Tassel FernPolystichum polyblepharum
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The Tassel Fern is a charming fern with lacy foliage, forming a symmetrical clump of radiating leaves 2 feet tall and wide. The evergreen leaves are finely-cut, and they are glossy and rich green, making a very attractive plant. When the young leaves are open they don’t have the normal ‘clenched fist’ look. Instead the tip flips over and hangs down, covered in silvery hairs, like a decorative tassel. Grow this plant in woodland gardens, in beds with other shade-loving perennials or small shrubs, and in all shady parts of your garden. Edge a pathway or grow it beside a pond or stream. It can also be grown in a pot, outdoors or indoors in a cool place like a porch or bathroom.
Dappled shade is perfect for the Tassel Fern, which grows in all partially-shaded spots, and in areas with lighter full shade as well. It enjoys richer, steadily-moist soils that are well-drained and not soggy. Add organic material like compost or rotted leaves when planting, and use it as mulch. Any leaves damaged in winter can be trimmed off in spring – they will soon be replaced by fresh new growth. Free of pests and diseases, and ignored by deer and rabbits, this easy fern is a real charmer.
Variety is the spice of life, and when it comes to ferns the best way to enjoy them fully is to grow a wide range. Big, small, medium, fill your shady beds with the cool green fronds of ferns. For a classic ‘ferny’ leaf shape that’s glossy, evergreen and delightful, you can forget about buttons and bows, and go for tassels – the Tassel Fern. Named for the way the uncurling leaf tips flip over and hang like silvery tassels, this charming Japanese fern is everything a fern should be. At 2 feet tall and wide it is big enough to look great as a single plant in a smaller spot, and also perfect for mass-planting underneath overhead trees and large shrubs. As groundcover, evergreen ferns really hit the spot, as long as that spot isn’t too dry. Otherwise the Tassel Fern is so easy to grow and real eye-candy, although deer and rabbits don’t want a taste – they walk right past it. So sassy-up your beds with the charming Tassel Fern, you can’t go wrong with this one.
The Tassel Fern is a medium-sized evergreen fern, growing into a round cluster of arching leaves and soon developing into a plant that is 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide. The individual leaves rise from a furry central crown. The leaf blades are up to 24 inches long, with a central stem of reddish-green. All along that central stem side branches called pinnae spread out, carrying tiny leaflets, called pinnules. These are densely-packed, so that they overlap slightly, giving the leaves a very full and satisfying look. They are smooth, glossy, and bright-green, always looking fresh and attractive. New leaves grow out in spring and early summer, and then stay fresh all through winter. In most fern the new leaves, called fiddleheads of croziers, open like a clenched fist, with the pinnae gradually unfolding. In the Tassel Fern the closed pinnae flip over when the leaf is partly open, hanging down like a silver, fuzzy tassel. As the leaf continues to open the tassel straightens up and disappears.
Look on the underside of older leaves and you will probably find clusters of sori. These fuzzy brown clumps produce the dust-like spores that ferns produce instead of flowers and seeds.
This fern is perfect for all those shady parts of your garden, to enrich the foreground of your beds, or cover the blank spaces beneath shrubs and deciduous trees. It looks perfect in a woodland setting, and just as comfortable contrasting with Hosta, Heuchera and Astilbe in more organized planting arrangements. It can also be grown in a pot, left outside for winter in warmer zones, and brought into a cool room or porch in colder ones.
The Tassel Fern is hardy in zone 5 and all the way through zone 8. It is generally evergreen, but in zone 5 there may be significant winter damage by the time spring arrives. Don’t worry – just cut off the old, damaged leaves and the spring flush of new growth will soon give you a brand-new, perfect plant again.
The Tassel Fern thrives in the dappled shade beneath deciduous trees, and also, in cooler zones, with morning sun and afternoon shade. It will grow in any full or partially-shady spot that isn’t too dark. Avoid areas beneath low-hanging evergreen trees. It grows best in moist, well-drained soils, particularly if they are fibrous and enriched with lots of organic material like compost or rotted leaves. It isn’t difficult to grow in ordinary soils, but enriching the soil like this will pay dividends in fuller and more lush growth. The soil should be regularly moist but not saturated, and even well-established plants should be watered deeply on a regular basis, especially during summer.
Pests and diseases don’t bother the Tassel Fern, and neither do deer or rabbits, so it doesn’t need much attention at all to thrive in your garden. Regular watering, trimming away dead fronds in early spring, and perhaps an annual mulch with rotted leaves is all it takes to enjoy this charming fern.
You will find the Tassel Fern, also called the Japanese lace fern, growing wild in eastern China, South Korea and in Japan, on damp slopes and on the forest floor. Usually called Polystichum polyblepharum, that name is under dispute. ‘polyblepharum’ means ‘many eyelashes’, a colorful description of the short brown hairs that cover the lower parts of the leaf stem. That name was given to it in 1851, but the rules of botany mean that a slightly earlier name, Aspidium polyblepharon, given in 1848, should take priority. That change is still being disputed, so for now we are sticking with the most commonly-used name. Changes happen – after all, names are what we give plants – they aren’t born with them!
We love the lacy charm of the Tassel Fern, and you are going to love it too. The judges at the Royal Horticultural Society in England did, when they gave it the prestigious and coveted Award of Garden Merit in 1997. With that recommendation you can be sure this is a worthwhile addition to your garden. Order now, though, as our supply of this beauty is limited.