Boston fern – Naming

Q: I was winterizing my wife’s Boston ferns and became puzzled. How did a fern that will not survive the weather outdoors in Boston become named after that city? Or was it named after someone named Boston?

A: Boston fern, Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’, is a cultivar of sword fern that was discovered in a shipment that arrived in Boston in the late 1800’s. Although the history is not clear, presumably the fern grower in Boston appreciated the dense foliage and graceful arch of the fronds of this plant and began selling ‘Boston’ fern far and wide. Sword fern is native to Florida and throughout the tropics. It can’t tolerate freezing temperatures, much like the tropical Norfolk Island pine, which isn’t a pine at all.

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