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Japanese Painted Fern

Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum'

Japanese Painted Fern

Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum'

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How are the heights measured?

All tree, and nothin' but the tree! We measure from the top of the soil to the top of the tree; the height of the container or the root system is never included in our measurements.

What is a gallon container?

Nursery containers come in a variety of different sizes, and old-school nursery slang has stuck. While the industry-standard terminology is to call the sizes "Gallon Containers", that doesn't exactly translate to the traditional liquid "gallon" size we think of. You'll find we carry young 1-gallons, up to more mature 7-gallons ranging anywhere from 6 inches to 6ft.

How does the delivery process work?

All of our orders ship via FedEx Ground! Once your order is placed online, our magic elves get right to work picking, staging, boxing and shipping your trees. Orders typically ship out within 2 business days. You will receive email notifications along the way on the progress of your order, as well as tracking information to track your plants all the way to their new home!

Why are some states excluded from shipping?

The short & sweet answer is: "United States Department of Agriculture Restrictions." Every state has their own unique USDA restrictions on which plants they allow to come into their state. While we wish we could serve everyone, it's for the safety of native species and helps prevent the spread of invasive disease & pests. We've gotta protect good ole' Mother Nature, after all.

About Me


The Japanese Painted Fern is a medium-sized deciduous fern that quickly becomes a clump of 2-foot stems covering an area of 2 or even 3 feet across. It is unique in having amazing silver-green leaves with stems and elegant markings in deep maroon-red. The coloring is most pronounced in spring and early summer, and may be temporarily reduced in very hot summers. Grow it to brighten your shady beds, by water and on damp rocky slopes. Use it naturally in woodlands, or in pots and planter boxes that are ideal for shady terraces.

  • Unique foliage of silver-green, marked with maroon-red
  • A real charmer, and very special
  • Easy to grow and versatile in the garden
  • Reliably hardy even in zone 4
  • Grows well in pots too.

Partial to full shade, and even deep shade, are fine with the Japanese Painted Fern, which grows in ordinary garden soil, preferring richer and moist soils, but otherwise very easy to grow. It is hardy even in zone 4 and there is nothing to do but tidy up the dead leaves in fall or after winter is over. Pests and diseases don’t bother this low-care plant, and both rabbits and deer usually ignore it. A simple way to add striking colors to your shady beds.

Plant Hardiness Zones 4-8
Mature Width 1.5-2
Mature Height 1.5-2
Sun Needs Partial Sun, Shade
Zones 4-8

Ferns are such wonderful shade plants, it’s hard to have too many of them in your garden. The only thing is, almost all are green, and sometimes a splash of color is what you need. For that, look no further than the Japanese Painted Fern, a truly marvelous and easy to grow fern that is also very hardy, and so available to almost everyone. The perfect foreground plant for shady beds, this is a plant that everyone loves – and no wonder. The silvery leaves are unique, not just in ferns but among almost all plants, and the subtle maroon shadings that develop in the center create a plant that is incredibly striking and stylish. Always a stand-out plant wherever it is planted, this is one beauty you can’t go wrong with, and the awards from professionals it has accumulated say that too.

Growing the Japanese Painted Fern

Size and Appearance

The Japanese Painted Fern is a medium-sized deciduous fern that produces arching fronds between 1 and 2 feet in length, quickly forming a dense clump of foliage about 2 feet across. The fronds are long, tapering triangles, with a central rib of dark maroon. From it grow side branches, which are longer lower down the mid-rib, and shorter higher up. Each side branch carries a double row of leaflets, which are long and narrow, with deeply-divided edges. The whole effect is of lightness and delicacy. The leaves are colored a rich silvery-green, with bluish overtones, and in the stems and lower parts of the leaves are colored a rich, dark maroon-red. The wonderful coloring makes this plant striking and unique. In areas with hot summers you may see new stems with reduced red coloring, and more greenish tones, so that this fern is most striking in spring and early summer.

Using the Japanese Painted Fern in Your Garden

With its special coloring, the Japanese Painted Fern is exactly what you need to bring contrast and drama into your shady garden beds. Plant it in a rocky pocket, perhaps near water, or grow it beneath taller shrubs or in front of larger ferns. It makes a wonderful path edging, or groundcover under bushes. A single plant will transform a shady area from ‘blah’ to ‘wow’ in an instant. It also makes a great pot plant for a shady terrace, perhaps with other ferns or shade-loving annuals like impatiens. It can also be used as a houseplant in an unheated porch or cool room, but it does need to spend part of the winter with temperatures below 45 degrees.


Not only is the Japanese Painted Fern strikingly beautiful, it is also very hardy, and grows well even in zone 4 – indeed, the coloring is deepest and lasts longest in cooler zones. It can also be grown all the way into zone 8 with no trouble.

Sun Exposure and Soil Conditions

Avoid more than a little direct sun, and plant this gorgeous fern in partial shade or light full shade. It will even tolerate deep shade, although growing less vigorously. It is very undemanding, and performs well in ordinary conditions, as long as it is not dry. It will grow luxuriantly and largest in soils rich in humus and organic materials like compost or rotted leaves, with regular moisture but some drainage. It is not particular about acid or alkaline conditions and despite its exotic beauty it’s easy to grow.

Maintenance and Pruning

Water regularly, especially during hotter weather – after that there is nothing to do but enjoy your Japanese Painted Fern. It is free of pests or diseases, and both deer and rabbits leave it alone – how simple is that? When colder weather arrives the fronds will die down, and can be trimmed or not, as you choose. Any fronds still growing in spring should be cut off, so that you can enjoy a full, lush display of new, colorful growth.

History and Origin of the Japanese Painted Fern

Athyrium niponicum is a green-leaved fern native to large parts of China, abundant in Japan, and also found in Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam and India. It grows near streams, in damp forests and on wet mountain slopes. It was first described in 1865 by the botanist and fern expert of his time, Georg Heinrich Mettenius, although he thought it was a Spleenwort (Asplenium). It was re-named in 1873 by Henry Fletcher Hance, a British diplomat to China and a gifted amateur botanist. It kept the name Athyrium niponicum that Hance gave it until 2011, when it was given a new name, Anisocampium niponicum, by Chinese botanists. Although that name is now considered more correct by many botanists, it remains disputed, and hasn’t been taken up by many nurseries or gardeners. The garden variety ‘Pictum’, which we know as the Japanese Painted Fern, was once thought to be a unique form found growing wild (a botanical variety) but it is more likely to be a plant found originally in a garden in Japan.

Buying the Japanese Painted Fern at the Tree Center

The Japanese Painted Fern is a superb plant that belongs in every garden. That is what the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society of England thought when they gave it their special Award of Garden Merit in 2004. Our own Perennial Plant Association thought exactly the same when they named it their Perennial Of the Year in 2004. You will think so too when you grow this unique fern, but order now as the high demand for it always means that supplies are always limited.

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Japanese Painted Fern

Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum'