FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Matteuccia struthiopteris is a statuesque fern with large deep green arching fronds. Plants expand by rhizomes to form colonies. Foliage is compound with each impressive frond consisting of many pairs of deeply lobed pinnae. This fern thrives in cool moist sites and adapts to moist loamy soils in shade or part shade.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Matteuccia struthiopteris occurs in Europe, eastern Asia and eastern North America. In North America the range extends through most of Canada and from the Dakotas to Maine and south from Missouri to Virginia.
Plants are indigenous to forested river bottoms, moist thickets, swamps and stream banks. Hardiness rating is from USDA Zones 3-8.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Matteuccia struthiopteris is a bold rhizomatous fern with a striking vase shaped habit.
This is a dimorphic fern with separate sterile and fertile fronds. The coiled compacted sterile leaves emerge from the ground in late winter as fiddleheads or croziers. They unfurl into a frond up to 5’ long and 1’ across that is sometimes compared to an ostrich feather.
Each sterile frond consists of 20-50 pairs of deeply lobed leaflets. The largest leaflets are about 6” long. Toward the base and tip the leaflets become much smaller causing the frond to taper at the tip and base.
The sterile leaves are deciduous. They turn golden yellow before dying to the ground for winter.
The fertile or spore bearing fronds are up to 18” long and 4” across. These leaves have 10-30 pairs of leaflets that are edged with many bead-like sporangia or spore clusters. The fertile leaves are green when they first emerge in mid to late summer.
When spores are mature, the fertile leaves become dark brown. Fertile fronds are most visible through winter when the sterile fronds are dormant until early spring when the spores are released. In unfavorable conditions like drought or excessive shade, fertile fronds may not form.
This fern is typically about 3’ tall. In ideal moist cool sites, plants can reach 6’ with an equal spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Matteuccia struthiopteris grows best in dappled to light shade with rich moist to wet soil.
Plants thrive in sandy or peaty soils and prefer acid pH.
This fern is remarkably pest resistant and tolerant of clay soil. Plants are more attractive if irrigated in dry garden conditions and sheltered from excessive wind.
Mature colonies provide protective cover to various kinds of small wildlife. This fern is pest resistant and not palatable to deer and other herbivores.
LANDSCAPE USES: The dramatic feathery foliage of this fern make it a lovely and useful Accent for a Shade Garden. In appropriate sites, Matteuccia struthiopteris matures into a verdant and soothing Groundcover or Mass. This fern provides Erosion Control and serve as a valuable component of Deer Resistant Plantings, Low Maintenance Plantings, Perennial Borders, Rain Gardens, Wetlands and Wildlife Gardens.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing with Carex muskingumensis, Chelone glabra, Phlox divaricata or Stylophorum diphyllum.
Osmunda cinnamomea has similar cultural needs and can be substituted if needed.
TRIVIA: This fern produces large edible fiddleheads. These croziers are a gourmet treat when sautéed in butter and have been named as the state vegetable of Vermont.
Matteuccia struthiopteris won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
For more information on this plant, visit the USDA PLANTS Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=MAST