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Wild Boston Fern, Native Sword Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata), Dryopteridaceae Family, native, perennial, evergreen (in areas with no hard freezes)
Range: Florida, Louisiana and Texas south to the Monroe County Keys (where very rare); West Indies, Mexico, Central America and South America.
Wild Boston Fern, Native Sword Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) is commonly found in swamps and wet hammocks. It can be found growing in moist to seasonally wet, well-drained to poorly-drained soil. The soil can be sandy, limestone or organic with humusy top layer. It also grows epiphytically on Sabal palmetto. It has erect fronds that reach up to 3.5' long and 6" wide with the up to 3" long individual pinnae (leaflets) shallowly toothed, but not divided. The fronds arch with age. The pinnae are slightly curving near the apex with acute to attenuate tips. The basal lobe on the upward facing edge sometimes overlaps the rachis (the axis through the leaf). It is sparsely to moderately scaly near the midvein. The indusia (tissue that covers the spore producing structures) are rounded to horseshoe-shaped. It is one of the most drought tolerant ferns and can withstand brief periods of drought; however, it thrives only under conditions of high humidity. Nephrolepis exaltata is spore-fertile so it can be grown from spores as well as by division.
Wild Boston Fern is primarily recommended for natural landscapes and habitat restorations; however, it has other uses. It is usually grown in moist, shady sites underneath trees or shrubs or as a ground cover. It will spread aggressively by underground runners or stolens if growing in fertile, moist soils. Spreading is less rapid in heavy, clayish soils and areas that are prone to drought. It can be grown Indoors and it is often grown in hanging baskets or on pedestals. When grown in containers, use a pot saucer with a couple inches of pebbles beneath the container. Add water to the saucer to increase humidity. Misting every day or so if the relative humidity is below about 80% will keep it looking its best.
Nephrolepis exaltata should not be confused with Nephrolepis exaltata bostoniensis which is the Boston fern sold as a house plant and whose fronds are broader and droop more. Nephrolepis exaltata has stiffer leaves and fewer leaves and is the original form from which the Boston fern mutated. There are many cultivars of this plant. Tuberous sword fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia) and Asian sword fern (Nephrolepis multiflora) resemble the native sword . Tuberous sword fern is sold under the names Boston fern, hardy fern, large fern and erect sword fern. The names are often interchanged among the different species. Tuberous sword fern usually produces tubers. It is the only one of the four species that is capable of producing them. So, if tubers are present on the plant, it is Nephrolepis cordifolia not Nephrolepis exaltata.