Fern plants are a type of vascular plant that belongs to the Polypodiopsida
class of plants. They are also some of the oldest plants in the world. According to some estimates, there are over 10,000 species of ferns.
Unlike many other types of plants, ferns don’t produce flowers. Most fern
species have fronds composed of blade-like leaves attached to a stem.
In the wild, the tallest ferns can grow to around 82 ft.
Scientific classification distinguishes
between "true ferns" and several closely-related types of
plants known as "fern allies".
The corresponding divisions in the plant kingdom are:
- Pteridophyta - "true ferns"
- Lycopodiophyta - clubmosses, spikemosses
- Equisetophyta - horsetails and
- Psilotophyta - whisk ferns
- Ophioglossophyta - adders-tongues and
I learned something new!
Several non-fern plants are called ferns, and even some "animals",
like air ferns, are sometimes
confused with them.
I did not know that air ferns were actually animals.
Some flowering plants such as palms and members of the carrot family have leaves that
resemble fern fronds. These are a great addition to a
fern-based garden design, or for designing a foliage or rainforest garden.
- Asparagus fern—This may apply to one of several species of the monocot
genus Asparagus, which are flowering plants.
- Sweetfern—A flowering shrub of the genus Comptonia.
- Air fern—A group of animals called hydrozoan that are distantly related
to jellyfish and corals. They are harvested, dried, dyed green, and then
sold as a plant that can live on air. While it may look like a fern, it is
merely the skeleton of this animal.
- Fern bush—Chamaebatiaria millefolium—a rose family shrub with
- Fern tree—Jacaranda mimosifolia—an ornamental tree of the order
- Fern leaf tree—Filicium decipiens—an ornamental tree of the
In many countries, "ferneries" are indoors, or at least sheltered or kept in a
shadehouse, to provide a humid environment, filtered light and protection from
frost and other extremes. But some ferns are native to arid regions require
protection from rain and humid conditions, and grow best in full sun. In mild
climates, ferneries are often outside and have an array of different species
that grow under similar conditions.
In 1859, the Fernery at Tatton Park Gardens, beside Tatton Hall, had been built
to a design by George Stokes, to the
west of the conservatory to house tree ferns from New Zealand and a collection
of other ferns.
In 1874, the fernery in Benmore Botanic
Garden (Edinburgh), was built by a plant collector named James Duncan. This was a large and expensive project, since the fernery was based in
a heated conservatory. In 1992, it was listed Historic Scotland for its
architectural and botanical value, and has been described by the Royal Commission
on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland as “extremely rare and
unique in its design”.
In 1903, Hever Castle in Kent was acquired and restored by
an American millionnaire, William Waldorf Astor, who used it as a family residence. He added
the Italian Garden, including a fernery, to display his collection of statuary
Ferns are a subject of legends featuring mythical flowers or
Slavic folklore, ferns are believed to bloom once a year, during the Ivan Kupala
night. Although alleged to be exceedingly difficult to find, anyone who sees a
fern flower is thought to be guaranteed to be happy and rich for the rest of
-Finnish tradition is that anyone who finds the seed of a
fern in bloom on Midsummer Night will, by possession of it, be guided and be
able to travel invisibly to the locations where eternally blazing Will o' the
wisps called Aarnivalkea mark the spot of hidden treasure. These spots are
protected by a spell that prevents anyone but the fern seed-holder from ever
knowing their locations.
the US, ferns are thought to have magical properties. A dried fern can be
thrown into hot coals of a fire to exorcise evil spirits, and smoke from a
burning fern is thought to drive away snakes and other such creepy creatures.
Ferns in Your Gardens
Ferns are native to woodlands and forests,
and re-creating their native environment is the best way to ensure your ferns
will thrive. Most will not grow well in full sun, but ferns like the cinnamon
fern and the lady fern tolerate more sun than most.
Ferns love dirt that is rich in nutrients
and organic matter, which mimics the leaf-strewn soil of their forest homes.
When planting, add generous amounts of leaf mulch or other composted material,
and top dress the plants annually with a mulch of organic matter, such as pine
needles or bark.
Select a location for planting that has rich
soil and plenty of organic matter, or amend your soil to replicate that. The
site should be in partial to full shade, or indirect morning sun.
Dig a hole large enough for the root
ball. Mix some compost/manure into the soil at the bottom of the hole and place
the fern in the hole with the top of the root ball at grade. Backfill with soil,
firming the top to keep the plant from toppling over. Water generously for the
first few weeks until the plant is acclimated.
If you are planting multiple ferns, note
that most ferns multiply by underground rhizomes, so leave space between them to
allow for growth. If planting in a container garden,
no need to worry about spreading and invasion. I like a "mobile
garden" plan, so that i can move and redesign my gardens and not have to
dig anything up. I also want to avoid weeding and trying to get weeds out
through the airy and feathery fronds of ferns. Been there and I don't like that
Care and Feeding Your
Ferns prefer moist but not soggy soil. Ferns
that are growing in sunlight or in containers will dry out quicker than plants
in the ground and in the shade.
Fertilize your garden ferns monthly in
spring and summer with organic fertilizers like epsom
salts or fish emulsion. In the northern part of the U.S., your ferns will
usually die back in winter, or you can cut them back in fall.
Ferns are unique in that they do not produce
seeds or flowers. They reproduce by way of spores that form on the underside of
the fronds. In nature, these spores are spread by the wind. You can try planting
them yourself by shaking them from a mature leaf and placing in potting soil. It
may take several months for them to sprout. Remember that in the garden,
wind-blown spores will create new plants, so show diligence, if necessary, in
order to keep them from spreading in areas you want to keep them out of. If you
are growing a naturalized or wild area, the wind is your friend!
Pruning ferns is unnecessary. They usually
die to the ground in winter, and in the spring, new fronds will pop up from the
central cluster to start the growing season. Dead leaves can be gathered up and
cleared away. I cut dead fronds from mine for aesthetic reasons if the plant is
showcased or somewhere highly visible.
Pests and diseases
Most ferns are hardy plants with very few
pests. Common infestations include mealy bugs, nematodes, and mites. If you can
catch them early enough, it’s possible to prune away the infested leaves and
save the plant. Diseases common to ferns include bacteria blight, leaf tip burn,
and blight. Always clear away dead leaves and debris in the spring to
avoid the possibility of fungal diseases on the plants.
My favorites are
Japanese Painted and Cinnamon Ferns.
Some ferns grow pretty tall, and can be grown as tree-or shrub-like focal points
in a shade garden, zen garden or fernery.
always, check the USDA hardiness zones and choose the plants that will grow and
thrive in your region.
Japanese Painted Fern
Marginal Wood Fern
Crested Buckler Fern
Lady in Red Fern
Silver Falls Japanese Painted
can download this awesome and free 1894 Illustrated book about
ferns and their care in .pdf format.
Download is approximately 10 mb in size. Make sure you have room for it
on your hard drive.
the book to begin your free download.
More ideas for using ferns
in your garden designs are on our
Use one of the free shady garden design plans that you
substituting ferns for some, or all of the plants listed.
Click the pic
on the left if you wish
to view collections of vintage fern illustrations
curated collections of vintage botanical
illustrations and nature graphics available for download
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