Simply The Best Natives-Lady Fern


“Plants cry their gratitude for the sun in green joy.”  ~Terri Guillements


I love adding texture to my gardens, especially the shade garden.  And I find no better plant for adding texture than native ferns.  I added some new native ferns a couple of years ago, and this Lady Fern was one of them.  Athyrium filix-DSCN3942femina, also known as Common lady fern or Subarctic lady fern, is part of the Wood Fern Family (Dryopteridaceae).

Lady Fern is perennial, and will fade in winter to reappear again in spring.  It can grow 2-3 feet tall and wide given room (which I need to do).  The light green, lacy fronds can grow 2 feet long, and up to 9 inches wide.

Its common name, Lady Fern, is said to refer to its graceful, feminine appearance.  Its genus name comes from the Greek athyros (doorless) which is said to refer to the slowly opening spore covers.  The rest of its name comes from the Latin filix meaning fern and femina meaning woman.

As I profile this wonderful native fern, I am linking in with Gail@Clay and Limestone for amandaher Wildflower Wednesday meme, and Christina@Creating my own garden of the Hesperides and her meme Gardens Bloggers Foliage Day.  And I am joining forces once again this year with a local native plant nursery, Amanda’s Garden, to buy native plants for my garden.  The owner, Ellen Folts, specializes in woodland, prairie and wetland native perennials.  Check out her wonderful 2015 Spring Catalog to see which natives Ellen is selling this year.




Growing Conditions

DSCN3641Lady Ferns are such a delicate looking fern, and I love the contrast of the light green fronds with the red stems.  Even though this is a hardy, strong fern you can break the fronds easily as they can be brittle.  These ferns grow from a central base and will spread out and grow in a group circling the original fern. 

These native ferns can be found throughout most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere.  Look in any moist, shady woodland, or in wet meadows, swamps, marshes, shorelines and rock crevices.

Lady Ferns prefer high humidity and protection from the wind.  They have few diseases and pests, and do best in dappled, moist shade.  They will handle more sun if the soil is water retentive.  I am thinking of DSCN3907planting more of these on the edge of my boggy area that is sunny and wet.  But I need to be careful as this fern can rot from too much water.

You will need to water these regularly once you plant them until they are established, and then they will tolerate some drought conditions. 

I have not fertilized my ferns, but doing so once in spring can help them grow larger and lush.  But be careful not to over fertilize any fern or you will weaken them.

Lady Ferns are can be propagated from spores that grow on the back of the leaves. But it is easier to divide the fern in spring to spread its wealth. 




Benefits to Wildlife 

DSCN3814There is limited information about the wildlife benefits of this fern.  It is a major food source for Grizzly bears, and elk and deer will also browse this fern although I have not seen our deer eating ferns.  Perhaps because they prefer the hosta growing nearby. 

There are some insects that like to feed on this fern too.  These include aphids, and the larvae of some moths who feed on the spores.

When the fern gets larger, it can provide cover for smaller wildlife like frogs, toads and mice.   






DSCN8218Lady Ferns have long been popular to grow indoors, either potted or hanging, and were a favorite fern during Victorian times.  Of course it is a great plant for any moist shade garden outdoors.

This fern’s young fronds are edible once cooked (poisonous when raw), but always use caution when eating any wild plant from outside.  




Folklore and Tales 

Native Americans found many uses for this fern.  They used them for drying food like berries or covering food in baskets.  Eels and fish were cleaned with the fronds, and the fronds separated food being DSCN3937steamed in pits.

Native tribes also cooked, baked or ate the fiddleheads and young fronds raw.  They even roasted and ate the rhizomes.

Tea was made from the leaves or roots and treated many gynecological issues in childbirth and cancer of the womb.  Roots were also dried and ground to help heal wounds.  

Lady Ferns have been used since the 1st century AD to get rid of worms found in the human body.  

According to some folklore, finding this fern in the wild meant that water was nearby.
In The Language of Flowers, ferns can represent Sincerity, Magic, Fascination, Confidence and Shelter.



lady fern collage


Do you grow any native ferns?  Do you have a favorite fern?



