Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Southern Sword Fern, Narrow Swordfern, Erect Sword Fern, Ladder Fern, Tuber Fern
Nephrolepis cordifolia

Family: Polypodiaceae
Genus: Nephrolepis (nef-roh-LEP-iss) (Info)
Species: cordifolia (kor-di-FOH-lee-uh) (Info)

Synonym:Nephrolepis pendula
Synonym:Nephrolepis tuberosa
Synonym:Polypodium cordifolium
Synonym:Aspidium pendulum
Synonym:Aspidium tuberosum

One vendor has this plant for sale.

15 members have or want this plant for trade.


18-24 in. (45-60 cm)

12-15 in. (30-38 cm)

USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 C (30 F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 C (35 F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 C (40 F)

Sun Exposure:
Light Shade
Partial to Full Shade
Full Shade


Bloom Color:

Bloom Time:

Grown for foliage

Other details:
May be a noxious weed or invasive
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater
Provides winter interest

Soil pH requirements:
5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
By dividing the rootball
By dividing rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs (including offsets)

Seed Collecting:
N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed

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There are a total of 17 photos.
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5 positives
1 neutral
5 negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Positive Gaiana On Sep 27, 2014, Gaiana from Klerksdorp
South Africa wrote:

I am from South africa, I guess zone 9a? (Can get to -10c) but mostly -5 on most ocassions, I have been growing this pretty fern since I developed my love for gardening and plants. As I love a woodland setting and prefer part to light shade ( our summer are a bit hot hey) this fern is a champ even in times of drought this one will re establish quickly. It can take over a spot indeed if left unchecked but its very very easily removed especially when small. The roots will not kill other plants and more than likeley that oak tree was decomposing from within due to another factor. The ferns mereley took full advantage of all that nutrients. It will not displace dense ground covers but send out its long runners untill a suitable location or opening is found. One of those quick fixes to fill a spot where little else seem to grow.

Positive RosinaBloom On Feb 20, 2013, RosinaBloom from Waihi
New Zealand (Zone 1) wrote:

Although the Ladder Fern is a handsome looking plant, it is listed in the National Pest Plant Accord, and can not be sold, propagated or distributed in New Zealand. It can grow to 1m tall, and is the only fern that has tubers. It spreads through its spores, runners and hairy potato-like tubers, growing almost anywhere and under any conditions, and in any soils. It can be all invasive crowding out groundcovers, shrubs, other ferns and plants. The runners and tubers need to be disposed of properly.

Negative BearCub On Jun 25, 2011, BearCub from Gainesville, FL wrote:

I planted three small clumps of this fern from pots when I first bought our house; I have always loved the way ferns look. But they have spread everywhere and they seem to make it hard for anything else to grow where they are located. I have/had them planted around some of our trees, and I suspect they may have accelerated the demise of at least one of them. I have found the roots burrowing into the base of some of our big oaks and one of the oaks that fell over recently and was rotten in the center (unbeknownst to us, it looked fine) had ferns all around it and I could see the roots on the inside of the stump, having burrowed right through the outer layer of the tree.

I still think they are pretty, but they need to be aggressively controlled and isolated from other plants, in my opinion.

Positive rntx22 On Jan 12, 2009, rntx22 from Houston, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:

Yes this plant can become invasive IF planted in the ground. I would not recommend doing so. It is a wonderful fern in a pot though. Much easier to grow than other ferns, and certainly not finicky. Every few years I just lift the fern out of the pot and thin them out. This keeps them looking nice. Doesn't require much maintenance other than that.

Positive Camillia84 On Oct 29, 2008, Camillia84 from Jacksonville, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:

Although considered invasive by other gardeners, I have found the spreading habit of this this plant beneficial. It makes great borders around trees where no grass will grow & fence lines to keep grass & weeds out.
Is easily mowed or pulled out if growing where it is unwanted.

Negative plantladylin On Sep 16, 2008, plantladylin from South Daytona, FL (Zone 9b) wrote:

Although a beautiful fern, it is a PEST plant in my area. I can't tell you how many thousands we've pulled out of the yard over the last twenty five or so years. I made the mistake of getting one small plant from a friend years ago and now I can't seem to get rid of it totally. It spreads like crazy ... sorta like a bad rash! :-) Makes a lovely hanging basket house plant but I would advise anyone living in zone 9 (possibly 8!) to deter from planting this in their garden unless they want it taking over and crowding out everything in sight!

