Introduction: How to Grow Ferns From Spores

Picture of How to Grow Ferns From Spores
Last spring I bought a lovely maidenhair fern for my balcony garden.  It grew happily and soon became one of my favorites.  Towards the end of June I went away for a week on vacation.  The weather was cool and rainy so I had thought my balcony plants would be fine for the week.  Nope, I was wrong; when I came back the fern had dried, dead foliage (yet my other plants were okay).  I spent a couple of weeks in denial, watering it in hopes that it will soon perk up.  Sadly it never did.

I eventually accepted that my poor little fern was really gone.  When I went to clear out the planter to make room for something else, I notice little brown bumps on the underside of the dead fern's leaves.  I immediately flashed back to my university botany class where I learned about the fern's life cycle.  These little brown bumps contained sporangia (spores), a means by which ferns can reproduce.  Although my little fern is gone, I could create new ferns from its spores.

Acquiring spores
Ferns tend to produce spores in the summer.  I was fortunate with my fern since it already had spores by the end of June.  Look for little brown-black bumps (sori) on the underside of the leaf (see image 2+3 above), maidenhair fern sori appear towards the front edge of the leaves.  When you find a frond with sori, remove the whole frond and place it into a paper envelope and store for a couple of days in a dry location.  After a few days there should be a fine dusting of brownish coloured spores in your envelope.

It is important to use sterile soil when germinating spores.  I used a glass container with a narrow opening so that I can place a plastic lid over to prevent the soil from drying out.  In the container I layered of pebbles, some activated charcoal (since the container has no drainage), then the sterile potting soil.  Water the soil then sprinkle the spores sparsely over the surface.  Put a lid on the container and keep indoors in a place where it can receive indirect light and importantly, make sure the soil does not dry out.

This part requires patience, as you can see from the dates on my pictures above this process can take a while (I started in July 2010).  Also it is important to realize that the first things you see growing, the prothalli (gametophytes), look nothing like the mature fern (see description of fern life cycle below).  Just remember to keep the soil moist at all times and eventually things will start happening.

When the young sporophytes begin to mature and crowd the growing container you may need to transplant.  In February I divided the clump of young sporophytes into two and placed the other half into a similar glass container, at this point they are still quite delicate and so transplanting requires great care.  By late April, they were again crowding their containers so I transplanted some into pots.



Fern Life Cycle
Ferns have what is known as an Alternation of Generation life cycle.  The mature fern is referred to as a sporophyte.  The sporophyte produces sporangia (spores) through meiosis.  The sporangia are found in clusters called sori under the leaves of most ferns. They are then disperse when conditions are right. From sporangia grow prothalli (gametophytes).  The gametophytes develop antheridia and archegonium (the male and female organs) on its lower surface.  The male antheridia develops first and if the environment is moist enough the sperm can swim to the archegonium of another gametophyte.  From this fertilization a zygote forms and grows from the gametophyte eventually forming its own root and becoming a young sporophyte. 


RebeccaN6 (author)2017-06-24

fascinating. I want to try it.

joshua.jobe.9 (author)2014-09-11

what is chaff and how do u tell it from the spores ?

ChrysN (author)joshua.jobe.92014-09-11

The chaff is the dry husk of seeds, it will be a lighter in weight so if you hold the envelope that you used to collect the spores at a slight angle and gently tap it against the table the chaff should separate out. Though it wouldn't be a problem if they get sprinkled onto the soil with the spores.

M.C. Langer (author)2011-06-07

Congratulations ChrysN!!!! :-)

ChrysN (author)M.C. Langer2011-06-07


lyonpridej (author)2011-05-14

This was fascinating, thanks! These look like the little 'extras' that used to show up occasionally in potted plants I brought home from the store, Nobody could really tell me what they were,except a nuisance! I thought they were cute & tried to get them to grow, but they always died. Any idea if this is what they were, some kind of spore?
Anyway, can you tell me how I would know how much to water these? You say not to let it dry out, but how do I know I'm not drowning it?Keep it damp,or water more? Thanks!

ChrysN (author)lyonpridej2011-05-15

In the early stages the soil needs to be damp (but don't flood) at all time, I had kept a lid on the growing container to prevent evaporation. When it is at the gametophyte stage it is particularly important for fertilization that the environment is humid (mist or spray with a spray bottle as needed). Once the sporophytes are bigger (see March pictures above) you can remove the lid of the container and water it as you would an adult fern.

