Blue star fern: care, location & toxicity of Phlebodium


I study landscape ecology and through my studies have discovered a love for plants. Plants are not only beautiful, but also have countless fascinating survival strategies. To bring a bit of nature into my home as well, I nurture my houseplants and herbs on every possible windowsill.

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At first glance, one wonders where the blue star fern got its name from. If you look closely at the underside of the leaf at the right time, you can find out.

Blue star fern houseplant
The golden polypody, also known as the blue star fern, can only be grown indoors in our parts of the world [Photo: ElenaBaryshnikova/]

The blue star fern (Phlebodium aureum), or golden serpent fern as it is also called, is common in our country as an indoor plant. In the forest, on the contrary, the tropical plant is not found. In this article we show how to properly plant the blue star fern and how to care for it.

Blue star fern: origin and characteristics

Ferns usually have a jungle-like character and bring a special charm to the garden or home. This includes the blue star fern (Phlebodium aureum), which originates from the tropical rainforests of South America and is often used as a houseplant. It is also called hare-foot fern or gold-foot fern. The blue-green coloured fronds are usually multipinnate but may also consist of only one leaflet. The fronds can reach lengths of up to 1 metre, which is why adequate space is needed to keep the gold serpent fern as a houseplant.

The fern got its other name, golden serpent fan, because of the small sporocarps, which are located on the underside of the leaves in ferns and are responsible for reproduction. They are golden yellow in this species and look like golden specks. Flowers are not formed, as with all fern species, because they are not flowering plants. The yellow-brown, slightly hairy rhizome from which the fronds arise grows while resting on the ground. In nature, the blue star fern usually has no contact with the ground, but grows as a perching plant on trees.

Spotted underside of fern leaf
The golden polypody has golden-yellow dots along the underside of its leaves [Photo: PurMoon/].

The most beautiful varieties

In addition to the species, there are varieties of blue star fern which have, for example, curly or wavy fronds, or differ from the species only in growth.

  • Phlebodium aureum ‘Davana’: fringed leaf margins
  • Phlebodium aureum ‘Glaucum crispum’: with curled leaf margin
  • Phlebodium aureum ‘Mandaianum’: wavy, silvery-blue-green fronds at the edge
  • Phlebodium aureum ‘Blue Star’: more compact than the species
Phleboidum fern against wall
Phlebodium ‘Davana’ has frayed edges [Photo: nnattalli/]

Planting blue star ferns: location, soil and more

To keep the gold serpent fern as a houseplant, you must first find a suitable location for it. Similar to many other ferns, the blue star fern prefers a place in partial shade or full shade. A bright location can be chosen as long as it does not get direct sunlight. An average room temperature of around 20 °C is perfectly adequate for the plant – in winter it can be a little cooler. However, temperatures below 12 °C are not suitable even in winter. High humidity is desirable, because it promotes the growth of the fern. However, the tropical fern copes surprisingly well with lower humidity.

Suitable substrates for the epiphytic plant include a mixture of orchid soil or pine bark and universal compost in a ratio of 1:1. Our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost is a suitable compost here. Good water retention capacity, a long-lasting, loose structure and a balanced nutrient supply characterise our peat-free compost. Orchid substrate or pine bark provide an airy rooting environment that epiphytes are accustomed to as perching plants. Before planting, a drainage layer is created at the bottom of the pot, with clay shards for example to prevent waterlogging. For the shallow rooter, a large shallow dish is more suitable than a deep pot. When planting the blue star fern, rhizomes are not covered with soil but should rest only in shallow depressions on the substrate.

Golden polypody fern in sunlight
Golden polypody ferns do well in brighter spots [Photo: Irene Fox/]

It is also possible to keep the blue star fern epiphytic, for example, by tying it to branches with a little substrate in the winter garden. Another option is to keep it in hanging baskets.

Caring for the blue star fern

Blue star fern care is not particularly laborious. Find out below what you should nevertheless pay attention to.

Watering and pruning

Regular watering is important so that the soil of the golden serpent fern never dries out completely, but always feels slightly moist. At best, soft, lime-free water – preferably rainwater – is used when watering. A drainage hole should be found in the bottom of the pot so that excess water can run off and be removed.
An occasional spray with lime-free water will promote the health of the fern.

If brown or yellow fronds develop on the blue star fern, they can simply be cut off. Otherwise, you do not need to prune the gold serpent fern.

Fern growing along branches in treetops
In nature, the golden polypody grows up in the treetops [Photo: Nina B/]

Fertilising golden serpent ferns

You should fertilise the blue star fern only in the vegetation phase from spring to autumn. A liquid fertiliser such as our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food can be easily added to the soil along with the watering water. The plant can then quickly access the nutrients. One fertiliser application every 2 weeks is quite enough for the golden serpent fern. It is important to use a fertiliser free of salt, that is, not mineral. Freshly repotted ferns do not need fertilising for the first few months, as the fresh substrate contains many nutrients.

Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
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  • Perfect for a wide variety of houseplants & foliage plants
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It is time to repot the blue star fern every 2 to 3 years in spring. Young ferns that are still growing a lot in size may be given a larger pot each year. When repotting the golden serpent fern, carefully remove the old substrate from the roots and plant it in a slightly larger pot with fresh, coarse soil.

Blue star fern gets brown leaves

Dry air and substrate is usually responsible for brown fronds on the blue star fern. Check the soil using the finger test: it should not be completely dry. Too sunny a location or low humidity can also be the cause. Affected fronds are cut off at the base. Full sun can be just as damaging to the gold-foot fern.

Close-up of blue star fern frond
Owing to its blue-green coloured fronds, this plant is also known as the name blue star fern [Photo: Danny Hummel/]

Propagating golden serpent fern

The easiest way to propagate blue star ferns is by splitting. In this process, divide the mother plant into 2 parts in the spring, so that after propagation you have 2 small plants. Lift the plant out of the ground and carefully break or cut the rhizome into 2 or more pieces. Each piece must have roots and fronds. Once planted in separate pots, the two ferns are placed in a warm, bright place. The soil temperature should be about 25 ° C and the soil should always be moist. A clear plastic bag placed over the ferns will help keep humidity high and create a suitable environment for the seedlings. Regular airing of the bag prevents mould growth.
Self-propagation via spores is far more complex and best left to professionals. In addition, the spores are formed only on older and larger plants. If spores are formed, the fern sometimes spreads undesirably and small plants are then found in the pots of other houseplants.

Blue star fern in pot on table
You can propagate the blue fern by division [Photo: Benoit Bruchez/]

Blue fern as a medicinal plant: medicinal effect and use

Studies have found that the fern can be used as a sunscreen. For this purpose, it is necessary to take an extract of blue star fern, which should protect against UV radiation. For those affected by skin conditions treated with UVA phototherapy, the extract should help mitigate potential side effects. However, because the golden serpent fern is poisonous, it is not recommended to eat the plant.

Blue star fern growing from a rock
The blue star fern can sometimes be found growing in weird and wonderful places [Photo: Furiarossa/]

Is the golden serpent fern poisonous?

The fern is mildly poisonous because it contains prussic acid, which can cause mild symptoms of poisoning if it comes into strong contact with the skin or is eaten. These include skin irritation, gastrointestinal discomfort, headaches and dizziness. Blue star fern is also poisonous to pets.

Not only golden serpent ferns are popular houseplants. Discover more beautiful indoor ferns and learn about their care requirements.