A fern is a leafy green plant that grows in shady spots. If you see feathery fronds growing on the forest floor, they're probably ferns.

Ferns are interesting plants in that they spread using spores (similar to the way mushrooms and other fungi reproduce), and they have a vascular system. Their complex leaves, like our circulatory system, move water and nutrients throughout the fern. Unlike most plants, ferns don't have seeds or flowers, but their delicate leaves are lovely enough to make them popular house plants.

Definitions of fern
  1. noun
    any of numerous flowerless and seedless vascular plants having true roots from a rhizome and fronds that uncurl upward; reproduce by spores
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    Carboniferous fossil fern characterized by a regular arrangement of the leaflets resembling a comb
    film fern, filmy fern
    any fern of the genus Hymenophyllum growing in tropical humid regions and having translucent leaves
    bristle fern, filmy fern
    any fern of the genus Trichomanes having large pinnatifid often translucent fronds; most are epiphytic on tree branches and twigs or terrestrial on mossy banks
    flowering fern, osmund
    any fern of the genus Osmunda: large ferns with creeping rhizomes; naked sporangia are on modified fronds that resemble flower clusters
    Leptopteris superba, Prince-of-Wales feather, Prince-of-Wales fern, Prince-of-Wales plume, Todea superba, crape fern
    New Zealand with pinnate fronds and a densely woolly stalks; sometimes included in genus Todea
    Todea barbara, crepe fern, king fern
    fern of rain forests of tropical Australia and New Zealand and South Africa
    Schizaea pusilla, curly grass, curly grass fern
    rare small fern of northeastern North America having numerous slender spiraling fronds and forming dense tufts
    Anemia adiantifolia, pine fern
    fern of Florida and West Indies and Central America with rhizome densely clad in grown hairs
    climbing fern
    any of several ferns of the genus Lygodium that climb by twining
    Mohria caffrorum, scented fern
    sweetly scented African fern with narrow bipinnate fronds
    aquatic fern, water fern
    ferns that grow in water
    adder's tongue, adder's tongue fern
    ferns with fertile spikes shaped like a snake's tongue
    grape fern
    a fern of the genus Botrychium having a fertile frond bearing small grapelike clusters of spore cases
    Helminthostachys zeylanica, flowering fern
    Australasian fern with clusters of sporangia on stems of fertile fronds
    Diplopterygium longissimum, giant scrambling fern
    large scrambling fern forming large patches to 18 feet high; Pacific region and China
    Gleichenia flabellata, Sticherus flabellatus, fan fern, umbrella fern
    large Australasian fern with fanlike repeatedly forked fronds; sometimes placed in genus Gleichenia
    any of numerous ferns of the genus Polypodium
    Aglaomorpha meyeniana, bear's-paw fern
    epiphytic fern with large fronds; Taiwan and Philippines
    strap fern
    fern with long narrow strap-shaped leaves
    Drynaria rigidula, basket fern
    giant epiphytic or lithophytic fern; Asia to Polynesia and Australia
    any of several bizarre ferns of the genus Lecanopteris having swollen hollow rhizomes that provide homes for symbiotic ants
    Microgramma-piloselloides, snake polypody
    epiphytic ferns with long rhizomes; tropical America
    Microsorium punctatum, climbing bird's nest fern
    tropical Africa to Australasia and Polynesia
    Phlebodium aureum, Polypodium aureum, golden polypody, rabbit's-foot fern, serpent fern
    tropical American fern with brown scaly rhizomes cultivated for its large deeply lobed deep bluish-green fronds; sometimes placed in genus Polypodium
    staghorn fern
    any of various tropical ferns of the genus Platycerium having large flat lobed fronds often resembling the antlers of a stag
    Cyclophorus lingua, Pyrrosia lingua, felt fern, tongue fern
    east Asian fern having fronds shaped like tongues; sometimes placed in genus Cyclophorus
    Solanopteris bifrons, potato fern
    small epiphytic fern of South America with tuberous swellings along rhizomes
    Vittaria lineata, grass fern, ribbon fern
    epiphytic fern found in lowland forests of tropical America
    any of various chiefly rock-inhabiting ferns of the genus Asplenium
    Asplenium nidus, bird's nest fern
    tropical Old World or Australian epiphytic fern frequently forming tufts in tree crotches
    Asplenium scolopendrium, Phyllitis scolopendrium, hart's-tongue, hart's-tongue fern
    Eurasian fern with simple lanceolate fronds
    Asplenium ceterach, Ceterach officinarum, scale fern, scaly fern
