Table Top Fern

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This ‘Birdsfoot’ or ‘Table top fern,’ remains one of my favorite ferns.  I’ve been searching for one for at least a year now, both in local shops and online.

With sleet and temperatures already falling; we ran to the grocery store for a few last minute items yesterday afternoon.  I checked the floral department (as I always do) and found this beauty, the only one left, mixed in with the Pothos and Kalanchoes.


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What a treasure! This was my reward for braving the elements in the midst of a winter storm to pick up some last minute groceries!

Birdsfoot fern, Pteris cretica, has very different fronds from traditional ‘Boston’ style ferns.  Its unusually shaped fronds and beautiful markings have always caught my eye.

Each frond grows from a creeping rhizome, and the plants can spread over rocky soil to cover large areas.  Known as a ‘brake’ fern, these tender evergreen ferns may be found in the wild in many parts of the world, including the Mediterranean island of Crete, which is the native home of this the Pteris cretica.

Pteris cretica is cultivated mainly as a houseplant in the United States.  In fact the name ‘table top fern’ is given because it grows so well as a medium sized houseplant, fitting neatly on a table.  Preferring shade, Pteris cretica grows well in the low light conditions found in most homes.  Several different cultivars, with various degrees of variegation, may be found.

They live quite happily in moist, shady areas outside, so long as night time temperatures remain well above freezing.


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When I took a close look at this little fern yesterday evening, it was apparent that it needed a good soaking since it was both dry and pot bound.  Its roots had grown out of the drainage holes of its pot a long while ago.  I gave it a drink of warm water and let it rest overnight.


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It badly needed release from its tiny nursery pot, and so I chose an elegant Japanese bowl as its temporary home to wait out the rest of winter.

Since the bowl has no drainage, we lay a foundation of medium stones and sphagnum moss to prevent the fern’s roots from becoming waterlogged.  Fresh potting soil, with an extra dose of Osmocote fertilizer, provide a good foundation for the root ball.



Although the pot appeared to fit in the bowl to begin with, the root ball ended up as too tall to fit once the bowl was prepared.  I gently teased the roots apart and spread them slightly to make the fern fit, and then covered the soil with a layer of various mosses.  The soil appears slightly mounded since the fern’s crown sits slightly higher than the rim of the bowl.



Re-hydrated, the fronds of this little fern have relaxed and taken on a healthy glow.  Only two fronds didn’t re-hydrate and had to be cut away.

I’ll grow this fern on for the next few weeks before moving it outside into a larger pot in late spring.  It can be divided then, or transplanted whole.

So long as it remains warm and moist, this fern remains a very tough and long-lived plant.  If you haven’t grown a ‘table top fern’ yet, please give it a try next time you see one offered for sale.

Although ferns never bloom, they offer interesting and consistent texture and color both in a pot and in the garden.


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Woodland Gnome 2015


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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

7 responses to “Table Top Fern

  1. So happy you were at last able to obtain the object of your desire and a fine specimen at that! Beautiful and lucky that you came along to give it a loving home. 🙂

  2. I have always been fond of ferns and was delighted to find that so many types grow ‘wild’ here. They just love the damp Irish air. I am not familiar with the Bird’s Foot. It is lovely for sure.

  3. You’ve done a great job with this one, I guess it was just lucky you came along. My favourite is probably Maiden Hair Fern but I can’t keep them going. I noticed tiny little shoots on one in the garden yesterday any hints on it’s care?

    • Thank you so much for your kind words 😉 Maidenhair ferns are considered easy. They are native plants in the United States and grow in shady, moist areas, often near creeks, ponds, marshes, etc. I have had problems with them in the house with insufficient humidity and when sited outside with too much sun. I found one at Lowes mixed in with their tropical plant shipment and potted it up a few weeks ago. It sits in bright but indirect light near my kitchen sink where it gets both humidity and attention. But it also gets a cold draft on these wicked cold days. many of the fronds now look damaged. Since Maidenhair is a deciduous fern, I expect the crown is fine and new fronds will show up soon. I hope that gives you a few ideas for taking care of yours 😉 Best wishes, WG

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