Foxtail ferns (Asparagus densiflorus) are perennial evergreens that boast luscious, fluffy stems of pine needle-like leaves, giving them a plush appearance.
A member of the asparagus family, the foxtail fern is actually not a fern at all. One key distinguishing factor is that the plant uses seeds to reproduce, not spores. These feathery plants create little white flowers that produce eye-catching red berries.
They make wonderful additions to both outside gardens and indoor houseplant collections. They also are popular for use in cut flower arrangements for their texture and lasting greenery. They can stay fresh for an incredible two to three weeks.
Many confuse true foxtail ferns with asparagus ferns (Asparagus aethiopicus). Though very similar, and both sometimes referred to by the same common name there is a key difference.
The asparagus fern droops downward, making a great addition to layered gardens or hanging baskets. The foxtail fern, on the other hand, stands straight. Though not considered the same species, they do both create white flowers and eye-catching red berries.
|Botanical Name||Asparagus densiflorus|
|Common Name||Foxtail fern, asparagus fern, plume asparagus|
|Plant Type||Perennial, evergreen|
|Mature Size||2 to 3 feet tall; 2 to 3 feet wide|
|Sun Exposure||Partial shade|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic|
|Hardiness Zones||9 to 11, USA|
|Native Area||South Africa|
|Toxicity||Berries toxic to humans and pets when ingested|
Foxtail Fern Care
Though delicate-looking, these plants are quite hardy. The foxtail fern is a laidback plant with easy care requirements. All they really need is bright, indirect light and well-draining soil. Pair this with a healthy amount of room to grow and the occasional trimming of spent stems and you will have a beautifully bushy plant.
The foxtail fern has tuberous roots, making it drought-tolerant. This means it is quite forgiving if you forget to water it. Because of its strong root system, however, it can choke out smaller, more fragile plants.
If kept in pots, foxtail ferns make wonderful houseplants and can easily be brought indoors for the winter in colder climates.
The foxtail fern likes soft light, preferably in lightly shaded areas. Morning sun is fine, just be sure that your plant receives protection from hot afternoon sunshine.
If you are keeping your foxtail fern indoors, place it in bright, indirect lighting. Too much strong light can burn the leaves.
Foxtail ferns do well in a variety of soil types, as long as they are well-draining to avoid problems with root rot. It favors slightly acidic soil, but this is not a hard-and-fast requirement.
The foxtail fern benefits from a thorough watering, but be sure to let the top three inches of soil dry out completely in between watering sessions.
When you are ready to water, do so thoroughly and allow the excess to drain out (for potted plants). This plant enjoys moist soil, but never soggy.
Because of its tuberous roots, the foxtail fern is drought-tolerant, making it a good choice for regions that experience short dry spells.
Temperature and Humidity
Being native to South Africa, the foxtail fern thrives in humidity and high temperatures. For indoor plants, be sure to provide a moisture source such as a pebble tray with water. These plants also respond well to misting.
Since this plant thrives in hot climates, it can be kept outdoors year-round in zones 9-11. In colder climates, these make lovely potted plants that can be taken in for the winter. They do not handle cold temperatures well, so be sure to protect them from any frosts.
Yearly fertilizing is important to avoid any yellowing leaves. Start feeding your foxtail fern in spring and continue monthly throughout the growing season.
A well-balanced fertilizer works great. The foxtail fern responds well to both slow-release fertilizers as well as liquid fertilizers given at half-strength. Another great option is compost.
Toxicity of Foxtail Ferns
Though eye-catching, the berries of the foxtail fern are toxic to both animals and humans.
According to the ASPCA, symptoms of poisoning for animals include gastrointestinal distress such as vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. The same symptoms occur in humans. On top of gastrointestinal distress, this plant can also cause skin irritation.
Propagating Foxtail Ferns
The easiest way to propagate foxtail ferns is through division. The best time to do this is in the spring.
When dividing potted plants of those in the ground, always use a sharp knife or spade to cut through the center of the plant. Make sure each divided piece has healthy greenery and roots. When replanting the initial watering should be generous.
Potting and Repotting
Foxtail ferns do well as potted plants or as part of container gardens. The biggest key for a healthy potted foxtail fern is making sure that the pot is not too large. Too much extra soil can hold excess water and cause rot problems.
You will know when it is time to repot once the plant becomes root-bound. You will see this when roots begin growing up out of the soil. When this occurs, simply move your fern to a slightly larger pot or gently divide the plant.