Ferns at Chickadee Gardens

Ferns are hard. Identifying ferns is hard. In my last post, many commented that they also have difficulty identifying ferns. Why is that, do you suppose? Perhaps it's the lack of tell-tale flowers to mark one cultivar from another or how many ferns in completely different genera look so similar. In fact, I often exclude a fern in my posts because there is real doubt as to its identity. No more, I say! I took it upon myself to (mostly) identify the ferns in our garden with the help of my trusty plant inventory spreadsheet. This post is less about being a fern expert and more about a lesson for myself in identifying what I have in the hopes that others might benefit. In alphabetical order, I give you Ferns of Chickadee Gardens. Here we go! 

Adiantum aleuticum, Western maidenhair fern is a native to the West Coast, and is, frankly, just about my favorite. I love its black stems and delicate structure. These can be seen in wet woodland settings around the Pacific Northwest. In my mind the ones in the Columbia River Gorge near waterfalls are the most spectacular, spreading to form massive colonies. Deciduous, about 2' high and spreads if it's happy.

Adiantum venustum, Himalayan maidenhair fern, similar to A. aeluticum but shorter at about 12" high. Deciduous and forms colonies.

Athyrium filix-femina 'Frizelliae', tatting fern is a curious little thing. The species is commonly referred to as lady ferns. I was told when I bought this not to over-water it, a surprising statement for a shade-loving fern. Deciduous, it reaches about 12" high. Originally discovered in Ireland by one Ms. Frizell, it has become a favorite among fern lovers.

Athyrium filix-femina 'Victoriae' is a strange but interesting fern. I thought I had lost it, it was so overgrown by Oxalis that I forgot where I had planted it. After digging around for a few minutes I found a few nubs and parted the sea of oxalis. A week later, it grew by about 10 inches. Deciduous (obviously) and about 2' high when mature.

Athyrium filix-forma 'Lady in Red' is another deciduous lady fern, this one hailing from the Northeastern U.S. The "red" part of the name indicates the stem color, although it's not so obvious on my specimen. I admit it wasn't happy for a couple of years so last fall I moved it where it seems to be doing well. We shall see about that red coloring. It reaches about 2- 3' in height and is nearly as wide when mature.

Athyrium nipponicum, Japanese painted fern is so distinct, so colorful, so petite. There are so many cultivars of this species, it's confusing. So many look nearly identical to me but there are noted exceptions - A. nipponicum 'Ghost' is one such example with shining silver fronds. It is deciduous, so make sure you know where it is when it disappears in winter. The soil should not dry out on this one and I will also add this has not grown much in my garden, although I don't likely give it ideal conditions. I still love it.

Austroblechnum penna-marina, syn. Blechnum penna-marina, alpine water fern is so cool, it literally forms colonies like ground cover. It's swoon-worthy this time of the year when the fronds reach skyward. It gets some red tones in more sun, I have it in high overhead shade in this photo. Its height is about 6" or so and its spread in my garden is a good few feet across. It is evergreen although in late winter it looks a little ratty and I just wait for the new growth to overshadow the old. Some recommend cutting it back but I never have.

Struthiopteris spicant, syn. Blechnum spicant or deer fern is another native Pacific Northwest evergreen fern. At about 2' x 2', its fertile upright fronds make it recognizable in forests around my home. I have seen them much larger in old growth forests, stunningly large at easily 3- 4' tall and wide. I've not had a lot of luck growing these but I have three that are doing fairly well, such as the one pictured.

Cheilanthes tomentosa or wooly lip fern is one of those that appreciates a sunnier situation. It is an evergreen fern that reaches 1' - 2' high and wide. Give this full sun, well-drained gritty soil and protect it in winter - it would make a great rock garden plant. It is native to North America.

Cheilanthes sinuata or wavy cloak fern is similar in cultural requirements to C. tomentosa but is shorter. Both of these would like protection from the sun during the hottest part of the day. I am told that they appreciate having their roots protected by rocks as seen here and do like a bit of light summer water. Another evergreen fern, although they do look a bit ratty in my garden after winter.

Cyrtomium fortunei, Japanese holly fern is so pretty, and also evergreen. To about 2' x 2', it really stands out in the garden. They don't want sun. They do quite well in full shade.

Cyrtomium falcatum, Japanese holly fern is so similar to C. fortunei, I honestly have trouble telling them apart. 

Cyrtomium macrophyllum, large leaf holly fern is easily recognizable by its large fronds - visibly much fatter that the previous two Cyrtomium species.

