Woman looking through ferns

Ferns are a group of vascular plants that have been around for millions of years and can be found in a variety of habitats, from rainforests to mountains.

They are known for their distinctive, feathery fronds and are popular plants for both outdoor and indoor gardens. So, are ferns toxic to humans?

But are ferns toxic to humans?

Overall, most ferns are not toxic to humans and are considered safe to grow in homes and gardens. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule, and it is important to be aware of which fern species may be harmful if ingested or touched.

Teenage girl walking in a forest park among the ferns
Teenage girl walking in a forest park among the ferns

Are all ferns non-toxic?

While the majority of ferns are not toxic to humans, there are a few species that have the potential to cause harm. The most common toxic ferns include:

Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum)

Bracken fern is a widespread, invasive species that is found in many parts of the world, including North America, Europe, and Asia. It is commonly found in wooded areas and is known for its large, triangular fronds.

While bracken fern is not toxic to touch, it can be harmful if ingested. The plant contains a chemical called ptaquiloside, which has been linked to cancer in animals and is believed to be a potential carcinogen in humans. Ingestion of bracken fern can also cause gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus)

Asparagus fern, also known as sprengeri fern or emerald feather, is a popular ornamental plant that is native to South Africa. It is often grown indoors and is prized for its delicate, lacy fronds and small, white flowers.

While asparagus fern is not toxic to humans, it can cause skin irritation if touched. The plant contains small, needle-like spines on its stems, which can be painful if they get stuck in the skin. Ingestion of asparagus fern can also cause digestive problems, such as stomach pain and vomiting.

Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)

Boston fern is a popular houseplant that is known for its long, graceful fronds and ability to purify the air. It is native to tropical regions of the Americas and is often grown as a potted plant or in hanging baskets.

While Boston fern is not toxic to humans, it can cause skin irritation if touched. The plant contains small, needle-like structures called trichomes, which can be painful if they get stuck in the skin. Ingestion of Boston fern is not typically harmful, but it may cause digestive problems such as stomach pain and vomiting.

Staghorn fern (Platycerium)

Staghorn fern is a tropical plant that is native to Australia and New Guinea. It is known for its unusual, antler-like fronds and is often grown as a decorative plant in homes and gardens.

While staghorn fern is not toxic to humans, it can cause skin irritation if touched. The plant contains small, needle-like spines on its fronds, which can be painful if they get stuck in the skin. Ingestion of staghorn fern is not typically harmful, but it may cause digestive problems such as stomach pain and vomiting.

Woman walking past ferns on a woodland walk
Woman walking past ferns on a woodland walk

Other potentially toxic ferns

In addition to the ferns listed above, there are a few other species that have the potential to be toxic to humans. These include:

  • Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus)
  • Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’)
  • American Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron)
  • European Buckler Fern (Dryopteris carthusiana)
  • Hart’s Tongue Fern (Phyllitis scolopendrium)

In conclusion

It is important to note that ingestion of any of these plants can cause digestive issues, including nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting. It is also possible that some of these ferns may contain toxins that could be harmful if ingested in large quantities.

For this reason, it is important to research any fern species before introducing them into your home or garden. If you are uncertain about a plant’s toxicity, it is best to err on the side of caution and avoid having it in your home or garden.