The Complete Guide to Ferns – Identification and Control

Ferns are a unique type of plant that can be found in many different climates and terrains. They come in all shapes, sizes, colours, and varieties. Not only do they provide an attractive addition to any landscape or garden, but they also play an important role in the environment by providing oxygen for animals and humans alike.

Ferns may be beautiful to look at, but if left unchecked can quickly spread out of control and take over your yard or garden. That’s why it’s important to know how to identify fern species and learn how to control their growth before it becomes a problem. With over 200 species alone found within the Southern Hemisphere.

In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about fern identification and control so you can keep your outdoor spaces looking their best.

Fern identification

Our comprehensive fern identification and control guide will show you how this weed changes through the seasons, what it looks like at each stage and the various methods needed to remove it.

Quick Facts
Aliases: Filicopsida, Pteridophyta, Pteridophytes, Vascular cryptogams, Seedless vascular plants, horsetails, and club mosses
Latin Name: Polypodiophyta
Family: Aspleniaceae
Preferred habitats: damp forests, tropical climates, tree trunks, embankments

The origins of ferns

Ferns have a long and fascinating history that dates back millions of years. They are one of the oldest living species on Earth, with fossil evidence indicating their presence as far back as the Carboniferous Period. Since then, ferns have evolved into many different varieties and can be found in various climates around the world today. Their unique structure and growth habits make them a popular choice for both indoor and outdoor gardens alike. But what exactly is it about ferns that makes them so special? To understand this, we must look at their origins and how they’ve adapted over time to survive in different environments.

Ferns are believed to have originated in tropical climates such as the rainforest, where they grew in abundance. These ancient plants had a very different structure than what we see today; their fronds were much larger and more complex. Over time, evolutionary processes shaped ferns into their current form with smaller, simpler leaves that are better suited to surviving in drier climates. This adaptation also enabled them to spread more readily and become one of the most widespread plants on Earth.

In addition to adapting to different environments, ferns have also developed special characteristics that make them particularly well-suited for life outdoors.

For example, they’re capable of reproducing without the need for airborne pollen, using spores instead. This reproductive strategy allows them to thrive in areas where other plants may not survive due to adverse conditions.

Ferns are also known for their ability to absorb moisture from the air and soil, making them particularly well-suited for moist environments like rainforests and woodlands. This ability also helps them to survive in dry climates, where they can store water and nutrients in their rhizome system.

Ferns have been around for millions of years, and it’s clear that they’ve evolved to be a hardy species capable of adapting to many different environments. From rainforests to deserts, they can be found in nearly any climate around the world. It’s this versatility that makes them such a popular choice for gardens and landscaping. Whether you’re looking to bring some greenery into your home or just want to add a touch of life to your outdoor space, ferns are sure to make a lasting impression.

Different types of ferns

Here are a few types of ferns:

  1. Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
  2. Maidenhair fern (Adiantum spp.)
  3. Staghorn fern (Platycerium spp.)
  4. Bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus)
  5. Button fern (Pellaea rotundifolia)
  6. Lip fern (Cheilanthes spp.)
  7. Japanese holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
  8. Moonwort fern (Botrychium spp.)
  9. Resurrection fern (Polypodium polypodioides)
  10. Shield fern (Polystichum spp.)

This is just a small selection of the many types of ferns that are available. There are thousands of species of ferns found all over the world, and they come in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and colours. Some of the most invasive ferns are bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), Japanese climbing fern (Lygodium japonicum), sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) and Giant water fern (Salvinia molesta), and water fern (Azolla filiculoides) which are significant weeds worldwide.

Identification and occurrence

Ferns are a group of vascular plants that reproduce through spores and have distinctive, feathery fronds. They are a diverse group, with over 12,000 species found in a variety of habitats all over the world.

Ferns can be difficult to identify due to their similarity in appearance, but there are some general characteristics that can help. Ferns have leaves called fronds, which are divided into smaller leaflets called pinnae. The shape and size of the fronds and pinnae, as well as the presence or absence of hairs and other structures, can be helpful in identifying specific species of ferns. In addition, the arrangement of the pinnae on the frond and the overall shape of the frond can also be useful in identification.

