Beautiful Foxtail Fern has a Dark Side

Foxtail fern

Foxtail fern
Foxtail fern | Source

Be Forewarned!

Foxtail fern is a beautiful plant in the landscaping and it is hardy, evergreen and perennial which makes for a budget friendly plant once purchased. Not only that, it spreads if the red berries that are produced find a patch of ground in which to sprout and then grow.

Birds love the berries, so whether you purposely plant them or let nature take its course, you are likely to end up with more foxtail fern plants once you have one or more in your landscaping.

Foxtail fern in landscaping

Foxtail fern in landscaping
Foxtail fern in landscaping | Source

The foxtail ferns are soft to the touch and are related to the asparagus family of plants. They come from South Africa and in our Houston area grow well in full sun but also tolerate some shade. I have grown them in both situations with success in the past.

Foxtail seems an appropriate name given how those spiky stems with attached foliage simulate a fox's tail except in plant mode.

I purchased some at a nursery towards the end of the summer several years ago when the plants were marked down by 70%. Mixing them into our garden I thought that they were stunning specimen plants...and that they were.

Foxtail ferns planted near rose bush in our backyard.

Foxtail ferns planted near rose bush in our backyard.
Foxtail ferns planted near rose bush in our backyard. | Source

Uh-oh!

Suddenly the nearby rose bushes were not fairing as well.

A special rose bush called Mother's Rose was given to me by a friend after my mother had died. It had been hardy and was viewed from several windows in our home. It reminded me of the special friendship and love of my mother that my friend had also shared.

What I found after digging out the dead rose bush had me digging out our foxtail ferns also and giving them away.

The foxtail fern forms tubers the size of a man's thumb and they spread out far from the plant underground. Obviously it derives nutrition from the soil but it literally chokes out other plants around it.

It is a shame that I lost that special rose bush and the person to whom I gave my foxtail ferns was warned about not planting them near other plants unless they are deeply rooted like trees or planted against foundations such as homes or businesses where other more shallow rooted plants also reside.

They would make a good specimen plant for container gardening.

Just be forewarned about this fact if you wish to use foxtail ferns in your yards and gardens. These are cold hardy plants and rarely freeze back in our area. If we have an unusually cold winter and they do freeze, they rebound in the spring quickly. Just cut off any dead foliage.

I would definitely use them in landscaping again were I to start out from scratch with a new garden knowing what I learned the hard way. One needs to have some space around them as they can get up to about a foot and a half to two feet in height and have a spread of about 3 feet or so.

Did you know this about the lovely foxtail fern?

See how the man in the video below has them spaced where they cannot harm other plants.

Foxtail fern

© 2016 Peggy Woods

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Comments 31 comments

Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 2 months ago

Thank you.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 2 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi Robert,

They would be fine in a flowerbed. In a pot every few years they would have to be replanted depending upon the size of the pot because those tubers would literally fill the pot and there would be little soil left after a while. The same with asparagus fern.


Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 2 months ago

How would a flowerbed of these foxtail ferns look? Would they strangle each other?


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 2 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi Robert,

The foxtail fern is truly lovely but should be planted where it cannot harm other plants. Thought I would share what happened to us so that others are aware.


Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 2 months ago

Thank you, I appreciate the warning.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi Vellur,

I never told the friend that gave the rose bush to me what happened to it. Nice to warn others about the potential of losing precious plants if planted near these pretty foxtail ferns. I did not know better at the time. The foxtail ferns are beautiful if planted in the right place.


Vellur profile image

Vellur 5 months ago from Dubai

Foxtail Ferns look beautiful but have a downside to them. Sad that you lost the rose bush given to you by your friend.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Greetings Seafarer Mama,

Happy to hear you liked learning about the foxtail ferns and how they spread underground with their tuberous roots. Appreciate your comment.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi FlourishAnyway,

As far as being "selfish little buggers" it is just the way the foxtail ferns were made and it surely makes for good survival.


