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What Are the Different Types of Ferns?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 16, 2024
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Ferns are leafy, non-flowering plants that grow from a spore. There are a wide variety of ferns, and they are found in most locations around the world, except for areas with sub-Antarctic temperatures. Ferns typically require moisture from the ground and the air, and some sunlight, but not direct sunlight, in order to thrive. There are thousands of types of ferns, growing in all types of environments, from desserts to rain forests.

Some ferns bear feminine names, such as the maidenhair fern. It prefers soil that is frequently moist, and the plant is slow to spread and is often found in shady flowerbeds or in hanging baskets. Some herbal medicines used to treat colds, kidney stones and liver troubles are created from portions of the fern, and herbal teas are made using its leaves. The lady fern grows in moist climates, and can be identified by spore-bearing apparatus of the backside of the fern's leaves. The apparatus resemble fuzzy, brown eyebrows.

Large cities lend their names to some ferns, such as New York and Boston. A Boston fern is commonly used in hanging baskets to adorn porches. The plants prefer bright sunlight, and are likely to die if kept where temperatures dip below 50°F (10°C) for any length of time. New York ferns often grow in abundance, creating a carpet-like appearance on the forest floor. They are deciduous and prefer filtered light.

Many ferns are native to different parts of the world. The staghorn fern is native to jungle areas of Australia and Africa, along with tropical areas of Asia. It can be grown indoors or out, and receives much of its nutrients from the air. The low-maintenance, Japanese painted fern prefers the shade and is a grayish-green color. It is used for flowerbed borders, and grows well near water features, such as ponds or streams.

A few ferns have a holiday theme to them. Once used as a holiday decoration, the Christmas fern's fronds stay green throughout the winter months. The cinnamon fern creates fiddleheads that are the color of cinnamon. They can be found in damp areas, such as swamps and stream banks.

Not all ferns share the appearance commonly associated with the leafy plant. The water shamrock, also known as pepperwort and water clover, has flat, clover-shaped leaves which rest on the top of the water. They are native to Europe and typically found in ponds and quieter areas of streams.

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