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.


24 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.

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