Boston fern, scientifically known as Nephrolepsis exaltata, is a natural variant of the species which was discovered in 1894 during the large shipment of fern coming from Philadelphia to Boston.

This fern is found in zones 9-11. It can be grown outdoors in mild climates, but it adapts to the container culture for indoor use. 

See also Fresh Air Benefits and The Eight Laws of Health.

What is the Boston Fern?

Almost all of ferns can be grown indoors, but the Boston fern is a versatile and most loved houseplant, kept in homes and offices. Because of this reason, these ferns are the most cultivated ones around the world.

Whether this plant is named after the U.S. city of Boston, the plant is not native to America. These ferns are native to various areas around the world, including Asia, Africa, and some parts of America. This plant is also popular by other different names as well like,

  • Lace fern
  • Tiger fern
  • Dotted fern
  • Fluffy fern
  • Boston Sword fern

No matter what name the fern got, it has to remain the same and needs the same care in order to grow properly.

These plants are not high maintenance and can be easily grown both outdoors and indoors. People often like to have Boston ferns in their bedrooms as they give a tropical freshness to them.

This is one of the main benefits of this plant that it does not need extra care and attention. It does not need a lot of light, fertilization, trimming, or pruning. All you have to provide is humidity.

These ferns also have the ability to handle a wide range of temperatures that many other plants would not be able to.

Description of the Boston fern:

Boston fern, also known as the sword fern or fishbone fern, is a beautiful ornamental plant that is grown as a houseplant in cold climates.

This plant is native to the humid forests of Northern South America, Florida, Mexico, and the West Indies. In these areas, this plant can grow up to 7 feet tall.

Boston fern has large leaves with classic fern shape, which shows individual fingers of growth arranged at the central spine, which curves as it grows.

Some varieties of Boston fern have small and curly foliage. This plant has broad fronds with alternative leaflets on both sides of the midrib.

The fronds are pale to medium green when they grow up to 4 feet long and 6 inches wide. Each leaflet present on the fronds has slightly serrate, undulating edges, and a deltoid shape.

Most of the species of the ferns have erect fronds, while the Boston fern has arching fronds. The plant also sends out long and thin stolons, which further root to form a new plant when it touches the ground.

All ferns are seedless vascular plants, meaning they don’t have seeds and produce spores instead. Boston fern contains two rows of round clusters, which contain spores in them.

Fern in a pot hanging on a wooden rail.

Boston Fern: A Natural Air Purifier

Planting Boston fern is popular today because of its beauty, but it is famous for its ability to purify indoor air and add humidity to the air, which gives a soothing effect to a house. One of the main benefits of growing this plant at home is getting a purification effect in return.

According to dr. Bill Wolverton, one of the major scientists involved in NASA’s air quality studies, Nephrolepis Exaltata, or Boston fern, is one of the best plants which can purify the air from common pollutants like xylene or toluene.

A lot of people think that such pollutants are only found in an industrial setting, and their homes are safe from such risks.

But the truth is dangerous gasses are more common than you think. For example, fueling your stoves and heaters gives off formaldehyde, among many other dangerous gasses.

Moreover, various pressed wood products containing urea-methanal polymers are also a source of indoor pollutant contamination.

With such contamination of pollutants and other gasses in the air, you can keep yourself at high risk of getting symptoms like rashes, shortness of breath, eye irritation, and even lung problems.

But you can get rid of these risks and pollutants by only keeping a moderate size Boston fern pot in your room. 

1. Removes xylene

Xylene is often used as a solvent within paint thinners, glues, magic markers, anti-rust sprays and even in some pesticides.

All of these things can easily release this xylene into the air, which can enter your body by inhalation when there is poor ventilation.

Only one-time exposure to this harmful pollutant can cause long-term gastric irritation and cause problems in coordination and cognition.

It can be more harmful to pregnant ladies as it can affect the development of the growing fetus and increase the risk of skeletal abnormalities and low birth weight.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services U.S.A, the main source of xylene production is petroleum products.

Indoor air can have xylene up to 1-10 ppb. Moreover, poor ventilation can increase the indoor xylene level, resulting in sick building syndrome.

Planting Boston ferns at homes and offices can help absorb this harmful air pollutant. This plant can get in all of these pollutants from the air and release fresh oxygen, purifying the air.

2. Absorb toluene

Toluene is another harmful pollutant that can increase the risk of serious health problems like necrosis, central nervous system dysfunction, and irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract.

Exposure to this pollutant can cause development problems in children and reproductive problems in females. Some major sources of toluene include soda bottles, paint cosmetics, plastic, and paints.