Dicksonia antarctica, Tasmanian tree fern is, when mature, spectacular. This is borderline hardy for me, preferring zone 9 and above, although it's been evergreen and great for a good year so far. Some friends grow these in containers, others in the ground but let them die back if the winter is too cold, only to regenerate from the roots. If they did not die back they can reach 30' in its native Tasmania and Australia. In a container they can also get pretty large. 

Dryopteris erythrosora or autumn fern, a deciduous fern with bronze tones to the new foliage, hence the name. 

Dryopteris lepidopoda, sunset fern is an evergreen stunner with gorgeous new growth. As the ferns age they turn to green. It reaches about 2' x 3'. 

Dryopteris filix-mas 'Parsley', parsley male fern is unusual with very congested fronds. It gets about 15" tall and wide and is deciduous.

Dryopteris sieboldii, Siebold's wood fern in a rather tattered state. It has not put on much new growth since I rescued it, but I have hopes. It is rather lovely when mature, quite a prize.

This is one I could use some help identifying.

Matteuccia struthiopteris, ostrich fern I purchased at a plant sale last year after seeing drifts of it in a photo. I planted it and it promptly died. So I thought. It came back this year so my take-away is that it does not like to dry out, at all. So as long as I keep the soil moist enough it will not go dormant on me. It's quite tall at about 3' - 6' tall and just as wide. Takes full shade and will naturalize in wet enough situations.

Osmunda cinnamomea, cinnamon fern looks pathetic, but I include it all the same. It too likes the super-wet situation, so it struggles in my "under the fir trees" dry soil. I am hopeful it will grow despite its challenges. Deciduous and 2' - 3' high when happy.

Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis, royal fern is yet another moisture lover. It is spectacular when mature, they get quite large at a few feet tall and wide. Deciduous and a sweet rounded shape to the fronds.

Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis, royal fern a little later in the season

Phyllitis scolopendrium 'Cristata', syn. Asplenium scolopendrium 'Cristata'crested Hart's tongue fern, although the cresting is not immediately apparent. It is evergreen, reaches about 1' - 2' high and wide when mature. New growth emerges in spring.

Polypodium scouleri, leather leaf polypody is another Pacific Northwest native that I love. It spreads slowly to form colonies and tolerates drier summer conditions once established. It is evergreen and petite at about 8" high with a spread of a couple of feet after a few years.

Polystichum munitum, Western sword fern, the ubiquitous evergreen, drought tolerant, native Pacific Northwest fern. They are everywhere in forests here, and are stunning. I read somewhere that in Washington state some disease is killing large stands. They can get quite large in the wild, I've seen them up to 4 - 5' high. New growth comes on in spring, but you can leave them be and not necessarily have to clean them up but they are tidier looking if winter damages the old fronds.

Polystichum munitum, Western sword fern

Polystichum polyblepharum, tassel fern is an evergreen Asian native growing at about 2' x 2'. They prefer dappled shade and consistently moist soil.

Polystichum polyblepharum, tassel fern

Polystichum setiferum 'Bevis' (or 'Bevis Group'), soft shield fern is a deciduous fern at about 3' high and wide. The old fronds technically remain on the plant but they collapse in spring and I cut them off.

Polystichum setiferum 'Bevis', soft shield fern

Polystichum setiferum 'Congestum Cristatum', dwarf crested soft shield fern is very congested. Although not completely unfurled, the form is evident even at this stage. It is evergreen and at about 12" high when mature, is definitely on the dwarf side of most Polystichum species.

Polystichum setiferum 'Proliferum Wollastonii', Woolaston soft shield fern is about 18" x 18" and is reported to do well in both sun and shade.

Polystichum setiferum Divisilobum group - I have several of these. They are evergreen although the old growth gets quite ratty. Once they are established they can be pretty drought tolerant. Here is a note from the Xera Plants website:

Soft Shield fern is native to Alaska- well points north in general. That means its bone hardy to cold but its also a fantastic evergreen fern for dry shade in our region. Finely divided fronds taper to 2′ long. The central stem is a soft furry brown- good contrast. Spreading colony creating fern to 3′ across. It has the unique habit of vivipary. It makes small new plants spontaneously right off the frond. Useful. Good looking appearance year round. Rich, moisture retentive soil with regular water to establish. Incredibly drought adapted when older – as long as its in shade. High deer resistance. May be cut back hard in early spring to refreshen. Grows very quickly.

Woodwardia frimbriata, giant chain fern is a semi-evergreen fern native to specific areas along the West Coast. It gets large - as its name suggests - to fronds that are 3' or larger. It does appreciate moist soil, and can be cleaned up in spring before new fresh growth emerges.

