Oak Fern, Gymnocarpium dryopteris

Oak Fern

Gymnocarpium dryopteris

Sun Shade:
Bloom Time: Late Summer/Early Fall
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Medium, Moist, Wet
Color: Green
Fragrance: No
Height: 6-12 inches
Spacing: 6-12 inches


Oak Fern, Gymnocarpium dryopteris, is a deciduous fern that grows in coniferous woodlands and on shale talus slopes. Oak Fern never grows more than a foot tall, spreading slowly to form a beautiful clump of airy greenish-gold leaves.

At the top of the stem is a single compound leaf (frond) though appears like a whorl of 3 leaves. The leaf is generally triangular in outline, up to 7 inches long and about as wide, with 6 to 10 pair of branches (pinnae) oppositely arranged. The lowest pair of branches are typically twice compound, triangular in outline, to 4½ inches long, somewhat smaller to about as large as the rest of the leaf, stalked and connected to the main stem at a swollen node. Upper branches are once compound or merely lobed, stalkless, more oblong in outline but tapering to a pointed tip and generally curve upward. The leaves are held horizontally, nearly parallel to the ground, and typically bright yellow-green.

The main stem (stipe) is slender, up to about 12 inches long, dark purplish-brown near the base, brownish to straw-colored above, smooth except for scattered tan scales.

The sori (group of spores) are found on the underside of the leaf. They are circular and arranged around the edges of a pinnule, at the tip of a vein, and often merge at maturity. There is no extra tissue (indusium) that surrounds or covers the spores. Spores ripen to dark brown, though not all leaves have spores.

Habitat for Oak Fern is well-drained soil in light to full shade.

Plant Notes and Herbal Uses
  Oak Fern makes a tough yet delicate groundcover.
Further Information

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