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Native Ferns and Their Environmental Benefits

Native Ferns and Their Benefits

Ferns are so widespread that there are more than twelve thousand fern species worldwide! Ferns can adapt to almost any climate, and they can thrive in cooler, temperate zones or warm and humid tropical regions.

In the eastern United States, native ferns often form a large part of the natural landscape, especially in shady woodlands. Their airy, delicate shapes with serrated leaves are instantly recognizable. 

A lot of foragers love searching for fern fiddleheads, which are young ferns that haven't fully opened yet, that can be used to create various dishes. Some restaurants have fiddleheads on their spring menus as a seasonal delicacy. This brings a touch of spring to the table, making the dining experience a lot more special.

Most native ferns are deciduous and do not produce pollen or nectar, though sometimes the fronds are eaten by various wildlife. They also provide microhabitats for various insects and other creatures that live in woodland settings and provide shade and shelter for ground-feeding birds, turtles, and frogs. They will usually spread throughout a shady area over time. Ferns go dormant naturally and don’t need special pruning, though you may wish to remove the leaves once they turn brown in late autumn or parched weather. 

Ferns Improve Soil Health

Although some ferns are delicious and nutritious, planting ferns is also a great way to boost the health of the soil in your garden. Adding ferns to your garden is not only a good design choice but one that will improve the health of your soil. Ferns help with soil stabilization because they will grow in conditions many plants won’t, such as heavy clay soils or acidic soils. Ferns form thick rhizomes and roots that can help prevent soil erosion, as they can grow on slopes and in between rocks. 

Ferns Are Good for the Environment and Your Health

Native ferns also have the helpful ability to pull toxic materials from the soil, including heavy metals and arsenic. The process of removing pollutants from the soil is known as phytoremediation. They can also absorb airborne pollutants, including toluene, formaldehyde, and xylene, which can cause various adverse health issues, including headaches, breathing problems, and even cancer.

Native Ferns Species

Below are a few native ferns that will provide years of beauty and many environmental benefits for your garden:

Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) 

The Ostrich fern, famous for its size, can reach heights of up to 6 feet, standing out as a giant among fern species. Its lush, bushy leaves resemble the feathery plumes of an ostrich, but the plant's size is most likely the true inspiration behind its name. Just like ostriches are much bigger than other birds, so is this fern compared to its siblings.The Ostrich fern does best in moist and fertile soil with organic matter (such as in thick forest underbrush with decaying plant matter). These ferns have large rhizomes and will spread quickly in a shady setting, so make sure to give them some room. They are essential for wildlife habitats and they are commonly seen growing throughout forests in the Northeast.

Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum)

This is a more miniature deciduous fern that grows between 12-18 inches tall. The stems of the Maidenhair fern are relatively thin, and the fiddleheads are reddish. This fern does well in moist, rich, loam soil. It is popular amongst home gardeners for its smaller size, which allows for more design flexibility.

Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) 

This deciduous fern usually grows between 2-3 feet tall, but in ideal conditions, may grow as tall as 5 feet. The Royal Fern likes rich, acidic soil that is relatively moist. It has large and well-separated leaves, giving them a sculptural appearance. This large fern does well alongside ponds, swamps, or other moist, boggy areas. Give it plenty of space, and it will spread beautifully.

Leatherwood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis) 

This evergreen fern has dark green leaves and usually grows to about 2 feet tall. Its fronds are very distinctive, with delicate serrated leaves. The Leatherwood fern does best in moist, rich soil with good drainage. It’s very hardy and, unlike many other native ferns, does not spread quickly or invasively in the garden. This fern prefers places sheltered from strong winds. 

Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum Cinnamomum) 

Named for its spicy fragrance as it matures, this large fern also has edible fiddleheads. Growing up to 3 feet tall, the Cinnamon fern prefers a moist, boggy environment and is often seen growing alongside swampy ground in woodland areas and meadows on the outskirts of forests. The soft fronds are a nutritious food source for some wildlife, including wild turkeys and ruffed grouse.

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) 

Growing 1 to 3 feet tall, these evergreen ferns have a thick, leathery appearance to their bright green leaves. Their growth habit makes them striking, as they have a full, upright fountain shape. The Christmas ferns are more adaptable to soil conditions than others and tolerate somewhat dry soil. They can also be grown as houseplants and will grow beautifully in a pot in a shady spot.

