Lady in Red Lady FernAthyrium asplenioides var. angustum f. rubellum 'Lady in Red'
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The Lady in Red Lady Fern is a selection of our native northern lady fern, with superb dark-red central stems on its delicate fronds. These rise over 2 feet tall, forming a dense clump 2 to 3 feet across. It has lovely ‘ferny’ fronds that are dark green, turning yellow in fall. Grow it in native-plant gardens, woodlands, by ponds or streams, or in any shady part of any garden. It’s a great addition for foliage and color, and very easy to grow across a large part of the country.
Plant the Lady in Red Lady Fern is a spot with bright shade, or even a few hours of morning sun in cold zones. It will grow in darker shade, but not so strongly. It grows in most soils that are not too dry, and enjoys richer soils with lots of organic material in them. Water regularly – it isn’t drought resistant – but it will recover from the occasional patch of dryness. It’s generally free of pests and diseases, and not bothered by rabbits. Besides collecting the dead fronds in late fall – and that’s optional – it needs no attention to thrive.
You’ll be dancing for joy with the Lady in Red Lady Fern, who is obviously also ‘two-times a lady’ with that double-barrel name. She’s an easy lady to satisfy, too, growing in most garden soils, in a wide range of shade conditions, and also very winter hardy. In fact, she puts on the best color display in cool zones, although sheis still gorgeous in warm ones. People often say that ferns are nice, but they are so ‘green’, but this one challenges that limited idea. The central stem that holds the graceful leaflets is bright red, especially in the early part of the season, full of new growth, which is when all ferns are at their best. Large enough to stand out in beds, she also looks terrific in more natural settings, and lovely too in a pot outdoors on a shady table. Ferns are the answer to gardens with a lot of shade, and you can create whole beds of different kinds for a wonderful effect. Just remember to invite this gracious lady to the party – she will be the belle of the ball.
The Lady in Red Lady Fern is a deciduous fern that typically grows 18 to 30 inches tall, forming a clump about the same diameter. The clumps do grow wider, but this plant doesn’t spread or invade other areas, as some more aggressive ferns can do. It grows as a cluster of individual fronds, with each one carrying pairs of side leaves which in turn are divided into small leaflets. The side leaves are widest in the middle of the frond. The central stem of the frond is colored a deep yet luminous and bright red, most noticeable as the young fronds are uncurling. At that stage the rolled-up leaflets are also red to pink, turning green as they uncurl. Most leaves develop in spring, but additional ones emerge during summer, especially following periods of rain. Because it is a fern it of course doesn’t flower, but if you look late in the season underneath the fronds you will see rows of yellow spots along the leaflets, which are the spores – equivalent to seeds.
This is a great fern for the front of shady beds, along streams and by ponds, or in natural parts of the garden – it is derived from a wild native species, so it can be part of any native-plant garden. Grow it as an edging, or tuck a single plant into a pocket of soil. The fine foliage makes a great contrast with the bold leaves of shade-loving plants like Hosta, and it’s a perfect companion for Astilbe too, and of course other ferns, in all their profusion of forms. It is also great growing in a pot or planter – you can have pots in shady areas too, you know, and its perfect for a shaded summer retreat.
The Lady in Red Lady Fern is very hardy, and it thrives in cooler zones. It also grows well all the way into zone 8, but in areas with mild winters the red stem coloring will not be so bold. In pots and planters it can be left outdoors all winter from zone 5, or in colder zones simply bury the pot up to its rim in an out-of-the-way part of the garden.
In zone 3 and 4, if the soil is moist, this fern will take a little direct sun, at least in the mornings, but it prefers areas that are lightly-shaded. Spots beneath deciduous trees are ideal, and so is the shady area at the foot of north-facing walls. It will grow in darker places too, such as beneath large evergreen trees, but perhaps not so vigorously. It grows in any soil that isn’t too dry, preferring soils rich with plenty of organic material like rotted leaves. It will grow in wetter ground too, but not stagnant boggy areas.
The Lady in Red Lady Fern really needs no attention. You don’t even need to clean up the fronds when they die down in late fall – new growth will just push up through them. If you prefer tidier, feel free to gather them up. Covering with an inch or two of rotted leaves or compost is great, but avoid strong artificial fertilizers, which will give bigger growth but weaker stem colors. It normally isn’t bothered by pests or diseases, and rabbits leave it alone. Water regularly during drier periods. It needs moisture, and shouldn’t be allowed to dry out completely, especially in summer. If it does dry and the fronds wither, don’t despair. It will usually quickly re-sprout, although repeated periods of dryness will eventually kill it.
The lady fern is most commonly known as Athyrium filix-femina, but fern specialists today consider that Athyrium asplenioides is more correct for some forms of it. The northern variety of this plant was once called Athyrium angustum, but that has been reduced to a variety name. The northern lady fern is different from the lady fern in several small ways – for example the spores are yellow, not brown, and there are other botanical differences. It is found growing in moist woodlands and swampy places, growing wild in Greenland, and also in North America all the way from Newfoundland to North Carolina, and west to Missouri and the Dakotas.
Some plants show different amounts of red coloring on the stem, and are known as ‘forma’ rubellum. All this is why the botanical name is so long! The garden variety called Lady in Red has very dark-red stems, and it’s a selection of the rubellum form. It was found growing wild in Vermont by the late John Lynch, who was a naturalist, photographer and trustee of the New England Wildflower Society. The Society introduced it in 2000.
If you like ferns, you will love the Lady in Red. Its unique coloring makes it really stand out – which of course is why you should order right away – it stands out to other fern lovers, who will quickly take all our stock of this reliable beauty.