Native Ferns

The majestic Sword Fern is one of first images that come to mind when someone says “Northwest native plant.” Anyone who has stepped out on one of our forest trails or visited a wooded park will immediately recognize it. And although this tough native is also incredibly garden worthy, it is by no means the only one suitable for the garden!

The Pacific Northwest is home to about forty species of ferns. They can be found in nearly every area of our region, and so there are many appropriate for nearly every garden condition, even sunny rock gardens! True, the majority are shade and moisture lovers and are thought of as a backbone of the shade garden and rightly so. Evergreen or deciduous, they are virtually disease and pest-free, and can provide a range of textures and heights and help create an elegant shade garden collage.

In a sunny rock garden, the miniature ferns that can be found in those conditions can make a sweet, unexpected focal point. As small as a few inches tall to a towering six feet, there is a native fern for all occasions and settings!

For the shade:

Sword Fern

Polystichum munitum: Sword Fern

Sturdy evergreen fronds that eventually form a clump 3-4’ tall and wide, forming sturdy, upright majestic clumps of fronds. Can adapt to many different soil conditions, moist to dry. Typically a shady woodland plant, it can live happily in nearly full sun if given enough water.

Licorice Fern

Polypodium glycyrrhiza: Licorice Fern

Licorice Fern is the soft, green fern that you see in the woods on logs and stumps and on mossy tree trunks (especially big leaf maples), that looks kind-of-like-but-not-quite-like a small version of Sword Fern. This dainty specimen has fronds that grow only 10-12 inches long, thriving in moist, mossy settings, especially happy on mossy tree trunks, stumps and branches. Vigorous when its needs are met, languishes in dry conditions.

Maidenhair Fern

Adiantum pedatum: Maidenhair Fern

Perhaps the most elegant of the native woodland ferns, with wire-thin dark brown to purplish-black stems rising 12-18” tall, topped with a flattened “palm” of delicate fronds. Very adaptable garden specimen, to drier shade than expected, since in the wild it can be found in the spray zone of waterfalls on mossy rock outcroppings. So moist is best but not essential for this lovely fern. Deciduous and a must-have for the shade garden.

Deer Fern

Streuthiopteris spicant: Deer Fern

Perhaps the most distinctive of our native woodlanders, with its basal clump of spreading fronds and an upward growing clump of fertile fronds, the new growth with reddish mid ribs contrasting with the light green blades of the fronds. Interestingly the upright, fertile fronds are deciduous; the basal clump of sterile fronds, evergreen.

Giant Chain Fern

Woodwardia fimbriata: Giant Chain Fern

The largest and most statuesque of our native ferns, the leathery, arching fronds growing 4-6 feet in length! It is a beautiful, almost prehistoric looking plant, commanding a real space in the garden. Shade or sun or something in-between, it is a statuesque, commanding presence. Give it water and space and you will have a real specimen fern.

Lady Fern

Athyrium filix-femina: Lady Fern

A lacy, expansive fern from 3-6 feet, it is a beautiful and graceful addition to the garden, but place it in a mostly shady, moist to wet area. No kidding, it needs plenty of water. The fronds are also brittle, so place it in an area that is rarely disturbed. But, if these needs can be met, the Lady Fern is one of the most lovely to grace the garden.