Sweet Fern, Comptonia peegrina

Sweet Fern

Comptonia peegrina

Sun Shade:
Bloom Time: Spring
Zones: 2, 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Moist, Dry, Medium
Color: Green
Fragrance: Yes
Height: 2 - 5 feet
Spacing: 2 - 3 feet


Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrine) is an upright, deciduous shrub (typically growing 2-4 feet tall) which features simple, narrow, lustrous, pinnatifid, deeply notched, olive to dark green leaves (to 4 inches long). Insignificant, yellowish green flowers appear in spring and give way to greenish brown, burr-like nutlets. Occurs in poor, sandy or gravelly, infertile soils, such as along roadsides. The root system can develop clonal offsets from underground runners. Clonal colonies of plants are common from such offsets.

Habitats include upland sand prairies, sandy shrub prairies, and sandy upland savannas. Sweet Fern benefits from occasional wildfires as this reduces competition from taller shrubs and trees. The seeds can lie dormant in the soil for several decades while waiting for such wildfires to occur.

Easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Adaptable plant that tolerates wet conditions and wind (including sheltered seashore areas), drought and a wide range of soils (prefers sandy, acidic loams, but tolerates poor soils). Once established it can spread rapidly to form colonies.

A good shrub for areas with poor soils.

Plant Notes and Herbal Uses
  A good plant for stabilizing slopes or embankments.
  Has a pleasant fragrance when crushed.
  Fixes its own nitrogen.
  The Ruffed Grouse and Greater Prairie Chicken feed on the buds, catkins, and foliage.
  Does not transplant well.
Further Information

 Wisconsin Fruit Trees
 Wisconsin Edible Berry Shrubs
 Widsconsin Edible Plants-Eat On The Wild Side
 8 Dandelion Recipes
 Wisconsin Native Plant Nurseries