    small European fern with chaffy leathery fronds
    Asplenium nigripes, Schaffneria nigripes, Scolopendrium nigripes
    a fern of the genus Schaffneria
    a fern thought to resemble a millipede
    hard fern
    any of several ferns of the genus Blechnum
    doodia, rasp fern
    any fern of the genus Doodia having pinnate fronds with sharply dentate pinnae
    chain fern
    a fern of the genus Woodwardia having the sori in chainlike rows
    tree fern
    any of numerous usually tropical ferns having a thick woody stem or caudex and a crown of large fronds; found especially in Australia and New Zealand; chiefly of the families Cyatheaceae and Marattiaceae but some from Polypodiaceae
    any fern of the genus Davallia; having scaly creeping rhizomes
    Dennstaedtia punctilobula, boulder fern, hay-scented, hay-scented fern, scented fern
    fern of eastern North America with pale green fronds and an aroma like hay
    Pteridium aquilinum, bracken, brake, pasture brake
    large coarse fern often several feet high; essentially weed ferns; cosmopolitan
    Pteridium esculentum, bracken
    fern of southeastern Asia; not hardy in cold temperate regions
    Culcita dubia, false bracken
    resembles Pteridium aquilinum; of Queensland, Australia
    buckler fern, shield fern
    any of various ferns of the genera Dryopteris or Polystichum or Lastreopsis having somewhat shield-shaped coverings on the sori
    wood fern, wood-fern, woodfern
    any of various ferns of the genus Dryopteris
    Athyrium filix-femina, lady fern
    most widely grown fern of the genus Athyrium for its delicate foliage
    Athyrium pycnocarpon, Diplazium pycnocarpon, glade fern, narrow-leaved spleenwort, silvery spleenwort
    North American fern with narrow fronds on yellowish leafstalks
    Cyrtomium aculeatum, Polystichum aculeatum, holly fern
    tropical Old World fern having glossy fronds suggestive of holly; sometimes placed in genus Polystichum
    bladder fern
    any fern of the genus Cystopteris characterized by a hooded indusium or bladderlike membrane covering the sori
    Athyrium thelypteroides, Deparia acrostichoides, silvery spleenwort
    fern with elongate silvery outgrowths enclosing the developing spores
    Gymnocarpium dryopteris, Thelypteris dryopteris, oak fern
    bright blue-green fern widely distributed especially in damp acid woodlands of temperate northern hemisphere
    Gymnocarpium robertianum, limestone fern, northern oak fern
    yellow-green fern of rocky areas of northern hemisphere
    Matteuccia struthiopteris, Onoclea struthiopteris, Pteretis struthiopteris, fiddlehead, ostrich fern, shuttlecock fern
    tall fern of northern temperate regions having graceful arched fronds and sporophylls resembling ostrich plumes
    Olfersia cervina, Polybotria cervina, Polybotrya cervina, hart's-tongue, hart's-tongue fern
    tropical American terrestrial fern with leathery lanceolate fronds; sometimes placed in genus Polybotrya
    Onoclea sensibilis, bead fern, sensitive fern
    beautiful spreading fern of eastern North America and eastern Asia naturalized in western Europe; pinnately divided fronds show a slight tendency to fold when touched; pinnules enclose groups of sori in beadlike lobes
    Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, canker brake, dagger fern, evergreen wood fern
    North American evergreen fern having pinnate leaves and dense clusters of lance-shaped fronds
    holly fern
    any of various ferns of the genus Polystichum having fronds with texture and gloss like holly
    Polystichum adiantiformis, Rumohra adiantiformis, leather fern, leatherleaf fern, ten-day fern
    widely distributed fern of tropical southern hemisphere having leathery pinnatifid fronds
    Tectaria cicutaria, button fern
    Jamaican fern having round buttonlike bulbils
    Indian button fern, Tectaria macrodonta
    fern of tropical Asia having round buttonlike bulbils
    any fern of the genus Woodsia
    Oleandra mollis, Oleandra neriiformis, oleander fern
    tropical fern having leathery fronds resembling oleander; found from Asia to Polynesia
    sword fern
    any of several tropical ferns having more or less sword-shaped fronds including one from which the Boston fern developed
    Acrostichum aureum, golden fern, leather fern
    stout tropical swamp fern (especially tropical America) having large fronds with golden yellow sporangia covering the undersides
    maidenhair, maidenhair fern
    any of various small to large terrestrial ferns of the genus Adiantum having delicate palmately branched fronds
    Anogramma leptophylla, Jersey fern, annual fern
    small short-lived fern of Central and South America
    lip fern, lipfern
