FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Athyrium filix-femina is a hardy perennial fern with arching feathery fronds. Foliage is twice compound with each frond consisting of 12-24 pairs of small narrow leaflets. The leaflets and supporting stalks are a soothing lime green color. This fern thrives in moist loamy soils in dappled sun or partly shaded exposure. In a happy site, plants form small colonies from underground rhizomes
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Athyrium filix-femina is found in northern portions of North America, Europe and Asia. In North America this fern ranges from Newfoundland to Saskatchewan and south to North Carolina, Missouri and Nebraska.
Plants are indigenous to rich moist woods, stream banks, ravines, thickets, swamp margins and meadows.
Hardiness rating is from USDA Zones 4-8.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Athyrium filix-femina is a deciduous clumping perennial fern.
Each spring, fronds emerge from sturdy green fiddleheads. The fiddleheads and the petioles that unfurl from them have brownish chaffy scales.
The entire leaf is 24” to 42” long. The petiole or leafless stalk is about 6-10” long and the leafy portion is 2-3 times longer.
Fronds are widest below the middle and about 10” across. Each twice compound leaf contains 12-24 pairs pinnae or leaflets that are linear or lanceolate in outline. Each of the pinnae can have as many as 15 pinnules or subleaflets. The pinnules usually have tiny teeth and some have narrow elongated sori or spore clusters beneath.
Plants are upright or vase shaped. They average 2’ to 3.5’ tall and can slowly expand from rhizomes to form small colonies.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Athyrium filix-femina grows best in moist shaded sites with humus rich soils. This fern prospers in slightly acid to neutral soils and is intolerant of clay.
Plants require high humidity and should be sheltered from wind. Short term drought can induce temporary dormancy but plants will generally return the following spring.
This delicate looking beauty is easy to grow and low maintenance in shaded exposures with rich, loose and moist soil.
Established plants are pest resistant. As they mature into lush groundcover stands they provide valuable habitat for small wildlife.
LANDSCAPE USES: The dramatic feathery foliage of this fern make it a lovely and useful Accent for a Shade Garden. In appropriate sites, Athyrium filix-femina matures into a verdant and soothing Groundcover, Grouping or Mass. This fern is a valuable component of Low Maintenance Plantings, Perennial Borders, Water Gardens and Wildlife Gardens.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing with Aquilegia canadensis, Carex plantaginea, Phlox divaricata or Tiarella cordifolia.
Adiantum pedatum has similar cultural needs and can be substituted if needed.
TRIVIA: One of the main ways to differentiate ferns from one another is by leaf arrangement. The terms for different types of compound leaves can be confusing, however. If in doubt, imagine that you are watching a small bug crawling from the ground to the top of the petiole. The bug is programmed to turn right at every opportunity. If after making one turn, the insect ends up at the tip of a leaflet, the leaf is once compound like Polystichum acrostichoides If the bug turns onto a stalk and then makes a second turn to reach the tip of a subleaflet, the leaf is twice or bipinnately compound like those of Athyrium filix-femina.