Sensitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis

Sensitive Fern

Onoclea sensibilis

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


Sensitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis, is a large, somewhat coarse, Missouri native, deciduous fern which occurs in wet woods and thickets and in moist soils along streams and springs. Grows up to 4 feet tall. Features long-stalked, deeply pinnatifid, bright green, vegetative (sterile) fronds (2-4 feet long) with leathery, triangular leaflets (pinnae) which have distinctively netted veins. Shorter, erect, woody-like fertile fronds (to 12-inch tall), whose ultimate divisions are bead-like segments, typically brown up in late summer and persist throughout the remaining season and winter.

Habitats include wet to mesic deciduous woodlands, lowland sandy savannas, wooded bluffs, soggy thickets, forested bogs, swamps, moist meadows, moist sand prairies, edges of marshes, shaded seeps, and low shaded areas along small streams and vernal pools. The Sensitive Fern is usually found in natural areas of moderate to high quality.

Best grown in organically rich, medium moisture, well-drained soil in part shade to full shade. Needs consistent moisture. Although native to swampy and marshy areas, it grows quite well in average garden soil as long as soil is not allowed to dry out. Usually grows taller in wet soils which it tolerates well.

Plant Notes and Herbal Uses
  Best in wet woodland gardens and moist locations along streams and ponds.
  It spreads slowly by rhizomes and spores. Commonly called sensitive fern because the green vegetative fronds are sensitive to and suffer almost immediate damage from the first fall frost.
  Also sensitive to drought.
Further Information

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