Pteris cretica

Creatan brake


Pteris cretica

L. 1767

pronounced: TARE-iss KREE-tik-uh

(Pteridaceae — the maidenhair fern family)


common names: Cretan brake, pteris fern, ribbon fern

Pteris is derived from the Greek πτερις (pteris), a feather or a wing; cretica is botanical Latin, from Crete.

This little fern is almost pan-tropical in distribution, and its origin is uncertain. It is found in the rocky woods of warm temperate forests, and seems to like vertical habitats, either on rock walls or on steep slopes. It is widely cultivated by plant nurseries, for use in the ground in gardens, as a potted plant, and as a house plant. There is a variety with variegated foliage, var. albolineata, that is also widely used, brightening shaded gardens.

This is a slow-growing evergreen fern that typically reaches 45 – 60 cm tall and a similar width. It produces clumps of arching pale green fronds, each with 1 – 4 pairs of simple or forked pinnae, and a single terminal pinna, from short underground rhizomes. As the fronds grow tall, they tend to arch over at the tip. Each frond is about 30 cm long, 20 cm wide, and a light to medium green in colour. The frond stalk is about 15 cm long, and is black. Each strap-shaped pinna is up to 10 cm long and about 2 cm wide, and tapers to a point. In fertile specimens, the spore cases can be borne on all pinnae. The fronds have a very graceful appearance.

If the fern is kept as a house plant, the older outer fronds should be cut away if they become shabby-looking, There are generally new fronds ready to unfurl from the many growing points on the rhizome to take their place. The plant has a moderate rate of growth, reaching its full maturity and height in anything from 2 to 5 years.

The fern needs bright light throughout the year, but should not be exposed to direct sunlight. The fronds should be touched as little as possible, as they bruise easily.

The plant can be propagated in spring by dividing large clumps. Using a sharp knife, cut the rhizome into sections, making sure that each section carries a clump of fronds and feeding roots.

Production of spores is so heavy that young plants are often found in the pots of neighbouring plants. These young plants can be rescued and potted up.

The fern should be kept in humid conditions, but not over-watered.

Plantings of this fern can be used to create living vertical fern walls for small courtyards, and in commercial office developments. They can also be used in hanging baskets on balcony gardens. They have a remarkable ability to tolerate and accumulate high concentrations of arsenic and antimony in their fronds. This makes them capable of filtering arsenic from drinking water supplies.


Photographed in Picinc Bay 2018
Page last updated 22nd March 2019