Nephrolepis exaltata

From PlantHelp.Me
Nephrolepis exaltata
Group: Tracheophytes
Order: Polypodiales
Family: Pteridaceae
Genus: Nephrolepis
Species: N. exaltata
Classified: (L.) Schott, 1834
Propagation: From spores, division
Adult size: 30cm
Lighting: Bright indirect
Watering: Keep soil moist
Fertilization: Monthly during growing season
Soil: Well drained but retentive
Humidity: High to medium humidity (>40%).
Other information
Toxicity: Non-toxic
Rarity: Common
See more Nephrolepis

Common names:

Sword fern, Boston fern, Ladder fern

Nephrolepis exaltata is a popular and rewarding houseplant, so long as you get the care right and follow some simple rules. Ferns have a reputation for fussiness, and their cultivation requirements are quite specific. It is native to tropical and subtropical America.


Nephrolepis comes from the Greek words 'nephros' meaning "a kidney" and 'lepis' meaning "a scale".

Exaltata means 'very tall'.



The fronds of N. exaltata are covered with green thin leaves.


N. exaltata spores

N. exaltata as part of the ancient Tracheophytes group of plants does not flower. Instead it reproduces by spores which form on the undersides of the leaves.


N. exaltata, like all ferns, has a reputation for being a difficult plant to keep in the home. But in reality so long as you follow a few basic care steps this plant will thrive, and its fronds will grace your home with a beautiful forest ambience.

The two most important factors in caring for N. exaltata are light and water. Never place this plant in direct sunlight within the home, unless it is brief direct morning or evening light. An indirect but bright spot is perfect. Ferns are forest floor dwellers, but are adapted to the dappled, slightly shaded light that plants on the forest floor receive. They cannot handle hot midday sun and will quickly brown and die back.

Water regularly but do not allow N. exaltata to sit in standing water. Keep the surface of the soil moist at all times and never allow the plant to dry through fully or it will quickly decline and die. A good tip is to place the plant in a wide container an inch or so deep, on pebbles or grit. Water the plant thoroughly until water flows through the pot into the container. The pebbles will ensure the plant isn't in contact with the water and as it evaporates will provide a slight humidity boost to the plant.

Humidity is less important than light and watering but if you live in an extremely arid climate you may need to provide additional sources of moisture for the plant. Cluster ferns together with other houseplants or place near a humidifier.

Normal household temperatures are generally fine for N. exaltata but protect from long periods of cold.

Common Issues

I forgot to water and now the plant looks dead

Whilst the foliage is beyond salvaging, N. exaltata is a hardy plant and the roots that exist below the soils surface may still contain enough water and energy to restart the plant. Soak the soil, making sure it is fully rehydrated and then place it somewhere bright and warm for a few weeks, ensuring you keep the soil moist at all times. With luck you will see new green fronds emerging from the soils surface.

Brown leaves

Leaves browning and dying on a fern is almost always to do with watering. Ensure you keep the soil evenly moist at all times and do not allow the plant to dry out.

If the outer leaves are green and healthy but inner leaves are browning and dying it's likely just that those inner fronds are not getting enough light. You can prune the dead or dying fronds and this will not harm the plant.