Frosty Fern that’s not a Fern

White tips of Frosty Fern, Selaginella martensii, look like they have been dusted with real snow © Karen Andrews.

Frosty Ferns appear in some shops at Advent. The Christmas attraction is the similarity of their white tips to a light dusting of snow. I found various explanations for the white tips:

  • It is a variegated plant
  • White tips represent young growth
  • Horticulturalists reduce temperatures to below 65ºF (approx 18ºC) to encourage the plant’s new growth tips to turn white.

Whatever the exact cause, the white tips are natural, as opposed to the many garish, artificially-coloured, glitter-spattered and artificial snow-covered plants found in many shops at Christmas.

Technically not a Fern

Although its common name refers to a fern, Frosty Fern is not technically a fern. It is a spike moss and a member of the Sellaginaceae. Despite yet another deceptive name, it is not a moss either. It is classed as a fern ally, reproducing like ferns via spores. The Christmas Frosty Fern is Selaginella martensii, although you may also find it called Selaginella kraussiana.

Temperamental House Plant

If you struggle to keep a Poinsettia alive every Christmas in your centrally-heated home, then a Frosty Fern may not be for you. It thrives in 70% humidity. If you are inclined to forget to regularly spray with water, then a terrarium is the best option.


Since writing the above paragraphs, I have succumbed to the temptation of buying a small Frosty Fern in a garden centre. I will soon find out just how difficult it is to look after. I am already fascinated by the aerial roots seeking out the compost below. Most importantly, I will observe exactly how the frosty edges are produced for myself. It’s always the best and fun way to learn about a new plant.

Fascinating aerial roots of Frosty Fern, Selaginella martensii, seek out the compost below. © Karen Andrews

References and Further Reading


Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

All above photos © Karen Andrews.

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