Sword Fern vs Boston Fern: Unveiling Key Differences

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Ferns are a popular houseplant choice for their lush foliage and easy care, but with so many varieties available, it can be challenging to choose the right one for your space. Two popular types of ferns are the Sword Fern and the Boston Fern. 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 Sword Fern and Boston Fern can help gardeners select the right plant for their needs and create the best growing conditions for their chosen fern.

Sword Fern

Sword Fern


Sword ferns, also known as Nephrolepis exaltata, have broad fronds with alternating pinnae on either side of the central line of the leaves. The leaves tend to grow medium to pale green and can be as wide as 6 inches. On the underside of the leaves, they have two rows of round clusters of spore-bearing organs called sori near the margins (A-Z Animals).


This species of fern is native to the Americas (Wikipedia). They typically grow in moist and shady environments, such as forests and wetlands, and can also be found in urban areas where they’re used for ornamental purposes.

Care Requirements

Sword ferns require specific care to thrive. Some key aspects of their care include:

  • Temperature: They prefer temperatures between 65°F and 75°F (18°C and 24°C).
  • Humidity: Sword ferns thrive in higher humidity environments. Using a humidifier or a pebble tray filled with water can help maintain the desired humidity levels.
  • Light: They enjoy indirect sunlight or partial shade. Too much direct sunlight can lead to scorched leaves.
  • Soil: A well-draining, fertile soil mix is ideal for sword ferns.
  • Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist, but avoid overwatering to prevent root rot.

Providing proper care for sword ferns will help ensure their healthy growth and keep them looking vibrant and lush.

Boston Fern

Boston Fern 2


Boston ferns, or Nephrolepis exaltata, have broad fronds with alternating pinnae on either side of the central line of the leaves. These leaves can grow medium to pale green and can get as wide as 6 inches. The fronds also have two rows of round clusters of spore-bearing organs called sori near the margins on the underside of the leaves(A-Z Animals).


This fern species thrives in tropical areas around the world and is considered a classic houseplant in North America(The Spruce). It doesn’t require a lot of sunlight, which makes it an ideal indoor plant for many households.

Care Requirements

When it comes to care and maintenance, Boston ferns can be quite manageable for those with a green thumb. A few key requirements include:

  • Humidity levels must be kept high to avoid the fronds from turning brown and crispy. Using a humidifier or misting the plant can help maintain proper humidity levels.
  • Watering should be done regularly, ensuring that the soil remains evenly moist but never waterlogged. Make sure to use a well-draining potting mix to promote the overall health of the plant.
  • Although Boston ferns don’t require a lot of sunlight, they do prefer indirect bright light. Place them in a spot where they can receive sufficient light without being exposed to direct sunlight.
  • Occasionally, trim any dead or yellowing fronds to promote healthier, more robust growth.

By keeping these care requirements in mind, one can enjoy the lush, green foliage of the Boston fern as a beautiful addition to their indoor garden.

Key Differences

Visual Differences

Boston ferns and sword ferns have noticeable visual differences. Boston ferns have broad fronds with alternating pinnae on either side of the central line of the leaves, which tend to grow medium to pale green and get as wide as 6 inches. The fronds have two rows of round clusters of spore-bearing organs known as sori near the margins on the underside of the leaves(source). In contrast, the pinnae of giant sword ferns are much longer than those of Boston ferns and have short, stiff hairs on the central vein(source).

Growth Patterns

Boston ferns are known for thriving in swampy, humid, and forested areas in tropical regions around the world. They are often considered classic houseplants in North America because they don’t require much sunlight(source). On the other hand, tuberous sword ferns may appear visually similar to native sword ferns, but they are invasive due to the tubers found on their roots(source). These plants spread aggressively and continue to propagate from any tubers left in the ground.


Boston ferns are relatively low-maintenance plants, requiring indirect sunlight, regular watering to keep the soil consistently moist, and occasional misting to maintain humidity(source). Regarding invasive sword ferns, pulling them up and checking for tubers on the roots can help control their spread(source). It is essential to remove as many tubers as possible to prevent further propagation.

Choosing the Right Fern


When considering whether to choose a Boston fern or a Sword fern, the location of where the plant will be grown is crucial. Boston ferns, also known as sword ferns, are ideal as houseplants and thrive well in areas with bright, indirect light, such as near a window or on a porch (Southern Living, The Spruce). On the other hand, Western Sword ferns are native to North America and can be found in swampy, humid, and forested areas, making them a great option for outdoor garden settings, especially in partially-shaded spots (The Spruce).

Maintenance Preferences

Boston ferns generally require less maintenance, and their fronds arch downward, creating an elegant appearance. They can grow up to two to three feet tall and wide, but typically remain compact (Southern Living). Western Sword ferns have larger, blade-like fronds that resemble swords, hence their name. They can develop a large “crown” shaped plant and are known to grow up to five feet tall (A-Z Animals). Since Western Sword ferns can be somewhat invasive in ideal locations, you may need to thin the plants occasionally to control their growth, which adds to their maintenance requirements (University of Florida IFAS Extension).

In summary, consider the location and maintenance preferences when choosing between Boston ferns and Western Sword ferns. Boston ferns, which are generally low-maintenance plants, work well as houseplants in bright, indirect light, while Western Sword ferns require more attention and flourish in outdoor gardens or partially-shaded areas.

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