Christmas FernPolystichum acrostichoides
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Outdoor Growing zone
Partial Sun, Shade
The Christmas Fern is a native fern that grows naturally all through the east, and has been valued in gardens since the earliest settlements. It is evergreen to at least the end of the year, even in cold zones. The long, leathery fronds are up to 2 feet long, with broad leaflets along them, a little like a ladder. Their tough construction makes this fern more resistant to dryness than most others, so it’s a great choice for rocky slopes and drier soil beneath trees and shrubs. Mix it with other shade-loving plants to enrich the look of your beds, whether you have a woodland garden or something smaller and more structured.
Partial to full shade suits the Christmas Fern perfectly, and it is hardy even in zone 3, while also growing in zone 9. It grows best in moist soils, but avoid heavy, wet clays which can rot the crown. It tolerates drier soils too, and will grow even in the pockets of earth on rocky slopes. It is free of pests, generally never touched by diseases, and even left alone by both rabbits and deer. Trimming dead and damaged fronds in early spring is all the care it needs, and even that is optional – how’s that for a low-maintenance plant.
Many of our most beautiful ferns are exotic and ‘alien’, coming from all around the world – one from China, another from Japan, Europe or even Australia. There is one, though, widely grown since the earliest settlers, that is ‘made in America’, and that is the Christmas Fern. In a cold, bleak winter landscape very different from their English homes, those early settlers must have been gladdened to see the green fronds of this fern when the festive season arrived. Even in cold areas the fronds stay green at least until the year ends, so what a touch of hope and promise it was. Today we may have plenty of other greens, but the ferny-green of the Christmas Fern is just as beautiful, and this native fern is perfect for woodland gardens and all-natural plantings – as well as using it with our usual garden exotics. Whether you are a ‘native plant’ purist or just a plant lover, you will love the Christmas fern for it’s easy charm and bold ferny look.
The Christmas Fern is an evergreen fern that grows as a thick rounded crown of brown hairs at ground level, sending up a circle of arching green fronds. These are upright in spring, gradually arching over during summer and becoming semi-horizontal by fall and through the winter. The fronds are between 1 and 2 feet long, making a rounded plant about 2 feet across, and each frond has a long central stem supporting ladder-like rows of leaflets. These are shaped like long triangles, tapering to a soft point, and becoming shorter toward the tip of the frond. The young spring shoots, called fiddleheads or croziers, rise like clenched hands, covered in silvery hairs. In summer and fall you will see large fuzzy brown patches on the undersides of the leaves. These are the spore-producing parts, called sori. Ferns don’t flower, but the dust-like spores produced serve as seeds to spread these plants around. The fronds are lighter, bright green in spring, turning rich dark-green in early summer and holding that color all through winter in warmer zones. They are more leathery than most ferns, which accounts for their higher resistance to dryness. In colder areas the fronds usually die by spring, to be replaced by the new spring growth.
The Christmas Fern is a great choice for all those shady spots in your garden. Plant it in areas of natural woodlands, where it will be right at home. Grow it in shady parts of your garden, mixing it with Hosta and Astilbe for contrast, and with azaleas and rhododendrons in a woodland garden. Grow it at the foot of larger shrubs, along paths and beside water. It is also an unusual but effective plant for slopes, even dry and rocky ones. The tough roots and dead leaves stabilize the soil (so don’t trim them) and help the soil improve over time.
This fern grows across all the country, from cold zone 3 where it will certainly be deciduous, all the way into zone 9, where it will definitely be fully evergreen.
Partial to full shade suits the Christmas Fern perfectly. It will even grow in deep shade, such as beneath evergreens, but perhaps not as vigorously as in more light. This is also one of the best ferns for drier soils, although, like all of them, it does prefer damper soils. Avoid heavy, wet clays that can lead to the crown rotting, and add organic material and rotted leaves to the soil to the best growth. This is a very adaptable and tough fern for difficult spots. Once established it is somewhat drought tolerant, especially in cooler zones, where summer dryness is rarely a problem.
You are very unlikely to ever encounter a pest on the Christmas Fern, and if the soil is not too wet, you won’t see diseases either. Deer and rabbits leave it alone, making it a good choice for natural parts of your garden. Depending on the climate you will probably want to trim off dead and cold-damaged fronds in spring, but that isn’t even necessary except for looks. A super-easy, very low-maintenance fern to grow.
The Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, grows across a large part of eastern North America. It can be found from Ontario through Quebec to Nova Scotia, and all through the east to Florida. It is found westward in Minnesota and eastern Texas. It has even been found in northern Mexico. It is usually found growing in woods, and in those pockets of fibrous soil that accumulate in the cracks of rocks on sloping ground. It was described and first named by the French botanist and explorer André Michaux, who was among the first to describe the plants of North America. It was officially described in his 1803 book, Flora Boreali-Americana, published just after his death in 1802, with the name Nephrodium acrostichoides. It was given its current name in 1834 by the Austrian botanist Heinrich Wilhelm Schott. Early settlers certainly collected plants and grew them in their gardens, and it was widely grown through the 19th century and into the 20th, long before more exotic ferns became available to us.
No American garden is complete without this American fern. The Christmas Fern is one of the toughest of ferns, perfectly adapted to our unique climates. Sometimes its availability is swamped by more exotic plants, but that doesn’t make it any less desirable. Order now, while our stock remains available.