Heart Leaf Fern Care (Hemionitis arifolia)

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Now here is a plant with a sweet heart. Learn how to care for heart leaf fern, one of the lovliest ferns out there.

It’s not hard to guess why Hemionitis arifolia got its common name, heart leaf fern. The heart-shaped foliage is a dead giveaway.

Besides the wonderful leaf shape, this fern has another thing that sets it apart from most. Its leaves start as black string-like stems covered in thin hair that eventually protrude to reveal a small leaf. Unlike other ferns that grow from a crozier that uncoils, the leaf continuously grows into a matured form.

Heart Leaf Fern Care (Hemionitis arifolia)

The leaves grow into a heart shape with a maximum size of 2 to 3 inches long. These are perfect as gift plants for loved ones.

How To Care For Heart Leaf Fern – Hemionitis arifolia

Quick Care Summary

Plant name: Hemionitis arifolia

Common names: Heart Fern, Heart Leaf Fern

Light: Bright, indirect light to shaded areas. No direct sun.

Care: Maintain moist soil. These ferns prefer high humidity. They do well as terrarium or vivarium plants where relatively high humidity can be high consistently. Soil should be fast draining but can retain a high moisture level for a long time. Keep humidity high.

Common problems: prone to root rot, may get pests such as scales, aphids, fungus gnats, and weevils.

Toxicity: Considered safe for pets and humans

Bringing the Heart Leaf Fern into Your Home

Check your plant for any possible infestation and isolate it from your other plants indoors for a couple of weeks.

As you brought your plant into a new environment, it might struggle a little as it gets used to new conditions. If the plant struggles a lot in its new home, consider placing it into a terrarium (or as a first-aid into a plastic bag – with enough air and room).

How Much Light is Required

Since this plant comes from an environment where trees block and filter the sun rays, it will prefer indirect light or even shade.

Inside a terrarium, direct light from an artificial light source would suffice since the conditions are controlled. Outside a glass dome, though, you may expect the leaves of your plant to shrink and die if you let the strong sun directly hit them. The leaves can shrivel relatively fast if it gets too much sun.

How Often Should You Water a Heart Leaf Fern?

The Heart fern loves to be inconsistently moist soil (not wet, though). Your plant may need more watering when it is acclimating to its new home.

This plant will curl the leaves (fast) if it is overdue a watering. Avoid reaching this point as it is very dangerous for this plant. It can die off pretty fast. Keep the potting media moist at all times. You can add a layer of sphagnum moss on top of your soil; this will help retain moisture.

Despite loving the abundance of moisture in the soil, this plant’s shallow root system makes it susceptible to root rot. As such, it’s not a good idea to let it sit on a puddle of water.

Read: how to know if you are over-watering your plants?

Humidity and temperature requirements

While ferns are often described as beginner-friendly plants, this will be far from true if you have a dry home. Heart leaf fern not being an exception. It’s actually an extra fussy one when it comes to humidity. When we say it’s not for the faint of heart, it really is not.

One of the key elements to keeping a Heart fern alive is to provide it with high humidity. Do not be surprised if you leave your plant looking okay before going to bed and then wake up to a curled-up plant looking like it is on the brink of death.

The leaves of this plant tend to shrink or curl if they do not get enough humidity. A humidity level of 60 to 80% is ideal for this plant. Below this, you are running the risk of getting a very crispy plant. If you notice your plant has suddenly curled up its leaves, you can water it if needed and cover it in a plastic bag for it to quickly recover.

If you are constantly dealing with this, consider placing it into a glass dome or terrarium.

Aside from being finicky about humidity, the Heart fern is also sensitive to changes in temperature. The delicate fern prefers a warm environment with temperatures above 60°F 15°C. Frost will harm them as will low temperatures.

How to Care for a Heart Leaf Fern

Cleaning and Pruning a Heart leaf fern?

In terms of cleaning, your Heart leaf fern is low maintenance. There is no need to clean it unless there are dead or yellowing leaves present. Prune those.

Pruning may also encourage the growth of new fronds.

Remember to use clean pruning shears to reduce the possibility of introducing bacteria and fungi into the fern’s system.

How Often Should You Fertilize a Heart Leaf Fern?

One thing that makes up for their finicky attitude is their less need for fertilizers. The Heart fern, like many other ferns, does not need to be fertilized frequently.

Use half the recommended dose of general houseplant fertilizer. The frequency depends on the type of fertilizer (usually once per month, check the instructions on the box or bottle).

When to repot your Heart Leaf fern?

The root system is not very extensive and these ferns like to be rootbound so you are looking at reporting the plant every couple of years as it overgrows the pot.

For plants that prefer constantly moist soil, we recommend using plastic pots as opposed to terracotta, as those are better at retaining moisture.


The Heart fern is partly epiphytic and can grow without any soil, but since we are trying to grow it out of its natural habitat, it is a good idea to supplement it with extra nutrients.

A well-draining and rich soil is best for your plant. Most stores sell pre-prepared mixes for tropical plants which are suitable for ferns.

Heart Leaf Fern Care

How to Propagate a Heart Leaf Fern

Although your Heart fern, like most ferns, can reproduce through spore germination, this is not an easy way to propagate your ferns. Spores are the brown to black powdery substance you see under some of the leaves of this plant. You can propagate it by division.

When repotting, propagate by dividing them into more pots. The Heart fern roots tend to be compact, so loosen the soil before making an incision through the roots.

Once the soil has been loosened, use a sterile pair of scissors or a knife to slice through the bunch of plants you want to repot. Make sure that the tools you are using are clean to reduce the chances of rotting.

Plant your divided Heart fern into a pot and give it a good soaking. We recommend placing the divided plants inside a dome or covering them with a clear plastic bag to help them deal with the stress caused by repotting and propagation. This will prevent the leaves of your fern from curling and drying up fast.

Want to go the spores route? Spores from dry leaves are the easiest to dislodge. A mere movement of the leaf will cause the spores to fall off on the soil. Similarly, you can place a cut leaf on top of dry compost and let the spores fall off naturally. This method needs the soil to be consistently moist and in warm conditions. This technique takes months to see results.

Is Heart fern safe for cats, dogs, and humans?

This type of fern is not poisonous to pets nor to people.

Pests and diseases

The leaves of Heart leaf fern are a bit sensitive to harsh chemicals, as such, the best way to remove pests would be manual removal or using a very light and organic pesticide. Alternatively, neem oil is also effective and mild for the plant.

Some insects such as whiteflies, fungus gnats, scales, weevils, and aphids can attack the fern. These pests will cause stunted growth as they absorb the nutrients from the plants’ roots or foliage.

The more common problems with the Heart fern are the wide array of fungal diseases. Root rot being the top reason for plant death. These diseases are caused by very high moisture around the plant or in the soil. Especially with its demand in high humidity, this plant is very susceptible to such diseases. Make sure the room where you have the plant is well vented.

In addition to root rot, botrytis, southern blight, and powdery mildew are also common heart fern problems. The best way to reduce the risk of fungal attack is to avoid watering the plant’s foliage and water directly on the soil. Light misting would be fine as long as droplets will not stay too long on the leaves of your Heart fern.

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