    any of various terrestrial ferns of the genus Cheilanthes; cosmopolitan in arid and semiarid temperate or tropical regions
    Cheilanthes gracillima, lace fern
    small tufted fern of northwestern America
    Coniogramme japonica, bamboo fern
    fast-growing sturdy Japanese fern; cultivated for their attractive broad dark-green pinnate fronds
    rock brake
    dwarf deciduous lithophytic ferns
    Doryopteris pedata, hand fern
    tropical American fern with coarsely lobed to palmatifid fronds
    cliff brake, cliff-brake, rock brake
    any of several small lithophytic ferns of tropical and warm temperate regions
    Pellaea rotundifolia, button fern
    fern of New Zealand and Australia having trailing fronds with dark green buttonlike leaflets
    Pityrogramma argentea, silver fern
    fern of southern tropical Africa having fronds with white undersides
    Pityrogramma calomelanos, silver fern
    tropical American fern having fronds with white undersides
    Pityrogramma calomelanos aureoflava, golden fern
    tropical American fern having fronds with light golden undersides
    Pityrogramma chrysophylla, gold fern
    fern of West Indies and South America having fronds with bright golden-yellow undersides
    any of various ferns of the genus Pteris having pinnately compound leaves and including several popular houseplants
    Pteris cretica
    cultivated in many varieties as houseplants
    Pteris multifida, spider brake, spider fern
    Asiatic fern introduced in America
    Pteris serrulata, ribbon fern, spider fern
    fern of North Africa and Azores and Canary Islands
    Marattia salicina, potato fern
    large Australasian evergreen fern with an edible rhizome sometimes used as a vegetable by indigenous people
    Dryopteris thelypteris, Thelypteris palustris, marsh fern
    fern having pinnatifid fronds and growing in wet places; cosmopolitan in north temperate regions
    any of several tropical ferns of the genus Christella having thin brittle fronds
    Dryopteris oreopteris, Oreopteris limbosperma, mountain fern
    common European mountain fern having fragrant lemon or balsam scented fronds
    Dryopteris noveboracensis, New York fern, Parathelypteris novae-boracensis
    slender shield fern of moist woods of eastern North America; sometimes placed in genus Dryopteris
    Massachusetts fern, Parathelypteris simulata, Thelypteris simulata
    delicate feathery shield fern of the eastern United States; sometimes placed in genus Thelypteris
    beech fern
    any fern of the genus Phegopteris having deeply cut triangular fronds
    Trichomanes boschianum, hare's-foot bristle fern
    a variety of bristle fern
    Killarney fern, Trichomanes speciosum
    large stout fern of extreme western Europe
    Trichomanes reniforme, kidney fern
    large fern of New Zealand having kidney-shaped fronds
    French bracken, Osmunda regalis, ditch fern, king fern, royal fern, royal osmund
    large deeply rooted fern of worldwide distribution with upright bipinnate compound tufted fronds
    Osmunda clatonia, interrupted fern
    North American fern having tall erect pinnate fronds and a few sporogenous pinnae at or near the center of the fertile fronds
    Osmunda cinnamonea, cinnamon fern, fiddlehead, fiddlehead fern
    New World fern having woolly cinnamon-colored spore-bearing fronds in early spring later surrounded by green fronds; the early uncurling fronds are edible
    Hartford fern, Lygodium palmatum, creeping fern
    delicate fern of the eastern United States having a twining stem and palmately-lobed sterile fronds and forked fertile fronds
    Lygodium microphyllum, climbing maidenhair, climbing maidenhair fern, snake fern
    tropical fern widespread in Old World; naturalized in Jamaica and Florida
    clover fern, pepperwort
    any of several water ferns of the genus Marsilea having four leaflets
    Pilularia globulifera, pillwort
    European water fern found around margins of bodies of water or in wet acid soil having small globose sporocarps
    Regnellidium diphyllum, regnellidium
    small latex-containing aquatic fern of southern Brazil
    Salvinia auriculata, Salvinia rotundifolia, floating-moss
    free-floating aquatic ferns
    Azolla caroliniana, Carolina pond fern, floating fern, mosquito fern
    small free-floating aquatic fern from the eastern United States to tropical America; naturalized in western and southern Europe
    Ophioglossum pendulum, ribbon fern
    epiphytic fern with straplike usually twisted fronds of tropical Asia and Polynesia and America
    Botrychium lunaria, common moonwort, moonwort
    of America and Eurasia and Australia
    Botrychium matricariifolium, daisy-leaved grape fern, daisyleaf grape fern
    of North America and Eurasia