Ferns can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, wetlands, and even desert oases. They can grow on the ground or on rocks and trees, and some species are epiphytic, meaning they grow on other plants but do not harm them. Ferns can also be grown as ornamental plants in gardens and homes.

Ferns leaves

Ferns have complex leaves called megaphylls which start out as coiled fiddleheads that uncoil and expand into fronds. Therefore, fern leaves, are also known as fronds, which are typically long, thin, and green in colour. They are usually divided into smaller leaflets or pinnae, which are attached to a central stem or rachis. The leaflets are often arranged in a pattern along the stem, and may be either linear or more oval-shaped in shape. Some ferns have finely dissected fronds, with the leaflets divided into even smaller segments, while others have coarser, more robust fronds.

The size, shape, and texture of fern fronds can vary widely depending on the species of fern. In general, fern leaves are characterized by their delicate, lacy appearance, feather-like appearance and their distinctive, vein-like pattern.

Fern stems

Fern stems, also known as fronds, are the leaves of a fern. They are usually long and slender, and can vary in shape and size depending on the species of fern. Some ferns have fronds that are long and narrow, while others have fronds that are more rounded or oval-shaped. The fronds may be divided into smaller leaflets, or they may be undivided.

To identify fern stems, you should look for the following characteristics:

  1. Length: Fern fronds are usually longer than the width of the plant.
  2. Shape: Fern fronds can be long and narrow, oval-shaped, or rounded.
  3. Leaflets: Some fern fronds are divided into smaller leaflets, while others are undivided.
  4. Colour: Fern fronds are typically green, although some species may have fronds with reddish or purplish tones.
  5. Structure: Fern fronds are usually held upright on the stem, although some species may have fronds that droop or trail.

If you’re not sure whether a plant is a fern, you can look for other identifying features such as the presence of a root system, fiddleheads (unfurled fronds), or spores on the underside of the fronds.

Fern spores

Ferns are a group of plants that do not produce flowers in the same way that most other plants do. Instead of producing flowers, ferns reproduce through spores, which are small, dry, and often dust-like structures that are produced on the undersides of the fern’s leaves. These spores are released and can then grow into new fern plants when they find the right conditions.

So, to identify what fern flowers look like, it is important to understand that ferns do not have flowers in the traditional sense. However, some ferns do produce small, inconspicuous structures that are similar to flowers in some ways. These structures, called “sporangia,” are usually located on the undersides of the fern’s leaves and are where the spores are produced. They are typically small and may be arranged in clusters or rows along the veins of the fern’s leaves.

Fern roots

Fern roots are typically thin and fibrous, with a white or light-coloured appearance. They are generally smaller and less robust compared to the roots of woody plants or trees. Fern roots are often shallow and spread out horizontally, rather than growing deep into the soil like tree roots do.

To identify fern roots, you can look for the following characteristics:

  1. Size and shape: Fern roots are typically thin and fine, compared to the thicker, more robust roots of woody plants or trees.
  2. Colour: Fern roots are often white or light-coloured, although the exact shade may vary depending on the species of fern.
  3. Structure: Fern roots are typically shallow and spread out horizontally, rather than growing deep into the soil. They often have a fibrous, hair-like appearance.
  4. Location: Fern roots are usually found near the base of the plant, and may be visible at the soil surface.
  5. Other characteristics: Fern roots typically do not have root hairs or root caps, which are found on the roots of many other types of plants. They also do not have bark or woody tissue, which is present in the roots of woody plants and trees.

Best time to identify ferns

The best time to identify ferns depends on the specific type of fern you are trying to identify and the region in which you are located.

In general, the best time to identify ferns is when they are most actively growing and producing new fronds. This is typically during the spring and summer months, when the weather is warm and humid. At this time, ferns will have new, tender fronds that are easier to examine and have more distinct features.

If you are trying to identify a fern that is not actively growing, you may have a harder time accurately identifying it.

For example, if you are trying to identify a fern in the winter when it is dormant, the fronds may be wilted or dried out, making it harder to see the distinctive features that can help with identification.

