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How to Grow Button Fern — Pellaea

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Pellaea–commonly known as cliff-brake fern or button fern–is a small, bushy upright or trailing fern. The fronds are compound and grow on wiry stalks; the fronds bear pairs of small rounded, bright green leaves along furry brown midribs.

Pellaea are evergreen ferns that grow from rhizomes. They are erect and tufted when young and tend to trail as they mature. Outdoors, Pellaea can be grown in a shady garden or rock garden.

Pellaea is often grown as a houseplant; the foliage is striking and detailed. It is a good choice for a hanging basket or terrarium. It can be grown in limited to bright light or under fluorescent light. 

Pellaea is a genus of about 80 species of deciduous or evergreen terrestrial ferns. Pellaea is native to semi-desert regions of South Africa and South America.

Get to know Pellaea 

  • Plant type:  Fern
  • Growing zones and range:  Zones 8-10
  • Hardiness:  Half hardy; will survive to 24°F (-4°C)
  • Optimal growing temperature: day, 68° to 75°F (20° to 24°C); night, 50° to 60°F (10° to 16°C). 
  • Height and width: 12 inches (30cm) all and 16 inches (40cm) wide
  • Foliage: Narrowly oblong, pinnate, leathery, dull dark green fronds 6 to 12 inches (15-30cm) long with red-flsuhed midribs and rounded, finely scalloped margins
  • Uses:  Terrace or rock garden, houseplant
  • Common name: Button fern, Cliff brake fern. 
  • Botanical name:  Pellaea 
  • Family name:  Andiantaceae
  • Origin:  South Africa, South America
Button fern leaves, Pellaea rotundifolia
Button fern leaves, Pellaea rotundifolia

Where to plant Pellaea 

  • Light outdoors: Grow Pellaea in full sun with wome midday shade.
  • Light indoors: Moderate, filtered light, with direct sun in winter, from eastern or western exposure. Does well under artificial light, needing 12 light-hours daily. 
  • Soil outdoors: Grow Pellaea in moderately fertile, moist but well-drained soil.
  • Soil indoors: Grow Pellaea in a fern mix, with good drainage. 

When to plant Pellaea 

  • Set container-grown Pellaea outdoors in spring or autumn.

Planting and spacing Pellaea  

  • Space  Pellaea 16 inches (40cm) wide apart.

How to water and feed Pellaea 

  • Water: Let the soil dry, but not completely, between through waterings.
  • Indoors mist Pellaea twice daily. Pellaea prefers humidity of 30% to 35%. 
  • Feeding: Fertilize Pellaea once a month throughout the year. Fertilize Pellaea growing indoors every third or fourth watering during growing season, with mild liquid fertilizer.

Pellaea care  

  • Pellaea rests slightly during fall and winter. Keep the temperature at about 50°F (10°C). water sparingly; withhold fertilizer.  

Growing Pellaea as a houseplant

  • Give Pellaea limited to bright light or grow under fluorescent light, in a terrarium or in a hanging basket.
  • Provide a cool to average temperature and medium humidity.
  • Keep the soil medium moist; all the soil to dry slightly between waterings.
  • Fertilize Pellaea once a month throughout the year.

Pellaea pests and diseases  

  • Check Pellaea for aphids, fungus gnats, mealybugs, scale insects, slugs, and snails. 
  • Pellaea is prone to fungal spots and root rot.

Pellaea propagation  

  • Propagate Pellaea by rhizome division or spores.
  • Sow sportes in warm soil.

Pellaea varieties to grow  

  • Pellaea rotundifolia, button fern. Grows in an arching and trailing manner to a length of 12 inches; fronds bears pairs of small, rounded, bright green leaves along furry brown midribs; nearly round, ¾-inch-wide leaflets are evenly spaced all along the fronds.. 
  • P. viridis, (P. adiantoides), cliff brake fern. Bushy, upright fronds measuring 30 inches (76 cm) long; grass green oval or lance-shaped leaflets; midrib becomes black as frond ages. 

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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