Macho Fern vs Boston Fern: Key Differences Explained

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The Macho Fern, with its large, arching fronds and impressive size, is a popular choice for outdoor spaces and can add a tropical feel to any patio or garden. The Boston Fern, with its delicate, arching fronds and classic appearance, is a classic houseplant that has been popular for over a century. While both ferns have similar care requirements, there are several key differences between the two that gardeners should be aware of when choosing which to add to their plant collection. Understanding the differences between the Macho Fern and Boston Fern can help gardeners select the right plant for their needs and create the best growing conditions for their chosen fern.

Macho Fern Overview

Macho Fern

The Macho Fern (Nephrolepis biserrata) is a large and robust fern variety known for its bold, bright green fronds. Native to Florida, this fern is characterized by broad leaves that can grow up to 3-4 feet in length, making it larger than most common fern varieties such as Boston ferns and Kimberly queen ferns.

Macho ferns grow well both indoors and outdoors, and are often used for their impressive size and lush foliage in landscaping and as statement plants within living spaces. Some key distinctions between Macho ferns and Boston ferns include the Macho fern’s faster growth rate and its ability to reach a greater height of up to 6 ft or more.

Boston Fern Overview

Boston Fern 1

The Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) is a popular houseplant known for its attractive, arching fronds and delicate, feathery leaflets. This type of fern is native to tropical and subtropical regions and is often found in moist, shady areas such as forests and swamps.

Boston ferns grow to a height of 2-3 feet and a width of 3 feet, displaying a blue-green hue on their fronds. As a houseplant, they prefer indirect light, high humidity, and well-draining soil. To maintain the health of a Boston fern, it is essential to keep the soil uniformly moist, but not overly wet. Regular misting and frequent watering are necessary, as indoor environments can be quite dry compared to their natural habitat.

When caring for a Boston fern, it is essential to consider its preferences for temperature and humidity. The fern thrives in temperatures between 65-75°F, while avoiding sudden fluctuations or drafts. Additionally, providing a humid environment, such as placing the plant on a tray of pebbles with water, will help the Boston fern flourish.

Comparing Appearance and Growth

The Macho Fern and the Boston Fern have distinct differences when it comes to their appearance and growth patterns. The Macho Fern is known for its larger size, with fronds that are bolder, brighter, and longer than those of the Boston Fern (source). In contrast, the Boston Fern has a more delicate and graceful look, with arching fronds that can grow up to 3 feet in length (source).

Macho Ferns tend to grow taller and wider, reaching up to 3-4 feet in height and 7 feet in width (source). They also grow more aggressively and mature faster than Boston Ferns. On the other hand, Boston Ferns are smaller in size, only growing 2-3 feet in height and 3 feet in width (source).

The foliage structure is another distinguishing factor between these two plants. Macho Ferns have bright green foliage, while Boston Ferns display a blue-green shade in their leaves (source). Furthermore, Boston Ferns tend to spread horizontally, rarely growing taller than 2-3 feet, while Macho Ferns exhibit a tidier growth pattern (source).

Care Requirements


Macho and Boston ferns both need frequent watering to thrive, particularly in dry environments. These plants may require watering once a day in dry climates or once to twice a week when grown indoors, as the plants’ soil should never be allowed to dry out completely[source].

Light Conditions

These ferns prefer semi-bright locations with plenty of indirect sunlight for optimal growth. Avoid direct sunlight, as it can cause the leaves to burn and harm the plant[source].

Soil Requirements

Good soil drainage and aeration are essential for Macho ferns to thrive. Soil should be kept moist but not waterlogged, and the top layer of soil should be allowed to dry out slightly between waterings[source].

Temperature and Humidity

Both Boston and Macho ferns prosper in temperatures between 60-70°F (15-21°C). They are not tolerant of frost or heat stress and should not be exposed to temperatures above 95°F (35°C), as the leaves may develop brown or burned tips[source]. These plants also enjoy warm and humid conditions, which can be maintained with regular misting or the use of a humidifier[source].

