Cultural Information

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Athyrium otophorum
Photo courtesy of Richie Steffen

Choosing the right fern for your site

Whether you have a secluded pond, sunny rock wall or a serene woodland setting, you can find an assortment of ferns to add beauty to any spot in the garden. Most ferns do well in part shade or dappled sunlight, but there are many which will do well with quite a bit of sun, provided they get enough water. Shade loving ferns appreciate an organic, evenly moist, well drained soil.  If your soil is heavy on the clay or sandy side you can add compost or other organic matter to help balance it out.  (If you use manure, be sure it is well rotted or aged.)  Ferns require minimal maintenance throughout the year.  Once in the garden, ferns in general do not require additional fertilizer.  They will appreciate leaf litter from surrounding trees and an occasional top dressing of a compost mulch.  Unless you want to share a fern with a friend these easy going plants rarely need to be divided.  Deciduous ferns can be trimmed as the fronds yellow in late fall and early winter.  Evergreen ferns do best if the older fronds are trimmed off in late winter or early spring, just before the new fronds emerge.  As with other perennials, the best time to plant is during the spring and fall when the rain is plentiful.  Ferns come in an amazing range of texture, color, sizes and  and shapes.  Their ease and versitility make them an essential part of any well rounded garden.

Here's a list of the categories on this page. Click on them to go directly to that section.


 

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Evergreen ferns

Adiantum venustum - Himalayan Maidenhair
Arachniodes simplicior var. variegata -
East Indian Holly Fern
Asplenium scolopendrium - Hart's Tongue Fern
Asplenium trichomanes - Maidenhair Spleenwort

Blechnum chilense - no common name
Blechnum penna-marina - Alpine Water Fern
Blechnum spicant - Deer Fern
Cyrtomium spp. - Holly Fern
Dryopteris championii - Champion's Wood Fern
Dryopteris erythrosora - Autumn Fern
Dryopteris formosana - Formosan Wood Fern
Dryopteris lepidopoda - Sunset Fern
Dryopteris sieboldii - Siebolds Wood Fern
(photo shown) 
Dryopteris wallichiana - Wallich's Wood Fern
Polystichum braunii - Braun's Holly FernPolystichum x dycei
Polystichum neolobatum - Long-eared Holly Fern
Polystichum polyblepharum - Tassel Fern
Polystichum setiferum - Soft Shield Fern

All Polystichums are evergreen with the exception of perhaps a couple.

 


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Sun tolerant ferns

Asplenium trichomanes -
Maidenhair Spleenwort
Athyrium filix-femina - Lady Fern
Blechnum chilense (photo shown)
Blechnum penna-marina - Alpine Water Fern
Ceterach officinarum - Rusty-back Fern
Dryopteris affinis - Scaly Male Fern
Dryopteris x complexa
Dryopteris erythrosora
- Autumn Fern
Dryopteris filix-mas - Male fern
Osmunda regalis - Royal fern
Polypodium glycyrrhiza - Licorice fern
Polystichum munitum - Sword fern
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Ferns for wet soils

Athyrium filix-femina
Dryopteris carthusiana
- Toothed Wood Fern
Dryopteris celsa - Log Fern
Dryopteris clintoniana
Dryopteris cristata
Dryopteris goldiana
- Goldie's Wood Fern
Dryopteris ludoviciana
Matteuccia struthiopteris
- Ostrich Fern Onoclea sensibilis - Sensitive Fern
Osmunda cinnamomea - Cinnamon Fern
Osmunda regalis - Royal Fern
Thelypteris palustris
Thelypteris simulata
Woodwardia areolata
(photo shown)
Woodwardia virginica


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Ferns for deep shade

Adiantum aleuticum - Western Maidenhair Fern
Asplenium scolopendrium - Hart's Tongue Fern (photo shown)
Athyrium filix-femina - Lady Fern
Blechnum spicant - Deer Fern
Cyrtomium (all species) - Holly Ferns
Dryopteris dilatata - Broad Wood Fern
Dryopteris filix-mas - Male Fern
Gymnocarpium dryopteris - Oak Fern
Polypodium glycyrrhiza - Licorice Fern
Polystichum acrostichoides - Christmas Fern
Polystichum braunii - Braun's Holly Fern
Polystichum munitum - Sword Fern
Polystichum setiferum - Soft Shield Fern
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Drought-tolerant ferns

Although drought tolerant ferns may seem like an oxymoron, there really are a number of ferns, that once established do very well in drier sites.

