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Boston Fern

Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)

Boston Fern Overview

Scientific name:

Nephrolepis exaltata



Water requirements:


Light requirements:

Indirect Sun


Air Purifying, Pet Friendly, Low Maintenance

Table of Contents

Introduction to the Boston Fern

The Graceful Beauty of Nephrolepis exaltata

The Boston fern, scientifically known as Nephrolepis exaltata, is a stunning ornamental plant that has graced homes and offices with its lush, feathery fronds for centuries. This versatile fern, also commonly referred to as the sword fern or fishbone fern, is a natural variant of the species discovered in a shipment from Philadelphia to Boston in 1894.

A Low-Maintenance Air Purifier

One of the key reasons the Boston fern has become a beloved houseplant is its remarkable ability to purify indoor air. This natural air-purifying powerhouse helps remove toxins like formaldehyde, plastic off-gassing, and cigarette smoke, making it an excellent choice for improving air quality in homes and offices. Additionally, the Boston fern helps restore moisture to dry indoor environments, potentially alleviating conditions like dry skin, noses, and throats.

An Aesthetic Delight for Office Spaces

Beyond its practical benefits, the Boston fern’s exquisite appearance makes it a sought-after addition to office environments. Its delicate, arching fronds and soft, wavy texture create a visually appealing and sophisticated accent, adding a touch of natural beauty to any workspace. The fern’s abundant foliage and graceful shape can help create a calming, relaxing atmosphere, potentially improving concentration and reducing stress levels.

Versatile and Adaptable

One of the Boston fern’s greatest strengths is its adaptability. While it thrives in bright, indirect light and high humidity, it can tolerate a range of conditions, making it suitable for various indoor environments. Its ability to grow in hanging baskets, raised containers, or even as a groundcover adds to its versatility, allowing it to be incorporated into diverse decorative arrangements.

With its natural air-purifying abilities, aesthetic appeal, and adaptability, the Boston fern is an excellent choice for adding a touch of nature to any office setting. Its low-maintenance requirements and ability to thrive in various conditions make it an ideal plant for busy professionals seeking to enhance their workspace with a beautiful, eco-friendly addition.

Detailed Description and Characteristics

The Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata), also known as the sword fern or wild Boston fern, is a graceful and lush houseplant that adds a touch of natural elegance to any indoor space. Its delicate, feathery fronds arch gracefully, creating a captivating display of greenery.

Fronds and Leaflets

The most striking feature of the Boston fern is its fronds, which can grow up to 4 feet long and 6 inches wide. These fronds are composed of numerous delicate leaflets, known as pinnae, arranged alternately along the midrib. Each pinna is generally deltoid in shape, with slightly serrated or undulating edges, contributing to the fern’s overall feathery appearance.

Growth Habit and Runners

The Boston fern grows in a tight clump, with its fronds arching outward in a graceful, fountain-like manner. One unique characteristic of this fern is its ability to produce runners, also known as stolons. These long, thin stems extend outward from the main plant and, when they touch the ground, they can develop roots and form new plants.

Distinctive Features

On the underside of the fronds, you’ll find distinctive round sori, which are clusters of spore-bearing organs. Unlike flowering plants that produce seeds, ferns like the Boston fern reproduce through these tiny spores. Additionally, the fronds of the Boston fern are a pale to medium-green colour, adding a refreshing touch of natural hues to any indoor setting.

Cultivars and Varieties

While the ‘Bostoniensis’ variety is the most common, there are several other cultivars available, each with its own unique characteristics:

  • ‘Compacta’ is shorter, more compact, and more upright, with fronds reaching 15-18 inches in length.
  • ‘Dallas’ (also known as ‘Dallas Jewel’) is a small cultivar that spreads rapidly and tolerates lower light levels and less humidity.
  • ‘Florida Ruffle’ has twice-divided leaflets, giving it a more feathery appearance, and stiff, wider fronds at the base for a denser canopy.
  • ‘Fluffy Duffy’ is small and fine-textured, with fronds divided two or three times, resulting in a very dense and feathery plant.
  • ‘Fluffy Ruffles’ is a smaller, sterile selection with stiff, upright fronds and dense, wavy-edged, and incised leaflets.
  • ‘Golden Boston’ features yellow-green fronds.
  • ‘Massii’ is similar to ‘Bostoniensis’ but darker green and more pendulous.
  • ‘Rita’s Gold’ has more compact, chartreuse fronds.
  • ‘Rooseveltii’ has finely cut, feathery fronds, some with crested ends.
  • ‘Verona’ is an heirloom variety with very drooping, lacy fronds.
  • ‘Whitmanii’ has more finely cut, feathery fronds that tolerate lower humidity levels.

