Simply The Best Natives-Christmas Fern


“Only spread a fern-frond over a man’s head and worldly cares are cast out, and freedom and beauty and peace come in.”  ~John Muir



During this holiday season, it seemed a perfect time to profile a special native fern, Christmas fern, also known as Polystichum acrostichoides.  This evergreen fern is part of the Wood Fern Family (Dryopteridaceae), and it is said that wood ferns can usually be found to grow close by Christmas ferns.  It is native to eastern North America from Nova Scotia and Minnesota east and south to Florida and over to eastern Texas.  It is a common fern found in moist stream banks, swamps, thickets and dry and moist woods.

DSCN9932The name Polystichum comes from the Greek ‘polys‘, meaning many and ‘stichos‘, meaning row referring to the spores that are in many rows.  The name Christmas fern comes from the way the fronds remain evergreen right through the beginning of winter or later, and from the idea that the pinna or section of the frond resembles the shape of a stocking….look at the picture above to see if you think that is true.

One of the reasons I love this fern is because of its evergreen quality making it stand out among the brown leaf litter.  And it is an unusual fern appearing almost leathery, glossy and a bit coarse.  It grows from the roots without a crown up to 2 feet tall once it has been growing for a while.  I have moved mine around a bit so they are still getting established, and the pictures here show a small plant.  They are said to have silvery fiddleheads which I will have to watch for in spring.


As I profile this wonderful native fern, I am linking in with Gail@Clay and Limestone for her Wildflower Wednesday meme, and Diana@Elephant’s Eye at False Bay for her Dozen for Diana monthly meme. 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 including this wonderful fern.




Growing Conditions

Christmas ferns grow in part shade to full, even deep shade, from zone 3-10.  They can tolerate drought better thanIMG_9872 most ferns, but not wet conditions or too much sun.  And they do prefer organic, cool, moist to dry soil so you should amend your clay soil.  They do like sandy soil.   I find allowing leaves to mulch around the fern allows the soil to stay moist.

They are easy to establish but they do not naturalize and spread beyond the clump increasing in size over time.  These ferns have no serious insect or disease problems except they can develop rot if allowed to sit in water.  It is also good to remove brown fronds in spring as new growth emerges.

You can propagate this fern through root divisions.  They do produce spores on the narrower fronds that will appear to die in mid-summer. 




Benefits to Wildlife 

DSCN9929Ferns in general are not often eaten by mammals such as deer or rabbits making them a good plant for your shade garden.

Many ground feeding and ground nesting birds like to use ferns for their habitat or home.  Wild turkeys and Ruffed Grouse are 2 such birds that are attracted to masses of ferns like Christmas fern.





DSCN9931The Christmas fern, is a popular plant to use in perennial, native plant and shade gardens.  They are easy to grow and adapt to a wide variety of growing conditions especially wet and dry shade, wall gardens, foundations and as a groundcover.

I have read that this fern is also good for controlling erosion on slopes.

Christmas ferns have been a popular fern to grow indoors since Victorian times.  They like morning sun and afternoon shade with evenly moist soil and misting once a week.  I may just try my hand at growing these indoors.




Folklore and Tales 

DSCN9934Native Americans people are said to have used this fern to treat a variety of ailments such as chills, fevers, pneumonia, stomach issues and rheumatism.

Some tribes used the fiddleheads for food.

Early settlers learned, from Native Americans, to use this plant for ailments and food. And many used this fern as a Christmas decoration because of its evergreen quality.





Do you grow Christmas fern?  What is your favorite fern?




RURAL Donna1


Don’t forget to check out the latest issue of RURAL, a free on-line magazine which is the creation of Jen@ The Light Laughed.  You can read an excerpt of my story, Winter’s Gifts, in this Christmas/Winter issue of RURAL. I am pleased to be featured in with so many creative and talented folks.  You can subscribe to RURAL here.





In A Vase On Monday  



In celebration of the holiday season and this profile post, I am using Christmas Fern in a vase.  I placed the arrangement in a favorite shamrock vase.




holiday vase collage

  The rose hips are from my native, Swamp Rose or Rosa palustris.  And the other greenery is boxwood.




holiday vase 3

I created more abstract pictures for this festive collage. 


I am joining in with a few memes this week as I prepare this vase:  Cathy@Rambling in the Garden for her wonderful meme, In a Vase on Monday, and Judith@Lavender Cottage who hosts Mosaic Monday.



Next up on the blog:  

On Monday as we begin the New Year, I will be showing some views of the garden from December.

I will be 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 Monday.



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, 2010-2015.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only. 

100 Replies to “Simply The Best Natives-Christmas Fern”

    1. Indeed a wonderful fern for garden and house Sara, and perfectly named plant and vase I thought for the holiday time. Here’s to an interesting winter ahead, as it may be topsy turvy it seems. And the garden season, well it may be starting now! Happy 2016!

