licorice fern

Ferns & Other Spore-bearing Vascular Plants

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Here's some general information on common native ferns. See my encyclopedia for more details.


Scientific NameCommon NameComments
Adiantum aleuticum (A. pedatum) Northern maidenhair fern deciduous, 1-2.5 ft., some shade, moist - wet; this graceful fern, with its filmy leaflets and wiry black stems, is tougher than it appears. Tolerates winter cold and clay soil, but fades quickly in dry conditions; perfect for the edge of a shady pond or waterfall (Polypodiaceae)
Athyrium filix-femina lady fern deciduous, 3-5 ft., some shade, moist - wet; this large, vase - shaped fern is capable of spreading and becoming rather aggressive, but great for a wild woodland garden or shady, wet area (Polypodiaceae)
Blechnum spicant deer fern evergreen, 1-3 ft., some shade, moist; this clean - looking fern is wonderful with any shade - loving perennials, only the upright, spore - bearing fronds die back in winter, while the rest of the plant remains green (Polypodiaceae)
Dryopteris austriaca (D. expansa) shield or wood fern evergreen if mild, 1-3 ft., some shade, moist - dryish; a fairly large fern, but with finely - divided, delicate foliage, it is fairly drought tolerant and less aggressive than lady fern, so will do well in the moist to dryish shade garden (Polypodiaceae)
Equisetum hyemale common horsetail, scouring rush evergreen, 2-3 ft., full or part sun, moist - wet; some people confuse horsetails with bamboo (a large, fibrous grass), but they are only distantly related. The bold stems of common horsetail are photosynthetic, while the leaves are non - functional vestiges in whorls at stem nodes. Horsetails are a great addition to the sunny pond or wetland and can be kept in containers to control their spread (Equisetaceae)
Gymnocarpium dryopteris oak fern deciduous, 6-18 in., some shade, moist; a small, delicate fern for the moist shade garden; underground rhizomes spread and oak fern can be used as a fine, lacy groundcover under taller shade plants (Polypodiaceae)
Polypodium glycyrrhiza licorice fern deciduous summer, 6-18 in., some shade, various substrates, moist in winter; this is the fern seen hanging from large bigleaf maple boughs in the winter, but it can also live in soil or rocky areas, stumps and logs. The rhizomes of this handsome fern are licorice - flavored. The plants are dormant during the dry summer months, but new fronds appear in the fall (Polypodiaceae)
Polystichum munitum sword fern evergreen, 2-5 ft., some shade, moist - dryish; this big, tough fern can tolerate the dry shade under conifers and makes a fine background plant for the shady woodland garden. Does best with some shade, but tolerates a wide range of conditions and is often a dominant species along streambanks (Polypodiaceae)
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