Post last updated: February 7th, 2019


Rainbow Fern-Blue
Close-up of my first Rainbow Fern
Photograph taken 9/02/08

Originating in China, Rainbow Fern or Rainbow Moss, Selaginellaceae uncinata, is also known as Peacock Fern, Peacock Moss, Peacock Spikemoss, or Blue Spikemoss. Apparently, the 700 species of the genus Selaginella can have 3 or more different names for each species.

Some Selaginellas are native to Florida with great drought tolerance and ability to withstand the sun but the Selaginellas most often cultivated are those from Africa and China.  Selaginellaceae uncinata is non-native and has been found growing wild in 4 different counties where wetland areas exist. See Atlas of Florida Plants. Dave’s Garden has an article and photos of other varieties under Other Species of Selaginella. Of course, the Golden Club Moss, which has a similar growth habit, caught my eye but I haven’t seen one in local stores.

It seems they aren’t really mosses or ferns but Fern-Allies and share a similar reproductive pattern of no flowers, fruits or seeds, just inconspicuous “seed cones” filled with both microspores (sperm) and megaspores (egg).  I have never noticed these on my plants so they must be truly inconspicuous.

It is a perennial evergreen that forms a dense mat of tiny, almost papery iridescent blue-green leaves with touches of red and orange. Two things are imperative in growing a Rainbow Fern:

(1) Keep it in the shade. The deeper the shade, the more the fronds will turn blue-green.

(2) Keep it moist. If you allow it to dry out, immerse the plant in water and it may bounce back. A light fertilizer application once a week from spring to fall is sometimes recommended but I never got around to it.

Three foot streamers sprawl and hang nicely over containers and hanging pots, and it looks good indoors including terrariums. It is sometimes used as a ground cover that can withstand light foot traffic but caution is advised as it can be aggressive. My friend at Deb’s Garden planted hers in the ground, in her woodland garden, in 2015. Since then, it has spread to approximately 3 feet by 2 feet and only in the area where she planted it. The invasive possibility has kept me from growing it in anything but a ceramic pot because I’ve had aggressive plants that were fine for years and suddenly spread over a wide area.

Other uses for it:  alpine and rock gardens, waterside gardens.


Example of streamers Photo taken 1/28/15
Example of streamers
Plant looks a little rough from wintering in the greenhouse.
Please ignore weeds; I didn’t think to pull them out.
Photo taken 1/28/15


I discovered my first Rainbow Fern at a local arts festival. First identified as a Rainbow Fern, rather than any of the other common names attached to it, means it will always be a Rainbow Fern to me.

The acquisition of my second Rainbow Fern was like a scene out of a sappy romance movie. I was in Wal-Mart wheeling a buggy around the bedding plant section when I saw it hanging across the room. My eyes bugged out because Wal-Mart was the last place I ever expected to find a Rainbow Fern. I could see there was only one which prompted me to punch the gas on the buggy. I careened around corners like a cartoon character until that Rainbow Fern was safely in my buggy.

I propagate by cuttings planted in moist soil and kept moist.

I am currently without a Rainbow Fern. You absolutely, positively can not let them dry out. Even moisture is imperative.


30 thoughts on “RAINBOW FERN”

  1. I have always called mine a peacock fern. Love it! What a great plant. I don’t do much to it and I am always pleased with the way it looks!

  2. Linda – beautiful plant, I can see your attraction to it. You must be giving it all the right care – it is pretty good size – of course I say that, but I have no idea how big it was when you purchased it. I like the blue tone.

  3. Sometimes that happens with plants. You see it. It sees you. That plant you never know you always wanted, and you don’t know how you managed to live your life without it… Very pretty!

  4. This is gorgeous! I fully understand your instant love of this plant. I planted a salaginella out in the arbor garden where I am trying to establish ground covers, and my dear hubby promptly buried it under a bunch of top soil, in an effort to level the ground in that area. I tried to find it, unsuccessfully. I still maintain faint hope it will poke its head up when spring arrives.

  5. A sappy romance movie scene? You are too funny. I had guests last night for the Super Bowl and they all found great humor in the towel I bought in honor of you. “Here in the South, we don’t hide crazy, we parade it on the porch and give it a cocktail.” Knowing that you have no memory functions, I figured I should remind you of what it says.

  6. When it is love at first sight, there is no stopping us! I am also in love with something called rainbow fern, but it is different to yours. Yours is a beautiful plant. Impressive propagation.