    Botrychium multifidum, leathery grape fern
    European fern with leathery and sparsely hairy fronds
    Botrychium virginianum, rattlesnake fern
    American fern whose clustered sporangia resemble a snake's rattle
    Ceratopteris pteridioides, floating fern, water sprite
    aquatic fern of tropical America often used in aquariums
    Ceratopteris thalictroides, floating fern
    pantropical aquatic fern
    Polypodium glycyrrhiza, licorice fern
    fern having rootstock of a sweetish flavor
    Polypodium polypodioides, gray polypody, grey polypody, resurrection fern
    fern growing on rocks or tree trunks and having fronds greyish and scurfy below; Americas and South Africa
    Polypodium scouleri, coast polypody, leatherleaf, leathery polypody
    stiff leathery-leaved fern of western North America having ovate fronds parted to the midrib
    American wall fern, Polypodium virgianum, rock brake, rock polypody
    chiefly lithophytic or epiphytic fern of North America and east Asia
    Polypodium vulgare, adder's fern, common polypody, golden maidenhair, golden polypody, sweet fern, wall fern
    mat-forming lithophytic or terrestrial fern with creeping rootstocks and large pinnatifid fronds found throughout North America and Europe and Africa and east Asia
    Florida strap fern, cow-tongue fern, hart's-tongue fern
    common epiphytic or sometimes terrestrial fern having pale yellow-green strap-shaped leaves; Florida to West Indies and Mexico and south to Uruguay
    Campyloneurum augustifolium, Central American strap fern, narrow-leaved strap fern
    fern with shorter and narrower leaves than Florida strap fern; Florida to West Indies and Mexico and south to Argentina
    Platycerium andinum, South American staghorn
    fern of Peru and Bolivia
    Platycerium alcicorne, Platycerium bifurcatum, common staghorn fern, elkhorn fern
    commonly cultivated fern of Australia and southeastern Asia and Polynesia
    Asplenium adiantum-nigrum, black spleenwort
    spleenwort of Europe and Africa and Asia having pinnate fronds and yielding an astringent
    Asplenium platyneuron, Scott's Spleenwort, ebony spleenwort
    common North American fern with polished black stripes
    black-stem spleenwort, black-stemmed spleenwort, little ebony spleenwort
    fern of tropical America: from southern United States to West Indies and Mexico to Brazil
    Asplenium rhizophyllum, Camptosorus rhizophyllus, walking fern, walking leaf
    ferns having lanceolate fronds that root at the tip
    Asplenium trichomanes, maidenhair spleenwort
    small rock-inhabiting fern of northern temperate zone and Hawaii with pinnate fronds
    Asplenium viride, green spleenwort
    a small fern with slim green fronds; widely distributed in cool parts of northern hemisphere
    Asplenium montanum, mountain spleenwort
    a spleenwort of eastern North America
    Asplenium ruta-muraria, wall rue, wall rue spleenwort
    small delicate spleenwort found on a steep slope (as a wall or cliff) of Eurasia and North America
    Asplenium bradleyi, Bradley's spleenwort
    a spleenwort of eastern to southern United States
    Asplenium pinnatifidum, lobed spleenwort
    a spleenwort of eastern and southern United States
    Asplenium billotii, lanceolate spleenwort
    a spleenwort of western Europe
    Blechnum spicant, deer fern
    fern with erect fronds of Europe and western North America; often cultivated for deer browse
    Virginia chain fern, Woodwardia virginica
    North American fern
    Cyathea medullaris, black tree fern, sago fern, silver tree fern
    a showy tree fern of New Zealand and Australia having a crown of pinnated fronds with whitish undersides
    hare's-foot fern
    either of two ferns of the genus Davallia having a soft grey hairy rootstock
    Davalia bullata, Davalia bullata mariesii, Davallia Mariesii, ball fern, squirrel's-foot fern
    feathery fern of tropical Asia and Malaysia
    Dicksonia antarctica, soft tree fern
    of Australia and Tasmania; often cultivated; hardy in cool climates
    Cibotium barometz, Scythian lamb
    Asiatic tree fern having dense matted hairs sometimes used as a styptic
    Thyrsopteris elegans, thyrsopteris
    a terrestrial tree fern of South America
    Dryopteris dilatata, broad buckler-fern
    European shield fern
    Dryopteris fragrans, fragrant cliff fern, fragrant shield fern, fragrant wood fern
    fern or northern Eurasia and North America having fragrant fronds
    Dryopteris goldiana, Goldie's fern, Goldie's shield fern, goldie's wood fern
    North American fern with a blackish lustrous stipe
    Dryopteris filix-mas, male fern
    fern of North America and Europe whose rhizomes and stalks yield an oleoresin used to expel tapeworms
