How to Care for an Air Fern

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Although often used decoratively in flower arrangements, flowerpots and aquariums, air ferns--also commonly referred to and sold as "air plants," "air moss," "air firs" "Irish Sea Fern" and "Neptune plants"--have no actual relationship to the plant kingdom beyond their outward appearance. In reality, the fernlike branches consist of remains/skeletons of dead, tiny marine animals (typically sertularia or bugula), similar to corals and jellyfish, that trawlers harvest from the sea and then sell to vendors, who dye them red or green to mimic ferns. As air ferns don't need soil, plant food, fertilizer or water, they can make an ideal artificial plant decoration and, as a result, require little care or maintenance.

Isolated fern.
(Tamara Kulikova/Hemera/Getty Images)

Things You'll Need

  • Feather duster
  • Water (optional)
Step 1

Place your air fern in an open, well-ventilated area as the dead fernlike branches have a distinctive bad odor unless pre-treated with a fragrance for non-aquarium use (for example, florist arrangements). If using for an aquarium, place in your tank immediately after un-packaging.

Green fern leaf.
Dole08/iStock/Getty Images
Step 2

Move your air fern to an area out of direct sunlight as the branches can bleach under direct sunlight and cause any dyes pre-applied to them to fade.

Hanging ferns.
Acha Yhamruksa/iStock/Getty Images
Step 3

Dust your air fern lightly with a feather duster or place in an open window on a windy day to remove dust as the fine texture of the fernlike branches can break if roughly rubbed with a cloth or vacuumed.

Different feather dusters.
indigolotos/iStock/Getty Images

Tips & Warnings

  • If you want to decoratively display your air ferns in an enclosed area but have concerns about the distinctive air fern smell, put them in a decorative flowerpot; add a small amount of soil and a lot of cedar chips or other fragrant wood chips around the base to cover up the scent with a "forest" soil and wood smell. If you like fragrances, sprinkle the air ferns with cinnamon, which is ground bark, or a favorite artificial scent.
  • If a bundle of air ferns in your aquarium floats to the surface of the water, check the bottom of the tank as the tiny weight glued or tied to the bundle to keep it at the bottom may have fallen off.
  • Never soak or wash dyed air fern unless you want to remove the dye or unless the air fern vendor has treated the exterior to protect against dye loss from water exposure.
  • Don't place an air fern near a stove or in a bathroom. Humidity in these rooms from cooking or bathing can cause air fern dyes to drip or fade and/or cause a bad odor to emanate from the fern.
  • Change the water regularly in your aquarium to keep your aquarium air ferns clean.

References

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