While there are few chances of accumulation of this pollutant indoors, it is better to have a natural purifier like Boston fern on the side. This plant can remove toluene from the air and produce fresh, clean air for you to breathe.

Boston ferns can do that by phytoremediation, in which they pick up volatile organic compounds and boost the air quality, whether it is xylene, toluene, or formaldehyde. 

3. Absorb formaldehyde

A study done by NASA on indoor plants to check the effect of the indoor plant on-air shows that Boston ferns can absorb formaldehyde from the environment.

This formaldehyde is a main air pollutant found in most indoor places, whether it is our room, kitchen, house or office. The main source of this pollutant includes cosmetics, paint, smoking and cooking,

Another study done by WHO shows that the indoor wooden furniture present in most houses has formaldehyde resin paints which is one of the main sources of formaldehyde pollution.

However, the Boston fern plant can absorb all of this formaldehyde present within your house or room.

According to a study, almost all of the ferns of this family can remove 26% of formaldehyde in a poorly ventilated room only with their roots.

Furthermore, no matter how much concentration of formaldehyde is there, it cannot affect the normal photosynthesis activity of this plant.

Fern leaves background. mostly blurred foliage of ladder fern or nephrolepis cordifolia.

More Benefits of Growing Boston Fern

Like most house plants, Boston fern can provide a great aesthetic purpose. But this plant can also provide some other amazing benefits as well.

1. Low maintenance

Most of us don’t like house plants as they need some extra care to grow properly. However, Boston fern is not one of them.

This plant does not need extra attention or care in the right conditions. All you have to do is to stay out of the direct light and give enough moisture, and that’s it.

Moreover, most houseplant needs proper pruning and regular fertilizer, which is also not essential for Boston fern; this plant can grow well only with enough water and moist soil.

Even once a few days, watering can increase the humidity around its foliage. Unlike other plants, it can also be humidified by spraying alone.

2. Slow growing

Boston ferns are one the slowest growing houseplants. Even with proper care, it can take more than five years for a small potted Boston fern plant to reach its maximum height and width. This can be a good option for office workers or homeowners with limited space.

Moreover, you can minimize the fertilization to even slow down the growth rate, making it remain small for months and years.

This will also reduce the need for repotting and trimming the plant, which is almost constant for most houseplants.

Moreover, Boston plants don’t climb or grow long vies like other houseplants, making them a good option to grow in hanging baskets.

Even this plant enjoys hanging up as it receives a good amount of airflow around it. This plant can make a graceful appearance in baskets because of its long and arch-shaped fronds.

3. Disease and pest resistant

Another benefit of keeping a Boston fern as a houseplant is that the plants of this family do not attract a lot of pests and suffer from few diseases.

This ability of Boston fern makes it a good option for growing in places where your other house plants may have suffered in the past.

As long as this plant gets enough water and is out of direct sunlight, it will not have any issues. And even if a part of the plant is affected by some diseases, it can be propagated by discarding the damaged part of a plant.

Since it can reduce the number of pests in your room and increase air quality, you can have a good and better sleep with a Boston fern in your room. Boston ferns in bedrooms can also reduce allergy symptoms and make you have a peaceful sleep.

4. Easy replacement and propagation

Most houseplants only handle indoor replacement and need proper protection from drafts all year. But Boston ferns are versatile as they can grow indoors and also go outdoors to decorate the partial shade areas in the summer.

People often hang Boston ferns in baskets on covered porches where the roof protects them from direct sunlight and too much wind.

You can simply keep your plant outside all day long and bring it back indoors when the temperature is low at night.

Moreover, this plant has easy propagation, as a new Boston fern can be created by using its spores.

The easiest method is to divide a mature Boston fern plant into two or three more ferns. Just remove the plant from its pot and divide the root mass very cleanly with the help of a sharp spade or trowel.

Related gardening articles:

  1. How to Propagate Plants?
  2. A Guide to Pruning Your Plants
  3. 15 Best Shade Loving Plants
  4. Best Mosquitoes Repelling Plants

Bottom Line

Sword or Boston fern is a type of fern that grows under shade and partial sun in moist conditions. It is the oldest plant on the earth, older than the other flower-bearing plants.

This plant is well known due to its long and narrow leaves, which are called fronds, and can grow well in both indoor and outdoor conditions.

Boston fern can not only provide decorative and aesthetic purposes, but it can help in purifying the air, as it removes pollutants like xylene and formaldehyde from the environment and provides fresh and clean air in return.

Which makes them a popular pick among other potted ferns. But these plants are more than that.

Boston fern not only provides aesthetic appeal or improves air quality, but it can also reduce dryness around, reduce pests, and absorb noises from the environment, which results in a peaceful surrounding, just like everyone ever wanted for their home.

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