  1. I also have Christmas ferns in my shade gardens. I have had them for several years and they on my personal list of easy plants to grow. I also have Autumn Brilliance Ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora)and Tassel Ferns (Polystichum polyblepharum) which are both evergreen in my Virginia Zone 7 climate. All are easy to grow.

    Your vase for today is very pretty.

  2. Good morning, I have not heard of the Christmas Fern, thank for sharing the info. Does it grow wild, I see many ferns in the woods next to our house. I will have to look for it. Your vase and arrangement are lovely. I wish you all the best in 2016, Happy New Year!

    Happy Monday, enjoy your new week!

  3. Donna, I do have Christmas fern in my shade garden and love it ~ evergreen and bringing some color and life in winter. What a festive holiday vase. Happy New Year! 🙂

    1. Oh that is wonderful to have so many wild ferns there Sallie! And yes rose hips make a wonderful vase especially festive thankfully as there isn’t much else growing in the garden. I try to keep many for birds as some will eat the hips in winter. Happy New Year!

  4. Donna, the fern and box set off those rose hips for a great arrangement. I like that first photo especially, would make a lovely card.

  5. I love ferns. There are quite a few of them in my garden, all brought of native plant growers in NJ. But, as usual, I’ve forgotten the names. So, 2016 is going to be a year for me when I will try to remember names of all the plants in my garden and label them.

    I know rose-hips are used as food, medicines, in salad. Do you know how to use them? I have so many rose hips. I’m thinking of experimenting with them as I don’t see birds eating them.

    You have so many nice vases and you really know how to arrange things in them :-). Beautiful.

    By the way, what do you think of some kind of gardeners fling for those of us who are in the east coast. So, perhaps some of us can come together to spend some quality weekend time in some resort somewhere in east-coast? I’m thinking of it as I think it might be fun.

    1. Your ferns sound wonderful…I actually have not read up on eating and using rose hips but will for future reference. I know the next Fling is in Minnesota so it might be nice to see if some gardeners can get together on the east coast maybe later or earlier….I am unsure if I can finally make a trip out to the Fling in MN this year….but an east coast get together would be fun…lots of planning though…where, when, what…well you know all that.

      Wishing you a Happy New Year my friend.

  6. What a lovely post. I do like ferns and we have a plethora out this way. We have them in our yard and of course in our woods. I have no favorite well maybe the Maidenhair would qualify.

  7. Your mosaic images are lovely Donna. I don’t have Christmas fern, but it looks like a lovely plant to grow. I’m trying to overwinter a couple of Boston ferns in hanging baskets that I got last garden season. My goodness they do dry out and shed lots of leaves. Enjoy the week.

  8. Your festive collages are so effective Donna and the fern and swamp rose berries look perfect with the red candle. Thanks for sharing

    1. I did have fun putting some decorations with the vase this time….I just don’t do it often enough….happy you enjoyed the vase Cathy!

  9. Your rose hips look so dark red and shiny, very pretty! The Christmas fern looks nice with them. I prefer evergreen ferns too, I have one, unfortunately not a native, but with very leathery broad leaves that holds up very well in a dry spot without wilting and turning brown, Cyrtomium fortunei. I like your mosaics, they add a lot of charm to your arrangement.

  10. I especially like to see them in their native woods. To see the tips just brushed by the sun and masses of them is wonderful.

  11. I’ll have to look for the Christmas fern when I’m finally ready to plant the shady area along the street. My own favorite, moderately drought tolerant ferns are the leatherleaf fern (Rumohra adiantiformis) and the bird’s nest fern (Asplenium x Austral Gem). I’m not sure why I never think to use them in a vase! The fern looks splendid in yours this week.

    1. Thanks Kris…yes check out Christmas fern for your area…not sure they are going to be drought tolerant enough, but you never know.

  12. One of my favorite ferns as well. It really shows up in the woods this time of year. I’m not familiar with the swamp rose, it is beautiful. All we have are those dreadful R. multifloras!

  13. Thanks for the info about this plant, which I did not know about. Your arrangement is lovely. Best Wishes for the New Year! -Beth

  14. I think I’ve seen this fern before, but never knew that it was called a Christmas fern. It’s the perfect decor during the holidays!

  15. I’m pretty sure I planted a Christmas fern with a few others behind my garden shed but most of them died within a year. I may have to try again and perhaps amend the soil.
    Spectacular rose hips and they make a nice arrangement in the vase with some fern fronds.
    Thank you for participating in Mosaic Monday each week Donna, you bring a wealth of gardening knowledge to the meme.
    All the best for 2016 Donna.

  16. I love ferns, and I have a lot to learn about them. This post is one I am going to return to, to read and assimilate during the week. Thanks for taking the time to share all this. Love your vase with the rose hips.

