Dryopteris is the most numerous genus of ferns, with over 200 species and many hybrids. They are attractive ornamental ferns, with upright arching fronds that look great in mixed borders with other perennials.

Many species are evergreen. When the fiddleheads are unfurling, many of the Dryopteris have attractive scales in the tips, as well as along the base of the stipe in mature fronds.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, mostly everyone is familiar with the appearance of ferns in the woodlands. Big sword ferns nestle on the ground underneath the soaring cedars and Douglas firs, while maidenhair ferns daintily flutter as they cling to rocks along a waterfall. Deer ferns will be a surprise at eye level growing on the knobby bark of an old maple tree. Wood ferns are found in the forests, fields, and wet areas of the Northern Hemisphere, with many being found in eastern Asia and the Himalayas.

Ferns are also useful garden plants, especially in the shade garden or the woodland garden. The numerous varieties of wood fern add softness and texture. They can be a filler plant in the shade garden, or since many Dryopteris are evergreen, they can be the striking feature plant. They combine particularly well with ornamental grasses, hostas and Farfugium.

Many Dryopteris have colorful new growth in shades of bronze or red. This enchanting feature nominates them for perfect contestants for containers and hanging baskets. A few wood ferns in a hanging basket could recreate the classic Boston fern baskets as seen hanging in the balconies of the French Quarter in New Orleans. The added bonus is wood ferns are hardy in our climate, and if you pick an evergreen one, it will look good year round.

Dryopteris freely hybridize in the wild, making them sometimes difficult to identify, but also producing many different plants and features that makes them good ornamental plants. All the Dryopteris are sturdy, strong-growing garden plants with few problems which makes them easy and versatile. Best of all, they are virtually maintainence free.

Varieties at Portland Nursery include:

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Dryopteris cycadina (Dryopteris atrata) Shaggy Shield Fern

Evergreen with long, dark green fronds and serrated leaflet edges.

Fronds grow in an arching habit with black stems, about 2-3' tall and 18-24" wide.

Black stems on new growth.

Zones 5-8.


Dryopteris erythrosora 'Brilliance' : Brilliant Autumn Fern

A cute evergreen fern with bronze new foliage making a dazzling contrast with the dark green older fronds.

It can take morning sun or shade all day, with a height and width of 18-24".

Great accent plant in a shade container, or winter color pot.

Hardiness Zones 5-9.

Dryopteris filix-mas 001

Dryopteris felix-mas: Male Fern

Evergreen to semi-evergreen fern, great for mass plantings or the woodland garden or border.

Easy to grow, vigorous species

Thrives partially shaded, moist areas growing 2-3' tall by 2' wide.

Zones 4-8.

Varieties include:

  • 'Barnseii' - especially verticle form
  • 'Linearis Polydactyla' - Finely cut, very lacey fronds
  • 'Parsley' - extra ruffled fronds

Dryopteris lepidopoda: Sunset fern

Evergreen with stunning bronze, pink and golden new growth.

Grows 24-30" tall and wide in a moist shady or partially shaded area

Hardy in zones 6-9

Dryopteris tokyoensis kz2

Dryopteris tokyoensis: Tokyo Wood Fern

Deciduous, apple green fronds grow 18-36" tall.

Extremely erect fronds create a strong vertical presence

Full to part shade.

Zones 5-8

Ferns for year-round interest.

Ferns add a delicate backdrop for any woodland or perennial garden.