Common Issues and Solutions

Pests and Diseases

Macho and Boston ferns, though generally pest and disease-free, can sometimes be affected by common pests such as mealybugs, scale, aphids, and fern mites. When grown outdoors, the ferns have a higher likelihood of developing these issues compared to when grown indoors. To treat any infestations, consider using rubbing alcohol or insecticides to clear up the problem (The Spruce).

Yellowing and Browning Fronds

Ferns thrive in temperatures between 60-70°F (15-21°C) and may experience stress if exposed to temperatures above 95°F (35°C), which can lead to yellowing or browning fronds (Garden for Indoor). When facing this issue, it is often recommended to maintain the temperature within the ideal range, provide good air circulation, and ensure the ferns receive an adequate amount of humidity.

Additionally, ferns need consistent exposure to indirect sunlight, and insufficient light can lead to drooping fronds and discoloration. In this case, it is crucial to adjust the light exposure to keep them healthy (The Practical Planter).

Ideal Locations for Growth

Macho ferns and Boston ferns both thrive in specific environmental conditions. The macho fern is often grown outdoors and can take full sun, but should not be kept in direct sunlight (Indoor Mint). The optimal location for a macho fern is in a spot where it receives filtered or diffused light, such as near a north-facing window or behind a sheer curtain (Green Packs). If placing a macho fern outside, ensure it is in a shaded area, like under a tree or on a covered patio (Green Packs).

On the other hand, Boston ferns prefer a mix of indoor and outdoor settings (Indoor Mint). Ferns, in general, are excellent low-light plants to grow indoors and do not require the sunniest spot near a south-facing window (House Digest). The ideal temperature range for both ferns is between 60-70°F (15-21°C), and they should not be exposed to temperatures above 95°F (35°C) (Garden for Indoor).

Here is a quick comparison of their ideal locations:

  • Macho Fern: Filtered or diffused light, shaded outdoor areas.
  • Boston Fern: Low-light indoor settings, mixed indoor and outdoor environments.

Propagation Techniques

When it comes to propagating Macho and Boston ferns, there are a few methods that can be applied. Both types of ferns can be propagated by division and from runners, which are the most common and easy techniques to perform. However, propagation through spores is another method mostly used by gardeners, but it’s considered more time-consuming and challenging.

For division propagation, dig up the plant to expose the rhizomes and roots, then separate a section of the rhizomes from the main plant. In some cases, you may need to use a sharp knife to cut through the rhizomes[source]. For propagation from runners, carefully cut healthy runners from the parent plant and plant them in a pot with clean, moist potting soil

Propagation through spores involves collecting mature spores from the parent fern, placing them onto a sterilized surface, and covering them with a transparent lid. This method requires optimal humidity levels and careful monitoring for germination to take place. Choose the most suitable propagation technique according to your expertise and comfort level.

Choosing the Right Fern for You

When deciding between a Macho Fern and a Boston Fern, consider each plant’s overall size, frond appearance, and growth habits. Macho Ferns have larger fronds that can grow up to 6 feet tall with bolder, brighter, and longer leaflets. In contrast, Boston Ferns are smaller with more delicate fronds and a shade of blue-green leaflets.

Another factor in your decision may be the plant’s growth pattern. The Macho Fern tends to grow taller, with more upright leaves in the center and drooping ones on the edges. Meanwhile, the Boston Fern’s fronds tend to grow in a graceful, arching manner up to 3 feet in length (source). If you prefer a more compact plant, the Boston Fern may be a better choice as it doesn’t grow quite as large as the Macho Fern (source).

Here are some key points to help you choose the right fern for your space:

  • Macho Fern: Larger size, bold and bright leaflets, taller growth, more tropical appearance.
  • Boston Fern: Smaller size, delicate and graceful fronds, blue-green leaflets, arching growth pattern.

By considering these factors, you’ll be well-equipped to decide which fern best fits your preferences and indoor or outdoor space.

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