New York Fern (Thelypteris noveboracensis) 

The New York fern is another fern that is adaptable to different soil conditions and will thrive in dry or moist soils. This attractive fern is on the shorter side, growing from 12-24 inches tall, and has delicate, tiny leaves that give it an airy look in the garden. The fronds are narrow at the base and tip and broader in the middle, giving them an unusual, curved shape.

This fern provides food for the caterpillars of two specific moths: the Pink-shaded Fern moth and the Close-banded Yellowhorn moth. Despite not producing flowers, this fern still provides food for what will eventually become pollinators!

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If you have any questions about ferns or if you have any other plant needs, don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected], we’d love to hear from you!
Ostrich Fern - TN Nursery

Ostrich Fern

The Ostrich Fern is a large, deciduous fern with graceful, feathery fronds that resemble ostrich plumes. It is commonly found in moist woodland areas and is prized for its ornamental value. The plant is a magnificent and beneficial plant with several advantages in landscaping projects. The Tall and Lovely Ostrich Fern Ostrich Fern is an attractive dimorphic plant that gardeners use all year round to beautify their patches. In its nonfertile state, the plant grows to a height of 6 feet, the gorgeous fronds resembling plumes, hence the plant's name. In its fertile state, which occurs in the fall and early winter, it is much smaller. However, The shape is attractive, so it still provides pleasing shapes in a garden, even if that shape changes. The Different Phases of Ostrich Fern When nonfebrile, it is a rich, almost Kelly green, the arching fronds swooshing enticingly in the breeze. It contrasts with other blooming plants and serves as a color anchor in a garden of flowers. They're hardy, too, so you can plant them nearly anywhere to beautify a particular place. Although they aren't green and sweeping in the winter, they're still attractive as they survive the cold and snow while the perennials sleep until spring. First, Ostrich Fern's extensive root system is an excellent soil stabilizer, and the other plants in the garden will benefit thereby because its roots prevent erosion and nutrient loss in the soil. Second, they are a boon to various garden-dwelling wildlife. Several species of butterflies and beneficial insects rely on plants like it for shelter and as a place for egg laying and pupae maturation. Perhaps best of all, although fiddleheads are a delicacy for people when cooked, animals don't like their taste. So, you won't have to worry about rabbits, deer, and other woodland creatures venturing into the garden for a snack. The Serenity Of Ostrich Fern Feng shui practitioners rely on it to bring harmony to a dwelling and the adjacent garden. The way it morphs back into a verdant, thriving plant after being so much smaller throughout the winter also indicates a symbolism of new beginnings.

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Christmas Fern - TN Nursery

Christmas Fern

Christmas ferns are known for their evergreen fronds that stay green throughout the winter, making them a popular choice for holiday decorations. An evergreen plant that offers numerous landscaping benefits. Its elegant appearance, resilience, and adaptability make it a favorite choice for professional landscapers and homeowners alike. One of the key advantages of incorporating it into landscaping is its aesthetic appeal. Add Year-Round Cover With Christmas Fern The fronds of Christmas ferns are distinctive for their lustrous, dark green coloration. The crownless rootstock produces clusters of fronds that can be one to two feet long. Wintertime sees the delicate, light-green leaves changing color from green to golden. They are great for covering uneven terrain since they spread slowly from dormant rhizomes and develop in clusters. These native plants keep their greenery throughout the year to start photosynthesis earlier. The presence of chlorophyll, which indicates the photosynthesis process is underway, is indicated by the color green. These plants do not flower. They are spore-borne rather than gametophytic. However, they boast verdant foliage from April to the first frost; these silvery green baby fronds, known as fiddleheads, emerge in the early spring as new leaves. Protect the Yard From Soil Erosion With Christmas Fern Christmas Ferns keep their fronds in winter; they press down on fallen leaves to hasten their decomposition and provide nutrients to the soil. This goes a long way in protecting the yard against soil erosion. These plants also stop soil erosion by using their roots to bind the soil together. Plus, when planted firmly in the ground, they create thick barriers made of stems that reduce the rate at which water flows through them. Create Natural Landscapes With Christmas Fern A lot of people like to plant it in their yards because of the texture and foliage they provide. They do a great job at creating natural-looking landscapes. The fact that they are hardy enough to survive light snowfall and cold makes them perfect for winter gardening. They can also handle a large range of soil types and flourish in partly shady or entirely shaded locations. Birds, insects, and even small mammals may find food and refuge under them. The dense vegetation provides excellent cover for ground-dwelling species. The plants conceal prey from predators by shading other animals and invertebrates that feed on the ground.

