What Is a Footed Fern and How Do You Care For It?

by | May 25, 2021 | 9 comments

What is a footed fern and how do you care for it? Rabbit’s foot, bear’s paw, kangaroo paw, green worm. What do all these names have in common? They all describe types of “footed” ferns. The “feet” are rhizomes that creep and crawl across the top of the soil surface. Sometimes those rhizomes even cover and surround the pot.

In their native habitat, they often live in a minuscule amount of soil, crawling across rocks.

I had a rabbit’s foot fern growing on a Hawaiian lava rock without any potting medium at all. It got scale and I discarded it.

These ferns are quite susceptible to scale. I treated it, but I decided it wasn’t worth risking my other plants, so got rid of it when they returned.  Unfortunately, I am still battling the scale on my remaining ferns but I keep trying. 

Rabbit's foot 2011
Rabbit’s foot fern 2011

Rabbit’s Foot Fern

My rabbit’s foot fern Davalia fejeensis started small. You can see the difference between the pictures above and the ones below which span 7 years.

I planted it in a shallow container, and that is all the potting medium it needs. Rhizomatous ferns have shallow root systems. They creep along the ground or over rocks in their native habitats.

They will all thrive in moderate to bright light. Mine are in an East window and are doing well.  (The picture above is from November 2011 and the camera I used wasn’t great. I apologize for the quality of the picture. ) Fast forward to 2018. My fern feet have completely surrounded the pot. It is still going strong now in 2021. 

Rabbit's foot fern
Rabbit’s foot fern 2018

Below is my daughter’s newer rabbit’s foot fern.

Rabbit's Foot fern
Rabbit’s foot fern

Native habitats of footed ferns

These ferns come from South East Asia, Japan, and Australia. The rabbit’s fern comes from Fiji, thus the botanical name. 

Care of a footed fern

Footed ferns can be epiphytic or terrestrial, they like high humidity and bright, filtered light, and need well-drained soil. Never let them dry out. A humidity tray with pebbles and water is a good way to raise the humidty.

Pebble tray
A pebble tray helps with humidity around the plant

I have allowed my caterpillar fern to dry out and it loses some leaves, but comes back just fine. Of course, I don’t recommend this.

The rhizomes hold an extra amount of moisture, and this feature has saved my plant more than once. They want to stay evenly moist and are great plants for hanging baskets, as their “feet” can be seen better from below. I have mine on plant stands, so they are visible. 

Propagation of footed ferns

They are easy to propagate. Separate the different plants or use a piece of the rhizome.

Cut a piece of rhizome away from the plant, making sure it has a frond attached to it. Lay the rhizome on top of the soil surface and pin it down to keep it upright. I use a bent piece of wire or paper clip. Make sure it stays moist and it should root and take off creeping across the soil in no time.

Green worm footed fern

The caterpillar fern is also called the worm fern, the E.T. fern, and the naked rabbit’s foot fern. This is a good example of why the Latin name should always be used to identify your plants.

These are four names for the same plant and there may be more. There won’t be a question if I identify it by using the Latin name, Polypodium formosanum.

Kangaroo Footed Fern

The plant below is the kangaroo fern, or Microsorum diversifolium. 

Bear Paw’s Footed Fern

Below is my bear’s paw fern, Phlebodium aureum. I had to move furniture and move it out of the window so I could get a picture of it. It is a large fern and I love the huge “paws”!

Bear's paw fern
Up close of large foot

Blue Star Footed Fern

The footed fern below is the blue star fern, Phlebodium aureum mandaianum, a much smaller version of the above fern.

Try one of these unusual, interesting ferns. They aren’t your run-of-the-mill ferns and they can be a real conversation piece. They are great plants for children as they can’t help but love a fuzzy, wormy-looking plant. Who wouldn’t be? Do you have a “footed fern”?

Have a great week, plant friends!


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  1. Ernie

    I have an enormous 20+ year old Rabbit’s Foot which I treasure and a Green Worm Fern is on my list to acquire, but I’ve never encountered the Kangaroo or Bear’s Paw Ferns. They’re exquisite! The last thing I need is more houseplants, but, at the very least, I’m going to have to acquire a Bear’s Paw. I’ve tried to propagate the Rabbit’s Foot with rhizomes a couple of times without success, so I periodically hack out a chunk of my original plant with attached roots and move it to a new pot. One of those picked up a scale infestation over the winter (as you say, they appear to be very susceptible), so I kept it isolated until I could move it outdoors this spring. An extended period outside through the hottest months has worked to rid some of my other plants of scale, so I’m hoping it works for the Rabbit’s Foot, as well. BTW — I found your site while researching care tips for the xeric Tillandsia species, and your post about Tillandsia care was enormously helpful.

    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Ernie,
      Thanks so much for finding and reading my blog posts. I really appreciate it and your comments. Scale is the worst on ferns, isn’t it? How do they find them? So crazy. I think putting it outside will help. If I have bad mealybugs, I always put the plant outside (if it’s summer) and it usually works to rid them of bugs. Lisa

  2. Ashley

    I have a bears paw fern but the leaves do not stand up like yours, they hang down. I’ve never seen one with upright leaves like yours!

    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Ashley,
      There is more than one type of fern called bear’s paw fern. MIne has huge “feet” and leaves to match.Some have smaller “feet” and smaller leaves. I’ve never seen the one I have for sale since I purchased it at a small greenhouse near me. Maybe you could find one online.

  3. Ashley

    Do you do anything specific to achieve that?

    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Ashley,
      I think you have a different bear’s paw fern than mine.

  4. Cher

    Thank you very much for the information and pictures. While at my local hardware store, the gardening lady was pulling out new plants. A rhizome with some leaves fell off of one, and she gave it to me!!!! I had looked all over and your post was the only one with pictures of the rhizomes that crawl ok the outside of the planter. Now I know that it *is* a rhizome and I can try and propagate it! Yay!

  5. Margaret

    I have a rabbit’s foot fern in a basket that’s approximately 20 years old. It is in a wire basket lined with moss. Rhizomes.Have completely encompassed.the basket. I would like to replant but I don’t know how. Without damaging the plant. It outside year round, I’m not sure what I can do or if I should disturb it at all.

    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Margaret,
      I’m so sorry for the late response. My daughter had twins 11 months ago, and it has been busy. I’ve ignored almost everythign else in my life.
      Anyway, I’m not sure how you could repot it. I would probably just keep watering it well and let it go. I may also propagate some new plants from it just in case.


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