Ferns at the FWG 2019-03-14T00:26:41+00:00

The first fern species date to the late Devonian Period, 350 millions years ago. They are vascular plants having tissues that can conduct water and nutrients to their constituent parts. Canadian ferns inhabit three types of habitats: moist, shady forests; crevices in rock faces, especially when sheltered from the full sun; and acid wetlands including bogs and swamps. They originate as fertile spores that may grow into “fiddleheads” that then unfurl as fronds. They produce no flowers or seeds but instead spores are released from sori (singular, sorus) that are usually underneath their leaves or from modified fronds. Many ferns depend on associations with symbiotic soil fungi that make transplantation difficult.

One common way of identifying ferns is by the way the fronds are divided. A few ferns like the Walking Fern are undivided; that is the frond comes straight out of the ground. Once-divided ferns like the Sensitive Fern and Christmas Fern have fronds that have leaflets that are connected to a single stem. Twice-divided ferns, such as the Cinnamon Fern and Ostrich Fern have leaflets that are serrated or scalloped. Thrice-divided ferns, like the Fragile Fern and Maidenhair Fern, have secondary stems that have serrated or scalloped leaflets.

Wood ferns (Dryopteridaceae)


Bulblet Bladder Fern / Bulblet Fern

Cystopteris bulbifera

Cystoptère bulbifère

Family: Wood fern (Dryopteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: WW, FE
Fronds: Thrice divided
Height: 30–45 cm
Light requirements: Full to part shade.
Moisture requirements: Moist
Soil: Calcareous substrates such as limestone
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Woods, shaded ravines. Common in the Ottawa region.

Wildlife use:

Notes: Named for the dark green “bulblets” on underside of the fronds. Bulblets fall from parent plant and grow into new ferns.

Propagation: Grown from bulblets, but need high moisture and attention.

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Bulblet Bladder Fern


Fragile Fern

Cystopteris fragilis

Cystoptère fragile

Family: Wood fern (Dryopteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: thrice divided
Height: 10–25 cm
Light requirements: Full to part shade.
Moisture requirements: Moist
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Shaded cliffs and rocky crevices.

Wildlife use:

Notes:

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Fragile Fern


Ostrich Fern

Matteuccia struthiopteris

Matteuccie fougère-à-l’autruche

Family: Wood fern (Dryopteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden; OldWoodlot
Backyard garden bed: WW, FE
Fronds: twice divided
Height: 90–120 cm
Light requirements: Sun to partial shade
Moisture requirements: Average to moist
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Slopes, swamps, woods. Common in the Ottawa region.

Wildlife use:

Notes: Nice lush background for natural plantings. Once established it spreads by rhizomes.

Propagation: Not tried.

Provenance: common

Ontario Ferns website

Ostrich Fern


Common Lady Fern

Athyrium filix-femina

Athyrie fougère-femelle

Family: Wood fern (Dryopteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden; Old Woodlot
Backyard garden bed: WW, FE
Fronds: thrice divided
Height: 60–100 cm
Light requirements: Shade to part shade
Moisture requirements: Moist
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: “In various habitats ranging from meadows to open thickets, moist woods and even swamps” (Cody 1956). Common in the Ottawa region.

Wildlife use:

Notes: Delicate, fine-textured fronds. Has not spread at the FWG.

Propagation: Can be propogated from spores following American Fern Society’s instructions. We have grown small plants, and have been able to transplant them into “natural” conditions.

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Common Lady Fern


Northern Lady Fern

Athyrium angustum

Athyrie fougère-femelle rouge

Family: Wood fern (Dryopteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden; Old Woodlot
Backyard garden bed: WW, FE
Fronds: thrice divided
Height: 60–100 cm
Light requirements: Shade to part shade
Moisture requirements: Moist
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat:

Wildlife use:

Notes:

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Northern Lady Fern


Sensitive Fern

Onoclea sensibilis

Onoclée sensible

Family: Wood fern (Dryopteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden; Old Woodlot
Backyard garden bed: WW, FE
Fronds: once divided
Height: 60–90 cm
Light requirements: Shade to part shade
Moisture requirements: Moist
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Woods edges, ditches. Common in the Ottawa region.

