Rabbit foot fern repotting

Repotting A Rabbit’s Foot Fern Plant: How And When To Repot Rabbit’s Foot Ferns

There are many “footed” ferns which produce fuzzy rhizomes that grow outside the pot. These are generally grown as indoor plants. Rabbit’s foot fern doesn’t mind being pot bound but you should give it fresh soil every couple years. Repotting can be a challenge with all the little feet hanging around the original pot so read here for a step-by-step tutorial on how to repot a rabbit’s foot fern.

Davallia fejeensis is the botanical name of the rabbit’s foot fern (Humata tyermanii or white paw fern, is a similar plant). These charming plants produce soft silvery growth off the base of the plant that stream down the outside of the pot. The growths are actually above ground rhizomes and can be used to start entirely new ferns. In mature plants, these rhizomes will literally coat the outside of a container and cascade down over a hanging pot. Don’t worry if you break one off during rabbit’s foot fern repotting, as you can simply root it for another of these wonderful plants.

When to Repot Rabbit’s Foot Ferns

Timing is everything, and this is the case when to repot rabbit’s foot ferns. As with most plants, the best time to disturb it in any way is when the plant is

dormant. This goes for repotting, trimming or training.

It is a little harder to tell when indoor plants are dormant but, basically, it is when no new growth is being produced. Usually, this is in winter when it is cooler and light levels are lower. However, this is a very forgiving plant and repotting a rabbit’s foot fern at any time of the year is fine as long as it is not exposed to any extreme stresses such as temperature fluctuations.

How to Repot a Rabbit’s Foot Fern

Choose a lightweight pot if you are creating a hanging planter. The size of the pot should be just slightly larger than the base of the plant. These ferns enjoy being crowded. Removing the fern from the existing pot is the trick. If it is a cheap nursery pot, you can cut the plant out to liberate it. Otherwise, use a hori hori or slender planting tool to gently pry around the inside of the pot and loosen the soil.

The bottom of the pot may also have roots growing outside. Loosen these and, if necessary, cut off those that have wound around the drainage holes. Don’t worry, there are plenty of roots still to sustain the plant and it won’t damage the fern.

Use a potting mix with little to no soil such as 2 parts peat, 1 part soil and 1 part sand or perlite. You may decide to divide the fern if it has gotten too large. Cut it into up to 4 sections with a sharp, clean knife. Plant in the new soil with the rhizomes balanced around the edge of the pot. Water well.

Rabbit’s Foot Fern Repotting of Rhizomes

Root any of the fuzzy little rhizomes that may have broken off during repotting. Use a flat tray or small pots filled with perlite that is just slightly moistened. Bury the rhizome completely in this medium and cover the container with plastic wrap to create greenhouse conditions. Place the container in a warm location and keep evenly moist.

Remove the plastic wrap once per day to give the plant air and prevent mildew. Within a few weeks, the rhizome will produce little green leaves which signal the complete removal of the plastic. Do no fertilize for a month after repotting a rabbit’s foot fern.

How to Repot a Rabbit’s Foot Fern

Rabbit’s foot fern, Davallia fejeensis, are vigorous ferns. They can remain in the same pot until they become root bound. When they are root bound, the roots form a ball, with the furry rhizomes covering the exposed surface of the soil. When you repot a rabbit’s foot fern you will also probably need to divide it to keep it growing at its best.

Some similar ferns with fuzzy rhizomes are squirrel foot (Davallia bullata), hare’s foot (Polypodium aureum), and bear’s foot (Humata tyermannii). These similar plants are sometimes confused, but you can use the same repotting methods for any of them.

Divide and Repot Rabbit’s Foot Fern

Loosen the rabbit’s foot fern from its container, and carefully slide the plant out. Repotting is best done in the winter, about January, before the new spring fronds begin to grow.

Trim all of the fronds back to the base of the plant.

Viewing the rhizomes/root ball from the top, divide it with a sharp knife into fourths. Each fourth should have sections of the rhizomes (the furry “foot” parts) and roots. Prune away about 1 inch of the lower portions of the roots.

Make a potting mix blend especially for your ferns. Use two parts peat moss, one part loam, and one part clean sand or perlite. Mix together well.

Place 2 inches of potting mix in the bottom of the new containers, and place each fourth of the rabbit’s foot fern in a new container. Fill in around the sides of the fern with the potting mix. Keep the furry rhizomes above the soil surface.

Water after potting, and lightly mist the rhizomes. Keep the soil moist, and new fronds should appear in 7 to 10 days.

Rabbit Foot Fern (Davallia Tyermannii)

Besides Rabbit Foot Fern, Davallia tyermannii is also commonly known as hare’s foot fern, Shinobu fern, and ball fern. This plant gets its name from the furry rhizomes that it grows as roots, resembling a rabbit’s foot. Due to its creeping nature, this fern is usually used as a hanging plant. Like most types of ferns, Davallia will require high levels of humidity. Rabbit Foot Fern, in comparison, is a lot easier to satisfy when grown in a vivarium. Interestingly enough, this fern is widely known as a good luck plant to have in a home. Traditionally, the belief of having the foot of a rabbit will bring good luck to its owner.


Davallia tyermannii has the typical fern look with an added kick to it. It has wide fronds with fluctuating pinnae on both sides of the plant’s stem. The fronds, or leaves, of the Rabbit Foot Fern, are usually very green in color. Although, the pigmentation can vary depending on the plant’s health. Much like the Boston fern, the fronds in this plant will cascade over and grow to approximately 2 ft.