That being said, some ferns are evergreen and do not go dormant, so they can be identified at any time of year. In general, it is always a good idea to try to identify ferns when they are at their healthiest and most actively growing. This will give you the best chance of accurately identifying the species.

Ferns through the seasons

Ferns are a type of plant that is known for their delicate, finely divided leaves and their ability to thrive in damp, shady environments. There are thousands of different species of ferns, and they can be found all over the world, from tropical rainforests to temperate forests and even arid desert regions.

Throughout the year, ferns go through a number of changes in their appearance. In the spring, new fiddleheads (the unfurling fronds of a fern) emerge from the ground, tightly coiled and covered in a soft, downy material. As the fiddleheads unfurl and mature, the fronds grow longer and more finely divided, creating a lush, green canopy.

In the summer, ferns are at their peak, with fully developed fronds that may be up to several feet in length. The leaves of some species may turn yellow or brown as they age, while others remain green throughout the season.

As fall approaches, the leaves of some ferns may turn shades of yellow, red, or orange before eventually dying back. In the winter, many ferns go dormant, with their fronds dying back and the plant entering a period of rest. However, some tropical ferns may remain green and actively grow throughout the year.

Ferns in Spring

Ferns are a type of plant that have delicate, feathery leaves and do not produce flowers or seeds. In the spring, ferns typically have new growth that appears as small, tightly coiled leaves called “fiddleheads.” As the fiddleheads unfurl, they turn into long, slender fronds that can be anywhere from a few inches to several feet in length, depending on the species of fern. Ferns can vary in color, but many species have bright green leaves.

Some ferns also have variegated leaves with patterns of white, yellow, or pale green. Many ferns have a lacy or fern-like appearance and can add a delicate touch to gardens or indoor spaces.

Ferns in Summer

Ferns are a type of plant that are known for their distinctive, feathery leaves, called fronds. In the summer, ferns typically have a lush, green appearance, as the fronds are full and often quite large. The fronds of a fern can vary in shape and size, but they are typically divided into smaller leaflets, which are arranged along a central stem, or rachis. Some ferns have delicate, finely divided fronds, while others have coarser, more robust fronds.

Ferns can grow to be quite large, and some species can reach heights of several feet. In general, ferns are associated with moist, shady environments, and they are often found in wooded areas or other areas with high humidity.

Ferns in Autumn

Ferns are a type of vascular plant that typically have leaves, or fronds, that are divided into smaller leaflets. In the autumn, the fronds of many fern species will begin to turn yellow, orange, or brown as the plant enters its dormant period for the winter. Some fern species will also produce spores, which are small, dust-like particles that can be seen on the undersides of the fronds. The spores are used for reproduction and are a distinguishing characteristic of ferns.

Overall, ferns in autumn can be quite colourful and add interest to the landscape.

Ferns in Winter

Ferns are a type of plant that have feathery or leafy fronds. In the winter, the fronds of most ferns will turn brown and die off. However, the root systems of most ferns will remain alive and will produce new fronds in the spring. Some ferns, such as evergreen ferns, may retain their green colour throughout the winter. In general, ferns tend to have a delicate and graceful appearance, with slender stems and small, finely divided leaves.

Persistence and spread

Ferns are a diverse group of vascular plants that are known for their unique reproductive structures and ability to thrive in a variety of environments. One of the key features that have contributed to the persistence and spread of ferns is their ability to reproduce both sexually and asexually.

Sexual reproduction in ferns involves the production of spores, which are tiny, single-celled structures that are produced in specialized structures called sporangia. When the spores are released, they can be carried by wind or water to new areas, where they can germinate and grow into new fern plants. This allows ferns to colonize new areas and adapt to changing environments.

In addition to sexual reproduction, ferns can also reproduce asexually through a process known as vegetative reproduction. This can occur through the production of specialized structures called rhizomes, which are underground stems that can produce new roots and shoots. Rhizomes allow ferns to spread and form dense colonies, which can be very effective at outcompeting other plants for resources.

