Beautiful Foxtail Fern: Learn the Downside of Planting This Variety of Fern
Foxtail fern is a beautiful plant in the landscaping, and it is hardy, evergreen, and perennial, making for a budget-friendly plant once purchased. Not only that, but it also spreads if the red berries which occur 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.
Origin and Sun Tolerance
The foxtail ferns are soft to the touch and are related to the asparagus family of plants. This variety of greenery comes from South Africa and in our Houston area grows well in full sun but also tolerates some shade. I have planted 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 striking specimen plants and that they were.
Suddenly the nearby rose bushes were not fairing as well.
A particular rose bush called Mother's Rose was given to me by a friend after my mother had died. It had been hardy and was able to be 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. It derives nutrition from the soil, but it chokes out other plants around it.
It is a shame that I lost that particular rose bush. The person to whom I gave my 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 an excellent 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 above ground.
Characteristics and Growing Information
In the United States, these perennial, light green-colored, evergreen plants thrive in planting zones nine to eleven. Its official scientific name is Asparagus densiflorus Myersii. As one might accurately guess from the title, it does come from the asparagus family, the official name being Asparagaceae.
In the spring, those foxtail-like fronds with the soft needle-like leaves bear tiny white flowers that turn into red berries later in the year. Butterflies and bees like the flowers and birds consume the ornamental berries. I have read that the berries can be poisonous to cats and dogs, but we have personally never had a problem with that.
Propagation of the foxtail fern happens in two ways. One can plant the berries containing seeds directly into the ground. A much faster way is to take an existing plant and cut it with a sharp shovel or knife, bisecting the fronds and tuberous taproots, and dividing it that way.
The tubers below ground store water, so once the plants are established, they are drought tolerant. Well draining soil is ideal. Water about once a week once the earth has had a chance to dry out at the top three inches or so. If grown in hard, compacted soil and receiving too much water, root rot can occur.
As you can see from the photo above, the older fronds often shed their leaves and become stick-like in appearance. Remove them by snapping them off or cutting them to keep the plant looking tidy and beautiful.
Occasionally, when temperatures have gotten into the twenties, and if left unprotected, the fronds can be harmed. Generally, they rebound with new growth from the ground.
In northern climates, they can be kept as houseplants if given enough bright light and humidity.
Our foxtail ferns never had any pests. I have read that occasionally they can be harmed by scale insects or mealybugs.
Do you grow Foxtail Ferns?
Size and Spacing of These Plants
I would use them in landscaping again if I could start from scratch with a new garden knowing what I had learned the hard way. One needs to have 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 three feet or so.
See how the man in the video below has them spaced where they cannot harm other plants.
Did you know about the underground tubers of foxtail ferns and how to safely plant them where they will not interfere with other plants you might have?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2016 Peggy Woods