Simply The Best Natives-Ostrich Fern


Of all the shade plantings, the woodland garden is the most forgiving and the one dearest to my heart.

~Sydney Eddison



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.

DSCN7849One 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.

I am linking in with Gail@Clay and Limestone for her Wildflower Wednesday meme as I profile this wonderful native plant.


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.





Growing Conditions

IMG_5648Ostrich ferns grow from a crown, but sends out lateral stolons to form new crowns thereby forming colonies that can be aggressive. 

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.

They do not have serious insect or disease problems, and deer do not usually eat ferns.





Benefits to Wildlife

DSCN7591Ostrich 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

DSCN7533Ostrich 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.

They are also used for health purposes as they are a good source of vitamin A, C, niacin, iron, omega-3 fatty DSCN7018acids and phosphorus all of which will help your immune system and bones.

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.  

DSCN7006The state of Maine is said to produce the greatest amount of canned fiddleheads.

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

DSCN7535Native 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 am linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Tuesday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden.  My most recent post is up already.  My next post is tomorrow June 24th.

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.sharethelove

I am also joining in I Heart Macro with Laura@Shine The Divine that happens every Saturday.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2014.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.

69 Replies to “Simply The Best Natives-Ostrich Fern”

  1. Donna thanks for a lovely and interesting post, I like the way ferns unfold, I didn’t know the young fiddle head (or any part) was edible, such tall ferns would make quite a foliage statement in any garden and a nice compliment to other plantings, I’m glad yours all survived your harsh winter, Frances

    1. Leave it to our Native Americans to show us how to eat common plants like ferns. I have so many but I do not know all their names. The recent ones I planted, like this one, are native to my area and I have a better handle on them. It was a joy to see them all and I hope they form a nice colony where I can have new plants to move around. So glad you enjoyed the post Frances!!

  2. I love that quote and am copying it for future reference – so apt for Diane’s courtyard garden that I care for. The shuttlecock fern is on the wishlist especially after you have featured it so temptingly. My favourite fern aside from the Japanese painted fern (which I lost) is the autumn fern i.e bronze in spring and quite a paradox

    1. Laura I am so happy that you liked the post and my new fern. I have some painted ferns but need to locate and move some but I will tell you of all the ferns they are my favorite even if they are not native. And I had an autumn fern but it never liked the dry shade even though they show those conditions are good for it. I may buy another as the colors are beautiful.

      I am so smitten with Diane’s courtyard. You have such an amazing talent and I am glad you are gardening and enjoying the garden again. Continued good wishes for your continued healing.

  3. Thanks for sharing your information on the Ostrich fern. I have them in my backyard woodland gardens. They were here naturally (I never purchased them) and I have transplanted some of them around to other areas of my garden. Be careful where you plant them because they can get pretty invasive and hard to get rid of.
    My favorite fern is the painted fern, and I didn’t know it but they will do pretty good in a sunny area (I think as long as you don’t live in the south). As a matter of fact, I think I had that fern in too much shade because I’ve had to transplant it twice before it started performing better.

    1. Sue, I too love and have painted ferns although I have to find mine as I think they have become buried. I found they do need some part sun and enough moisture to grow as mine in dry shade are not happy. But I decided to plant native ferns too and how lucky you are to have this fern in your garden naturally.

      I did learn they can be extremely aggressive but the area I have them in now is perfect for a colony but I will watch it.

  4. Hi Donna, hope you are doing well. Interesting post about ferns. I’ve just transplanted some from our daughter’s garden to my shady front garden. So far they look like they have taken, but time will tell. I’ve learned many news things from your post today.

    1. Thanks Linda…As Sue says in her comment above they can be aggressive so watch them. I think if they get enough shade and moisture especially. I am sure you will enjoy them.

  5. One of my favorites! I love the dainty Maidenhair Fern but the Ostrich is the one that thrives so well in my garden. I hope to have some large drifts of it someday. I ate Fiddleheads when I lived in Maine – bought them at the grocery store – couldn’t bear to harvest those beautiful fiddles. I would eat them again, though!

    1. Kathy, I keep saying I will eat mine someday when I have enough. If I grow enough I would be happy to share them with you for planting or eating. I think my favorite native fern is also the maidenhair and I have one that took this year. I hope to plant more in coming years….just so delicate and lacy.

  6. Hi Donna! Lovely post with lots of great info. I don’t have many ferns, except one – Japanese painted fern- in my current garden. It is so dry here, soil and air, that they have not been a focus for me. However, I do love them and now that I’m getting a little shade, might find a spot for a couple more. I had ostrich ferns in my Portland garden and they were gorgeous and very, very large. Took up lots of space. On a separate note, I hope you feel stronger soon and are allowed to get out and garden! I truly hope you don’t have to wait out the season, I know it is one of your favorite things!