    1. How lucky to have so many naturally occurring Janet and Cinnamon fern is wonderful! And how sweet your lovely compliment…it means so much to me my friend!

  17. Oh your fern must look good in the garden Donna and always combines so well with the rose hips in your vase. I’m off to do some research to see whether it it is a fern that’s available on this side of the pond. A great quote – ferns are most tranquil plants 🙂

  18. Dearest Donna; Oh, I could finally find your blog 🙂 You must have lots of knowledge about plants, “like specialist” and you have wonderful blog♡♡♡
    I really LOVED your pretty collages fit for the season♪

    Thank you SO much for your visits this year, I really appreciate tham and so sorry haven’ visited you.
    Wishing you will have a wonderful and happy coming Year 2016, Dear friend☆☆☆
    Lots of Love and Hugs from Japan, xoxo Miyako*

    1. Oh Miyako how wonderful you found my blog….I am so happy to have you visit and that you liked the post. Wishing you a wonderful New Year my friend! ♡♡♡

  19. Your Christmas fern looks great!

    I tried growing one here in partial sun in Tennessee, but it did not thrive. Perhaps I don’t have enough shade for it…

  20. a beautiful fern, and i especially love ferns that are drought resistant. Love the collages of the vase. Nice Christmassy post. Happy new year, Donna.

  21. I love your Christmas Fern shares, so pretty!!! I have ordered just about every kind of Fern that will grow in zone 6 and that are deer friendly, and many of them are thriving. I adore them all. Happy New Year~

  22. Oh that is beautiful in a vase! I’ve never grown Christmas fern, as other ferns have a prettier shape to me, but the evergreen nature is quite a positive (especially when decorating around Christmastime)! Have a wonderful New Year!

    1. Thanks Indie….glad you enjoyed the vase. I think it is a wonderful fern growing naturally among large trees. I am hoping to add some among my large trees to add to the natural look that was scraped away by the developers.

    1. Thanks Paul…I have done many but I need to put them on their own page so folks can find them easier! Hoping to do this in the coming month! Have a great New Year Paul!

  23. Thank you Donna! I do love ferns, all of them! One of my favorites is Australian Tree Fern, but it’s not hardy in our zone. Sword fern is our native, and I have a lot of them! Have a Happy and Healthy New Year!

  24. Donna, a sweet and darling little fern. I should look for it in eastern Oklahoma too. We don’t give our natives enough credit. Thank you. I love your rosehips in that vase. They look like holly berries. Happy New Year!~~Dee

    1. Oh how very kind of you to say so Nadezda….I love to visit your blog too! Wishing you a healthy, happy New year!

  25. What an awesome post. Such interesting, factual, trivia. I was so interested. It’s amazing to me to read what the Native Americans would make use of all of nature’s abundance with such knowledge.
    And your photos [the outlined in Christmas trees and hearts…that was a fabulous effect] are all great.

    Happy New Year to you and your loved ones. May 2016 be prosperous and the good dreams; a reality.

    1. Thanks so much Anni for these kind words….It is amazing what our Native peoples used and how they lived off the land. Wishing you a blessed and abundant New Year!

  26. I think I have always confused Christmas Fern with Japanese Painted Fern! Thank you for this enlightenment. I must add these to my Violet Fern garden. Do you think they would grow well under a White Pine? Hmmm. I miss my garden and can’t wait to get back to her!

    1. I frequently forget to include soil acidity with these profiles so thanks for reminding me Kathy. Yes this fern likes acidic soil so under the pine would be great. It may need water until it is established.

      Cold and dusting of snow here and there now. So my garden is definitely frozen. I kiss it too!

  27. What a beautiful fern! I love ferns, we have so many beautiful species here in the Uk that it’s difficult to choose a favourite, but I love blechnum spicant which grows by rivers in ancient Scottish Highland woodlands and the various Asplenium species that like to grow in old walls.

    Happy New Year

    1. Oh the blechnum spicant is a beautiful fern….it must be beautiful to see it growing by the rivers. Wishing you a Happy New Year too!

  28. That’s a new one for me, never heard of Christmas fern before. I do have some ferns in my garden, most of them self-seeded in between paving slabs and rescued by me as tiny seedlings, but I have a few bought too. I think ferns belong in any garden setting, they are so versatile. Loved your vase, so adorable with the rosehips 🙂

  29. Happy New Year, Donna! Yes, I grow Christmas fern, or I should say it grows itself. I have transplanted quite a few of them from the wild valley behind my house to the fern glade inside my woodland garden. Definitely one of my favorites! I have to say, however, I do not see the Christmas stocking there.

    1. Happy New Year Deb! How lovely to have this fern in your splendid garden. I don’t see the stocking either…. 😉

Comments are closed.