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Peacock Fern For House and Garden

I am smitten with my new fern in the woodland garden, though it is not a real fern but a type of club moss. Selaginella uncinata is also called peacock fern and rainbow moss, and it is easy to see why.

Do you see a resemblance to these peacock feathers?Its texture is so soft I am tempted to pet it; it feels like moss, but its lacy foliage has the look of an exotic fern. The foliage has a shimmery blue-green iridescence, though its intensity depends upon light, moisture levels and temperature. In winter the foliage will take on a bronze cast.

Peacock fern is tougher than its delicate appearance would suggest. It may be grown outside in hardiness zones 7-10. It will usually go dormant for the winter in zone 7 and will be evergreen in zones 8-10. I am on the border between zones 7 and 8, so I will mulch mine well and see if it will remain evergreen for me.

Peacock fern should be planted either in full shade or where it will receive only morning light. It needs rich soil that is well-drained and high in organic matter. Two parts peat moss to one part loam and one part pine bark is a good combination. Mulch the soil around the fern with pine straw or wood chips to conserve moisture and to help prevent weed growth. Peacock fern needs consistent moisture, but do not overwater the plant or the roots may rot. In winter one should cut back on watering, but do not allow the roots to dry out.

This wonderful fern is a low-growing spreader up to two feet wide and six inches tall. It makes a good ground cover at the base of shrubs. However, it grows slowly, so for this purpose plant several about two feet apart. Peacock fern can be grown in a pot and looks great in a hanging basket. It also does well as a houseplant or in a terrarium.

If grown outdoors, fertilize in early spring with an organic fertilizer high in nitrogen. If it is grown as a houseplant, water well at least once a week, and from spring to fall fertilize once a week with half-strength water-soluble plant food.

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Reader Comments (21)

Dear Deb, I can see why you like the new-to-me peacock fern so much! It seems to be pretty specific about the growing condition's that it prefers. I hope it does well for you in your lovely garden!
Warm regards,

May 22, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterchristina

I remember seeing this plant (somewhere) years ago and falling in love with it. It may be adapted to zone 10 but you don't find it for sale often in SoCal, perhaps because it prefers more humidity than we have to offer. The genus isn't even listed in my western garden guide. Still, it might be a nice choice for a terrarium.

May 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

Very attractive! And, of course, I love the fact that it grows well in shade. :)

May 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBeth @ PlantPostings

So love moss in the garden and I think we probably have this one. Better check it out...

May 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

It looks beautiful! I love ferns. It is probably a house plant here in the Netherlands.

May 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

That's another oh my gosh gorgeous plant!! I think we could buy them as a indoor tropical here. And even then we still have some difficulties getting them to live. But it's so beautiful, the play of light on the foliage is stunning.


What a lovely texture, I can see why you would want to stroke it! A great addition for your woodland.

May 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPauline

This should easily survive in my garden and I can think of so many wonderful uses for this plant...I'm going to start looking for this in my local nurseries.

I have a selaginella but have no idea if it's peacock fern. It does look very similar. It grows under a sweetspire and is a very happy camper. Now I need to take a closer look!

May 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

I have this and love it, too. The most difficult aspect of keeping it alive is that "consistent watering" thingie.

May 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Jones

That really does have an amazing iridescent colour, it doesn't look real!

May 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Oh I can see why you love this...it is stunning in color and texture Deb.

I have really grown to love ferns and this one is a beauty. I only wish it were hardy here.

June 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

This fern is adorable, it does look pettable. I do see the resemblance.

June 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

What a beautiful plant! The words "needs constant moisture but not too much" would make me quail though. lol Water always seems to be a feast or famine situation here, especially in summer.

June 10, 2015 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

How often should I trim my Peacock Fern? It is indoors, and i keep it on a plant stand.

August 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSandra Craig

Hi Sandra, Since it grows indoors, i think it would be fine to trim your peacock fern as needed for shaping, when it starts to look straggly. Mine is outdoors, and I am letting it romp as a ground cover, so it has not been trimmed yet. Best wishes! Deb

August 10, 2017 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

Exactly how often should I water my moss? Ive had one for about 2 months and some of the pieces look yellow and hay like :( Im afraid of overwatering it but really dont know how ofter is enough or too much? I have mine indoors in an out of the sun spot...like should I water it weekly? Twice weekly...I’ve been trying to just feel the soil like my other plants but that doesnt seem to be working. I want this plant to live!!!!

May 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAlly

Hi Ally, It does sound like your peacock fern is a bit too dry. When you water your peacock fern, water until water begins to seep out of the pot’s drainage hole. Then discard the water that runs into the pot’s saucer. Water again whenever your finger comes up clean when pressed against the soil’s surface. The soil should not be allowed to dry out completely.

Be sure your peacock fern is planted in a quality potting MIX ( not soil) that is high in organic matter. From spring till fall fertilize once a week with a liquid plant food at half the recommended dose.

The peacock fern should be shaded most of the day. Put it on an east or west facing windowsill, or where it receives only morning or late afternoon sun.

I hope this helps!
Best wishes,

May 8, 2018 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

Deb - I updated my 2015 article on this subject and linked to this one. This fern is considered "aggressive" so I'd like to know how much it has spread.

October 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Hi Linda,
Thanks for the link! I love peacock moss. Remember, it is a moss, a ground cover, not a fern, so it will spread like that. Mine has spread to about 3 feet x 2 feet since I planted it in 2015, certainly not overly aggressive to me. It needs the right environment to grow. I haven't found it growing anywhere other than where I planted it. I hope this helps!

October 2, 2018 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

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