Ferns are the true champions of foliage.
With such a vast array of textures, shapes, and colors on offer, there really is a fern for every occasion.
But what about size? Thankfully, they come in all dimensions too. From the petite dwarf varieties and naturally miniature ferns to the truly micro species – there’s something here for you.
So, whether you need delicate ferns for tiny terrariums or you just love the idea of a cute potted fern on your desk, read on to find out how to “fernish” your small spaces!
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- Mini Fern Types – What to Look For
- My Top 10 Miniature Ferns for Terrariums
- 1 | Lemon Button Fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’)
- 2 | Fluffy Ruffles Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata 'Fluffy Ruffles')
- 3 | Button Fern (Pellaea rotundifolia)
- 4 | Crispy Wave Fern (Asplenium nidus)
- 5 | Heart Fern (Hemionitis arifolia)
- 6 | Mini Asian Water Fern (Bolbitis heteroclita 'Difformis')
- 7 | Humata heterophylla
- 8 | Adiantum microphyllum (Dwarf Maidenhair Fern)
- 9 | Eyelash Fern (Actiniopteris australis)
- 10 | Creeping Button Fern (Pyrrosia nummularifolia)
- It's a Small Fern World After All
Mini Fern Types – What to Look For
There are various types of indoor ferns out there.
Some of them start pretty small, but how many stay small? That’s the real question.
Of course, you can often separate a larger fern at the root level to create a series of smaller plants. It’s something I do a lot for terrariums, but it doesn’t work with every species (and left unchecked, they’ll get big again eventually).
Sometimes it’s better to choose a dedicated miniature fern instead.
To get us started, here’s an overview of the different mini fern types to look out for.
- Terrestrial Ferns – Of the classic planted ferns, there aren’t many naturally small ones. However, there are plenty of dwarf varieties and cultivars to explore from those popular plants. The Nephrolepis Sword Ferns have the most options, so they are a good starting point.
- Epiphytic Ferns – There’s a wide variety of epiphytic ferns out there, and they tend to be on the smaller side. Some are tiny delicate vines that would snake across tree branches (e.g., Pyrrosia), whereas others like Asplenium nidus are compact clusters that grow in the crooks of those branches.
- Semi-aquatic Ferns – A surprising amount of ferns can happily live both submerged beneath the water and emersed on land (some are even epiphytes too). This versatile class of plant has lots of tiny ferns on offer, from the petite Java Ferns to the truly tiny Bolbitis.
Beyond the natural dwarf species and specialist cultivars, there are many unique small species among the many other fern genera.
These are my favorites from across the board (in no particular order).
My Top 10 Miniature Ferns for Terrariums
1 | Lemon Button Fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’)
The Lemon Button Fern is one of the most versatile ferns I’ve ever used… and I use it a lot.
Its overarching fronds are a great way to add some dynamic shapes to a botanical scene, and it’ll easily slot into all but the narrowest of spaces. I like to divide mine further to get some even tinier plants to work with.
That being said, it’s a delightful little fern to keep potted up on your desk too.
2 | Fluffy Ruffles Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Fluffy Ruffles’)
All the benefits of a Sword Fern in a fraction of the size.
Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Fluffy Ruffles’ is the little cousin of the famous Boston Fern and the most miniature terrestrial fern on this list.
Maxing out at just 12 inches tall, this feathery superstar is a favorite of mine and an easy choice for tropical terrariums of all kinds.
3 | Button Fern (Pellaea rotundifolia)
Pellaea rotundifolia lives up to its “Button Fern” moniker with long fronds filled with round emerald leaves.
Seriously beautiful stuff.
This evergreen fern has quite a shallow and broad growth pattern. So it’s perhaps best suited to terrarium containers with ample ground space to cover.
4 | Crispy Wave Fern (Asplenium nidus)
With its characteristic ruffled fronds, the Crispy Wave Fern is one of the more exotic-looking ferns.
These actually grow quite large as epiphytes in the wild, but when planted terrestrially in the home, Asplenium nidus tends to remain a much more compact fern.
Its tropical tendencies make it an excellent plant for terrariums, but it’ll happily grow in most household conditions too.
5 | Heart Fern (Hemionitis arifolia)
I wholeheartedly endorse this fern and its beautiful leaves.
Though the leaves themselves can grow reasonably large (given enough time), the bulk of the plant tends to stay pretty compact.
You might find the occasional tall stem popping out like an antenna, but you can always just pinch off these renegade fronds at the base.
6 | Mini Asian Water Fern (Bolbitis heteroclita ‘Difformis’)
As the “Water Fern” name suggests, Bolbitis heteroclita ‘Difformis’ is a semi-aquatic plant. Where aquascapers love to use it in their underwater designs, I prefer to use it in my tropical terrariums.
It really is tiny, and it grows incredibly slowly (even when it’s happy).
I like to nestle them into the crooks of hardscape branches, or they do well planted up too.
Of course, as a typically aquatic plant, Bolbitis really does need high humidity to thrive. If you’re growing it epiphytically in a terrarium, I’ve found it needs pretty much 100% humidity to manage on its own.
7 | Humata heterophylla
Humata heterophylla is an unusual but beautiful fern.
One of the rarer vining ferns, it produces lovely leaf-like fronds along the length of a stiff winding stem.
I have mine growing terrestrially in my (rather wild-looking) tropical terrarium, but it’ll happily snake its way across branches as an epiphyte too.
8 | Adiantum microphyllum (Dwarf Maidenhair Fern)
The most petite of all the Maidenhair Ferns, Adiantum microphyllum is a frilly little beauty.
A perfect choice to add some delicate texture to green space.
Sadly, the convenient size doesn’t make it any easier to grow. It’s still every bit as dramatic as its larger cousins and much harder to source too.
9 | Eyelash Fern (Actiniopteris australis)
The Eyelash Fern is another tiny terrestrial fern species.
Displaying the most delicate fronds that fan out like eyelashes, this fern really is eye-catching! (another bad joke, sorry!). The fronds grow in clusters too, so this plant is going to stay super compact.
Its palm-like looks match its tropical nature, and it’ll do best in high humidity conditions.
10 | Creeping Button Fern (Pyrrosia nummularifolia)
The last of the button-themed plants, I promise!
Pyrrosia is a genus of small epiphytic creeping ferns, and they remain one of the most overlooked terrarium species in my opinion.
They thrive in the moist and humid conditions of a tropical terrarium.
It’s a Small Fern World After All
That’s a wrap on this guide to miniature ferns.
Which of these has caught your eye? Let me know in the comments.
For more advice when it comes to ferns and terrariums, check out my Terrarium Fern Guide.