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Macho Fern vs Boston Fern (What’s The Difference?)

It is possible to confuse the Macho Fern for the Boston Fern by its appearance. If you’ve ever wondered why some people call the Macho Fern “a Boston fern on steroids,” it’s no wonder.

Don’t worry; your plant expert is here to clear up the confusion and assist you in distinguishing between them.

The primary difference between the two is that a Macho fern is larger than a Boston fern. The Macho fern’s fronds are also larger and have bolder, brighter, and longer leaflets. Boston fern fronds are smaller and have fewer leaflets. They are a shade of blue-green.

Is there not enough of a distinction? I’ll go over the major differences and similarities between the two popular fern types in detail below.

The fronds of the Macho fern are larger, with bolder, brighter, and longer leaflets
Boston fern has soft, floppy leaflets and gentle, bendy fronds, lending it a shaggy appearance

What Is the Difference Between Macho Fern and Boston Fern?

The size difference between a Macho fern and a Boston fern is the most noticeable.

The Macho fern is noticeably larger, reaching heights of 3–4 feet (0.9–1.2 meters) and a width of 6 feet (1.8 meters). The nicknames “giant-sword fern” and “broad sword fern” come from this.

The Macho fern’s fronds are also bigger than those of the Boston fern. The plant’s fronds can reach a length of up to 6 feet (around 2 meters), dwarfing most other ferns such as the Kimberley Queen fern and the Boston fern.

The Boston fern grows in clumps, with the plant spreading out wider than it grows taller. The fronds, which are made up of many tiny leaflets, can reach a maximum length of 3 ft. (around 1 m), but the plant itself can only reach a height of two feet.

I’d like to point out that the two ferns have a lot in common. As a result, I’ve thrown together a quick table with some of their most important features, descriptions, and growing requirements.

ParametersMacho FernBoston Fern
Scientific NameNephrolepis biserrataNephrolepis exaltata
Mature Height3-4 ft.2-3 ft.
Mature WidthUp to 6 ft.Up to 2-3 ft.
Frond StructureLarger, sword-shapedSmaller, sword-shaped
Leaf Color/TextureBold, bright greenBlue-green
Common NamesGiant sword fern, broad sword fern, giant sword-fern, crisped feather fern.boss fern, ladder fern, sword fern, Boston swordfern, or fishbone fern
Light RequirementsPartial or dappled sunlightBright, indirect sunlight
Soil TypeWell-drained, moist soil which is slightly acidicRich, well-drained loamy soil
ToxicityNon-toxic to both humans and pets, including dogs and catsNon-toxic to dogs, cats, and humans
(Source: North Carolina State University)

Main Ways to Tell Them Apart Correctly

Macho Fern
Boston Fern

[1] Overall Height: Macho Fern is Taller than Boston Fern

The main difference between the Macho fern and the Boston fern is their height.

The Macho fern plant, in particular, can grow to be quite large, reaching heights of up to 4 feet (1.2 meters). It receives adequate lighting, ample space, and consistent moisture, and it can reach a height of 6 feet (around 2 m) or even higher.

The Boston fern, on the other hand, grows to be a little shorter. It rarely grows higher than 2-3 feet in most cases, making it an ideal houseplant for apartments and homes.

[2] Foliage Size: Macho Fern has Larger Fronds than Boston Fern

While both ferns have sword-shaped fronds, their sizes are quite different.

In the fern plant family, the macho fern has the largest and most stately fronds. They can fan out to be 4-6 feet long, dwarfing Boston ferns, Dallas ferns, and Kimberly Queen Ferns.

Not only that, but the leaflets on each frond are all the same size, and a single leaf is frequently the size of a Biro pen or salad fork.

When it comes to its fronds, Boston fern, on the other hand, prefers texture over size. They have small leaflets with a coarse texture, but the frond as a whole is soft and flows downwards as it grows.

[3] Availability and Popularity: Boston Fern is More Readily Available and Popular

Since the Victorian era, the Boston fern has been a popular parlor plant. It is preferred for both indoor and outdoor growing due to its compact stature and easy-care demeanor.

The Macho fern, on the other hand, has grown in popularity in recent decades. Its large size limits its applications, especially indoors.

Boston fern is also available in a wider range of cultivars, including shorter cultivars such as the Cotton Candy Boston fern, which grows up to 1 foot long and wide.


[1] Leaf Structure and Color

The fronds of both the Boston and Macho ferns are sword-shaped. Because their leaflets are soft and attached to flexible fronds that hang downwards, they make excellent houseplants for hanging in baskets.

Both plants have bright green leaves, though the Boston fern’s leaves can take on a bluish tint.

[2] Soil

The ideal soil for both ferns should be moist, well-draining, and organically rich. As a result, they prefer soil that is slightly acidic and loamy.

Poor drainage is critical, as it will drown the roots and cause root rot. This will eventually kill your Boston fern or Macho fern.

[3] No Flowers

As with most ferns, both Macho fern and Boston fern are non-flowering plants.

[4] Light Requirements

Both ferns prefer dappled sunlight outside, so they will require some partial shade. They should not be exposed to direct sunlight because it can scorch the fronds. They should receive plenty of direct, diffused, or indirect sunlight indoors.

[5] Temperatures

Both Boston and Macho fern plants thrive in temperatures in the range of 60-70°F (15-21°C). They are not tolerant of frost or heat stress.

They should not be exposed to temperatures above 95°F(35°C) . The leaves will cook in heat from high temperatures and develop brown or burned tips. 

On the other hand, temperatures below 35°F(2°C) will result in cold damage or injury.

Why All the Confusion?

Aside from the size, the Macho fern resembles the Boston fern. They are both evergreen tropical plants in the genus Nephrolepis. As they mature, they develop sword-like fronds and arching branches.

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