With its graceful arching fronds, delicate leaflets, and distinctive features like the round sori, the Boston fern is a true masterpiece of nature, adding a touch of elegance and tranquillity to any indoor environment.

Optimal Care Guide

Light Requirements

The Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) thrives in bright, indirect sunlight. It prefers moderate to high levels of filtered or dappled light, making it an ideal choice for office environments with large windows.

Achieving the Right Lighting

  • Place your Boston fern near a north or east-facing window, where it will receive ample indirect light throughout the day.
  • If you have south or west-facing windows, use sheer curtains or place the fern a few feet away from the window to filter out direct sunlight, which can scorch the delicate fronds.
  • Avoid placing the Boston fern in areas with intense, direct sunlight or complete shade, as both extremes can hinder its growth and vitality.

Watering Schedule

Boston ferns thrive when their soil is consistently moist but not waterlogged. Proper watering is crucial to maintain their lush, feathery fronds and prevent wilting or yellowing.

Watering Tips

  • Check the soil moisture regularly by inserting your finger into the potting mix. Water the plant when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.
  • Water thoroughly, ensuring that the excess moisture drains from the bottom of the pot. Avoid letting the plant sit in standing water, as this can lead to root rot.
  • During the growing season (spring and summer), you may need to water your Boston fern more frequently, potentially twice a week or more, depending on the humidity levels and temperature in your environment.

Temperature and Humidity

As a tropical plant, the Boston fern thrives in warm, humid conditions. Maintaining the right temperature and humidity levels is essential for its overall health and vigour.

Ideal Conditions

  • Boston ferns prefer temperatures between 18°C to 24°C. Avoid exposing them to temperatures below 10°C or above 32°C, as this can stress the plant.
  • High humidity levels, around 50% or higher, are ideal for Boston ferns. In dry indoor environments, use a humidifier, pebble trays, or regular misting to increase the humidity around the plant.
  • Avoid placing your Boston fern near draughty areas, such as air conditioning vents or frequently opened doors, as this can cause the fronds to dry out and become crisp.

Soil and Potting Tips

Proper soil and potting practices are essential for the healthy growth and development of your Boston fern.

Soil Recommendations

  • Use a well-draining, nutrient-rich potting mix specifically formulated for ferns or houseplants. A mixture containing peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite is ideal.
  • Avoid using heavy, dense soils that can become waterlogged and lead to root rot.

Potting and Repotting

  • Choose a pot with drainage holes to prevent water from accumulating at the bottom and causing root rot.
  • Repot your Boston fern every two to three years in the spring, or when the plant becomes root-bound. Select a pot that is one size larger than the previous one.
  • When repotting, gently loosen the root ball and remove any dead or damaged fronds before placing the plant in a fresh potting mix.

By following these guidelines for light, water, temperature, humidity, and soil, you can create an optimal environment for your Boston fern to thrive and add a touch of lush, tropical beauty to your office or home.

Benefits in the Office

Air Purification and Toxin Removal

The Boston fern is renowned for its exceptional ability to purify indoor air by absorbing and removing harmful toxins. According to NASA studies, this plant is highly effective at eliminating formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, and benzene from the air.

Removing Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a common indoor pollutant found in many household items, including cosmetics, paint, and furniture. Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde can cause headaches, respiratory issues, and even cancer. The Boston fern is highly effective at absorbing and breaking down this toxic compound, making it an excellent choice for improving air quality in offices and workspaces.

Eliminating Cigarette Smoke

For offices where smoking is permitted, the Boston fern can help eliminate the unpleasant odours and harmful compounds found in cigarette smoke. This plant is particularly adept at removing xylene and toluene, two toxic chemicals present in cigarette smoke.

Improved Air Quality and Humidity

In addition to removing toxins, the Boston fern can improve overall air quality and humidity levels in office environments. By releasing moisture into the air, this plant helps combat dry air, which can alleviate symptoms of dry skin, dry noses, and dry throats.

