Of all the shade plantings, the woodland garden is the most forgiving and the one dearest to my heart.
So far we are having a wonderful summer. Not too hot or too wet. Spring actually kicked in and was warm and dry here just when I couldn’t garden due to surgery. An update for those kind folks who are asking: I am doing well 5 weeks after surgery, but I am still restricted. I can do a bit of bending and kneeling every so often but know my limits. So the garden waits except for the veg garden which does need my attention periodically. I still can’t sit for long periods at the computer so it is taking me time to get around to blogs which I love reading.
One of the loveliest plants to see starting to peek through the soil in spring are the ferns. As they poke their heads up, you can see the fern foliage tightly wrapped waiting to see if it is warm enough to finally come out and show off their lacy looks. So I thought I would profile a few ferns for this series, and Ostrich fern was a perfect place to start. Matteuccia struthiopteris or Ostrich fern also known as shuttlecock fern is part of the Dryopteridaceae Family (Wood Indies-Almond Family).
This fern was named after Carlo Matteucci who was a physicist at the University of Florence. And as the fern resembles an ostrich feather, the species name comes from the Ancient Greek words, struthio meaning ostrich and pterion meaning wing.
This very hardy fern can withstand cold to planting zone 2 and hot summers to zone 8. Ostrich ferns will grow into a colony with each fern growing from 3-4 feet in height and a foot or so in width. Mine all came back nicely after their initial planting last year.
And I am also joining forces with a local native plant nursery, Amanda’s Garden, to purchase plants for my garden, like the one I am profiling in this post. The owner, Ellen Folts, specializes in woodland, prairie and wetland native perennials.
The sterile fronds are almost vertical, resembling ostrich plumes as you can see here. Ostrich ferns do not have flowers. Instead the fertile shorter fronds, which are brown when ripe and develop in autumn (as seen in the picture above left), and release their spores in early spring.
Ostrich ferns love part to full shade in consistently moist to wet areas with rich soil where the summers are not exceedingly hot. During times of drought, Ostrich ferns can be cut back causing them to flush out again.
These ferns can be propagated by spores or divisions and any transplanting should be done when they are dormant.
Ostrich ferns can tolerate browsing by rabbits, heavy shade, erosion, wet soil and clay. A perfect recipe for my garden. I plan to plant more around the pond and in the shadiest area near the north corner of the house.
Benefits to Wildlife
Ostrich ferns can be larval food for some Lepidoptera species including Sthenopis auratus which can be found in the northeast US and southeast Canada.
They also act as shelter and cover for wildlife, and provide bird nesting materials.
Where Are They Found
Ostrich ferns can be found growing in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, in eastern and northern Europe and in northern Asia. Here in the US they can be found in the northeast and central regions of the country.
Look for them in swamps, moist woods, along streams and on the wet banks of ponds.
If you are growing a native plant garden, place them in rain gardens (where I have mine), under large trees or against north and east-facing foundations. They also act as great accent foliage with their wonderful texture, and can be planted with early growing wildflowers such as trilliums, bloodroot, trout lilies or Dutchman’s breeches. The ferns will hide these spring ephemerals once they are done blooming.
Ostrich ferns have been used in the garden to help stabilize the soil and prevent erosion.
The popular way to get these vitamins and nutrients from Ostrich ferns is to eat them when they are just coming up as fiddleheads before they unfurl. It is considered a delicacy to eat the fiddleheads and while many ferns have been used for this purpose, the most popular, safest and best tasting are the fiddleheads from Ostrich ferns.
Fiddleheads should not be eaten raw but cooked like any vegetable. It is advised not to eat too many of them. They are said to taste like asparagus, and should be boiled for 15 minutes or steamed for 10-12 minutes before they are safe to eat.
You can also find fiddleheads in some grocery stores canned, frozen, or fresh. And some area restaurants serve them in spring.
As always use caution when eating food in the wild and it is always best to consult an expert in gathering and eating wild food.
The edible fiddlehead is the state vegetable of Vermont.
Fiddleheads are also picked all over Japan where they are a delicacy.
Folklore and Tales
Native Americans used Ostrich fern fronds for help with back pain and gynecological issues.
Ostrich Fern fiddleheads were a regular part of the diet of Canadian settlers by the early 1700’s.
Do you grow Ostrich ferns? Do you have a favorite fern you grow in your garden?
Celebrate what you want to see more of. ~ Thomas J. Peters
If you missed the roundup for Seasonal Celebrations which was posted on the solstice, June 21st, you can read it here.
Next up on the blog: Next Monday will be a Garden Book Review with a giveaway.
I can also be found blogging once a month at Vision and Verb. I will be posting again on July 7th.
As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.
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