Wildlife use:

Notes: Although called “sensitive,” this fern is easy to grow under a variety of conditions. The name refers to its tendency to wilt and turn brown at the first frost.

Propagation: Spores are on separate “fertile fronds.” Propagation not tried.

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Sensitive Fern


Marginal Shield Fern / Marginal Wood Fern

Dryopteris marginalis

Dryoptère à sores marginaux

Family: Wood fern (Dryopteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden; Old Woodlot
Backyard garden bed: WW, FE
Fronds: thrice divided
Height: 10–50 cm
Light requirements: Shade
Moisture requirements: Average to moist
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Woods. Common in the Ottawa region.

Wildlife use:

Notes:

Propagation: Fairly easy to propagate from spores although the process is lengthy.

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Marginal Shield Fern


Spinulose Wood Fern

Dryopteris carthusiana

Dryoptéride spinuleuse

Family: Wood fern (Dryopteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: WW, FE
Fronds: thrice divided
Height: 10–50 cm
Light requirements: Shade
Moisture requirements: Average
Soil: Moist
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Woods. Common in the Ottawa area.

Wildlife use:

Notes:

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Spinulose Wood Fern


Crested Wood Fern / Crested Shield Fern

Dryopteris cristata

Dryoptéris à crêtes

Family: Wood fern (Dryopteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: twice divided
Height: 30–100 cm
Light requirements: Shade
Moisture requirements: Wet
Soil:
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Swampy woods, wetland and mossy bogs and fens

Wildlife use:

Notes:

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Crested Wood Fern


Evergreen Wood Fern / Intermediate Wood Fern

Dryopteris intermedia

Dryoptère intermédiaire

Family: Wood fern (Dryopteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: thrice divided
Height: 30–90 cm
Light requirements: shaded
Moisture requirements: Dry to moist
Soil: Rich rocky woods

Natural habitat: Shaded forest

Wildlife use:

Notes: Three-part frond. Forms upright circular clusters.

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Evergreen Wood Fern


Christmas Fern

Polystichum acrostichoides

Polystic faux-acrostic

Family: Wood fern (Dryopteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: once divided
Height: 30–80 cm
Light requirements: Shade
Moisture requirements: Average
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat:

Wildlife use:

Notes: Good garden fern as it accommodates a wide range of conditions. Glossy, deep green foliage. Like full to part shade and humusy, well-drained soil. Does not tolerate clay soils or standing water.

Propagation: Sow spores or divide rhizomes in spring.

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Christmas Fern

Holly ferns (Polypodiaceae)


Northern Holly Fern

Polystichum lonchitis

Polystic en (fer de) lance

Family: Wood fern (Dryopteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: once divided
Height:  25-60 cm (10-24″)
Light requirements: Shade
Moisture requirements: Average
Soil: Moist
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Deep forests on north facing ledges

Wildlife use:

Notes: Sori in two parallel rows

Propagation: Sow spores or divide rhizomes in spring. Rare.

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Northern Holly Fern


Braun’s Holly Fern

Polystichum braunii

Polystic de Braun

Family: Wood fern (Dryopteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: Twice divided
Height: 30-90 cm (1 to 3′)
Light requirements: Shade
Moisture requirements: Average
Soil: Moist
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat:

Wildlife use:

Notes: Sori in two parallel rows

Propagation: Sow spores or divide rhizomes in spring.

