Leaf and roots

Upperside of leaf

Pinnae and rachis upper side

Pinnae and rachis lower side

Old and new stolons with scales

New fronds forming

Brown scales on stems, stolons and rhizomes

Spores being released from sori

Scientific Name

Nephrolepis cordifolia

Common Names

fishbone fern, herringbone fern, sword fern


Native of tropical and subtropical regions of the world including Australia (north from north coast of NSW).

It is found in rainforest or open forest.



Distinguishing Characteristics

This is a semi evergreen fern which is usually terrestrial (growing on the ground). The rhizomes (underground horizontal stems)  are covered with brown scales. The stolons (horizontal above ground stems) are slender and wiry, also with some scales. Sometimes there are globe shaped tubers on the stolons. This plant forms dense clumps.

Fronds (the leaf of a fern) may be upright or hanging downward and up to 75cm long. The pinnae (the green leafy parts along the leaf) are in 2 rows on either side of the rachis (stem of the leaf), they are slightly regular to toothed, older leaves have spores on the underside. Pinnae are crowded along the rachis.

The sori (cluster of spores) are a row of dots on the lower surface near the margin and have persistent pale green indusium (tissue covering the sorus). Sometimes there are raised dots on the upper surface near the margins of the pinnae where the spores are pushing into the leaf from below.

Fishbone fern spreads by stolon and by wind blown spores.

This plant may be dug out. The roots usually are not deep but form quite dense mats. If it is in dense matted clumps remove the central part of the roots from where the leaves are growing (the crown) with a knife.


Other plants easily confused with this plant

This plant being wiry and course is quite distinctive however if you are unsure check with a local authority.

Sources & References

"Gardener's Companion to Weeds" by Suzanne Ermert and Leigh Clapp

"Plantnet FloraOnline"  (2005)

"Flora of New South Wales" editor Gwen J. Harden, Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney


Prepared by Justin KY Chu, July 2005

Checked by IEWF and updated, January 2007