DustyBoots (author)2011-05-13

I love that you turned one balcony plant that met an untimely end into so many more plants to take its place. Your patience and photography really made this a great instructable. :thumbsup:

ChrysN (author)DustyBoots2011-05-14

Thanks, I'm quite happy how it turned out.

Karminha (author)2011-05-12

Fantastic! Thanks for sharing and congrats! I have learned a lot

ChrysN (author)Karminha2011-05-12


corneliahoskin (author)2011-05-12

Thank you so much for this! I love Maidenhair ferns and have killed my fair share. This is a great (albeit patient) way of creating a bunch of plants while being kind to my bank account. Great instructable!!

ChrysN (author)corneliahoskin2011-05-12


maryvangeffen (author)2011-05-12

awesome job. Thanks for sharing! Where does one get activated charcoal?

renx99 (author)maryvangeffen2011-05-12

I get it from my local walmart, in the pet supplies area. Look near the fish stuff.

You can get activated charcoal from a pet store which stocks aquarium products. It's used as a filter medium in fish tank filters.

markstutzman (author)2011-05-12

Pretty neat. I have a ponytail palm at home in a pot, and at some point, a fern started growing next to it, presumably from airborne spores. Never thought to try growing ferns from spores myself, though...

LymphMaster (author)2011-05-12

Well done and very interesting.

NaturalCrafter (author)2011-05-09

This is a great science share for learning about ferns life cycle. I enjoyed your photos too.

ChrysN (author)NaturalCrafter2011-05-09


bruc33ef (author)2011-05-07

Fascinating, and explained very well. I'm going to be on the lookout for edible ferns, like Ostrich ferns, and see how practical it would be to grow these for food.

NaturalCrafter (author)bruc33ef2011-05-09

Ostrich fern do well to send offshoots of new plants as I have them in my yard from receiving a few as gifts. Make sure to eat ferns occasionally as too much of them can off set your system. I prefer to enjoy their beauty or use the fronds in arrangements.

ChrysN (author)bruc33ef2011-05-07

Interesting idea, I've actually never tried fiddle-heads. I've even seen them in the grocery store but I don't know how to prepare them.

antling (author)ChrysN2011-05-08

My friend you can try following.
Stir fried ferns...

One of the way to cook ferns (Chinese), is to cut them into slices of about 30~40 mm (1 ~ 1.5") length.
wash them with clean water.
cut 2 Slices of garlic (or as much as you like)
slice spring onions.
You have to get ready 10mg (to 1kg of fern) of dried prawns, the puny little dried prawns. (Wash these and grind them if you like)

Start my pouring a spoonful of oil into a pan,
then pour in the mix of gralic and onion, stir fry these until a nice aroma.
then, depend on whether the oil is dried up, otherwise, just add another small spoonful of oil to the pan, pour in the dried prawns.
Stir fry with medium flame until the aroma of the prawn filled up the entire kitchen.
finally, place the fern in and stir fry for about 2 minutes, add water so not to over fry the fern. simmer until you are happy with the softness of the fern.
I hope you like it..
there is several other methods, as I am more fond of chinese way of preparing, hence I worry finding the right ingredient may be difficult for you. :-)

ChrysN (author)antling2011-05-08

Sounds great, thanks for the recipe!

T3h_Muffinator (author)2011-05-09

I've been trying to keep moss alive in my room to no avail - I think I don't get enough sunlight daily... but I'm willing to try this!

Any tips for sunlight-lacking environments?

ChrysN (author)T3h_Muffinator2011-05-09

Moss don't need direct sunlight but they do need some indirect light, you can try to find some moss that grow in similar lighting conditions as your room or try out a small(not too bright) growlight.  Keeping them in a glass container or terrarium will help in making sure that the light is not blocked as well as making sure that the environment is humid enough.

iminthebathroom (author)2011-05-08

Nice, I love ferns, have to try this with the native species in the forest, to transfer to garden. "The ferns I want to transplant are protected" but a little nib would be fine!

Creativeman (author)2011-05-08

So cool!

fegundez1 (author)2011-05-08

I have tried a few times on my staghorn ferns now I will try this style!

Ninzerbean (author)2011-05-08

Wow, this is just what I needed, thank you!

About This Instructable




Bio: I like sewing and crafts,and trying new things. I'm vegetarian and always looking for new recipes. My cat's name is Mirko and ... More »
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