A Fascinating World of Ferns: 50+ Varieties for Your Indoor and Outdoor Spaces


By definition, a fern is a vascular, flowerless plant with leafy fronds that produce spores for reproduction. Whether they add depth and dark green accents to your garden, spruce up a terrarium, or just remind you of scenes from Jurassic Park, ferns are truly remarkable plants.


Life As a Fern Plant

Ferns are some of the most ancient plants on planet Earth. Dating back over 350 million years ago, ferns were some of the first vascular plants. In fact, only club mosses are older. However, the ferns around today aren’t quite that prehistoric.

A Long History

Though most of the first groups of ferns have gone extinct, the ferns we know and love today began evolving around 70 million years ago – still quite impressive. These plants radiated during the Devonian period into the 10,000 fern species on earth today. They were even used as herbal medicine by ancient humans! Here, we’ll dive a bit deeper into some of the jargon and details of fern life before moving on to our master list of 50+ species of ferns.

Vascular Plants

The term ‘vascular’ refers to the connective tissue that allows a plant to transfer food and water throughout its systems. In other words, the evolution of vascular plants allowed for plants to live out of the water. The first vascular plants began developing roots, stems, and leaves. Ferns are some examples we have of the first vascular plants to make their way to land. Signs of prehistoric life are still present in modern ferns, including their reproductive cycle.

Fern Reproduction

Fern Reproduction

The life cycle of a fern has a few distinct steps. Ferns evolved before plants had flowers or seeds, so how do they reproduce? Ferns actually have a multigenerational reproductive process!

First, the spores are released from an adult fern. The spores often need to land in a moist area which starts the gametophyte generation. During this time, the fern looks like a flat little heart. The male and female reproductive structures release the gametes, and fertilization occurs. Now the fertilized egg develops into a baby fern, which begins to grow upward into the fiddlehead. In a beautiful unfurling, the fiddlehead uncurls to reveal the fern or the sporophyte generation. After growing spores, they are released and the process begins again!

Bulbets and fernlets are the exceptions to this cycle. Forms of asexual reproduction, these are ways that some ferns will produce clones of themselves that plant themselves and grow into individual plants.

Fern Jargon

Before we start our master list of ferns, here’s a list of some helpful definitions that we’ll use in the descriptions of each fern species.

Leaf Descriptors

  • Frond – the leaf of a fern
  • Broadleaf – describes ferns with fronds that are undivided or simple
  • Compound Leaf – fronds are made up of many leaflets expanded from a stem or central point. This is the more common
  • Pinnate – the leaflets of the frond are arranged on either side of the stem
  • Twice cut – the leaflets themselves are divided and appear to be mini ferns
  • Pinnae – each individual leaflet

Habitat Descriptors

  • Terrestrial – grows on land with roots in the soil
  • Aquatic – grows fully in water
  • Epiphytic – grows on tree branches in the air without the need for soil or water

50+ Different Types of Ferns

Let’s jump into our 50+ different fern types. Read along to find the best fern for your home or garden.

Southern Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris)

Identification Characteristics

Notable for its delicate leaf shape, the southern maidenhair fern grows in tropical and temperate regions throughout the world. It’s a great choice for your backyard garden as it is a very resilient plant. The fern grows in a clumping, arching pattern, and mostly spreads through rhizomes.

Leaf Shape
The fronds alternate their way up the fern’s stem. Each individual leaf is fan-shaped with a few lobes, reminiscent of a paw print.

Light green

10-24 inches tall

Growing Tips
The Southern Maidenhair fern is a great choice for both indoor and outdoor settings. They thrive in shade gardens with alkaline soil.

Giant Fern (Angiopteris evecta)

Identification Characteristics

Native to countries in Micronesia, Polynesia, Australia, and New Guinea, the giant fern is truly a tropical giant. The plant is massive, with giant fronds that grow from a large stem.

Leaf Shape
The fronds look, for the most part, like the quintessential fern leaf, and are twice-cut pinnately compound.

Bright green with darker purplish, brown stems

With fronds almost 20 feet long and 8 feet across, this fern takes up space! The trunk can grow up to three feet in diameter.

Growing Tips
While this plant is an asset in its native range, it has proved to be quite invasive where it is introduced. Because of this, the cultivation of giant fern is discouraged to prevent the disruption of native habitats. However, it can be used as an ornamental fern.