December: Christmas Fern

Ferns don’t typically make me think of Christmas, but this semi-evergreen fern keeps going strong into December. Its foliage remains green into mid to late winter. It is not the most delicate and dainty fern, but its tough, large leaflets are a good addition to shade gardens when evergreen massing is called for.

Christmas fern is native to the eastern U.S. and Canada, including Indiana. It grows naturally in temperate forest understory conditions on rocky slopes and banks. While it is mainly known for it’s long-lasting green color, the hairy, silvery fiddleheads are a nice touch in the spring. Christmas fern is a clump-forming fern, meaning it stays put and gradually gets a little bit wider, but it doesn’t spread to form dense, connected colonies the way some ferns do. While this fern is available for retail sale, it’s not something you’ll find at a big box store. Look at larger garden centers, especially ones that specialize in native plants or shade plants.

Common Name: Christmas fern

Scientific Name: Polystichum acrostichoides

Light: partial to full shade

Size: 12-24” tall and wide

Notable Varieties: no cultivated varieties

Soil: needs good drainage, tolerates dry soils

Other Notes: semi-evergreen; clump type fern does not spread to form colonies

See other plants of the month.


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