Hemionitis arifolia: How to Grow the Lovely Heart Fern

Hemionitis arifolia is truly one for the romantics.

Its deep green leaves are perfectly heart-shaped, earning it the name “Heart Leaf Fern.”

It boldly stands out from the rest of the fern community, with fuzzy black petioles contrasting the sweet, delicate hearts.

This plant thrives in terrarium settings due to its love of moisture and high humidity.

And only growing to heights of 6-10 inches tall, it makes a wonderful centerpiece in any plant shelf or terrarium.

Where to Buy Heart Fern

See the links below to purchase from reputable terrarium plant shops and marketplaces (may include affiliate links). 

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Heart Fern Care Essentials

Plant TypeFern
LightingBright, indirect light
Temperature60-85°F (15-30°C)
WateringRegular, even moisture
HumidityHigh humidity (60-90%)
Growth6-10 inches

Lighting

The Heart Leaf Fern is an epiphytic plant, meaning it attaches to and grows from other organisms – namely in the nooks and crannies of host trees.

Because of this, it stays beneath the thick canopy and rarely sees direct sunlight.

heart leaf fern up close
The leaves are very delicate, and scorching is all too easy in direct light!

It’s most familiar with bright but indirect light. If available, a North or East-facing windowsill is ideal.

I keep all my ferns and terrariums on a shelf several feet away from a South-facing windowsill. They get around 200 foot-candles there during winter, which is on the low side, but they’re still doing well.

Grow lights are an ideal addition if you can’t provide enough light.

heart leaf fern in tank terrarium with other plant and moss
My friend uses in-built terrarium lighting in his tank build, and the Heart Leaf Fern is thriving there (bottom left).

Watering

Despite its unique (and adorable) leaf shape, this plant is a typical fern. It loves nothing more than consistent, even moisture. 

As you’d imagine, it is a perfect candidate for terrarium life. If you’re keeping yours as a houseplant, regularly test the topsoil with your finger to check if it needs a drink.

It won’t tolerate being sat in soggy water, though.

several epiphytic ferns in a tree at night time
In nature, epiphytic ferns are regularly soaked, but any excess water rolls off, so they’re never sat in pooled water.

Having proper drainage will help mimic nature and prevent root rot. 

And don’t keep it in a terracotta pot. I know it’s a cute look, but it wicks too far too much water away from the soil. You’ll find it dries out extremely fast. 

Substrate & Soil

As we now know, Hemionitis arifolia is an epiphytic fern, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that it wouldn’t be picky with where it grows.

But epiphytes are quite the opposite; they don’t typically grow terrestrially, so substrate choice is critical. For example, dense, compact potting soil would spell disaster. 

It really needs a well-draining, chunky substrate that allows for airflow around the roots. 

I recommend a tropical plant mix with a water-retentive coco coir base and lots of additives (pumice, charcoal, orchid bark, etc.) to boost aeration and drainage. 

hands holding chunky terrarium substrate mix with pot
You can see how light and airy this substrate mix is!

Temperature & Humidity

As a Southeast Asia native, Heart Ferns love warm, high-humidity environments.

Personally, I’ve had major issues keeping this plant in a room with too low humidity. It’s crisped, curled up, dried out, and even perished. 

small heart leaf fern with crispy leaves
This sad little baby plant didn’t go the distance!

It needs a tropical environment to thrive, so if you can’t give it a minimum of 60% humidity in the home, I highly recommend popping it in a terrarium.

heart leaf fern in vivarium build with moss
This Heart Leaf Fern is THRIVING in this vivarium build.

While they can withstand lower temperatures during the cold season, any temperature drop below 60°F is unlikely to end well.

Growth

Luckily for us, the Heart Leaf Fern will stay a relatively dainty size, never getting too big.

Each new leaf (or, if we’re being technical, frond) will originate from the rhizome, sprouting out from the base of the plant.

As it matures, the fuzzy petioles may grow taller than on the previous leaves, but you can always snip them back if they grow too large for your space.

base of heart leaf fern plant showing new growth
This Heart Leaf Fern is looking a bit worse for wear, but this image shows the growth pattern nicely.

Propagation

In nature, Heart Ferns spread primarily through spores, but division is by far the easiest way to propagate this plant in the home.

And it’s not as scary as it might seem!

Once you have a dense, healthy fern, gently tap it out of the pot. Then, stick your thumbs in the middle of the root ball and start to tease it two.

If you need to, grab a pair of scissors to snip through any stubborn roots, rhizomes, or fronds until you have not one but two plants sitting before you.

splitting silver ribbon fern with scissors
Splitting my Silver Ribbon Fern went really well.

You will likely lose a frond or two in the process, but it’s a necessary evil, and as long as you have enough roots in each plant, it will bounce back.

Plant each division individually and let each settle in their own time. 

Varieties & Similar Plants

The romantic shape of the Heart Leaf Fern isn’t particularly hard to find elsewhere (you need only look to the Philodendron genus), but it’s certainly not common in the fern world.

heart leaf philodendron up close with shelf behind
If you like love-heart-shaped leaves, Philodendron hederaceum is a great choice.

There aren’t any other notable members of the Hemionitis family either.

But if you’re looking for small terrarium-ready ferns, there are plenty of other interesting leaf shapes, colors, and forms to experiment with.

Common Problems

This plant isn’t all sunshine and rainbows; it’s also especially prone to pest infestations, including scale, mealybugs, and aphids.

If there are pests in the area, you can bet they will find your Heart Leaf Fern.

So make sure you quarantine any new plants for a few weeks (the bathtub is ideal) before allowing them into the rest of the home or a terrarium.

Honestly, there’s nothing worse than your whole beloved collection being taken down by a newcomer; we lost half of our plants to a thrip infestation once, and it was awful.

plastic box with ferns and tropical plants inside
We stick our garden center buys in here for a few weeks of monitoring before they can join the rest of the plant family.

If you do have an infestation, a neem oil treatment is a decent organic option, but it doesn’t work every time.

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