish it did. Just have to invite a bunch of friends then!!!]

In fact, it's not like a sauna since most of the vapor condenses on the windows but... well, it succeeded in maintaining a 55% to 65% humidity level.

However, the two specimens of Hemionitis arifolia I have are now doing very badly, and again the Didymochlaena keeps growing limb-less leaves."

If you are growing either of these species, or have experience with them, especially experience in overcoming these sorts of problems, please email me about it at   bj@caverock.net.nz


Air fern, air ferns. Several people have asked about air ferns. It is perhaps as long ago as 30 years since I saw one. In my experience, this plant looks vaguely like climbing asparagus, but has the remarkable ability to be able to draw sufficient moisture and nutrient from the air, to grow. So people cut a few 'twigs', suspend them where it looks nice; and away they grow.

Air fern is probably Tillandsia usneoides, sometimes called "Spanish moss", and which comes from Florida and adjacent states of the USA. Dried stems and leaves of Spanish moss were used in upholstery under the name of "vegetable hair". There are about 12 species in the genus.
Tillandsia is a genus of flowering plants in the Bromeliaceae family, which, apart from the numerous bromeliad perching plants of tropical forest, also contains Anas comosus, the edible pineapple.
Many thanks to my old university class-mate Warren Burke, for coming up with the clues for something that I had stored away in my mind so deeply it might as well have been forgotten. 24 May 2000.
24 July 2001. I am indebted to JoAnn who drew my attention to another answer.

At this site http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/PLANTanswers/housepl/airfern.html is an alternative

and with a link to the UK site
http://www.fruitsofthesea.demon.co.uk/seafern/index.html where the illustrations are of something that looks much more like what I remember than Tillandsia does.

This is what they say

SEA FERN or AIR FERN has been known by many alternative names, such as NEPTUNUS, CYPRESS MOSS, SEE MOSS and AQUA FERN.
Our product is, in fact, a natural coral (Sertularia argenta) and is harvested from the North Sea by our trawlers during some nine months of the year when the quality is at its best.

So, there we are. Thanks JoAnn.

In fact they are not corals but bryozoans, communally-living animals which secrete a hard exoskeleton in the feathery form that buyers of airferns recognise. Many thanks to James Huang for information.     Brian.
Bubba asked about "fishtail fern". My response was that I used the search facility and entered 'fishtail' without the quotes.
And I added; This is what I found -
Nephrolepis biserrata (Sw.) Schott (= N. ensifolium (4)) Broad sword fern, Coarse Sword fern. Pantropic; Gabon, Malaya, Barbados. (2,4,5,15,16)
        cv Furcans Fishtail sword fern. (4,9)
So, it is cv (= cultivated variety) "Furcans" of the species called Nephrolepis biserrata, previously known as Nephrolepis ensifolium.

dcalaway from Wisconsin asked about a fern called Jacob's Fern? "What do I do with it?. Do I keep it in the house or plant it outside or just leave it in the hanging pot I got it in?"
My reply was that I had no information on it, but was prepared to have a shot at identifying it; "Can you photograph it and either scan the photos and e-mail me scanned images, or real mail me prints?
The aspects of the plant you would need to cover in your shots include; the overall habit (what does it look like from a wee way off), how big the whole plant is, a photo of one frond so that I can see the arrangement of the pinnae (or if it has pinnae at all), a closeup photo of a fertile frond if it has any so that I can see the arrangement of the sori (not all cultivated varieties are fertile, so sori may be absent), and a shot of the rhizome supposing that it has a creeping rhizome growing on top of the potting mix.

Can anybody else help with this one?

tycrazy wrote: I want an African Fern Tree. Do you know what I am talking about?
I replied "Nope, haven't seen one personally; however, if you go back to my pages and look under the genus "Cyathea", you will see that I have come across details of a couple of African tree ferns and entered them there. "

Also, 'African Tree fern" just may be a local trade name in some place - it would be worth while checking with local nurseries.

Can anybody else supply details?

Connie asks: "I recently purchased 2 Fish Tail Ferns from a local garden center and need to know if they are indoor plants or if they can survive outside planted in a shade garden in Zone 6, the Chicago Area. Thank you for your help in this matter."

My reply is; Connie, the first thing I have to say is that I can't be sure you and I have the same fern in mind. Nurseries are sometimes pretty careless with naming. However, assuming we have the same fern in mind, the botanical name is Nephrolepis falcata forma furcans which probably originates in New Guinea. They have long, strongly-weeping fronds, and are excellent for a large basket, growing vigorously. They like plenty of light and var furcans will grow in full sun. (Jones)
Have you asked the nursery where you bought it what they recommend?

Hoshizaki notes that the fern she calls "fishtail" is a "tender fern" and would display poor growth where temperatures drop below 60F for successive nights.

My recommendation is that if you want to grow these outside, grow them in a pot or basket (not in the ground) in light shade/high light, and as soon as temperatures fall to 50F ( = 10C ), bring them inside and keep their temperature at least above 41F ( = 5C ). I am sure they will not survive freezing; even short-term freezing. In my limited experience this genus likes heat, even from below, as in geothermal areas where it grows in New Zealand. Chicago summers outside should be fine, but winter outside would be death to these beautiful plants.
Nephrolepis falcata var furcans
or fishtail fern

15 August 2001, and I had an interesting enquiry.

The attached picture is a fern I call 'Caterpiller fern'. I would like to know the real name and a brief care list.

Thanks, Plantbob@aol.com

My response:-

Hello Bob; my tentative identification is: (From David Jones' Encyclopaedia of Ferns)
Polypodium formosanum. From Japan, Taiwan, South China.
Yes, The common name is Grub fern / Caterpillar fern.
Baskets of tree-fern fibre suit it well, but I suppose coconut fibre would also do. In nature, an epiphyte.
Likes humid but airy conditions in a coarse soil mixture. Plants are slow to recover from disturbance. Temperate to sub-tropical climates.
Barbara Joe Hoshizaki says: "Hardy, medium light, drained potting mix, keep moist."
Hope that helps. It looks really attractive. You have a great find there.

                        You can see it here.

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