Spotlight on Ferns

By: Stacey Wildberger

Our Annual Fall Plant Fest and Sale is right around the corner (September 25th 9am-noon).  In addition to thousands of native plants we will have many experts on hand to help you.  There will Master Gardeners, Master Naturalist, Master Watershed Stewards, Pollinator Pathways, and Cape St Claire’s Chris Pax (a native plant landscape designer). 

We will have a variety to choose from: groundcovers, perennials, grasses, carex and ferns.  This year we have greatly increased the quantities of each species but we will also have a few new varieties.  Let’s talk about ferns—we will have five this year!

Royal fern

This moisture loving fern, Osmunda regalis royal fern is one I just started using at the Serene Ravine last fall and I fell in love with.  I have planted it along the areas of erosion in hopes to slow down the run off.  It can handle part to heavy shade.  The up to 3’ fronds have large, separated leaflets giving it a pea-family appearance.  Plant this beauty in a place to naturalize or use it in shady rain garden.  The fall color will delight!

Cinnamon fern

Another fern for medium to wet conditions is the Osmunda cinnamomea cinnamon fern. It can reach up to 3’ height with a 3’ spread.  Fiddleheads emerge in early spring and the plant features two fronds, a sterile yellowish-green that remains attractive throughout summer.  The other frond is the fertile stiff, spore-bearing frond that quickly turns brown.  It can also tolerate heavy shade and rabbit browsing. Beautiful as shade border, woodland garden feature or along streams, water gardens or bogs.

Christmas fern

If you are looking for an evergreen option in a fern consider Polystichum acrostichoides Christmas fern.  Growing to heights of 2’ with an equal spread this clumping fern with stays green all winter!  It likes dry shade so it makes it an ideal plant for many our Cape gardens.  Use this to help fight erosion on dry slopes,

Another beauty I discovered accidently to use at the Serene Ravine is Athyrium filix-femina lady fern.  The fern I was ordering wasn’t’ available so the nursery suggested this as an alternative and I have not regretted the choice.  It lines the edges and paths of the Ravine with 3’ lacey-cut, light green fronds.  Works well in rock gardens, woodland gardens or as a border plant in a shaded area. (See picture above title)

Marginal wood fern

Rounding out the fern selections for this year’s sale is Dryopteris marginalis marginal wood fern, another shade loving fern that can handle average soil, not too wet or too dry.  This is another one that will give you some winter interest as it is evergreen like the Christmas fern.  This will work well in woodland areas, mixed with some early spring flowers such as Dicentra eximia wild bleeding heart or Phlox divaricata woodland Phlox.

Where are the Insects?

With the emergence of the cicadas this summer I noticed something had been missing-insect splatters on the car windshield.  Remember as a kid driving down the highway on a summer evening the amount of insects that would meet their untimely demise on your windshield?  The sad fact is insect populations have sharply declined in part due to loss of habitat, pesticide use and monoculture crops.  Without the “little things that run the world” EO Wilson: insects are so ecologically important that their disappearance would have dire consequences on our ecosystem.  Insects are the start of every terrestrial food web! We have already begun to see the effects of insect declines in Central America tropical forests as there are parallel declines in insect eating frogs, lizards and birds. Insects don’t need us: we need them! 

2 comments on Spotlight on Ferns

  1. Larry Jennings says:

    I feel a loss – where’s the 5th fern?

    1. Stacey Wildberger says:

      there are 5– Royal, Cinnamon, Christmas, lady and marginal wood fern

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