Next up on the blog:  

Monday, I will have another vase with an update on my Veg Garden. 

I am linking in with Michelle for her Nature Notes meme at her blog Rambling Woods.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every week. 

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2015.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only. 

64 Replies to “Simply The Best Natives-Lady Fern”

  1. I smiled at your chosen quote for the top of this post, when you read my post you’ll see why! I love ferns but don’t have any, I’m hoping to begin creating more shade so that I will be able to add some; many will tolerate dry conditions if they are in deep shade. Thanks for joining with GBFD this month with and interesting and informative post as usual.

  2. I love ferns and have quite a number of different ones. My favourite is Matteuccia struthiopteris, which is now spreading around the garden without any help from me, it is ideal for my boggy areas and always looks so fresh. It does spread quite a lot so needs cutting back from time to time.

  3. Yes, what a wonderful quote, it caught my attention. I am fairly new to ferns, with a small but slowly growing collection of these remarkable, versatile and mysterious plants.

    I agree, they add good texture combined with a wide range of other plants. And, I think they look fabulous from the moment they start to unfurl right through to when they die back.

    Adiantums seem to ‘run free’ with gay abandon in dry sunny sites in my garden.

  4. I think , Donna, ferns are unusual and strange plants. Maybe they are from another planet? :0)
    Nice photos. I have some of them in my garden but don’t know the names.

  5. I love ferns. I have Lady ferns and Eared Lady ferns. Last year I planted New York ferns– then reread about them possibly being aggressive, so think I moved them to a container. Now I have some Lady ferns coming up AND maybe some New York ferns nearby. Need to do a better ID between the two.
    After moving some (hopefully all) the New York ferns, I found more info that says in the warmer regions it doesn’t spread as readily. Always learning.

    1. I have wanted to plant NY ferns so glad for the warning Janet. And the Eared Lady fern looks so lovely too!

  6. I have a lady fern Donna and I neglect it totally but it is still beautiful and gets larger each year – even without room! I love this fern and enjoyed learning about it folklore and all. I grow a lot of ferns – sensitive, Ostrich, Cinnamon and my favorite Maidenhair – there’s one I could give a bit of attention to. I think lady ferns lining your bog will be stunning!

    1. Kathy you have quite a collection of native ferns…I am adding royal fern this year and am trying to get more maidenhairs to grow in place of the chameleon plant ground cover I am trying to get rid of…such a stunning and unusual fern maidenhair.

  7. I am rather fond of ferns myself and grow this particular one too. It is easy to foget it’s there in winter but when the new growth begins to appear, it is beautiful, delicate even.
    Thanks for the information, I had no idea on most of it other than the growing conditions it likes. I find it copes with my windy side garden but suspect that the good soil and the rain helps keep it’s freshness.

    1. That is great to know Angie that these ferns can stand a stiff wind…and I agree…they are so delicate looking.

  8. We have so many lady ferns all around that I often forget to really appreciate how light and airy they are, and how much they enhance the landscape. Thank you for reminding me!

  9. I never met a fern I didn’t like. Our woods are full of sword fern and maidenhair. My absolute favorite that I have planted is Polystichum setiferum. You have a lovely Lady there…fun to read all about her.

    1. Polystichum setiferum is a lovely fern rickii…and I am so envious of anyone who has woods with native ferns especially maidenhair!

  10. we have inherited 7 weeks fern (because it lasts that long in the vase) and I hope to add more, once I have a sheltered and permanent place for them.

  11. A great plant profile. I’d like to add ferns to the hosta garden because as you say, they would add texture that I think would compliment the hosta leaves. There is a traditional bird feeder in a tree near the deer feeder at the ranch, but we forgot to put feed in it. It was such fun to wait for birds to come in. I’d spend a lot more time there if I could, but alas, I am a 1,000 miles away. lol. Have a great week.

