Nephrolepis exaltata: How to Grow the Fluffy Ruffles Fern

Nephrolepis exaltata is a lusciously thick evergreen fern with beautiful sword-shaped leaves. In its larger native form (the Boston Fern) it’s a super popular houseplant, and has been since the Victorian period.

Thankfully for us, it also comes in a few dwarf varieties that are perfect for terrariums – this ‘Fluffy Ruffles’ cultivar and the ‘Marisa’ being two of them. This miniature fern only grows up to 12 inches and has a characteristic fluffy texture.

Where to Buy Nephrolepis exaltata

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

US – See on Etsy
UK – See on Etsy

Nephrolepis exaltata Care & Growth

Plant TypeFern
LightingMedium – high indirect light
Temperature60-80°F (18-26°C)
WateringRegular, even moisture
HumidityHigh humidity (60-90%)
Growth6-12 inches


In a terrarium, Nephrolepis exaltata will do best with plenty of bright, indirect light. They can handle some direct winter sun but are still prone to scorching.


Like most ferns, Sword Ferns grows best with constant, even moisture. They can be quite sensitive and have very little drought tolerance.

Fluffy Ruffles Fern
Keep the Fluffy Ruffles Fern consistently moist (it’ll need topping up regularly in small pots like this!)


Originating from humid swamp environments (unsurprisingly not Boston, despite the common name) Nephrolepis exaltata prefers a substrate that’s rich in moisture and organic materials.

Fluffy Ruffles Fern
A tropical substrate with good water retention and drainage will work best.

Temperature & Humidity

Sword Ferns love a humid environment and will need over 50% to grow properly.

Fluffy Ruffles Fern
Just barely making the 50% humidity in winter!

They are tropical plants, and will do well in the higher temperatures usually found in a tropical terrarium, but they actually do great when they’re a bit cooler too.

Fluffy Ruffles Fern
The Fluffy Ruffles Fern is one of my favorite terrarium plants.


Under the right conditions, Nephrolepis exaltata can grow fairly quickly and widely, and so may need regular pruning.


Sword ferns belong to a type of plants which reproduce via spores, though it’s not true of all varieties. The ‘Fluffy Ruffles’ cultivar is sterile and doesn’t contain spores.

Thankfully, there’s another way to propagate Sword Ferns, and that’s through division. Simply divide a healthy plant, ensuring each division has its own section of healthy roots and plant as you normally would.

Fluffy Ruffles Fern
You can easily divide the fern like this (though it may take a little bit of tearing).

Varieties & Similar Plants

The classic Boston Fern comes in a wide range of cultivars, most of which are large and more suited as houseplants. The ‘Marisa’ and ‘Fluffy Ruffles’ are the smallest varieties, though the `Bostoniensis Compacta’ cultivar may fit larger terrariums.

Nephrolepis cordifolia (Lemon Button Fern) is another great tiny plant in the genus!

Common Problems

As Nephrolepis exaltata is sensitive to moisture and humidity, most of the visible issues are due to these. Yellowing leaves are a sign of too little humidity, and shedding fronds are a sign of excessive dryness.