There it is, a look at the ferns at Chickadee Gardens. We adore the ferns, they are such an integral part of shady areas in the garden and add such a feeling of lushness that can't be beat. I don't know a lot about ferns, other than most do like shade and moisture. I'm learning, though, and hope to continue to learn and add more to the garden. What ferns do you grow and what are your favorites? Do share!

Most of these photos were taken last week when they were beginning new growth. They will be much fuller as the season progresses, perhaps I should do a follow-up post showing fully formed plants.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you! Happy gardening.



  1. Wow, you have a lot of gorgeous ferns. I admire your quest to identify their true names. I have trouble identifying most. My favourite though is the maiden hair fern. Their fronds are so delicate and add great texture to the shade garden.

    1. Maidenhair is fantastic! I'm pleased so many of us love this one. You're right, great texture and so delicate.

  2. Wow...! I need to get me some ferns, yo! : )

  3. Anonymous11:57 AM PDT

    Greatest fern collection I have ever seen!
    Thank you!
    The Richard

    1. Is this The Richardii? Thank you, sir! You know, the funny thing is I never set out to have a "collection" of ferns. What's wrong with me?

  4. Wow, You have a plethora of ferns. I have tried growing several of these without much luck. I love ferns. I have 5 types of ferns in the garden. Fun stuff.

    1. Somehow I DO have a plethora of ferns. What types do you have? I'd love to hear!

  5. So many beauties in your garden. Like grasses, I have a brain block on learning all the fern names. They are all just "Hey Fern" to me.

    1. Ha ha...your comment made me laugh out loud. I think we all feel a bit like saying "Hey Fern" for every one...so many look alike. The brain block is real!

  6. Your fern blog was very timely for me - after a bit of a fern frenzy at the fall plant sales at Kordell's (30% off) and Dennis 7 Dees LO (40% off), I have 8 ferns and a few other shade lovers to plant in the NE corner of my back garden. I call it the Woodland because it is shaded by a 35-yr-old copper beech and a noID Japanese maple of the same age (15' tall). There were 7 western sword ferns there as well when we bought the house in 1990. I have since added a Cornus sericea 'Baileyi', a Fothergilla × intermedia 'Blue Shadow', three Heuchera 'Green Spice', two Mahonia eurybracteata subsp. ganpinensis 'Soft Caress', a Physocarpus opulifolius 'Dart's Gold', and two Polystichum setiferum.

    Now I'll be adding one each of Adiantum aleuticum, Asplenium scolopendrium 'Cristatum', Athyrium niponicum var. pictum 'Apple Court', Cyrtomium fortunei var. fortunei, Dryopteris erythrosora 'Brilliance', Matteuccia struthiopteris 'King', Osmunda regalis, and Pteris cretica var. 'Albolineata' – along with a tub of Convallaria majalis (from a friend – I know it can take over but it has been my favorite flower since I was a child!), a Hydrangea macrophylla Onyx™ 'Zebra' (it is small 3-4' and definitely needs shade), and a Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum'. Wish me luck!

    1. Wowswers, you have your work cut out for you AND you have an amazing collection going! I admire your ambition!

      What you have listed here is nothing short of an entire garden. Very impressive! Good luck!

  7. What a wide collection of ferns you have! I expected maybe half a dozen but they just kept coming. Ferns don't like our hot, dry conditions and I have no more than a handful of varieties (and relatively few specimens of each) in this garden. (I don't count western sword ferns, which somehow manage to spread like weeds here with no help whatsoever.) Ferns were easier to grow in my former cooler, shadier garden. I added a few to my shade house but wasn't as vigilant about watering as I needed to be and, even there, they've struggled. But who knows, if our "safer-at-home" philosophy becomes even more firmly embedded, I might find I have the time and patience to attend to their needs more closely.

    1. They just kept coming because I'm a little nuts..ha ha!

      Yes, I bet ferns aren't really a So Cal thing, but what about those Cheilanthes species...do they do allright for you?

      Most ferns do like that cool, moist shade. Have you guys had a good amount of spring rains this year?

  8. Bravo! You just cruised right along throwing out the names like they were rolling right off your tongue. I am one who finds it hard to remember fern names. They all seem so similar. I will definitely be referring back to this post in the future.

    1. Ah, well, thank you Danger. I only cruised through because I have a spreadsheet of all my plants in the garden (well, 95%). No fern genius here - just copy/paste genius...ha ha....

      I wrote this post for a reference for myself so I'm thrilled you might find it useful as well. Cheers!


Post a Comment

Thank you for your comments! I love hearing them, I will approve comments as soon as I can. Yay!

Popular Posts