    1. Oh I can completely understand in a dry climate not having ferns…for my wet garden they seem to be a great edition. And thanks Andrea for your kind thoughts. I am actually near to getting back out there. I may try a 20 minute kneeling stint as I am bending easily now…I just am careful not to over do it. I have been out in the veg garden weekly picking a few things and weeding a bit, but soon it will kick into high gear and I think I will be ready. It will be 6 weeks since surgery at the end of this week.

  7. I love my ostrich ferns too, and have been thinking of doing a post on mine as well. I enjoyed reading your post, as you’ve gathered so much good information. I love my lady ferns too. Glad to hear you’re recuperating.

    1. Thanks Alison. I also have a lady fern that is growing this year and hope to have more in some shady wet spots.

  8. Ferns are such an interesting species quite unlike other plants. I don’t often see any for sale here but sometimes I’ll see one growing in woodland or the shady side of a road and think they are lovely. I’m so glad you are recovering, take it easy and try to just ENJOY whatever you can do.

    1. I agree Christina, they are a new passion especially the native ones. I think one of the biggest lessons I am learning is to enjoy the moment and to enjoy what I can do each day seeing those improvements as such a delight.

  9. Good post on a beautiful and majestic fern. Didn’t realize the connection to ostrich feathers in the name – I had wondered about that!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Jason. Your beautiful grouping of these ferns are what led me to add them to my garden! 🙂

  10. Good post Donna! Lots of new information (to me!) – particularly interesting that people use ostrich fern to stabilise ground, stop erosion. Makes sense. In Ireland people used to eat the young fronds of bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), which I believe is poisonous later in the season. So a bit of a risky business! Thanks for a good read.

    1. So glad you enjoyed the post Cathy. It is always risky business to forage with wild plants which is why I decided to put the warning in the post.

    1. You would be surprised the information you can learn about one lowly little plant Ginnie. It’s why I love gardening….glad you enjoyed my fern!

  11. Really enjoyed this post Donna, as I have a lot of these ferns in my garden but didn’t know about the origin of their name among other things. Sadly mine – which were here when we moved to this house – were planted in full sun and only get rainwater directed under my rockery from the house roof – IF it rains! I will have to cut them right down this week, but as you say, they do regenerate quite quickly.

    1. How wonderful that these ferns came with your house and garden Cathy. Glad to see they come back for you later so you can still enjoy them!

  12. Ostrich fern was the first fern I planted in my garden. It was long ago before I knew a thing about gardening, and they perished. I am zone 8, and I think that is pushing it. Though I am tempted to try again. I want a tall, spreading fern for my fern garden. I think Southern Shield fern may be a better choice for me. I also love Autumn few; it is a workhorse in my woodland garden.

    1. Oh that is too bad Deb….I am glad you have found some ferns that can take your hot climate especially with all those lovely trees and bushes you have.

    1. It may need lots more moisture Brenda to help it take the heat. They seem to grow smaller in dry shade in my garden but in the wetter part shade areas they really stretch and grow.

  13. love your new fern, and found the info fascinating. I think I’m a bit of a fern- aholic. The trouble with lots of ferns I find is that they don’t like heat and dryness, but I have found a couple that are tough.

  14. I agree Sue that most ferns prefer wet shade with some heat…it is great to find those that will acclimate to even tougher conditions.

  15. Deer don’t like them? I don’t know anything about ferns, but I love them so I am going to have to find a spot. Most of the shade is taken up by hostas now.. Great post Donna.. good to hear you are feeling takes a long time… hugs…Michelle

    1. Michelle your garden is perfect for shade…there are natives that like dry shade and others like this one that thrive and grow into a colony in moist part shade. And thx for all the well wishes and hugs…I am doing so much better especially since visiting the acupuncturist a few times a week.

  16. The ostrich ferns are glamorous, like the feathers. I love how they are so gone in winter and so suddenly grand in summer. But really I never met a fern I didn’t like, so essential to shady woodsy gardens — it’s great to read a post from a gardener who values them like I do!

    1. I agree, they are essential for the texture and beauty they bring to garden. I also haven’t met a fern I didn’t like. Glad you liked the post.

  17. My garden is too small for this variety, but I do like seeing it planted in a natural setting. Glad to hear you are doing well after surgery. I myself will be soon. Just found out today at the specialist.

    1. Sorry to hear you have to have surgery Donna. You are right it does look outstanding in the wild and I think it even can make an area look and feel more relaxed. The back of my garden has become a very natural setting where I planted this fern and once we redo it a bit more, I hope to keep it wild looking with the ferns.