Athyrium filix-femina - Lady Fern
Blechnum penna-marina -
Alpine Water Fern
Dryopteris crassirhizoma - Thick Stemmed Wood Fern
Dryopteris filix-mas - Male Fern
Polypodium glycyrrhiza - Licorice Fern
Polystichum braunii - Braun's Holly Fern
Polystichum munitum - Sword Fern
Polystichum neolobatum - Long-eared Holly Fern
(photo shown) 


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Groundcover ferns

Adiantum venustum -
Himalayan Maidenhair (photo shown)
Blechnum penna-marina - Alpine Water Fern
Blechnum spicant - Deer Fern
Doodia australis - Rasp Fern
Gymnocarpium disjuncta - Oak Fern
Matteuccia struthiopteris - Ostrich Fern
Onoclea sensibilis - Sensitive Fern
Polystichum munitum - Sword Fern
Thelypteris decursive-pinnata - Japanese Beech Fern
Woodwardia areolata - Netted Chain Fern  


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Ferns for containers

Adiantum aleuticum - Western Maidenhair Fern
Arachniodes simplicior var. variegata - East Indian Holly Fern
Asplenium scolopendrium - Hart's Tongue Fern
Asplenium trichomanes - Maidenhair Spleenwort
Athyrium otophorum
Cyrtomium
spp. - Holly Fern
Dryopteris affinis - Scaly Male Fern
Dryopteris erythrosora - Autumn Fern
Dryopteris lepidopoda - Sunset Fern
Osmunda regalis - Royal Fern
Polystichum setiferum and cutivars - Soft Shield Fern
(photo shown, Polystichum setiferum 'Plumoso Multilobum')
Polystichum tsus-simense - Korean Rock Fern


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Very cold-hardy ferns

Adiantum aleuticum - Western Maidenhair Fern
Asplenium trichomanes - Maidenhair Spleenwort
Athyrium filix-femina - Lady Fern
Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum' - Japanese Painted Fern
Osmunda spp. (Photo shown, Osmunda regalis in the winter)
Polypodium vulgare - Common Polypody
Polystichum acrostichoides - Christmas Fern
Polystichum braunii - Braun's Holly Fern
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Pacific Northwest native ferns

Adiantum aleuticum - Western Maidenhair
Adiantum aleuticum 'Subpumilum' - Dwarf Western Maidenhair
Asplenium trichomanes - Maidenhair Spleenwort
Athyrium filix-femina - Lady Fern
Blechnum spicant - Deer Fern
Cryptogramma acrostichoides - Parsley Fern
Dryopteris arguta - Coastal Shield Fern
Dryopteris expansa - Northern Wood Fern
Gymnocarpium disjunctum - Oak Fern
Polypodium amorphum - Mountain Polypody
Polypodium glycyrrhiza - Licorice Fern
Polystichum andersonii - Anderson's Sword Fern
Polystichum munitum - Western Sword Fern (photo shown)


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Ferns for Rock Gardens

Adiantum aleuticum 'Subpumilum' 
Asplenium platyneuron
Asplenium trichomanes
and varieties
Astrolepis cochisensis
Astrolepis integerrima
Astrolepis sinuata
(photo shown)
Blechnum penna-marina
Ceterach officinarum
Cheilanthes
in variety
Cystopteris bulbifera
Dryopteris affinis
'Crispa Gracilis'
Pellaea atropurpurea
Pellaea glabella
Woodsia ilvensis
Woodsia intermedia
Woodsia obtusa
Woodsia polystichoides

