University of Maryland Extension

Ostrich Fern

Ostrich fern close-up of frondsMatteuccia struthiopteris, ostrich fern, is a native fern that prefers to grow in cool areas and is cold tolerant from USDA zones 3-7. Ostrich fern grows best in full to part shade and constantly moist, rich soils. It can reach heights of 3- 6 feet tall, spreading 5- 8 feet wide. This fern spreads by underground rhizomes and can form a dense colony if grown in the right conditions. The fern fronds are dimorphic which means that they are either male or female fronds. The males are the tall, showy, ostrich wing-shaped fronds. They are made up of finely dissected leaflets that emerge from the base of the clumps in the spring as fiddleheads, which uncurl to the 3-6 feet. The fronts are a vibrant dark green all summer, but in the autumn they begin to lose their leaflets and go dormant during the winter months. Young fiddleheads are prized as a delicacy and are listed as the state vegetable of Vermont. The female fronds grow in a dark brown rigid spike 18 inches tall that emerge in mid-summer and remain upright all winter, giving color and texture to the woodland gardens. Springtime is when the dust-like spores are released as the male fiddleheads have expanded. Good areas to plant ostrich ferns are in shady gardens along streams, wet areas, or beside ponds. They grow well with other spring natives like trilliums, trout lilies, and bloodroot, which will be dormant by the time the ferns start spreading. No serious pests are listed and plants are tolerant of rabbits and deer.

Article and Photo By: Ginny Rosenkranz, Extension Educator, Wicomico, Worcester, and Somerset Counties, University of Maryland Extension
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