Tuberous sword fern

Epithet means "with heart-shaped leaves."

Evergreen, 18 to 30 in. (45 to 75 cm).Zones 9 to 11.

description: The rhizome is wide creeping and forms unusual tuberous buds. Stipes are small and insignificant. Narrow upright blades taper at both base and apex and are crowded with 40 to 50 pairs of pinnae. Sori with kidney-shaped indusia are submarginal.

range and habitat: This species is native in a wide expanse of the tropics including the West Indies, Mexico, South America, the South pacific, and Asia. it has naturalized in Florida and Hawaii. Soil is not as important as moisture, which should be a reliable constant.

culture and comments: Tough and justifiably popular, although sometimes invasive as a ground cover, this species colonizes with upright "swords" in the ornamental plantings that surround tourist facilities and home gardens in Zones 9 to 11. A disjunct and perhaps distinct variety adapts and submits to the fragrance of sulfurous fumes on the fringes of the thermal springs in Rotorua, New Zealand. Several easily domesticated varieties are available, although their names come with a certain amount of confusion.

'Duffii' is an upright sprite to 12 in. (30 cm) with proportionately minute pinnae all on a plant suitable for an indoor centerpiece.

Nephrolepis cordifolia in the thermal haze at the hot springs of Rotorua, New Zealand.
The lusty, colorful "ears" of elephant ears (Caladium) pose with the restful greens of Nephrolepis cordifolia 'Kimberly Queen'.

'Kimberly Queen' has dark green arching fronds to 3 ft. (90 cm) by 4 or 5 in. (10 to 13 cm) wide. It is an easy and energetic cultivar.

'Lemon Button' is a cute-as-a-button dwarf to 10 in. (25 cm) with minute round pinnae. It is an attractive choice for intimate small spaces indoors or as a table fern outdoors where it will take brief touches of frost. It has a hint of a lemon fragrance.

'Timm's Petticoat' from the Bill Timm family has twisted, forked, and congested upright foliage and is useful as a centerpiece.

Nephrolepis exaltata Boston fern Epithet means "tall." Evergreen, variable. Zones 9 to 11.

description: The rhizome is creeping and produces long threadlike scaly runners. Stipes are short and blades are once-pinnate with up to 50 pairs of pinnae. Sori are covered by kidney-shaped indusia.

range and habitat: The species and its cultivars are primarily plants of the New World with scattered populations elsewhere including South Africa, Australia, and India. Many are found as epiphytes as well as terrestrially or occasionally in rocky habitats.

culture and comments: The cultivars are the familiar and accommodating indoor ferns that hang with ease in hotel lob bies and dining rooms as well as being the token indoor ferns for the window d├ęcor of homeowners. The parent of the cultivars arrived in Boston as part of a shipment of Nephrolepis exaltata from Jamaica via Philadelphia. The distributor recognized it as different, thinking it to be N. davallioides. Some 50,000 sales later it was recognized as a cultivar and christened N. exaltata'Bostoniensis'. That was in 1896 and they have been evolving and thriving ever since as indoor specimens as well as outdoor decorations in Southern California and Florida.

All cultivars are willing basket champions in bright indirect light and in moist potting soil with attendant good drainage. They thrive in frost-free and less-than-humid environments, but need regular watering. I do not recommend misting the foliage, even in hot weather, as the mist can settle in the midst of fronds without evaporating and encourage rot and mold. There are dozens of cultivars with suitable options for homes and gardens. Not surprisingly, with so much variety, there is some duplication and confusion regarding exact nomenclature. Many of the cultivars do not produce spores and to be true to name need to be propagated by division or tissue culture.

'Bostoniensis' is the mother cultivar of the entire lineage of genetic variations. It is the familiar once-pinnate, 3- to 4-ft. (90- to 120-cm) pendent basket offering suitable for display in the home if you have plenty of room. Otherwise chose from more-size-appropriate later mutations. A "junior" form matures at 2 ft. (60 cm). Do not overwater.

Nephrolepis exaltata 'Bostoniensis Bluebell' in a sales display with like-minded houseplants.

'Bostoniensis Bluebell' (synonym 'Blue Bells') is a midsized symmetrical ball that is manageable and suitable for 6- to 8-in. (15- to 20-cm) pots or baskets. Keep it warm.

'Boston Compacta' is more upright than trailing and proportionately smaller.

'Dallas' is an introduction from Casa Flora Nursery in, yes, Dallas, Texas. It is a tidy plant with dense ruffled foliage that is suitable for a table decoration. Casa Flora notes that this fern does not shed leaflets when transferred from the brightly lit production areas of greenhouses to average home conditions.

'Emerald Vase' ('Green Fantasy' in European markets) has foot-long (30-cm), bright lime-green, upright lacerated and forking fronds.

'Fluffy Ruffles' is one of the most commonly available cul-tivars and the name says it all. The 12-in. (30-cm) fronds are dark green with overlapping ruffled pinnae.

'Hillii' is another common, and in this case old (1930s), cultivar. At 4 ft. (1.2 m) it is rather out of reach for the average household (short of trading away a relative for some space). The wide fronds have wavy margins. It is an imposing basket plant.

'Mini Ruffles' is an even smaller version of'Fluffy Ruffles' and at a diminutive 4 to 6 in. (10 to 15 cm) totally in scale for houseplant use.

'Norwoodii' is a finely cut, light green, feathery delicacy with layers of gossamer foliage worthy of centerpiece status. It is rarely taller than 12 to 15 in. (30 to 38 cm). Although it appreciates humidity, to keep it in show condition watering should be confined to the soil surface.

'Rooseveltii' is a traditional offering with 3-ft. (90-cm) fronds having curly margins.

'Sassy' is a short cultivar with fronds displaying varying degrees of laceration.

'Smithii' is the most finely divided of the dwarfs and a cloud of raindrop-sized pale green pinnules. It is best in a humid environment but avoid water or mist on the foliage.

'Tiger' is variegated with subtle stripes of yellow on lime-green. The fronds are low arches of 2 ft. (60 cm) or more.

Nephrolepis Tiger
Restrained variegation on Nephrolepis exaltata 'Tiger'.

'Wanamaka' is a compact, foot-tall (30-cm) vase of twisted linear pinnae wrapping around upright stalks.

'Whitmanii' is an old cultivar with drooping fronds and tri-pinnate, incised pinnae. It is still recommended for small baskets.

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