 


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Ferns for color

Adiantum hispidulum
Athyrium
‘Branford Beauty’
Athyrium ‘Ghost’
Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ (photo shown)
Athyrium otophorum
Athyrium yokoscense
Blechnums in variety, especially Blechnum appendiculatum, B. chilense, B. novae-zelandiae, B. penna-marina
Dryopteris erythrosora
Dryopteris lepidopoda
Dryopteris wallichiana
Onoclea sensibilis
Osmunda regalis
‘Purpurascens’
Woodwardia orientalis var. formosana
Woodwardia unigemmata
Woodwardia virginica

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Xeric ferns

Dryland ferns are not for beginners, but for those who wish to begin, the following are "easier", not to be confused with easy.  The list is compiled for Zone 7 and warmer with some entries suitable for Zone 6.

Astolepis sinuata
Cheilanthes distans
Cheilanthes eatonii
Cheilanthes fendleri
C
heilanthes lanosa
Cheilanthes lindheimeri
Cheilanthes tomentosa
Cheilanthes wootonii


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Tree ferns

These handsome ancient plants are a poplar attraction in warm gardens, but unfortunately not reliably hardy in the greater Seattle area. Dicksonia antarctica is the most cold tolerant of the lot, but all tree ferns need special care and winter protection. Site them in the warmest section of the garden; a shady nook on the south side of the house (away from cold north winds) is ideal. As the roots extend down the trunk, the plants need extra water to transport a steady supply to the foliage. The trunk also needs to be misted or watered periodically. Critical care is especially essential for survival during the winter months. When the plants are young and containerized, the entire plant can be brought inside to the warmth of a greenhouse or suitably comfortable site in filtered light. Once the plant gains height and remains in the ground it will need protection from the cold. A hefty mulch at the base and a simple wrap of burlap or horticultural gauze around the trunk can be sufficient in mild weather. However, in more severe cold the trunk needs greater insulation. Experts use various techniques. One of the easiest is to wrap the trunk in bubble wrap and then cover this with an addition blanket of burlap or similar material. (Bubble wrap alone should not be used as it magnifies sunlight which will burn the plant.) Some gardeners also wrap the fronds which if left exposed will burn and brown in a severe frost. They should be held up vertically, not pulled down, and tied with a loose wrapping. Be advised that the fronds will likely be damaged in the process. Note that all of these precautions should be in place before an arctic blast arrives. Good luck!!


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FERN GENUS CHARACTERISTICS - A QUICK REFERENCE

Noting the name, meaning, number and distribution of species and a brief description.

 ADIANTUM - maidenhair - Greek - to shed water - 200 species, mostly tropical - worldwide - stipe brittle frequently black or red-black; fronds lacking a distinct midrib; foliage delicate, lacy, often drooping; thin textured; pinna fan or wedge shaped; sori around the outer edges covered with a false indusium of curled segments; evergreen and deciduous. 

ARACHNIODES - spider like - 40 species - mostly temperate - evergreen - closely related to Polystichum and Dryopteris - stipes greenish or straw colored; rhizome frequently spreading; evergreen; tall foliage usually spiny; sori central; indusium kidney shaped. 

ASPLENIUM - without spleen referring to a reputation for curing disorders of the spleen - 700 species - many hybrids - worldwide - usually evergreen; small with dark stipes; foliage varied - bird’s nest fern to A. trichomanes; stipes short; sori in herringbone pattern; indusium attached to a vein opening on one side (clamshell fashion). 

ATHYRIUM - to sport - 180 species - temperate and tropical; deciduous; stipes usually stout and succulent; green or straw colored and long; fronds long thin textured; sori central with half moon shaped indusium opening along one side. 

BLECHNUM - Greek name for a type of fern - 220 species - temperate and tropical; evergreen and sub-evergreen leathery and dimorphic (fertile and sterile fronds different); fertile fronds erect; sori linear occupying entire space from midrib to out edge of fertile frond segment; indusium linear with central lengthwise opening (slit down the middle)! 

