Nephrolepis falcata ‘Furcans’

fishtail fern


Nephrolepis falcata 'Furcans'

(Cav.) C.Chr. 1937

pronounced: neff-roh-LEP-iss fal-KAR-tuh FUR-kanz

(Nephrolepidaceae — the sword fern family)


common names: fishtail fern, fishtail sword fern

native 4Nephrolepis is derived from the Greek νεφρος (nephros), the kidneys, and λεπις (lepis), a scale. The ‘kidney’ refers to the shape of the sorus and its indusium, and ‘scale’ refers to the scales on the rhizome and stolon. Falcata is from the Latin falcatus, sickle-shaped; furcans is from the Latin furca, a two-pronged fork.

Nephrolepis falcata is a terrestrial or epiphytic fern native to New Guinea and Australia. It is widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions for its ornamental foliage. It is the only one out of about 30 species in this genus that has forked tips to its pinnae. It is thought to have been a cultivar of Nephrolepis biserrata, the Giant Sword Fern, that escaped cultivation. ‘Furcans’ has longer fronds than its parent.

It produces tufted stipes with pinnate fronds that are broadly lanceolate and 35 – 120 cm long and about 10 cm wide, tapering towards the apex, and also slightly towards the base. The fronds are bright green or yellowish green, depending on how much sunlight they receive, and they can be erect, though they are often pendulous. There are numerous sessile pinnae with serrate edges, that fork 1 – 3 times, appearing fishtail-like or falcate.

The fern has short erect rhizomes covered with darl brown scales, and produce long thread-like stolons from which young plants emerge.

The sori are round in shape, borne on the underside of pinnae, along the margins. The fern can be propagated by germination of the spores, but it is far easier to remove young plants shooting from the stolons, and plant them, either in pots or directly into the ground.

This makes an excellent container plant for porches and decks, or indoors. It is an ideal fern for landscaping, or for growing as ground cover, or in hanging baskets. The plants photographed are around the bases of tress in the parkland at the southern end of the Picnic Bay mall.

In some places the leaves are boiled and eaten as a vegetable, and, especially in New Guinea, the roots are pounded to make flour. There are also medicinal uses recorded: in Takiti it is used to treat blisters, boils, abscesses and other soils; in south-west Guyana, the leaves are used to treat cuts and wounds.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2014
Page last updated 10th February 2019