Brilliance Autumn FernDryopteris erythrosora 'Brilliance'
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The Brilliance Autumn Fern is exactly that – brilliant. The new fronds in spring and early summer burst with the colors of fall – coppery-reds, vibrant oranges and bronzy-yellows. This arching fern quickly becomes a mound of divided leaves about 2 feet tall and wide that makes a great feature anywhere in your garden. Plant it in woodlands, beneath tall trees, under larger shrubs, beside water and along paths and steps. The evergreen summer leaves are cool dark green, and in late summer look under the leaves to admire the bright-red spore-patches that give this plant its botanical name.
The Brilliance Autumn Fern is more sun and dryness-resistant than many other ferns are, although regular moisture is always welcomed. It grows best in richer, moist and well-drained soils, but tolerates ordinary soils that aren’t too dry. It grows in full sun in cooler zones, and in partial to full shade – even deep shade – in warmer areas. It is pest and disease free, and ignored by rabbits and deer. A simple spring trim of damaged leaves is all the care it needs.
Every season has its colors and fall especially has a palette of blended oranges, from yellows to scarlets and bronzy tones. It can be a surprise – but a pleasant one – to see colors ‘out of season’, and that’s exactly what you get when you grow the Brilliance Autumn Fern. This fern isn’t about ‘autumn’ or fall at all, it’s main beauty is in spring. It’s the brilliant tones of fall that it brings, and if something as mild as a fern can be startling, this one certainly is. The new leaves that grow up in spring and early summer are wonderful oranges, bronzy reds and golden apricots – all the tones of the autumn leaves that drift by your windows, but completely out of season. It is a striking effect that makes this fern a real stand-out addition to your garden. Since it’s also one of the easiest ferns to grow, and able to deal with difficult locations, this one is an incredibly worthwhile addition as well. The leaves turn handsome greens for the summer, but the coppery-orange colors can return after the first frost. This plant has another secret too. If you turn over the mature leaves in late summer or early fall you will see bright red spore clusters (sori) on the undersides – a memory of that spring flourish and a gentle ‘gardener’s secret pleasure’ reserved for those who know where to look. Often too, in fall
The Brilliance Autumn Fern is an evergreen fern that produces a clump of upright, arching leaves that are up to 30 inches long, although usually a little less. It spreads to about the same distance. The fronds are shaped like long triangles, with side stems off the main central stem. The side stems carry many small leaflets in rows along each side. New fronds that grow up in spring are brightly colored in shades of gold, orange and orange-red. These mature to a bright mid-green color, and in fall, after the first frost, the bright orange colors can often return, creating a brilliant autumn too. Those bright spring colors make this plant very desirable in shady beds and woodland settings. Later in the season the fronds develop circular patches on the undersides of the leaf, which are the spore-producing parts (called sori) – ferns do not flower, they reproduce by releasing dust-like spores. In this fern the cover over the spores (called an inducium) is bright red, adding a secret touch of beauty and interest to this plant – just flip over the older leaves and take a look.
This is a tough fern, able when established to take drier conditions and more sun than many, although shade is preferred. It is perfect for those difficult spots beneath trees and to fill awkward spaces all over the garden. Add brightness and seasonal interest, as well as green groundcover, with this reliable and easy fern. Grow it in woodlands, under large shrubs or deciduous trees, along a path or walk, alone or mixed with other shade-loving plants like Hosta and Astilbe.
The Brilliance Autumn Fern is hardy in most areas, from zone 5 to zone 8. In cooler zones, especially zone 5, you should expect some winter damage to the foliage. It’s not a problem – simply cut the damaged leaves at ground level and new growth will soon fill in. In fact, the striking orange foliage can look even more impressive when it isn’t surrounded by older, green leaves.
This fern has more resistance to sunlight than many others, especially in cooler zones. Morning sun with afternoon shade is also good, but in warmer zones dappled shade from deciduous trees, or light full shade is probably best. It will grow in heavier shade as well, but the growth will be looser and the spring colors not so bright. It grows at its strongest in fibrous, rich soil that is moist but well-drained, but it’s a tough plant that grows just fine in ordinary soil. Once established it has some drought resistance – again more than many other ferns – but it has limits, and shouldn’t be too dry, especially when new in your garden.
The Brilliance Autumn Fern is very easy to grow, and it isn’t bothered by pests or diseases, and not eaten by rabbits or (usually) deer. It’s super-easy, just plant, water and that’s it. Spring mulch with rotted leaves, or some half-strength liquid fertilizer is beneficial but not essential. In early spring, just as the new growth is emerging, cut off any older, damaged leaves at ground level, or even cut back everything. New growth will soon emerge and create a fresh, new show.
The autumn fern, Dryopteris erythrosora, is also known as the Japanese shield fern, or the copper shield fern. The name ‘erythosora’ means ‘red sori’, which we mentioned in the description of this plant. It grows across a large part of China, as well as in Japan and Korea, in woodlands and damp hillsides. The orange or copper-colored spring growth is normal, but in the variety called Brilliance it is much more pronounced. Although a recognized garden variety, we haven’t been able to find anything about its origin. It seems to have been found in America, and not been around for too long, but who first picked it out from a group of young plants seems to have been lost.
You can tell just how good the Brilliance Autumn Fern is, because it won the coveted Award of Garden Merit from England’s Royal Horticultural Society in 2012. You can’t get a better recommendation than that, and experts everywhere are praising the value and color of this unique plant. So bring fall to spring in your garden, and plant a reliable and tough plant with no downsides. Order now – we won’t have these plants available for much longer.