How to Care for Eyelash Fern (Actiniopteris Australis)?
Producing small, palm-like fronds, the Actiniopteris australis looks like a bundle of lime-green to dark-green eyelashes.
This compact, small growing fern is native to Réunion, Mauritius. It prefers warm, humid conditions, which is why they grow best in terrariums, but also in high humidity kitchens or bathrooms.
If you’re fond of ferns that stay at a compact and easily manageable size, you can steal a bit of the tropics into your home with the help of the Eyelash Fern.
The plant isn’t difficult to grow, yet it’s peculiar when it comes to humidity and soil requirements.
To prevent you from making some common beginner’s mistakes in growing the Actiniopteris australis indoors, I’ve put together a handy guide on how to care for the Eyelash Fern.
Size & Growth
With a width of 8 inches and a height of 6 inches, the Eyelash Fern is an extremely manageable plant that fits in a terrarium or under a glass cloche, where warmth and humidity will help it flourish.
It’s a slow-growing fern that takes several months to grow into its size. But its small size and slow growth rate come with the undeniable advantage of being easy to handle and maintain.
Because its growth isn’t fast-paced at all, you’ll barely even notice it come into its size. The preferred USDA hardiness growth zones for the Actiniopteris australis is 10a to 11.
Not fussy about its light requirements, the Eyelash Fern will grow in partial shade to shade. It will thrive under filtered light or bright, indirect light as well.
The only problem for the plant is strong, direct light that will lead to the scorching of the gentle fronds of this miniature fern.
Therefore, if you’re keeping the Actiniopteris australis outdoors, find a spot where it’s protected by direct sunlight.
Although the plant will grow in a shady spot as well, partial shade should be prioritized over deep shade. In deep shade, the plant will struggle, and it can grow leggy.
So far the care requirements of the Eyelash Fern are straightforward. Its watering requirements are a bit more difficult to nail down, but don’t stress over it too much.
Most care guides for the Actiniopteris australis will tell you that the plant enjoys moderate watering. What this means in practice is that the fern enjoys slightly moist soil but won’t tolerate overwatering.
Giving the plant too much water will cause the roots to rot, especially if the soil requirements of the Eyelash fern are ignored.
Although it can tolerate a bit of drought, it’s not going to handle it for long, especially if underwatering is coupled with a lack of humidity.
Therefore, to keep the fern happy, water the soil, then allow the top layers to start drying before you attempt to water again.
Standing water and extra-damp soil will cause fungal issues to develop at the level of the roots, so it’s crucial to learn how to manage the plant’s watering needs.
Another crucial aspect: make sure you follow my advice on the substrate needed to keep the plant safe from root rot issues.
Eyelash ferns should be planted in a substrate that allows water to percolate quickly, but it should be rich in organic matter and loose.
Slightly acidic soils with a pH level of 6.1-7.5 are preferable, although neutral soil also works out well as long as the soil is well-aerated.
The potting mix for your fern should contain peat moss or sphagnum for moisture retention and perlite or sand for good drainage. Mix in some garden loam as well to keep the soil rich in organics.
Whatever you do, don’t plant in regular potting soil, which is prone to waterlogging. If you want to avoid root rot issues, I strongly recommend amending your potting soil with peat moss, sphagnum, perlite or sand.
Temperature & Humidity
Keeping the Eyelash Fern warm is essential for its well-being. This is a tropical plant with a fancy for warmth and humidity. It enjoys temperatures between 64 F and 75 F.
In zones where winter temperatures drop below 50 F, the plant should be moved indoors until spring.
Indoors, sudden and drastic changes in temperature should be avoided. Cold drafts or a spot in a cold window will cause damage to your Actiniopteris australis.
Just as the Eyelash fern doesn’t tolerate the cold, it’s not so fond of the heat either. On hot summer days, you should increase watering and make sure to keep the plant out of direct light.
The delicate fronds of the plant can easily get scorched by powerful sunlight and extended exposure to high heat.
If your indoors have average humidity levels (40-60%), you’ll be happy to find out that the Eyelash Fern can adapt to those conditions, although it does prefer slightly higher levels of humidity, somewhere around 70%
Despite having slightly lower humidity levels indoors, you can increase humidity to an acceptable range through the use of a humidifier or an evaporation tray.
Using a humidifier to increase humidity levels indoors is self-explanatory. An evaporation tray, however, is simply a tray filled with pebbles and water over which the potted plant is placed so that the bottom of the pot doesn’t touch the water.
When water evaporates from the tray, it raises humidity levels around the plant.
Feed the Eyelash fern monthly only during spring and summer. There’s no need to feed it during the winter months.
Use a weak solution that’s low in nitrogen. A formulation high in nitrogen can easily burn the roots of the fern. Never use undiluted fertilizer because it will also cause root burn.
Because the plant has a slow growth pattern and a miniature size, it’s not a high feeder. You may even skip fertilizing without noticing any problems in your fern’s general well-being.
Potting & Repotting
A repotting scheduled every 12 months will benefit the Eyelash fern. It takes about a year for the plant to reach its maximum size, so schedule the first repotting after 12 months as spring approaches.
Although the plant will not grow larger or wider than 8 x 6 inches its roots will still develop, and you’ll notice them poking out of the drain holes. When that happens, it’s time to move your fern to a larger pot.
Regular repotting also has the advantage of keeping the potting mix fresh for the plant.
How to Propagate Eyelash Fern?
The Eyelash fern can be propagated through division when repotting the plant. Simply cut some clippings off the plants with fronds and rhizomes.
Place in moist potting mix and place in a warm and humid environment out of direct sunlight. Make sure that the new divisions receive around 2-4 hours of bright but indirect light per day.
Is the Eyelash Fern Plant Toxic?
The Eyelash Fern is toxic to cats and dogs, but not humans. The toxic compounds in the fern are called Filix elements which can cause vomiting and diarrhea in pets, if ingested.
You should keep eyelash ferns in a location where your pets can’t reach the plant or don’t have access to it.
Why are Eyelash Fern Leaves Turning Yellow?
Unfortunately, the fronds of the Eyelash fern can often turn yellow. This can be caused by too much direct sunlight, overwatering or a lack of humidity.
A lack of humidity is the most probable of the three reasons. In any event, check to see if your Eyelash fern is protected from direct light and re-assess its watering schedule just to eliminate it as a potential cause of yellowing leaves.
Why is the Eyelash Fern Plant Wilting?
Once again overwatering or a lack of humidity can cause the Eyelash Fern to wilt.
An overwatered fern may already have its roots rotting, which can prevent the plant from absorbing nutrients needed for its survival and development.
With its roots completely rotten, an Eyelash Fern will eventually die. A lack of humidity can also cause the fern’s fronds to start drooping.
Another common reason why the Eyelash fern can wilt is because a sudden change in temperature can induce temperature shock.
This phenomenon can happen both ways — either because the plant is exposed to extreme cold or, on the contrary, it’s exposed to extreme heat.
When exposed to extreme temperatures or sudden temperature fluctuations, the Actiniopteris australis can become droopy.
Therefore, check to see if humidity levels, watering and temperature are within the parameters acceptable for this fern.
The Eyelash fern is a compact, perennial tropical fern that grows best in terrariums or under a glass cloche. Alternatively, you can grow it in a steamy bathroom or kitchen to meet its high humidity requirements.
Watch out for the plant’s soil and watering requirements, which are often the source of problems in growing this fern.
Remember that this is a tropical plant, so warmth and high humidity are the key to successfully grow the Actiniopteris australis plant indoors.
When humidity levels are low, try supplementing with the help of a humidifier or an evaporation tray.