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maidenhair fern - TN Nursery

Maidenhair Fern

The Maidenhair Fern is a delicate, deciduous plant with finely divided, fan-shaped fronds and distinctive black stems, adding an elegant touch to shaded gardens and moist woodlands. It is an aesthetically pleasing plant that offers a range of benefits when used in landscaping. Its unique characteristics and visual appeal make it famous for outdoor and indoor spaces.  The Maidenhair is prized for its delicate leaves and long lifespan. The scientific name is Adiantum SPP, and it's part of 250 species of these plants, including the Northern, Delta, and Southern Maidenhair ferns. The Greek part of the plant's official name means unwetted, and it gets that name from its ability to shed water without getting damp. These plants are native to the Himalayas, East Asia, and the eastern part of North America. Maidenhair Fern's Leaves  Adiantum spp are prized for their fan-shaped leaves. They are known to make excellent houseplants and usually grow between one and two feet tall and the same width. Their stems are wiry black, while the leaves are bright green. Gardeners can expect them to reach their full height in three years, and with proper care, they can live up to 15 years. Maidenhair Fern Grows Well In Pots  Adiantum SPP grows well in pots, containers, and terrariums and can be replanted as it outgrows its container. It also makes great container plants and can be planted in shade gardens and hosta gardens. The Adiantum SPP is known for its air purification qualities. The leaves draw in airborne toxins and are used as nutrients, helping them clean the air wherever they are planted. They also release moisture, which can help combat dry indoor air. When the Adiantum SPP is grown outdoors, it can help stabilize loose soil and cover wildlife, including frogs, lizards, and birds. Birds will sometimes use the dried frons to line their nests. Companion Plants For Maidenhair Fern  The Adiantum SPP can be grown with other flowers and ferns, including the strawberry begonia, coral bells, ginger, woodland geraniums, bloodroot, hostas, hellebores, and pulmonarias. Gardeners can enjoy the calmness of Maidenhair Ferns indoors and outdoors. They make excellent potted plants and look wonderful around water features and along hillsides. They can also be combined with other ferns and flowers to create eye-catching garden beds.

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Royal Fern - TN Nursery

Royal Fern

The Royal Fern is a large, striking fern with feathery fronds and a distinctive crown of fertile fronds. It is typically found in wetland habitats and is appreciated for its ornamental appeal in gardens. The Royal Fern is distinctive from other plants in the class because of its notable size. Specifically, this is one of the largest that grows outside of tropical zones in the United States. Also known as the osmunda regalis, the plant thrives in areas of the yard that are moist, including both shady and partially shady spots. Why should you include it in your landscaping plans? The Appearance Of Royal Fern The plant is appropriately named because it can grow up to six feet tall, and its size at maturity often makes it a solid focal point in yards. The fronds can be as comprehensive as 16 inches and feature up to nine pinna pairs, each with up to 13 pinnules. These qualities, combined with the healthy green color and the point shape of the fronts, add a rich texture to your yard that elevates aesthetics. The Wildlife Attraction and Tolerance Of Royal Fern While some wildlife is welcome in your yard, others can cause considerable damage and should be deterred. The potential damage from foragers like deer and rabbits is deterred as these animals do not use this plant for food. However, turtles, birds, and frogs, which generally do not cause damage, often seek shelter in their bushy leaves. Royal Fern is Pest Resistant While hungry insects often feed on various types of plants, it is well-known for repelling them. Specifically, the recognizable leaves have particular proteins that repel many kinds of insects. Any insects that do find their way to these plants often become food for the birds and other animals that live under the fronds for protection from the elements and their natural predators. When Royal Ferns are planted three feet apart, as recommended, there is little concern about them outgrowing their allocated space. The plants grow only a few inches yearly and do not need to be cut back to prevent overgrowth. As a result, it takes many years for the plant to reach its full size, and minimal care of this low-maintenance plant is required.

