Macho Fern vs. Boston Fern: What’s the Difference?

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: October 21, 2022
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Macho ferns and Boston ferns are two extremely popular plants among plant enthusiasts. This is primarily due to the fact that both require low maintenance, grow large and beautiful, and are also good natural air purifiers. 

The plants are part of the same family and genus, making them similar in terms of appearance, care, and growth. These fern types have rich foliage – dense, long fronds, small leaflets, and bright colors! If you try to distinguish the two when they’re still young, you’ll find it impossible because they look almost the same! Mature macho ferns and Boston ferns have a few dissimilarities, however, which we’ll discuss further.

If you’re trying to decide between the two, you’ll see that either can do well in or outside your house, and the main factors to consider are their size and appearance. They perform roughly the same in terms of care and growth, with tiny nuances you’ll soon learn more about!

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Comparing Macho Fern vs. Boston Fern

Macho ferns and Boston ferns are part of the same family and genus.
Macho FernBoston Fern
Botanical NameNephrolepis biserrataNephrolepis exaltata
Other namesBroad sword fern, giant sword fernSword fern, boss fern, ladder fern
OriginNorth America, South America, Africa, Southeast AsiaThe American continents
Size6 feet wide; 3 – 4 feet tall2 – 3 feet wide and tall
Description– Light green leaflets, larger, more chaotic fronds, looser foliage; 
– Fronds are more bent down; 
– Smooth and shiny leaflet texture and edges
– Smaller, dark green leaflets with a shaggy appearance;
– Tighter and more symmetrical foliage; 
– Fluffy and bouncy foliage if shaken; 
– Serrated leaf edges
Care and Growth– No direct sunlight, better kept in the shade with access to indirect sunlight and away from southern and western windows;
– Thrives between 50 and 80 °F and at humidity levels higher than 60 – 70%
– No direct sunlight, better kept in the shade with access to indirect sunlight and away from southern and western windows;
– Thrives between 65 and 75 °F and at humidity levels higher than 60 – 70%

The Key Differences Between Macho Ferns and Boston Ferns

If you want to learn how to distinguish between these two strikingly similar plants, called macho fern and Boston fern, we’ve prepared a guide that tells you everything you need to know. While the differences aren’t huge, they’ll help you pick the plant you like the most and take better care of it as well.

Macho Fern vs. Boston Fern: Description

closeup boston fern leaves

Boston ferns rarely grow larger than 2 – 3 feet in width and height.

©iStock.com/Supersmario

The easiest way to distinguish adult macho ferns from Boston ferns is by their size. The macho fern is much larger than the Boston fern. While macho ferns can reach 3 – 4 feet in height and about 6 feet in width, Boston ferns rarely grow larger than 2 – 3 feet in width and height.

Another noticeable difference is the form of their leaflets and fronds. Macho fern fronds are larger than Boston fern fronds. Moreover, the Boston fern is a “fluffy” plant with tighter foliage. Its leaflets are dark green, slightly lighter at the edges. The plant’s foliage grows in a more symmetrical form. In contrast, macho green leaflets are lighter and larger, and the fronds grow more chaotically. This plant’s foliage is a bit looser, and the fronds are slightly bent down.

An easy way to distinguish between the two plants is by shaking them. If the plant is fluffy and bouncy, then it’s a Boston fern.

Macho fern leaflets have smoother texture and edges and a more shiny appearance, while Boston fern leaflets are smaller and have a shaggy appearance and serrated edges.

Macho Fern vs. Boston Fern: Growth Temperature

Ferns prefer living in mild temperatures, not too hot and not too cold. Temperatures above 95 °F or below 35 °F are detrimental to these plants. Macho fern’s ideal growing temperature is roughly 50 – 80 °F. Boston ferns thrive best in temperatures ranging from 65 – 75 °F.

Macho Fern vs. Boston Fern: Potting

boston fern

Boston fern pots can be smaller and might not need to be changed as often as those of macho ferns.

©iStock.com/Benoitbruchez

A young macho fern can “live” in a 6-inch pot. If it’s mature, you should choose an 8 – 12-inch pot, depending on how large the plant is. 