Negative JaxFlaGardener On Aug 16, 2008, JaxFlaGardener from Jacksonville, FL (Zone 8b) wrote:

This is just about the most invasive plant I have ever introduced into my garden. It knows no limits (except it will burn back in hot, direct sunlight). It will bulldoze away any plants in its path as it spreads. Further research needs to be done, I think, to determine if the plant roots have an allelopathic ability to kill other plants. I greatly regret that I ever planted it, but I did so when I was more of a newbie gardener.

This plant is sometimes confused with Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata 'Bostoniensis'). In fact, some unscrupulous or uninformed plant nurseries will actually be selling N. cordifolia in hanging baskets labeled as "Boston Fern" when the plant is actually Sword Fern. There are several botanical differences between the leaf structure of the two ferns, but the differences are generally so small that only a trained eye would recognize one from the other. However, one glaring difference makes it easy to tell them apart. The N. cordifolia (invasive Sword Fern) has spherical tubers on the roots; N. exaltata 'Bostoniensis' does not have these round tubers. Before buying anything labeled as "Boston Fern," I would recommend lifting the fern from its pot or hanging basket in order to inspect the roots to see if the round tubers are present. If the round tubers are there, the plant is most likely Sword Fern and is being misrepresented as Boston Fern.


Negative sugarweed On Feb 18, 2006, sugarweed from Jacksonville & Okeechobee, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:

In North Carolina and other southern states large hanging baskets of this are coveted by many for hang outside on big porches and displayed on pedestals. It is hard for most to keep it looking good, but they try.

Here in Florida it's everywhere, making a soft edge to everyone's gardens. I yank out a bushel every time I go outside to work. It has little "cocktail onion" at its base from which small hair like roots grow from and establish it shallowly in the sand. This pulls up easily, but also grows back when you turn around.

When we have a freeze it does insulate some of the other plants just by its dense presence.

This is on Florida's invasive plant list. I can mark it negative, but that because it is impossible to be rid of it here.

Negative palmbob On Aug 30, 2005, palmbob from Acton, CA (Zone 8b) wrote:

I have grown sword ferns several times.. very hardy here in hot, dry southern CAlifornia... and quite invasive... though have to admit pretty easy to yank out of the ground. Not sure how it does in other climates, but always looks sad after Santa Anas, and winter... half to all the stems die leaving a bunch of sticks as the new ferns come up... makes a messy, unattractive look and requires a lot of work to get things looking nice again.

It is grown very commonly down here and sold all over as an indoor as well as an outdoor fern. Spreads like wild fire.

Neutral smiln32 On May 10, 2004, smiln32 from Oklahoma City, OK (Zone 7a) wrote:

Tufts of finely toothed sword-shaped fronds rise from short, erect, hairy leaf stems. It will grow to 2-3 feet tall. The spores are visible on the underside of the leaf, but this fern mainly propagates by spreading hairy runners. It does best in shade but will take sun if given ample water.

Positive TerriFlorida On Oct 14, 2003, TerriFlorida from Plant City, FL wrote:

I have lived in zone 9b for 22 years and gardened here for most of those years. Erect sword fern can be seen many, many places doing quite nicely. It is considered invasive by some, and when put in the wrong place it certainly can be. You can mow it occasionally without harm to the plants, and it is a dependable ground cover in shade here, wherever there is woodsy soil. The more rich the soil, the more lush the ferns and the farther they'll run.

I like this plant. I have yet to release it in my new garden, because I know what it is capable of. But I will, because I know what it does for woodland settings.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Enterprise, Alabama
Tuskegee, Alabama
Ceres, California
Guerneville, California
Menlo Park, California
Merced, California
Stockton, California
Apopka, Florida
Bartow, Florida
Brooksville, Florida (2 reports)
Daytona Beach, Florida
Deltona, Florida
Gainesville, Florida
Jacksonville, Florida
Lutz, Florida
Plant City, Florida
Riverview, Florida
Rockledge, Florida
Canton, Illinois
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Beaumont, Texas
Fort Worth, Texas
Houston, Texas (2 reports)
New Caney, Texas
Portland, Texas
Spring, Texas

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