CHEILANTHES - lip fern - 150 species - temperate, tropical and arid - stipes short, brittle, dense in growth; tufted; often scaly or hirsute; foliage evergreen also hairy or with scales on the underside; pinnae beadlike; prefers dry rocky locations; will curl in drought revive with moisture; sori marginal covered with reflexed edge of pinna but not continuous around the edge. 

CRYPTOGRAMMA - hidden sori - - 11 species - mostly temperate; small evergreens with light colored stipe; rock loving; dimorphic with fertile fronds erect; sori under overlapping margins.  

CYRTOMIUM - arching - 15 species - temperate & sub tropical; stipe stiff; evergreen pinnate leathery foliage; bold; low light; smoke and drought tolerant; sori central with peltate (umbrella like) indusium. 

CYSTOPTERIS - bladder fern - 18 species - temperate; small delicate, common; deciduous; light green; spore black when unripe; sori on veins with hood-like covering. 

DRYOPTERIS - wood fern - 250 species (my original research indicated 1213 species - the botanical splitters have been at work) - worldwide; evergreen and deciduous, small to very large; sturdy; usually divided - often finely so; hybridizes frequently; sori central with kidney shaped indusium. 

GYMNOCARPIUM - naked fruit - no indusium - few species - temperate; stiff brittle stipe; horizontal triangular fronds; deciduous; thin texture; spreading via underground rhizomes; sori round. 

LYGODIUM - twining - 39 species - mostly tropical; climbing ferns; sterile portion evergreen; fertile portion a continuation of the main stem & deciduous; sori on underside of fertile segments. 

MATTEUCCIA - named for an Italian physicist; 3 species - temperate; very large deciduous plumy fronds; dimorphic with sterile fronds to 5'; fertile fronds to 2' with sori in hard brown pods. 

NOTHOLAENA - cloak fern - false indusium - 25 species - closely allied with Cheilanthes and Pellaea - mostly arid loving small ferns with proportionately long stipes; erect inhabitants of rocky dry places; foliage frequently with hairs, scales or waxy undercoating; sori hidden in wax, scales or around edges. 

OSMUNDA - Osmund - Thor - Scandinavian god of war - 10 species - mostly temperate; large deciduous primitive ferns; moisture loving; spore not on underside of leaf but on separate stalks from rachis (flowering fern). 

PELLAEA - dark - dusky - 85 species - temperate & tropical; rigid stiff stipe & frond; evergreen; often with powdery or waxy coverings; stipe dark purple; foliage usually blue; simply divided; rock ferns with long wiry roots; sori marginal; continuous under rolled edges of pinna. 

PHYLLITIS - leaf - often listed as Asplenium - 8 species - many varieties - temperate; stipes very short; simple undivided foliage; evergreen long fronds; sori linear; prominent like rows of buttonholes opening through central split. 

POLYPODIUM - many footed - 100 species (formerly 1127 species - see Dryopteris) - widely distributed; prominent creeping rhizome; often epiphytic; evergreen leathery leaves; usually pinnate; large round sori; no indusium. 

POLYSTICHUM - many stitches - in reference to the spore pattern on the under leaf; 180 species - worldwide; mostly temperate; sturdy evergreen growth in a single crown or cluster; pinnate to finely divided foliage; short stipes; frequently with shiny foliage with bristly toothed edges; sori covered with peltate indusium. 

WOODSIA - named for botanist Joseph Woods - 37 species - temperate to arctic; small deciduous ferns in woods and on rocks; spores brown on the outer edges of pinna; indusium fist like opening star like from under the sporangia. 

WOODWARDIA - named for botanist Thomas Woodward - 14 species - mostly temperate - acid soil; extremely large coarse evergreen & deciduous ferns; sori in long lines like strings of sausage (hence chain fern); sori linear opening in a central split.   


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