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Cinnamon Fern - TN Nursery

Cinnamon Fern

The Cinnamon Fern is a large deciduous plant characterized by its distinctive, brown-colored fertile fronds standing upright in the center. It is captivating and versatile and has numerous landscaping benefits. This plant, native to eastern North America, has become famous for gardeners and landscapers due to its aesthetic appeal, adaptability, and environmental contributions. Cinnamon Fern grows to a height of 6 feet and spreads about 4 feet on its black stalks. The unfurled pinnae are Kelly green on top, while the fronds in the center of the plant, which give it its name, are dark brown and resemble sticks of cinnamon because they grow straight up. Cinnamon Fern In The Springtime Early in the spring, the central fronds that turn brown later start life as silver-colored fiddleheads. They're covered in fur, too, charmingly "shaking off the cold of winter." The broad fronds on the stalks form a cute rosette around the central stalks. The silver fiddleheads match well with Fescue or Brunner. Those fiddleheads appear early in the year when the top of the plant is clumped together in a cute bundle. As the Cinnamon Fern Opens When the fiddleheads are ready to open, their silver hair turns brown and clings to the base of the pinnae as they expand to their full glory. The large, broad pinnae on 3-foot fronds is the sterile variety. In the center of the plant, the brown-colored fronds with much smaller pinnae are the fertile fronds. The plant's attractiveness comes from the contrast between the two frond types. Secondarily, the contrast between the expanded fronds and any nearby silver flowers they used to match is equally striking. When it comes to the sterile fronds, they can hold almost two dozen pinnae that taper gently in size from large to small, creating a shape that nearly resembles a palm frond made up of pinnae. The Sporangia Of The Cinnamon Fern This plant doesn't have sori. Instead, it has sporangia that surround the stalk of the fertile frond. These turn brown as they open and give the plant its name. Up close, they're made up of tiny dots that wrap around the stalk in delicate, beautiful shapes. From the time the plants peek through until the fiddleheads unfurl, it is about a week during the spring. During this time, you can see the shape of the pinnae and fronds develop and become full members of the garden for that year. Cinnamon Fern makes an attractive, striking, and attention-grabbing entry in any garden, and because they're perennial, they'll be back every year to be a lovely garden anchor.

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Thelypteris noveboracensis - TN Nursery

New York Fern

The New York Fern is a native, deciduous species with delicate, lacy fronds and a distinctive appearance, commonly found in Eastern North American woodlands. These medium-sized ferns offer a delightful display of yellow-green fronds that carpet the forest floor. The fern has a delicate blade shape with a triangular leaf structure. The plant's blade is most comprehensive in the middle and tapers sharply at both ends. The New York Fern is a type of plant that grows well throughout the eastern part of North America, and it's found in large numbers throughout New York. This perennial is what you need to fill specific spaces in your yard that would benefit from greenery but might not be as friendly towards some of the flowers that currently occupy your space. Let's see why this plant might fit your current landscape well. New York Fern Reduces Soil Erosion and Weed Growth The fern is typically used as ground cover in areas where grass and other plants don't do as well. As a result, filling these spaces comes with some benefits. First, this plant takes root to prevent soil erosion in areas where soil isn't being kept in place by root systems. As an added benefit, the growth of this lush green plant throughout your yard makes it difficult for weeds to take root, preventing unwanted weed growth. New York Ferns Absorbs Airborne Pollutants These plants are adept at capturing pollutants from the air, making it easier for you to breathe and enjoy your outdoor space. If you're constantly bothered by dust or pollen, consider adding this plant to your landscape and others known to improve air quality. Add Bio-Diversity To Your Garden With The New York Ferns Biodiversity is essential on any property, and you'll find that this plant is a friend to local wildlife. For example, this ground cover is known to serve as an excellent cover for certain animals like toads. The better news? It's not a plant typically sought after by larger animals like deer, which means it will cover other animals until the cold weather comes in. New York Fern is a fast-growing plant that will quickly establish itself in your space, and trailing rhizomes will constantly be shooting up additional fronds that provide an even thicker look to your space. If you're looking for something hard to ruin and will start thriving in specific spaces almost immediately, this is the ground cover to go with.

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