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Reliable Ferns For The Dwelling Rooms

( Originally Published 1923 )

The ferns vie with the rubber plant for first place in the esteem of the window gardener. Their finely cut and sometimes oddly shaped fronds have a graceful airy effect possessed by few other plants. Many people believe that it is impossible to grow ferns in the house or in the window garden, but there are perhaps a couple of dozen which will do very well indeed if given the same care as the flowering plants.


The most popular fern is the common sword fern (Nephrolepis exaltata). The type is rarely seen in the florist's shops it having been superseded by the Boston fern (N. exaltata, var. Bostoniensis of the trade).

This is the best of all the sword ferns.

Even when young in small pots the plants are attractive, but as they make a fairly rapid growth one does not have to wait long to obtain a large plant. The fronds of the Boston fern are two to three feet long and two to three inches across, and of a rich green colour. Unlike most of the ferns this will stand some abuse. With all the other ferns if the soil once becomes dry the plant is ruined for the season at least, if not absolutely killed; but should your sword fern be neglected for a day or two, becoming dry, it will recover if carefully looked after.

Another variety of the exaltata which has given satisfaction in many window gardens is known in the trade as N. Philippensis. The fronds are smaller, being only about eighteen inches long and one and one-half to two inches wide and are very dark green.

Of recent years there have been several new forms of the sword fern introduced to the American trade which have become very popular. The variety Scott; is a miniature Boston fern, the fronds being shorter and narrower, thus making a dense, more compact plant.

There are several plumose forms in which the pinnae are much divided. The fronds are usually a foot or so long and quite broad. They are known under such trade names as Piersoni, Barrowsi, Whitmani, etc. These do well in the house but with the exception of Whitmani the fronds are more or less liable to revert to the type. This is no doubt caused by the trying conditions found in the living room a dry heat and insufficient light.

There is another sword fern which I always like to grow because of the oddly shaped pinne: Nephrolepis davalliodes, var. furcans. The ends of the pinnae are divided into spreading points like horns. This plant is equally as strong a grOwer as the Boston fern but the fronds have a much more drooping habit.

The sword ferns will grow in almost any soil but a well drained sandy loam is best.


The glossy, dark green foliage of the holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum) always attracts attention. The upper side of the pinnae is very dark green, the under side is some-what lighter green and studded with brown spots the spores. The pin me are large, four to six inches long and one to two inches broad, the fronds about two feet long and very stiff. Altogether it -is very attractive.


The graceful, feathery fronds of the maidenhair ferns always excite interest. The most beautiful one, Adiantum Farleyense, often seen in the florists' shops, cannot be grown in the window garden, but there is a good substitute for it in the so-called "hardy Farleyense" (Adiantum Capilius-Veneris, var. imbricatum). This will with-stand the trying conditions of the house just as well as will the Boston fern. I know plants which have lived all winter in a New York City residence, a severe test for any plant. There is a host of related ferns too numerous to mention and moreover they are not reliable as house plants under the ordinary conditions.

The soil in which maidenhair ferns are growing must never be .allowed to become dry the fronds immediately wither and nothing can be done to recuperate them. Should such an accident happen, remove the injured fronds and keep the plant in as good a condition as possible until the following spring when new growth will be made.


The best small ferns for the home are found among the spider ferns (Pteris). The fronds are once divided, the divisions being long and narrow, and pointed.

One of the best of the spider ferns is P. Cretica. It grows nearly a foot high. The stalks are straw coloured and the foliage is dark green in the type but there are several varieties some of which have white markings.

Another spider fern very commonly grown is P. serrulata, which differs from Cretica in not being such a strong grower, the stalks are brown and the edges of the pinnae are sharply serrulate or saw edged. Like Cretica, this has many forms, mostly more or less distorted, and to which such descriptive Latin names as cristata, cristata variegata, densa, etc, have been given.

The best variegated fern for the window garden is Pteris argyresa. This is some-what stronger growing than those already mentioned, but its chief feature is a broad, white band down the middle of each division of the frond.

All the spider ferns are used more for fern dishes than for specimen plants, to which they are, however, admirably suited.


One of the shield ferns (Polystichum angulare) somewhat resembles the sword ferns. The fronds are from one to two feet long and rather narrow. The pinnae differ from those of the sword ferns in that they are triangular rather than oblong. This fern seems to withstand the unfavourable condition of the house admirably. Mr. W. H. Taplin, in American Gardening for March 10, 1900, reports having known a specimen which flourished in a window garden for ten years!

The hare's foot fern (Polypodium) is always interesting because of its rhizomes. These rest on the ground and are densely covered with long, coarse, yellow hairs. Sooner or later these hang over the edge of the pot and bear a strong resemblance to a rabbit's foot.

Another interesting fern is Davallia bullata, usually seen in the form of "fern balls," but equally at home in a pot or on a sphagnum covered board. As a fern ball this fern is particularly interesting. The balls are composed of the rhizomes wrapped around sphagnum moss. The balls are received in this country in December and January and all that is needed to start them into growth is a thorough soaking in water. Have them in a light window, preferably a north one.


In the coldest weather the temperature in which ferns are growing ought never to go below 55 degrees at night. A raise of temperature during the day of 10 or 15 degrees is sufficient, and surely no living room should be above 70 degrees. A north window or any window which has lots of light and but little or no direct sunlight will suit ferns; the sun injures the delicate fronds.

Ferns do not like a heavy soil, one composed of four parts of a sandy loam, one part sand, and one part manure, will give good results. For most of the ferns a little leafmould may be added, but I would not add any to the soil in which the sword ferns are to be grown. Pack the soil fairly firm about the roots but do not make it hard. The soil in which ferns are growing must never become dry, neither must it become water-logged. It is a common assumption that, because ferns grow naturally in damp places, they cannot be over-watered, but while the soil in which ferns thrive outdoors may be very damp it is always well drained and aereated.

Keep the roots cool. This can be easily done by placing the pots in jardinieres or vases and packing damp sphagnum moss about them. If you want to use the plant for table or other decoration it can be removed from the receptacle, used in the decoration, and returned when the occasion is over.

Keep the leaves of the ferns clean. This is best done by syringing them with clear water on all bright days. If done on dull days, there is some danger of the fronds turning black.

Thrips, red spider and mealy bug are very troublesome, especially in a dry atmosphere. The two former can be kept in check by frequent syringings of water, being sure to hit the under side of the fronds. Spraying once a week with weak tobacco water will probably keep all three of these pests under control, but should the mealy bug be found on the plants it can be removed by following the advice given elsewhere.

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