Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris

Ostrich Fern

Matteuccia struthiopteris

Sun Shade:
Bloom Time: Non-flowering
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Loam
Soil Moisture: Medium, Moist, Wet
Color: Non-flowering
Fragrance: No
Height: 3-6 feet
Spacing: 5-8 feet


Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, is a clump-forming, upright to arching, rhizomatous, deciduous fern which typically grows 2-3 feet tall in cultivation, but may reach 6 feet tall in moist, cool climates in the wild. The showy parts of this fern are the finely dissected, medium green, vegetative (sterile) fronds which, as the common name suggests, exhibit the feathery appearance of long ostrich plumes. The vegetative fronds emerge at the narrow base of the clumps in spring as the familiar "fiddleheads" from where they unfurl to a maximum length of 4 feet. These vegetative fronds usually depreciate as the summer proceeds, begin to look rather tattered by early fall and finally lose their leaflets later in the fall as the plant goes dormant for the winter. The sterile fronds form a huge vase-like crown around the much less showy fertile fronds which are erect, spike-like and dark brown. The fertile fronds arise in mid-summer and persist through the winter.

Habitats include moist rich woodlands, low areas along woodland borders, swamps, and soggy thickets. Ostrich Fern is more common in habitats that are somewhat sandy. This fern is often cultivated in semi-shaded gardens and along the foundations of houses and other buildings.

Easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in part shade to full shade. Best in rich soils with constant moisture. Soil must never be allowed to dry out. Spreads by underground rhizomes to form dense colonies in optimum growing conditions.

Plant Notes and Herbal Uses
  Avoid windy sites.
  The preference is light shade or dappled sunlight, wet to moist conditions, and a somewhat acidic soil that is peaty and/or sandy.
  Average moisture conditions are tolerated if this fern is watered during dry spells.
  The leaves are delicate and easily damaged.
  Intolerant of the hot and humid summers of the deep South.
Further Information

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 Widsconsin Edible Plants-Eat On The Wild Side
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 Wisconsin Native Plant Nurseries