If still growing, a macho fern needs to be repotted every 1 – 2 years. Providing it with extra growing space will enhance its growth and thriving rate. It’s best to go one pot size up every time you change it. 

Since Boston ferns are smaller, their pots can be smaller, too, and might not need to be changed as often as those of macho ferns.

Since both plants prefer humid conditions, pots like terracotta pots with drainage holes are suitable for them. The best season for repotting ferns is early spring or summer since that’s when they’re actively growing.

Macho Fern vs. Boston Fern: Overwintering

During the winter, macho ferns can only survive outside in USDA zones 9a-10b (between 20 and 40 °F). If the temperature falls below 20 °F, the plant should be brought inside.

Boston ferns appear to be slightly more resistant, as some sources state they can survive USDA zones 8b – 11a (15 to 45 °F).

If you bring your plant indoors, it’s recommended to check it for pests, use pest control products, or isolate it for roughly two weeks to avoid home pest infestations.

Macho Fern vs. Boston Fern: Home Benefits and Allergies

Nephrolepis biserrata (Macho Fern)

Macho ferns are generally considered hypoallergenic plants.

©iStock.com/dul karim

Macho ferns and Boston ferns are generally considered extremely beneficial, being one of the most powerful plants for purifying the environment. Having them in or around your home will help reduce pollution. Besides, they don’t require as much care as other plants. 

While they are generally considered hypoallergenic plants, they can cause allergic reactions, too. People often think they’re safe because they don’t flower. However, they reproduce by producing spores, which can affect you like pollen, for example. Nevertheless, if you think you could be allergic to ferns, you might want to try the Boston fern, as it reportedly causes fewer allergic reactions than macho ferns. 

Similarities Between Macho Ferns and Boston Ferns

As we’ve already stated, macho ferns and Boston ferns are very similar. While there are a few differences in appearance, care, and growth, some things can be attributed to both. 

Macho Fern vs. Boston Fern: Growth Light

Macho ferns and Boston ferns enjoy the sunlight. It’s essential not to leave them in direct sunlight, however, because it can damage their foliage, and they can end up sunburned. On the other hand, you shouldn’t keep them in the shade either. Too much shade can damage the plants and make their fronds look sparse. 

If you keep them indoors, it’s recommended to place them away from southern and western windows. Morning indirect sunlight works best. If you keep the plants outdoors, you can place them on a covered porch.

Macho Fern vs. Boston Fern: Growth Humidity

Nephrolepis biserrata (Macho Fern)

Macho ferns and Boston ferns need humidity of 70% or higher.

©iStock.com/Saran Hansakul

Agreeable humidity levels for people are about 30 – 60%. Ferns, however, prefer higher humidity. That’s why you should never forget to water your plants. Both macho ferns and Boston ferns need 70% or higher humidity. Water their soil whenever you see it’s dry to the touch, and spray them regularly. You can also opt for a humidifier or keep your plant in the bathroom, as long as there’s enough indirect sunlight. 

Macho Fern vs. Boston Fern: Pests and Diseases

Since macho ferns and Boston ferns are better kept outside, they’re at a higher risk of being harmed by external factors. They can suffer from worms, mealybugs, mites, scales, and flies infestations. 

Both plants are prone to developing Pythium root rot disease, which carries symptoms such as plant wilting and rotting root smell. Another disease they can suffer from is Rhizoctonia aerial blight, which comes with brown, irregularly-shaped lesions on their foliage. Then, if the frond tips and leaflets become brown and die, it’s likely that the plants have the Leaf tip disease.

Even though both plants are generally considered disease-free, regular checks are still recommended, especially if you keep them outdoors. 

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Benoitbruchez


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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

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Sources
  1. The Spruce, Available here: https://www.thespruce.com/macho-fern-growing-guide-5194295
  2. Gardening Know How, Available here: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/foliage/macho-fern/growing-a-macho-fern.htm
  3. Plants Craze, Available here: https://plantscraze.com/complete-care-guide-for-macho-fern/
  4. MREC, Available here: https://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/foliage/folnotes/bostonF.htm#