Reducing Allergens and Respiratory Issues

By increasing humidity levels and removing airborne pollutants, the Boston fern can help reduce the presence of allergens and improve respiratory health for office workers. This can lead to fewer allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, coughing, and itchy eyes, creating a more comfortable and productive work environment.

Low Maintenance and Cost-Effective

One of the key advantages of incorporating Boston ferns into office spaces is their low maintenance requirements and cost-effectiveness. These plants are relatively easy to care for, making them an attractive option for busy office environments.

  • They thrive in indirect light and do not require frequent repotting or pruning.
  • Boston ferns are slow-growing, reducing the need for constant maintenance.
  • They are resistant to common pests and diseases, minimising the need for pesticides or other treatments.
  • With proper care, these plants can last for years, providing long-term benefits at a low cost.

Aesthetic Appeal and Stress Reduction

In addition to their functional benefits, Boston ferns can also enhance the aesthetic appeal of office spaces. Their lush, feathery fronds and graceful arching shape add a touch of natural beauty to any environment, creating a more calming and inviting atmosphere. Studies have shown that incorporating plants into workspaces can help reduce stress levels and improve overall well-being.By introducing the Boston fern into office settings, employers can promote a healthier and more productive work environment for their employees.

Versatility and Adaptability

The Boston fern is a versatile plant that can thrive in a variety of office environments. While it prefers bright, indirect light and high humidity, it can adapt to different lighting and temperature conditions, making it suitable for various office layouts and configurations. Furthermore, these ferns can be grown in hanging baskets, planters, or even mounted on walls, providing flexibility in their placement and allowing for creative integration into office decor.

Environmental Sustainability

By incorporating Boston ferns into office spaces, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to environmental sustainability. These plants help improve indoor air quality, reduce the need for chemical air purifiers, and promote a healthier work environment for employees. Additionally, the Boston fern’s ability to purify the air and increase humidity levels can contribute to energy savings by reducing the need for air conditioning and humidifiers, further enhancing the overall sustainability of the office space.

Promoting Biophilic Design

The inclusion of Boston ferns in office environments aligns with the principles of biophilic design, which emphasises the integration of natural elements into built environments. By bringing these plants into workspaces, businesses can create a stronger connection between their employees and the natural world, fostering a sense of well-being and potentially improving productivity and creativity.

Common Issues and Solutions

Yellowing or Browning Fronds

One of the most common issues with Boston ferns is the yellowing or browning of their fronds. This can be caused by several factors:

  • Underwatering or dry soil: Boston ferns prefer consistently moist soil, and if the soil dries out, the fronds may turn yellow or brown.
  • Too much direct sunlight: While Boston ferns need bright, indirect light, too much direct sunlight can scorch the fronds and cause browning.
  • Low humidity: Boston ferns thrive in high humidity environments, and low humidity can cause the fronds to dry out and turn brown at the tips or edges.
  • Nutrient deficiencies: Lack of essential nutrients in the soil can also lead to yellowing or browning of the fronds.


  • Adjust watering schedule: Water your Boston fern thoroughly when the top inch of soil is dry, ensuring the soil remains consistently moist but not waterlogged.
  • Increase humidity: Mist the fronds regularly, place the pot on a tray filled with pebbles and water, or use a humidifier near the plant.
  • Provide proper lighting: Move your Boston fern to a location with bright, indirect light, away from direct sunlight.
  • Fertilise appropriately: Use a balanced, water-soluble fertiliser diluted to half strength every 4-6 weeks during the growing season.
  • Prune damaged fronds: If the fronds are severely damaged, you can trim off the brown or yellow portions to encourage new growth.

Pests and Diseases

While Boston ferns are relatively hardy, they can still be susceptible to certain pests and diseases.

Common Pests:

  • Spider mites: These tiny pests can cause yellowing, stippling, and webbing on the fronds.
  • Mealybugs: Cottony white masses on the fronds and stems can indicate a mealybug infestation.
  • Scale insects: These small, round pests can attach themselves to the fronds and stems, causing discoloration and stunted growth.