Overall, the combination of sexual and asexual reproduction has allowed ferns to persist and spread across a wide range of environments, from tropical rainforests to temperate woodlands. This adaptability has contributed to the success of ferns as a group and their continued presence in many parts of the world.

Growth and reproduction

Ferns are a type of plant that reproduce using spores rather than seeds. They have a unique life cycle that involves two distinct stages: the gametophyte stage and the sporophyte stage.

In the gametophyte stage, ferns produce small, green structures called prothalli, which are either male or female. Male prothalli produce sperm, while female prothalli produce eggs. When the sperm from the male prothallus fertilizes the egg in the female prothallus, a new sporophyte is formed.

The sporophyte stage is the most familiar stage of the fern life cycle, as it is when the plant produces the distinctive fern fronds that are typically associated with these plants. The sporophyte stage begins when the fertilized egg, or zygote, grows into a small plant with a stalk and a set of immature fronds. As the sporophyte grows, it will produce spores on the underside of its fronds.

When the spores mature, they are released and dispersed by the wind. If a spore lands in a suitable location, it will germinate and grow into a new gametophyte plant. This plant will then produce prothalli and begin the process of sexual reproduction again, starting the fern life cycle anew.

Ferns have a varied growth habit, with some species growing as small, ground-covering plants and others growing into large, tree-like structures. Most ferns prefer moist, shady environments and are commonly found in forests, but some species are adapted to grow in dry or sunny locations.

Management and control

Ferns are generally easy to care for and maintain, but there are a few steps you can take to prevent and control problems.

Controlling ferns involves both preventive measures as well as cultural control techniques. Preventive measures include monitoring the environment around the ferns, controlling weeds that can act as hosts for pests, and keeping an eye out for signs of infestations or disease.

Cultural control includes proper fertilization, pruning and thinning of existing populations to reduce competition between plants, maintaining a healthy soil pH level through liming or acidification where necessary and providing adequate water during dry spells. By utilizing these methods together you can ensure your landscape is free from any unwanted fern growth while still enjoying its beauty.


  • Keep your ferns healthy by providing them with the proper growing conditions, including proper watering, fertilization, and lighting.
  • Avoid overwatering, as ferns are prone to root rot if the soil stays too moist for too long.
  • Keep ferns away from drafts, as they are sensitive to sudden temperature changes.
  • Check your ferns regularly for pests, and take action if necessary. Common pests that can affect ferns include aphids, thrips, and mites.

Cultural control:

  • Properly care for your ferns to prevent problems from occurring.
  • Remove any dead or damaged leaves or fronds as soon as you notice them to help prevent pests and diseases from spreading.
  • If you do notice pests on your ferns, try removing them by hand or using a gentle soap solution to spray the affected areas. Avoid using harsh chemicals, as these can harm your ferns.
  • Keep your ferns trimmed and well-maintained to help prevent overcrowding and disease.

Legal situation

Ferns are a diverse group of plants that are found in a variety of habitats around the world. In general, there are no specific laws or guidelines that pertain specifically to ferns. However, there may be certain legal protections in place for certain types of ferns, depending on the location and circumstances.

For example, in some areas, certain rare or endangered fern species may be protected by law and it may be illegal to collect, trade, or sell these plants without proper permits. In addition, some ferns may be protected as part of a larger system of conservation, such as a protected wilderness area or national park. In these cases, it would be important to follow the rules and regulations in place to ensure the protection of these plants.

In addition to legal protections for specific fern species, there may also be general laws and regulations in place that pertain to the cultivation and trade of ferns. These might include rules related to the import and export of ferns, as well as regulations on the use of pesticides and other chemicals on ferns grown for commercial purposes.

It is always important to be aware of and comply with any applicable laws and guidelines when working with or trading in ferns. This can help to ensure the conservation and protection of these plants, as well as avoid legal consequences.

