Sensitive Fern

Everything you need to know about the Sensitive Fern

This article seeks to answer any and all questions you may have about the Sensitive Fern. Here, you will find fern facts, a care guide, and different buying options for ferns. Feel free to reach out if you have any additional questions about the sensitive fern. 

Ferns are prehistoric

Ferns are some of the oldest plants still alive today. They are so old that they predate the dinosaurs!

While most plants and animals evolve over time or eventually die out, ferns are a reliable constant. Most of the ferns we have today are similar or even the same as the ferns that were growing when dinosaurs walked the earth.
They have managed to survive for so long due to their adaptability and reproduction habits. Because they reproduce by spores and rhizomes, they have been able to continue growing for millennia. 

Sensitive Fern Background

The sensitive fern is a deciduous perennial plant that is native to eastern North America. While it has a tendency to spread, it is not invasive in its native habitat.

The scientific name for the sensitive fern is Onoclea sensibilis. It gets the name 'sensitive' from how sensitive it is to frost and drought.
While its fronds are sensitive to frost, it is still a perennial meaning that it returns yearly. This fern can be easily identified by its triangular fronds and large leaflets. It is also referred to as a bead fern because its sori resemble beads.

What are Its Growing Habits?

The sensitive fern has been found naturally along streams, riverbanks, marshes, open fields, and near wetlands. It grows best in moist, well-draining soils and prefers slightly acidic soil. 
The sensitive fern will thrive under the right conditions. It requires dapple shade and for its soil to be consistently moist. It will wild and decline if it is exposed to the sun for too long or if the soil dries out.
Because the sensitive fern is deciduous, it loses its vegetation in the winter when the frost comes. Then in the late summer or fall, it grows its fiddle heads that turn into fronds. 
The sensitive fern can reproduce in two ways: by spores or rhizome.
Unless its sterile, a sensitive fern will have tiny bead-like pouches on its leaves called sori. The sori release spores which are too small for the eye to see. These spores are released into the envrionment and from them, new ferns can grow. 
The ferns also reproduce by rhizome. A rhizome is a modified stem that grows horizontally underground. From this stem, young fiddleheads can grow. A single rhizome stem can grow several feet across.

USDA Growing Zones for Sensitive Ferns

Knowing your grow zone will help when selecting a fern to purchase. Fortunately, ferns grow in almost every USDA zone. That being said, if you live in a warmer climate, we recommend that you provide ample shade and ensure the ferns receive enough water. 

Sensitive ferns have a wide growing range. Their USDA grow zones are from zone three to nine. This means that they will grow in nearly any zone, provided they have moist soil and enough shade.

Potential Toxicity

Humans and pets should not eat ferns or even fern parts. Some ferns have carcinogenic compounds and can lead to serious health issues.

Additionally, these ferns are toxic to livestock and should not be planted near pastures or farmland. As a result of their inedibility, all ferns are completely deer and rabbit resistant.

How To Grow a Sensitive Fern

Despite their delicate sounding name, sensitive ferns are sturdy plants. They are low maintenance once planted and are easy to take care of. Here is a short guide on how to successfully grow the sensitive fern:


  1. Identify the right planting location; these ferns grow best in shaded gardens and woodland gardens where they can spread
  2. Check your soil and make sure it’s free draining
  3. Buy a fern or multiple ferns 
  4. Avoid planting in summer. If you must, plant when its cool out like in the early evening
  5. Plant with the stems above the soil line
  6. Water thoroughly after planting

If you are having difficulty growing your ferns, try testing your soil if you haven't already. Inexpensive soil tests are available at most garden centers.

If your sensitive fern wilts, it may need to be relocated to a shadier area in your garden. It may also need to be watered more often.

Buying a Sensitive Fern

Tennessee Nursery has a wide range of ferns available, including the sensitive fern. We price our ferns affordably so you can create a luxurious garden at a fair price. Here are several ferns we offer through our online store: 

Sensitive fern

The sensitive fern grows in dapple shade and moist soil. It has large, jagged leaflets that originate from its large fronds. The sensitive fern can add a lush look to any shaded outdoor space.

Zones: 3 to 9
Sun exposure: Part shade to full shade
Mature height: up to 4 feet
Water: Average to moist
Best for woodlands and containers

Check out the Sensitive Fern product page here

Other ferns 

Cinnamon Fern

The cinnamon fern has large triangular fronds that wave in the breeze. It can grow fairly tall for a terrestrial fern and looks great in woodland gardens. Plus it's low maintenance and easy to keep healthy.

Zones: 3 to 9
Sun exposure: Part sun to part shade
Mature height: from 3 to 5 feet
Water: Average
Best for woodlands and containers
Check out the Cinnamon Fern product page here

Royal fern

The royal fern has an upright growth habit and grows in clumps. It's unique appearance makes it an ideal choice for any woodland or shade garden. Its fronds bear oblong deciduous leaves.
Zones: 3 to 9
Sun exposure: Full shade
Mature height: up to 3 feet
Water: Average
Best for woodlands and containers

Check out the Royal Fern product page here

Ostrich Fern

The ostrich fern is one of the most exotic-looking ferns available. Its long tapered fronds have an upright growth habit that bring a sense of serenity to an outdoor space. Its distinct look makes it one of our more popular products.
Zones: 3 to 7
Sun exposure: Full shade
Mature height: up to 4 feet
Water: Average
Best for woodlands and containers

Check out the Ostrich Fern product page here

Bracken Fern


The bracken fern is an exceptional woodland ground cover due to its spreading habit. It is one of the easiest ferns to grow and requires little maintenance if any. It can tolerate some sun and thrives in a range of soil conditions.

Zones: 3 to 9
Sun exposure: Full sun to part shade
Mature height: average of 3 feet but can grow up to 7 feet
Water: Average to dry
Best for woodlands and containers

Check out the Bracken Fern product page here

Fern Variety Pack (10 Ferns)

The variety a pack is an ideal choice for the gardener who wants a little everything. Whether you need to cover a large space or can't choose just one fern, this option is for you.

In the variety pack, you will receive ferns that vary in size, texture, and leaf-shape. Why choose just one fern when you can have ten?

Click here to view the Fern Variety Pack (10 plants) product page


If you are interested in ferns and want to see what all we have to offer, visit our Fern product page here. And if you have any questions about ferns, please reach out. We love talking plants with anyone who is interested!


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