The delicate feather like leaflets and stem of the Rabbit Foot fern grow attached to a shallow root structure, better known as rhizoids. These fuzzy and hairy roots will be anywhere from a yellow, brown, white, or even silverish in color. Which is why they are believed to resemble a rabbit’s foot and are the most distinctive feature of this species. The rhizoids will grow over the soil or surface and also slither over the sides.


Davallia tyermannii is a species of plant native to tropical regions of Fiji. In nature, it will usually be seen growing on moss covered trees and rocks of subtropical forests. A Rabbit Foot fern will attach itself to the surfaces using its rhizoids and retrieve the nutrients it needs through the air and rain around it. Like most other ferns, it is usually found in humid environments.

Rabbit Foot ferns do well in warm temperature, but can also tolerate cooler settings. If the temperature falls below 55°F, the plant’s fronds might begin to change in color and die off. As soon as the fern is given warmer temperatures, new ferns will begin to grow. The ideal temperatures for the Rabbit Foot fern to thrive in ranges between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

PH Preference

Ferns, in general, prefer shady locations that have very acidic substrate. Soil with a pH of 7 is considered neutral. A pH below 7 is acidic and a pH above 7 is alkaline. However, Rabbit Foot Fern, in particular, prefers a more neutral pH level of 6.6 to 7.5.

Vivarium Type

This type of fern will do great in a variety of vivarium types. When deciding if rather or not to use this fern in a particular type of enclosure, be sure to go with setups that have tropical/moist terrain areas. Here are recommended vivarium this type of plant will do well in:

  • Paludariums – Half aquatic/ half terrain based enclosure.
  • Terrariums – Fully terrain based enclosure with little to no aquatic features.

Vivarium Placement

Rabbit Foot Fern is a terrestrial based plant. Therefore, it should not be placed fully or partially submerged in water. This plant’s unique look makes it a wonderful ornamental tool to decorate any part of a vivarium. If placed higher up in the enclosure, the fern will cascade down and cover walls.

The furry rhizoids will also create an appealing contrast against any type of background. If the fern is placed towards the ground, it is important to remember not to bury the rhizoids. They should be allowed to grow freely over any substrate around the plant. To maintain a healthy and strong plant, it will be best to always place the Rabbit Foot Fern somewhere high in humidity.


When it comes to the substrate, Rabbit Foot fern will have a better success rate in moist rich soil that is neutral in PH. A combination of leaf litter or peat-based soil mixture will more than likely be the ideal substrate for this plant. The peat moss and leaf litter will help maintain dampness in the soil and provide adequate moisture levels.

It will also be good practice to add a drainage layer under the substrate. A lack of appropriate drainage can lead to rotting roots and eventually the plant’s death. If Rabbit Foot Fern will be grown epiphytically, it will not need any substrate. Instead, make sure that the surface the plant is attached to has a neutral PH and provides sturdiness. The fern will most likely need to be tied with cotton thread at the beginning until the rhizoids are able to properly attach themselves.


Davallia tyermannii thrive best in moderate to bright light. They should be kept away from direct sunlight, which will burn its fronds. Rabbit Foot Fern can be acclimated to partial sun or full a¹shade, but it will not reach its full potential under those conditions. When setting up lighting inside of a vivarium, Fluorescent grow lights or LED lights will work extremely well. Try to go for cooler colors that resemble a partially shaded day. This will make for a happy and healthy looking Rabbit Foot Fern.

If the vivarium will not have any artificial lighting there are a few pointers that could be very helpful. During winter months in the northern hemisphere, the vivarium should be placed by a north facing window. When the spring and summer months approach, the enclosure should be relocated to an east facing the window. Doing so will allow the Rabbit Foot fern to receive the optimal amount of natural light it needs throughout the entire year.

Fact sheet: Rabbit’s Foot Fern

Rabbit’s Foot Fern

Rabbit’s Foot Fern is sometimes called the “Good Luck” plant because of its charming silvery-brown, fur-like rhizomes. It grows 12-18″ tall, and does well in direct sunlight or under lights.

  • Grows soft “rabbits feet” around the exterior of the pot
  • Easy to grow
  • Good terrarium plant
  • As the Rabbit Foot fern grows, so does the hairy feet, totally engulfing the pot in a few years

Planting suggestions:
Plant the rabbit’s foot fern in a 6 to 10 inch container filled with all purpose potting soil amended with peat to retain moisture. Plastic pots are lighter than clay and slower to dry out, making them good choices for hanging.
Place in an area with bright indirect light. Moderate temperature is best as high heat can burn the fronds.
Water thoroughly, making sure that the container drains well. Rabbit’s foot likes moist–not soggy–soil. Water when the top of the soil begins to dry slightly.
Dilute water soluble fertilizer to 1/4 strength and feed twice a month.
Check for pests periodically. Remove them with cotton swabs dipped in alcohol or plain water.
Divide the rhizomes of a root bound plant and pot in separate containers with new potting soil. If desired, you can also just repot original fern into a larger container.

Sold at Nassau County Master Gardener Plant Sale

by kathywarner

Posted: June 9, 2017

Category: Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Home Landscapes

Tags: Davallias, plant sale, Rabbit’s Foot Fern

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