Treatment and removal

Ferns are popular plants that are prized for their lush, green foliage and air-purifying qualities. However, like all plants, ferns may sometimes require treatment or removal for various reasons. Here are some tips for treating and removing ferns:

  1. Pest control: Ferns can be prone to infestations of pests such as aphids, mites, and scale insects. To control these pests, you can try using a mixture of water and mild dish soap, or a neem oil-based pesticide. Be sure to follow the instructions on the product label.
  2. Fertilizing: Ferns benefit from regular fertilization, especially during the growing season. Use a balanced fertilizer, such as a 20-20-20 formula, and follow the instructions on the label for the appropriate amount to use.
  3. Pruning: Ferns may require pruning to remove damaged or dead fronds, or to maintain their shape and size. Use clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears to make clean cuts.
  4. Repotting: If your fern has outgrown its pot or has become root-bound, it may be time to repot it into a larger container. Use a potting mix specifically designed for ferns, and be sure to water the plant thoroughly after repotting.
  5. Removing: If you need to remove a fern from your garden or indoor space, carefully dig up the plant, taking care not to damage the roots. If the plant is in a pot, gently lift it out of the pot and loosen any tangled roots before transplanting it to a new location.

It is important to properly care for your ferns in order to keep them healthy and thriving. By following these tips, you can ensure that your ferns receive the treatment they need to thrive.

Manual removal

Ferns are a popular choice for gardens and outdoor spaces because of their lush, green appearance and ability to thrive in a variety of conditions. However, if you have ferns growing in an unwanted location, you may need to remove them manually. Here are some steps you can follow to manually remove ferns:

  1. Locate the base of the fern plant and look for any visible roots. These roots will need to be removed in order to effectively remove the entire plant.
  2. Use a garden fork or spade to loosen the soil around the base of the fern. This will make it easier to remove the roots.
  3. Carefully dig around the base of the plant to expose the roots. Be sure to dig deep enough to remove all of the roots, as any remaining roots may regrow into new plants.
  4. Once all of the roots have been exposed, use the garden fork or spade to gently lift the plant out of the ground. If the plant is large or difficult to remove, you may need to use a pair of loppers or pruning shears to cut the roots into smaller pieces before removing them.
  5. Dispose of the removed fern plant and roots in a compost bin or yard waste bag. If you plan to plant something else in the area where the fern was removed, be sure to loosen the soil and add compost or other organic matter to help nourish the new plants.

Mechanical removal

Ferns are a common type of plant that is often used for landscaping and garden design. While they are generally easy to care for, they can sometimes overgrow or become unwanted in a particular area. In these cases, it may be necessary to remove the ferns mechanically.

There are several methods that can be used to mechanically remove ferns, depending on the size and type of the plant and the location it is growing in.

One method is to use a hand fork or trowel to carefully dig around the base of the fern, being careful not to damage the roots of nearby plants. Once the fern has been loosened, it can be gently lifted out of the soil.

If the fern is too large or deeply rooted to be removed by hand, it may be necessary to use a shovel or other digging tool to loosen the soil and remove the plant. It is important to make sure to remove as much of the root system as possible to prevent the fern from regrowing.

In some cases, it may be necessary to cut the fern back using pruning shears or a garden knife before attempting to remove it. This can help to make the plant easier to handle and may also be necessary if the fern is growing in a location where it is difficult to access the roots.

Regardless of the method used, it is important to be careful when removing ferns to avoid damaging nearby plants or the soil. If the fern is growing in a crowded area, it may be necessary to carefully move other plants out of the way in order to access the fern that needs to be removed.

Chemical removal

There are several chemical options for removing ferns, but it is important to note that the use of chemicals can have negative impacts on the environment and may not be suitable for all situations.

One option for removing ferns is the use of herbicides. Herbicides are chemicals that are specifically designed to kill plants, and they can be effective at killing ferns. However, herbicides can be harmful to non-target plants and animals, and they may have long-term effects on soil health.

Another option for removing ferns is the use of non-selective herbicides, which are chemicals that kill all plants that they come into contact with. Non-selective herbicides are generally more effective at killing ferns than selective herbicides, but they also have a higher risk of damaging other plants and the environment.

It is important to carefully read and follow the instructions on any chemical product that you use, and to use caution when applying chemicals to your landscape. If you are unsure about the best method for removing ferns from your property, it is a good idea to consult with a professional landscaper or a local extension service.

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