      1. Today, I was on a lecture and field survey for the Emerald Ash Borer put on by the DEC and a native plant specialist was part of our group. He pointed out New York fern. It is endangered and getting much more rare. It is similar in appearance to hay-scented fern. New York fern is the only native fern besides Ostrich fern in our area. Just thought you might want to know.

        1. Thanks for this info Donna. I have wanted to plant this fern but could not find a grower, but I will search again and add it to my garden. Sad that this lovely fern is becoming rare.

  18. I’m so glad you’re on the mend. :o) I have some kind of fern mingling in the background but have no idea what kind it is. It’s a secret, I suppose.

    1. I am too Tammy as it will be 6 weeks at the end of this week. I also have some secret ferns in my garden. Love the look but I doubt I will ever find the name. 🙂

  19. Donna, I’m glad you are recuperating OK from your surgery, it must be hard to restrain yourself in the garden. I have been collecting ferns lately, I realized the shade garden has far fewer weeds with which to contend, and I like the looks of several ferns together with different styles of foliage.

    1. Thanks Hannah. I sometimes miss my large shade garden as it had less weeds. I am also trying to add more ferns throughout the garden.

  20. I love the look of fiddleheads; I can’t imagine cutting them down just to eat:) I’ve heard that ostrich ferns can really take over an area if it’s to their liking. But they are so pretty, that if you have the right spot for them, they would be well worth planting.

    1. Rose, I think one of the best sights in sring is to see the ferns emerging. I think they will make a great swath across my rain garden! I can’t cut them for food either especially not until I would have enough to try. I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

    1. Oh Tammy how very sweet of you!! Makes me smile which then of course makes me heal even faster!! 🙂 Thank you for the happy healing thoughts!

  21. I’m a fern fanatic, and have many different types in my garden…they are all my favorites. Yours are so vibrantly green and beautiful.

    Thanks so much for the kind thoughts and good wishes, sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you.


    1. Oh Jen I am so glad you loved my native Ostrich fern…I will keep those good wishes coming to you my friend….take care of yourself!!

  22. Love the Ferns–especially the Ostrich Ferns! We have a lot of them here, too–actually, too many, and I end up pulling some and adding them to the compost bin. If I didn’t, they would take over my garden during a wet year, and then die back and leave bald spots during a drought year. But I do love them and the form a lovely backdrop. Glad to here you’re recovering nicely, Donna. It’s good to hear you got your veggie garden in before the surgery. The weeding can wait! Take care!

    1. Thanks Beth. While my sister and brother-in-law were here last week they did a bit of weeding to help. It was so sweet and certainly made me feel so much better. The veg garden is producing more each day and seems to be catching up even though the warm veggies were just planted a few weeks ago.

  23. Hi Donna – this is one of our favorites too! We live next to a creek, and they grow like crazy all along the edges, so we have plenty to eat in the springtime. About 8 years ago, we moved a few into our back shady garden and though it’s not as wet there as they typically like, they have settled in very nicely and spread just as I intended – if they get out of hand, it’s a spot that can be mowed. If they get looking tatty part way through the summer, I have cut them back and new fronds have grown, though not as tall as the ones in spring. All-around a great native plant!

    1. How lovely to see these ferns along your creek and in your garden….I agree one of the best natives Donalyn!!

  24. I’m very happy to know that you are coming along well after your surgery. I have these ferns growing all around the perimeter of our orchard. I love fiddle heads sautéed with a little butter or olive oil but don’t pick them myself…I leave that to others so mine stay intact.

    1. Thanks Karen! I would love to try fiddleheads made by someone else first….they just sound so yummy. Of course eating mine will not happen any time soon as the patch is but 6 ferns.

  25. This is not a reply, but a question, could not find anywhere I could ask a quesion. Can anyone tell me how I can get my Ostrich Ferns to grow stronger stems? They grow beautiful then get top heavy and collapse. Please I would appreciate any help. You can email m at [email protected].

    Thank you

    1. Arlene this is the usual growing advice:

      Ostrich ferns should be planted in a shallow hole that has plenty of room for spreading roots. Make sure the crown sits just above soil level. Fill in around the roots with any average soil and water well.

      I have never heard of ferns collapsing although these ferns will go dormant in hot weather and if there is little water as it gets hot…so I am wondering if that is what is happening. Also if they get too much sun that might weaken them….they prefer more shade. You can cut them back in summer and they may send up new stronger fronds. Mine grow in a shady very wet area. I find the more shade and moist or wet the conditions, the better they grow.

      I hope this might help!

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