Crocodile ferns (Microsorum musifolium) have leaves with a lot of personality and can be a favorite among fern lovers. The leaves of the ferns resemble the distinctive leathery appearance of crocodile skin which is how the plant got its name.
Typically found in Southeast Asia and parts of Australia, this fern is a little picky about its environment and thrives in humid, tropical environments. Although they are very slow growers, they make great statement pieces since they can grow up to 5 feet.
With plenty of water and bright, indirect sun, you can easily add these unusual ferns to your houseplant collection. If you live in zones 10 or 11, you can even try adding these ferns to your outdoor garden at any time during the year.
|Botanical Name||Microsorum musifolium|
|Common Name||Crocodile fern|
|Plant Type||Houseplant or perennial|
|Mature Size||2-5 ft. tall and wide|
|Sun Exposure||Bright, indirect late to shade|
|Soil Type||Rich, moist, well-draining|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic to neutral|
|Hardiness Zones||10-11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Southeast Asia and Australia|
Crocodile Fern Care
For such an exotic plant, crocodile ferns can be easy to care for, but remember to give them a little TLC along the way. Plenty of water and humidity will keep your fern happy. Just be sure that your soil and pot drain easily. Because crocodile ferns love humidity, they make great additions to bathrooms or kitchens. In addition, there aren’t many pests or diseases to worry about.
Like most ferns, the crocodile species is naturally found growing under a canopy of trees. Because of this, your plant will like lighting that mimics the dappled, bright, indirect sunlight that they would receive on the forest floor.
These plants still need sunlight; just be sure they aren’t getting direct sunlight, like in a window. Too much sunlight can burn the leaves.
These ferns love loose, rich, moist, and well-draining soil. Add peat moss and perlite to loosen up the soil if necessary, which keeps the soil draining easily.
Crocodile ferns love water. Water your plant thoroughly and consistently. When you notice the top of the soil getting dry, water until it drains out of the bottom of the pot. Continue to let the water drain out until it no longer drips to ensure your fern is not sitting in a soggy mess.
Temperature and Humidity
Because this plant is native to the tropics, it does not handle cold weather well. It can be grown outside in zones 10 or 11, but any area colder than that could kill it.
Luckily, this beautiful fern makes a great houseplant. Just be sure to keep it away from drafts, air conditioners, or heating vents.
Because crocodile ferns also love humidity, the lack of it could make your plant's leaves form crispy brown tips. There are a few things you can do to give your fern the humidity levels it likes:
- Set your pot on a tray of pebbles with a small amount of water in it. The evaporating water will keep your fern moist. Just be sure that the pot is not sitting in the water.
- Mist your fern daily with a mister.
- Take your fern into the bathroom while you shower. The heat and the humidity will be like a spa day for your plant.
Properly fertilizing your fern can help keep it healthy and full of foliage. However, too much fertilizer can burn your plant, causing burn marks on foliage.
A diluted water-soluble fertilizer is a good option. Use a fertilizer that is specifically formulated for ferns. Fertilize once a month during spring and summer to promote healthy growth.
Propagating Crocodile Ferns
Unlike other plants, ferns do not use seeds to reproduce; instead, they use spores. However, propagating your fern through spores is not always easy, and may not yield results.
Luckily, you can create more ferns by dividing the roots. It is best to wait until you have a substantial plant before attempting root division. Propagate a few sections because not all of them may take. The process to divide the roots is simple:
- Gently remove your crocodile fern from its pot.
- With its roots now exposed, carefully work your fingers into the roots to separate a part of your fern; overhandling or damaging the roots can kill the plant.
- Plant your new fern in its own pot and water thoroughly.
- Keep the soil moist, especially during the first few weeks.
Potting and Repotting
Crocodile ferns are slow growers, so you won’t need to worry about repotting very often. When you notice the roots getting crammed in its current pot or your fern is top-heavy, you will want to give your plant a bigger pot. Repotting is easy when you follow these quick steps:
- Carefully turn the pot with your plant on its side.
- Gently work the plant out from the pot. If it is in a plastic pot, squeeze it gently to release the roots from the pot.
- Place your fern in its new home with fresh dirt and water.
- Do not bury your fern too deep, however, because these plants have shallow root systems.
Common Pests & Diseases
Scale insects can be a common problem for crocodile ferns. Combating scale is not always easy and requires diligence. For an indoor plant, prune the affected stems. If scale persists, gently rub leaves with rubbing alcohol using a cotton swab. If your fern is outdoors, it's easier to kill scale using neem oil.
If your fern is sitting in soil that is not well-draining, the soggy soil can lead to problems like root rot or fungal growth.