Native to Australia and tropical regions, the crocodile fern has spear-like, wrinkled leaves mimicking a crocodile’s hide.
The light green, segmented leaves are puckered with dark green veins that give off a an elegant, even graceful appearance. Agree?
So aptly named for the scale-like texture the leaves display, the crocodile fern (Microsorium musifolium ‘Crocydyllus’) is an incredible low-light houseplant to own.
But know what blows my mind? This epiphytic fern grows on things in the wild like tree trunks and between rock cracks. The crocodile fern plant will absorb all nutrients and water it needs through the air, rain, or tree.
So grow your crocodile plant in a container but also consider affixing it to a wooden plank on your wall. Hello green vertical flair!
The crocodile fern’s wavy edges will certainly win your heart especially with the little fuss this fern causes. Talk about an easy indoor plant to grow.
Here’s all you need to know for the crocodile fern to survive and thrive in your space now because this pandemic is causing us all to invest in houseplants!
Your indoor space must be relaxing so spirits can revive and thrive!
Fast fern facts
Place or Origin:
Mature height indoors:
Mature height outdoors (in the wild)
Funnest fact of all:
Australia and South East Asia
2 to 5 feet
Low-light to bright indirect light
Likes to stay moist
Likes it very humid
Between 65 and 75 degrees F.
Prefers slightly acidic ~ between 6.0 – 8.5
Pet friendly, safe for cats, dogs, humans
The crocodile fern is sometimes called an alligator fern, too!
Crocodile Fern fun fact!
Although the broad green leaves appear to arise directly from the soil, the fronds actually grow from rhizomes that emerge just under the surface! Who knew?
The crocodile fern will light up your life!
Even in the wild, the crocodile fern doesn’t get much natural light because it lives under a canopy, protected from direct sunlight by the foliage of other plants.
So crocodile ferns prefer low-light, indirect sunlight because that what it’s used to in its natural environment.
A northern or eastern window provides the best light exposure. A spot in front of a sunny window with too intense light and heat may scorch those wavy and scale-like fronds.
My plant is affixed in my vertical wall planter but if yours is in a pot, turn the plant once or twice each month to encourage even growth.
Failure to shift your pot around results in a lopsided looking plant so ensuring each side gets its share of light is essential.
Also consider growing your crocodile fern under the guise of a curtain to provide bright, but indirect light. This dappled light is just what the plant doctor ordered!
Cool to average room temperatures are fine, but avoid heating vents, drafts or air conditioners.
Remember: ferns love humidity and heating vents and air conditioners will dry out the plant!
Soil & potting requirements
I used an African violet mix but you could make your own by mixing one part charcoal chips, one part coarse sand, two parts garden soil and two parts composted leaves. I’d throw in some perlite for good measure.
By mixing the above ingredients together you’ll create a rich, well-drained medium. This prevents roots getting soggy and mold forming at the bottom of the pot.
The irony of potting the crocodile fern is that although it likes and needs regular waterings, the plant won’t survive in poorly drained soil either.
The easiest solution for me was to line the bottom of my planter with orchid bark chips filling in the top half with a commercial African potting mix like Miracle-Gro.
Transplant your crocodile fern into a pot that is about twice as large as the root ball giving the roots room to expand and mature.
Due to its shallow root structure, the crocodile fern plant does not need to be buried deep.
Read the instructions carefully. Too much fertilizer won’t make your plant grow faster. In fact, it may kill the plant.
When it comes to ferns…wetter is better!
But since trapped water tends to increase the risk of fungal diseases and mold, use a pot that contains at least one drainage hole in the bottom.
Only water the crocodile fern whenever the surface feels slightly dry, providing enough water to force a few drops through the pot’s drainage holes. Poke your finger down two inches in the pot, if it feels “dry” it’s time to water.
When watering, do not pour the water directly on the crocodile fern (therefore touching the leaves) but instead directly into the soil surrounding the plant. Pouring water in the center of the plant encourages water to sit and potential rot.
Always use a pot filled with loose soil and a drainage hole and let the pot drain thoroughly. Never let the bottom of the pot stand in water or the roots will rot.
Create adequate amounts of humidity by placing your plant on a tray or plate with a layer of wet pebbles under the pot. Also spray the leaves with a gentle mist several times a week.
Another option is simply choosing a location in your home that naturally gets more humidity like a bathroom or kitchen.
Especially if you are growing vertically, your crocodile fern will love your bathroom.
Every time you shower or take a bath with your crocodile fern (I won’t tell if you won’t tell) your plant will relish the humidity and benefit.
A telltale sign that your plant isn’t getting enough humidity are those crispy brown tips that appear on the foliage. Of course, brown tips could also signal that your crocodile fern isn’t getting enough water.
With your fingers, gently divide offsets and repot them into a well-drained and organically rich potting soil. Do not allow to dry out for several weeks. As with the mother fern plant, the new offsets will require moist soil and high humidity.
You can also propagate your Crocodile Fern plant through root division. I like this method a bit less because if you are not careful, you’ll damage the roots.
So not only do you not end up with more plants but you kill your existing plant. Way too sad!
Instead of using a trowel, I would attempt root division by gently prying the roots apart with your fingers. Make sure each plant gets enough of the root system to survive and thrive. New plants require enough root for them to take.
Place each plant into new potting soil, water thoroughly (make sure the plants can drain) and you should be good to go.
Even so, not all sections will take. Some will flourish, but others will die. Its best to wait until you have a substantial plant to work with or don’t attempt root separation in the first place.
Mold in pots?
Mold of this kind is attributed to dead and rotting material in the planter or pot. Now this can be a good thing for plants because they like composted nutrients for food.
However, mold doesn’t look great and it can also be a sign that your plant is a little too wet.
A fabulous way to knock out a little surface mold is to fill a spray bottle with 1/3 rubbing alcohol 2/3 tap water with four to five drops of a biodegradable type of soap/detergent.
This nice, powerful spray will clean up that top mold nicely! This mixture is also good as a preventative measure against insects keeping those pests at bay.