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Braun’s Holly Fern


(Common) Polypody

Polypodium virginianum

Polystic de Braun

Family: Polypody Family (Polypodiaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: Once divided
Height: 8–40 cm
Light requirements: Shade
Moisture requirements: Average
Soil: Moist
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat:

Wildlife use:

Notes: Leaves alternate

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Common Polypody

Spleenworts (Aspleniaceae)


Silvery Spleenwort / Silvery Glade Fern

Deparia acrostichoides

Athyrie fausse-thélyptère

Family: Spleenwort (Aspleniaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: Twice divided
Height: 30–80 cm
Light requirements: Shade
Moisture requirements: Average
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Rich moist woods

Wildlife use:

Notes: Silvery glade fern; sori are oblong and arranged like a sergeant’s stripes.

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Silvery Spleenwort


Walking Fern

Asplenium rhizophylumm

Doradille ambulante

Family: Spleenwort (Aspleniaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: Undivided
Height: 3-45 cm
Light requirements: shaded
Moisture requirements: Average
Soil: Limestone and moss

Natural habitat: Shaded forest.

Wildlife use:

Notes: Single stalk. One-part frond. Forms “groves.”

Propagation: New ferns grow from the tips of the leaves where they touch the ground.

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Walking Fern

Maidenhair ferns (Pteridaceae)


Northern Maidenhair Fern

Adiantum pedatum

Adiante du Canada

Family: Maidenhair Fern (Pteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden; Old Woodlot
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: Thrice divided
Height: 30–46 cm
Light requirements: Full to partial shade
Moisture requirements: Moist
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Woods. Uncommon in the Ottawa region.

Wildlife use:

Notes: Grows in colonies arising from horizontal rhizomes (Cody p. 101). Needs special conditions and may not survive at the FWG.

Propagation: Not tried.

Provenance: Sandy Garland (Calabogie area); Lis Allison (Lanark)

Ontario Ferns website

Northern Maidenhair Fern


Smooth Cliffbrake

Pellaea glabella

Family: Maidenhair Fern (Pteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: Once divided
Height: 30–40 cm
Light requirements: Full to partial shade
Moisture requirements: Moist
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Fields and open areas; rock ledges and cracks.

Wildlife use:

Notes:

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Smooth Cliffbrake


Purple-stemmed Cliffbrake

Pellaea atropurpurea

Pellèade à stipe pourpre

Family: Maidenhair Fern (Pteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: Once divided
Height: to 20 cm
Light requirements: Full to partial shade
Moisture requirements: Moist
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Fields and open areas; rock ledges and cracks.

Wildlife use:

Notes:

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Purple-stemmed Cliffbrake

Royal ferns (Osmundaceae)


(American) Royal Fern

Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis

Osmonde royale

Family: Royal fern (Osmundaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: WW, FE
Fronds: Twice divided
Height: 100–200 cm
Light requirements: Full to partial shade
Moisture requirements: Moist
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Cedar bogs, wet meadows, swamps, low-lying woods. Common in the Ottawa region.

Wildlife use:

Notes: Nice texture. Taller and more branched than other local ferns. Difficult to grow in a backyard garden because needs moist conditions.

Propagation: Not tried.

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

American Royal Fern


Cinnamon Fern

Osmundastrum cinnamomeum

Osmonde cannelle

Family: Royal fern (Osmundaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: Twice divided
Height: 100–200 cm
Light requirements: Shade
Moisture requirements: Average
Soil: Wet
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Medium to wet soils of forests, swamps, and shorelines. Common in the Ottawa area.

Wildlife use:

Notes: Easy to identify when cinnamon-coloured fertile fronds are visible.

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Cinnamon Fern


Interrupted Fern

Osmunda claytoniana

Osmonde de Clayton

Family: Royal fern (Osmundaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: Twice divided
Height: 60–120 cm
Light requirements: Shade
Moisture requirements: Average
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Wet soils of forests. Common in the Ottawa area.

Wildlife use:

Notes: Has the oldest known fossil record of any living fern in the world, for at least 180 million years. “Interrupted” describes the gap in middle of the blade left by the fertile portions after they wither and eventually fall off.