  12. Nice post Donna, I like ferns as they create a great backdrop for other plants and they are so good in shady spots. I have a few but I have no idea what they are as they are all grown from tiny seedlings I have found between paving slabs. I have just lifted them out and put them in pots and some years later they have become big plants. I like free-bees like that 🙂

  13. i love ferns. When i was a girl my nana and papa lived near some open land near the shore and there were ferns growing along their back yard. It always looked like a faerie land in there to me… I love the way the light hit the ferns. thank you for sharing all the information about them and thank you for visiting my blog…it’s taken me a while to get back to commenters….summer got in the way.

    1. I agree there is a fairy look to ferns…and I have a few ferns placed so the light shines through them in early morning…magical….your nana and papa’s ferns sound fabulous especially near the shore. 😉

    1. I think that was what made me so smitten with this fern Tammy…the contrasting stems and fronds…just can’t take my eyes off of it when I pass by!

  14. Thank you so much for keeping up with my blog when I am such a poor reciprocator. I love lady ferns, including all the weird forms collected by the Victorians. I tried to think of my favorite native fern and couldn’t narrow down to one. I love maiden hair, ostrich, and broad buckler among others.

    1. It is hard to pick a a favorite fern Carolyn….I have some favorite natives and non-natives alike….and I love your blog…it is so well done and gives me so many ideas so no need to reciprocate often Carolyn…besides you are busy with your nursery and I get to reap the benefits of that business with purchases! 🙂

  15. Your photos are lovely! This fern is one of my favorites. I grow a variety of native ferns. Another favorite is Dryopteris erythrosora, also called Autumn fern.

  16. I was able to grow lady fern in my old garden but my current garden – and the present water restrictions – are difficult on most ferns. I currently have 3 varieties. The most successful is Asplenium x ‘Austral Gem’ (aka bird’s nest fern), which is fairly drought tolerant and can take the heat in my current garden as long as it gets sufficient shade. Rumohra adiantiformis (leather-leaf fern) has been moderately successful as well. One of my favorites, Asplenium bulbiferum (mother fern), is struggling but at least it’s still alive – most ferns promptly die here.

    1. Oh that is lucky Kris! And any ferns that can live in your harsh conditions these days is a wonder and worthy of being in your garden! It also shows how wonderful a gardener you are to keep ferns alive there….

  17. Donna, I like this fern, it is delicate. I have some native ferns that grow wild here that are not so delicate, Sword ferns get quite large, and another fernier one, possibly deer fern, gets larger than I would like and spreads itself around too. There are also bracken ferns and a little one that grows in moss on tree trunks. My favorite is probably Dryopteris sieboldii though, I don’t think it is native, the leaflets are wide and curvy so it has a different look.

  18. Donna, had no idea about the fertilizer thingy with ferns…good thing I always forget to fertilize them later in the season, I’ll remember not to do that for sure.

    I think I have built up a collection of almost every fern that is hardy here, of course I’m sure I’m missing more then a few…but I do have a lot of varieties and I love them dearly! They get special treatment, and extra water rations…don’t tell anyone.


    1. If you only fertilize them once a year and they do well, keep going Jen. But just be careful not to fertilize them often. Your ferns sound like a lovely collection. I am building my native collection and trying to find my non-natives that need rescuing as some are smothered by weeds. And mums the word! They never heard it from me. 🙂

    1. Betty it is a dream of mine to come to NZ’s paradise and I can only imagine all the lush ferns there….would love to hear about those Maori legends!

  19. Lovely! The lady fern is so beautiful! I didn’t realise it also grew in North America!

    My favourite fern is blechnum spicant, an unusual looking fern that grows by water in old forests in the UK. I also love the wall ferns, asplenium ruta murarium and asplenium nigrum, always wonderful to see old walls draped in these lovely little ferns.

    1. Lady fern is actually a native plant here and it seems to do well there too! Your ferns sound absolutely gorgeous especially growing along old walls.

  20. A nice fern as you say for form. I have it and a number of other varieties of fern, mostly those for color, like Caramel, Coffee and Painted.

    1. I love Painted Fern too and have several that I would like to move to better spots….they are amazing for color!

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