    Dryopteris marginalis, evergreen wood fern, leatherleaf wood fern, marginal wood fern
    North American fern with evergreen fronds
    Dryopteris oreades, mountain male fern
    a fern of the genus Dryopteris
    Alpine lady fern, Athyrium distentifolium
    a lady fern with deeply cut leaf segments; found in the Rocky Mountains
    Cystopteris fragilis, brittle bladder fern, brittle fern, fragile fern
    delicate fern widely distributed in North America and European having thin pinnatifid fronds with brittle stems
    Cystopteris montana, mountain bladder fern
    fern of rocky mountainous areas of hemisphere
    Cystopteris bulbifera, berry fern, bulblet bladder fern, bulblet fern
    North American fern often bearing bulbils on the leaflets
    Braun's holly fern, Polystichum braunii, prickly shield fern
    North American fern whose more or less evergreen leathery fronds are covered with pale brown chafflike scales
    Polystichum lonchitis, northern holly fern
    evergreen European fern widely cultivated
    Polystichum scopulinum, western holly fern
    North American fern
    Polystichum setiferum, soft shield fern
    European shield fern cultivated in many varieties
    Woodsia ilvensis, fragrant woodsia, oblong woodsia, rusty woodsia
    a common rock-inhabiting fern of northern temperate regions having rusty-brown stipes and lanceolate pinnate fronds
    Alpine woodsia, Woodsia alpina, flower-cup fern, northern woodsia
    slender fern of northern North America with shining chestnut-colored stipes and bipinnate fronds with usually distinct marginal sori
    Woodsia glabella, smooth woodsia
    rock-inhabiting fern of Arctic and subarctic Europe to eastern Asia
    Boston fern, Nephrolepis exaltata, Nephrolepis exaltata bostoniensis
    a sword fern with arching or drooping pinnate fronds; a popular houseplant
    Nephrolepis pectinata, basket fern, toothed sword fern
    tropical American fern cultivated for its finely divided greyish-green foliage; West Indies and southern Mexico to Peru and Brazil
    Adiantum capillus-veneris, Venus maidenhair, Venus'-hair fern, Venushair, common maidenhair, southern maidenhair
    delicate maidenhair fern with slender shining black leaf stalks; cosmopolitan
    Adiantum pedatum, American maidenhair fern, five-fingered maidenhair fern
    hardy palmately branched North American fern with divergent recurved branches borne on lustrous dark reddish stipes
    Adiantum bellum, Bermuda maidenhair, Bermuda maidenhair fern
    delicate endemic Bermudian fern with creeping rootstock
    Adiantum tenerum, brittle maidenhair, brittle maidenhair fern
    tropical American fern with broad pinnae; widely cultivated
    Alabama lip fern, Cheilanthes alabamensis, smooth lip fern
    southeastern United States to northern Mexico and Jamaica
    Cheilanthes lanosa, hairy lip fern, wooly lip fern
    small North American evergreen fern whose stipes and lower frond surfaces are densely wooly
    Cheilanthes eatonii, southwestern lip fern
    lip fern of Texas to Oklahoma and Colorado and Arizona and Mexico having tall erect tufted fronds
    American parsley fern, American rock brake, Cryptogramma acrostichoides
    rock-inhabiting fern of northern North America growing in massive tufts and having fronds resembling parsley
    Cryptogramma crispa, European parsley fern, mountain parsley fern
    fern of Europe and Asia Minor having short slender rhizome and densely tufted bright green fronds resembling parsley
    Pellaea andromedifolia, coffee fern
    evergreen fern of California and Baja California
    Pellaea atropurpurea, purple rock brake
    very short shallowly creeping North American fern usually growing on cliffs or walls and having dark glossy leaf axes
    Pellaea mucronata, Pellaea ornithopus, bird's-foot fern
    cliff brake of California and Baja California having purple-brown leafstalks
    Angiopteris evecta, angiopteris, giant fern
    highly variable species of very large primitive ferns of the Pacific tropical areas with high rainfall
    Dryopteris thelypteris pubescens, Thelypteris palustris pubescens, meadow fern, snuffbox fern
    fern of northeastern North America
    Dryopteris hexagonoptera, Phegopteris hexagonoptera, Thelypteris hexagonoptera, broad beech fern, southern beech fern
    beech fern of North American woodlands having straw-colored stripes
    Dryopteris phegopteris, Phegopteris connectilis, Thelypteris phegopteris, long beech fern, narrow beech fern, northern beech fern
    beech fern of North America and Eurasia
    type of:
    nonflowering plant, pteridophyte
    plants having vascular tissue and reproducing by spores
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