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Interrupted Fern

Bracken ferns (Dennstaedtiaceae)


Eastern Hay-scented Fern

Dennstaedtia punctilobula

Dennstaedtie à lobules ponctués

Family: Bracken fern (Dennstaedtiaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: Twice divided
Height: 50–100 cm
Light requirements: Shade
Moisture requirements: Average to moist
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat:

Wildlife use:

Notes:

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Eastern Hay-scented Fern

Glade ferns (Diplaziopsidaceae)


Narrow-leaved Glade Fern

Diplazium pycnocarpon

Athyrie à sores denses

Family: Glade fern (Diplaziopsidaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: Once divided
Height: to 90 cm
Light requirements: Shade
Moisture requirements: Average
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat:

Wildlife use:

Notes:

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Narrow-leaved Glade Fern

Marsh ferns (Thelypteridaceae)


New York Fern

Thelypteris noveboracensis

Thélyptère de New York

Family: Marsh fern (Thelypteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: Twice divided
Height: 30–60 cm
Light requirements:
Moisture requirements: Average
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Moist woods in filtered light. Grows in large colonies.

Wildlife use:

Notes: Fronds are widest in the middle, tapering at the base.

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

New York Fern


Narrow Beech Fern / Northern Beech Fern / Long Beech Fern

Phegopteris connectilis

Phégoptère à segments joint

Family: Marsh fern (Thelypteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: Twice divided
Height: 15–60 cm
Light requirements:
Moisture requirements: Average
Soil: Moist
pH: Acidic

Natural habitat: Moist woods or shaded rock crevices

Wildlife use:

Notes: Fronds are triangular.

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Narrow Beech Fern


Marsh Fern

Thelypteris palustris

Thélyptère des marais

Family: Marsh fern (Thelypteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG:
Backyard garden bed:
Fronds: Twice divided
Height: 50–60 cm
Light requirements:
Moisture requirements: Average
Soil: Wet
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Edges of marshes and wet meadows, ditches, or woods; usually in rich, wet soil but not in standing water.

Wildlife use:

Notes: Underside of fronds, on rows of dots near the midvein. Fertile fronds have leaf edges that are slightly rolled over the spore-bearing sori. (http://www.ct-botanical-society.org/ferns/thelypterispalu.html)

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Marsh Fern

Bladder ferns (Cystopteridaceae)


Oak Fern / Common Oak Fern / Northern Oak Fern

Gymnocarpium dryopteris

Gymnocarpe fougère-du-chêne ou Dryoptère disjointe

Family: Bladder fern (Cystopteridaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: Thrice divided
Height: 10–20 cm
Light requirements: shade
Moisture requirements: Average
Soil: Average
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Shaded forest.

Wildlife use:

Notes: Single stalk. Three-part frond. Forms “groves.”

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Ontario Ferns website

Common Oak Fern

Cliff ferns (Woodsiaceae)


Blunt-lobed Cliff Fern

Woodsia obtusa

Woodsie à lobes arrondis

Family: Cliff fern (Woodsiaceae)
Native to: Eastern Ontario
Location at the FWG: Backyard Garden
Backyard garden bed: FE
Fronds: Twice divided
Height: to 60 cm
Light requirements: shade
Moisture requirements: Average
Soil: Neutral or calcareous
pH: Neutral

Natural habitat: Shaded chalky rock faces. South facing.

Wildlife use:

Notes: Endangered in Ontario. 8 to 17 pairs of leaflets. Leaf stalk is straw-coloured and brittle.

Propagation:

Provenance: Lis Allison

Blunt-lobed Cliff Fern


References

  • Cody, William J. 1973. Ferns of the Ottawa District.
  • Muma, Walter. Ontario Ferns.
  • Walewski, Joe 2016. Ferns & Allies of the North Woods. Kollath+Stensaas, Duluth, MN.
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This page was revised on 13 March 2019
Photos: D. Gordon E. Robertson
© Fletcher Wildlife Garden
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