        1. Catmint — Probably so. Because of a lot of research confusion over butterfly vine (for an article I wrote for the Mandarin Garden Club’s website), I’m going to pay much closer attention to scientific names.

  7. Do you think it’s alright to have my rainbow moss in an east window? Or do they really like to be set back from direct sunlight? I just bought my first one this morning at a hardware store. Really unexpected but welcome surprise. It’s in a large 12” hanging basket and beautiful with hanging tendrils about 2 feet long. Unbelievably marked down to $5. A couple of the tendrils were dried up but the rest were fine. I trimmed it up, watered it and put it in an east window. Please advise as I don’t want to lose this beauty.
    Thank you

    1. Kathy – You will have to experiment with the east window based on the color you want the rainbow fern to be. If it is a bright window, your Rainbow Fern will be green. It takes low light to make the Rainbow Fern blue-green which is my favorite color for it.

      I have killed two of them and they are hard to find. You lucked out on finding one for $5. My recommendation? Snip some of those tendrils here and there and then try rooting some in water and the rest in soil. Then if you kill one, you still have a spare, maybe two. I am currently without a Rainbow Fern because you can’t let them dry out and you can’t over-water them, either.

  8. It is August 2020 and I just now found your post about “rainbow fern”. I bought a tiny terrarium with one in it, at a farmer’s market in western NC mountains. Thank you for providing so much information about it. I was trying to find out if this is a native fern/fern ally.

    1. Fiona — If you return to look for this reply, I hope you’ll come back another month from now. I have finally purchased a third Rainbow Fern (they are hard to find) and it is under an open, covered porch. It has produced some interesting red colors I wanted to photograph and add to the Rainbow Fern post (I’m probably the only blogger who updates my posts). My first efforts to photograph it were not up to my standards so I will try again but it has been raining every day. All that rain has kept it alive as it is at the edge of the porch roof. It’s not as pretty as it was when I purchased it because my idiot Siamese cat started using it as a bed. I had to lay a piece of chicken wire over the pot to keep him out. Sheesh! Also, my blog’s header photo is from my very first Rainbow Fern.

  9. Hi Ms. Southern Rural Route! Indeed I’ve read your response – thank you so much! No need to tell me about the daily rain – the only things thriving in my garden this year are mushrooms. I am laughing out loud about your cat. I have 7. They keep destroying the catnip seedlings and rolling over all the other annuals in my garden beds. I don’t know where the farmer’s market seller got hers but she seemed to have no shortage – but they are tiny cuttings, all perhaps from one plant. I currently live in the mountains of western NC. Been an avid wildflower “hunter” and “preserver” for decades now, and gardening and cats are my two main purposes in life now – Fiona

    1. Fiona – I live in Northeast Florida, Zone 9A. I expect the flea market lady rooted them herself. They are easy to root if you keep it moist. The RFs just will not tolerate drying out. I’m guessing she had at least one of the correct names on it? I hear you about the mushrooms. I was walking on one side of my brother’s house (this is a family compound) where it looked like a mushroom farm — the kind that look like umbrellas. It was comical. I did not share your humor about my cat when I found him curled up in the RF’s ceramic pot. He is one of two beloved cats but at that moment I thought about killing him. Actually, I think about killing him a lot. He’s always into mischief. The RF has not recuperated from being smashed down to the dirt. One plant I can’t seem to root are roses. Years ago, I was a member of the Mandarin Garden Club and one of their lovely ladies gave me a 6″ sprig of a Louis Philippe (sp.?) rose. I have failed numerous times to root it. My only reason for rooting it is to be able to share it. It is totally trouble-free, unlike most roses. Good for you — preserving wildflowers! –Linda

  10. I hope you can find a new rainbow/peacock fern/moss/club moss whatever. I am laughing out loud about wanting to kill your cat! I know what you mean, wink. Being in a very humid and not so windy place, I have a hard time with roses. I wish you better luck! – Fiona

    1. Fiona — Yeah, wink wink! Why do they have to sleep right at my elbow when I bought them perfectly good cat beds? And most of the time, the alpha male won’t allow the Siamese on the bed. Shaking my head… It is VERY humid down here. The humidity is often higher than the temperature but the Louis Philippe doesn’t let the humidity ruffle a single petal. It performs so much better than the Knock Out roses that I dug ’em up and threw ’em out.

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