Common Diseases:

  • Leaf spot: Caused by various fungi, this disease appears as brown or black spots on the fronds.
  • Bacterial wilt: This disease can cause the fronds to wilt and turn yellow or brown.
  • Root rot: Overwatering or poor drainage can lead to root rot, causing the plant to wilt and decline.

Prevention and Treatment:

  • Inspect plants regularly and isolate any infested plants to prevent spreading.
  • Maintain proper watering and humidity levels to discourage pests and diseases.
  • Use insecticidal soap, neem oil, or horticultural oils to control pests like spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects.
  • Remove and destroy any severely infected or damaged fronds to prevent further spread.
  • Improve air circulation around the plant to reduce humidity and prevent fungal growth.
  • For root rot, repot the plant in fresh, well-draining soil and adjust watering practices.

By addressing these common issues promptly and providing proper care, you can help ensure your Boston fern remains healthy and vibrant.

Fun Facts and Cultural Significance

An Ancient Plant Species

The Boston fern is considered one of the oldest plant species on Earth, with ferns dating back over 360 million years. This ancient lineage makes the Boston fern a true survivor, showcasing its resilience and adaptability over millions of years of evolution.

Tropical Origins

Nephrolepis exaltata, the wild sword fern from which the Boston fern originated, is native to the tropical regions of the Americas, including Florida, the West Indies, and parts of South America. This tropical heritage explains the Boston fern’s preference for warm, humid environments and its ability to thrive indoors.

A Serendipitous Discovery

The distinct Boston fern cultivar was discovered by chance in 1894 among a shipment of sword ferns sent from Philadelphia to Boston. This natural mutation, with its gracefully arching fronds, quickly became a horticultural sensation and was named ‘Bostoniensis’ after the city where it was first identified.

Victorian Elegance

During the Victorian era, the Boston fern was a highly prized ornamental plant, commonly featured in hanging baskets and used for interior decoration around the world. Its lush, feathery fronds embodied the Victorian aesthetic of elegance and refinement, making it a popular choice for adorning homes and gardens.

Symbolic Meanings

Ferns hold significant symbolic meanings across various cultures:

  • In Japan, ferns represent family and hope for the future.
  • For many indigenous people, ferns symbolise new life and new beginnings.
  • During the Victorian era, ferns embodied trustworthiness and humility.

Hawaiian Diversity

Hawaii is home to approximately 200 species of ferns, often referred to as “Living Lace” due to their intricate and delicate frond patterns. This diversity highlights the adaptability and versatility of ferns in various environments and climates.

Enhance your office space with Boston ferns. These air-purifying, low-maintenance plants add natural beauty and improve indoor air quality. Learn more at Aztec Plants.


The Boston fern, with its graceful arching fronds and delicate leaflets, is a true gem in the world of houseplants. Not only does it add a touch of natural beauty to any indoor space, but it also offers numerous benefits that make it an excellent choice for office environments.

Key Benefits and Characteristics

  • Air-purifying abilities: The Boston fern is a powerhouse when it comes to purifying indoor air. It effectively removes toxins like formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene, creating a healthier and more breathable atmosphere for office workers.
  • Low-maintenance care: One of the reasons Boston ferns are so popular is their ease of care. They thrive in bright, indirect light and require consistent moisture, making them a low-fuss addition to any workspace.
  • Aesthetic appeal: With its lush, feathery fronds and graceful arching shape, the Boston fern adds a touch of natural elegance to any office setting. Its unique appearance can help create a calming and inviting atmosphere, promoting productivity and well-being.
  • Humidity regulation: The Boston fern’s ability to release moisture into the air can help regulate humidity levels in office environments, which can be particularly beneficial for those prone to dry skin or respiratory issues.

Embrace the Beauty and Benefits

Incorporating the Boston fern into your office space is a simple yet impactful way to create a healthier and more inviting environment. With its air-purifying abilities, low-maintenance care requirements, and stunning aesthetic appeal, this versatile plant is a true asset for any workspace.

Enhance Your Office with Aztec Plants

At Aztec Plants, we are dedicated to helping businesses and individuals alike create beautiful and healthy indoor spaces. Our team of experts can guide you through the process of selecting, caring for, and maintaining the perfect Boston ferns for your office.

Don’t hesitate to contact us today to learn more about our plant hire and consultation services. Let us help you transform your office into a vibrant and rejuvenating environment with the stunning Boston fern.

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