Seafarer Mama profile image

Seafarer Mama 6 months ago from New England

Great informative hub with beautiful pictures. Thanks for the warning about how they spread and procreate. :0)


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 6 months ago from USA

They're pretty but selfish little buggers.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi Frank,

Even if you were a botanist, there would probably be some plants of which you would still be unfamiliar since there are so many on our planet. Glad you enjoyed the article as well as the comments.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 6 months ago from Shelton

Thank you so much for this educational insight, truth be told I didn't even know what a f oxtail fern was.. I'm not too familiar with ferns or plants.. I'm not a botanist.. so forgive my ignorance... the hub was good and I enjoyed the comments from the other hubbers too..:)


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi BlossomSB,

Your mother obviously knew what she was doing with regard to containing these foxtail ferns. They are soft to the touch.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi Nell Rose,

Sometimes we do learn by experience when gardening and this was certainly the case with our foxtail ferns.


BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 6 months ago from Victoria, Australia

Thank you for the warning! Now I know why my mother used to grow them in hanging baskets, she must have known a thing or two. These ferns always looked such a pretty green and felt so soft to run our hands along.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 6 months ago from England

What a great plant, but the part about your rose is sad. that's the trouble when we plant something new, its happened to me before, can't remember what plant it was, but all the others around it had to be moved, great hub!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi Martie,

That is interesting that this foxtail fern is called a cat's tail fern in Africa. It is because of those tuberous roots that that invaded the space where my special rose bush was planted that the rose bush died. Thought I would warn people of that fact. In a pot the roots eventually take up all the space. I agree that it needs repotting every so often for that reason.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 6 months ago from South Africa

In Afrikaans - directly translated - we call them cat tails. I keep mine in containers, but re-planting them from time to time is essential, as those invasive roots eventually take up all space. They are, of course, ideal in beds where they can thrive on their own.

Excellent hub!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hello peachpurple,

Even if it is too hot to grow foxtail ferns in your area, I am sure you have plenty of other gorgeous plants. Thanks for reading and responding.


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 6 months ago from Home Sweet Home

Those are beautiful plants that we can't find them here, weather too hot


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi Alicia,

I agree with you that it is a very pretty plant. As long as it is contained or planted near deeper rooted things like trees...there is no problem. I am sorry that I lost that particular rose bush also.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 6 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

As I was reading your hub and looking at the photos I was thinking that the foxtail fern looked like a beautiful plant to put in a garden. Then I read that it was responsible for the loss of the rose bush planted in memory of your mother. I'm so sorry that you lost the bush and appreciate your warning about where to put the plant. It's certainly pretty.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Greetings JoanieMRuppel54,

So true! I never would have planted them near my rose bushes had I known what was happening underground.


JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

JoanieMRuppel54 6 months ago from Keller, Texas

This is good to know. Sometimes we don't think about what is happening underneath the ground. Thank you!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi ChitrangadaSharan,

I am happy to pass this information on to others because the foxtail fern is indeed beautiful but one must be cautious on where to plant it. I have seen some planted in road divides where they are pretty and cannot infringe upon other plants.


ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 6 months ago from New Delhi, India

The Foxtail Fern plant does look bright and beautiful!

Thanks for sharing the tips on how, when and where to plant it and the other precautions where not to plant it.

The description provided by you is very useful and helpful. Loved the pictures and the video as well.

Thanks for sharing!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hello eugbug,

I am not familiar with bracken but if it is anything like foxtail ferns one must be careful where one plants it so as not to harm other nearby plants. I do think that the foxtail ferns are pretty and enjoyed them immensely right up until they killed that special rose bush of mine. Thanks for your comment.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 months ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi Au fait,

Thanks for sharing this information about the foxtail ferns. People need to know where best to plant these so as not to harm nearby plants.

The few leaves on the trees are falling like rain and trees are blossoming here also. The redbuds are so pretty. Our yard has lots of color with azaleas, roses, begonias, etc. in bloom. Hope all is well with you too.


eugbug profile image

eugbug 7 months ago from Ireland

Interesting, the foxtail ferns look cute and cuddly but creepy at the same time, like giant green spiders or sea anemones! I grow bracken in the garden and it's a nice contrast to some of the other plants, however I read somewhere that the roots do something similar, spreading and choking nearby plants.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 7 months ago from North Texas

Good information to know. Glad you have shared it. They do look so pretty! Now is when so many people are sprucing their yards up and adding new plants, etc. Sharing this with followers.

Finally a 'normal' Texas winter and it's looking like we may have one of those nice long springs. Spring is the best season in Texas. Its so pretty once everything starts to blossom and the weather is usually moderate. Noted the trees are starting to blossom up here.

Hope all is well with you. Take care . . .

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