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Dryopteris (dry-OP-ter-iss)

Common Name:  Wood fern, log fern, male fern, autumn fern

Light:  - Part shade to full shade

Soil:  Rich, moist but well-drained

Moisture:  Average

Zones:  varies by species

Looking for Dryopteris plants (wood, log, male ferns)? Check plant availability at Hallson Gardens by visiting our Dryopteris catalog page


Dryopteris e. 'Brilliance'

Dryopteris 'Linearis Polydactyla'

Dryopteris Description and Cultural Information

Dryopteris affinis, Golden-scaled male fern. (24 - 36") Fronds are lance shaped with dark green, lightly toothed leaflets and golden-brown, scaly stems. The rhizomes are erect with symmetrical, arching fronds which multiply readily for easy division. This fern is easy to grow and adaptable to many lighting conditions and soil types although neutral to slightly acidic soil is best. Dryopteris affinis 'Cristata - The King' is a popular variety that is taller (3 to 4') and the tips of the leaflets and fronds are lightly crested. Zones 4 - 8.

Dryopteris celsa, log fern. (36 - 48") Tall, upright semi-evergreen fronds are dark green with long, slender, finely toothed leaflets. It grows best in moist, rich soil and is native to swamps and wet woods, sometimes found growing on rotting logs. In the garden it will be light green in alkaline soil and dark green in acidic conditions. The rhizomes are short and creeping. It grows readily from spores or can be propagated by division. Zones 5 - 9.

Dryopteris cycadina, shaggy shield wood fern. (18 - 24") Fronds are somewhat erect and arching with closely spaced, narrow, lance-shaped, finely toothed leaflets. The stems are accented with black scales and stand out nicely against the dark green, semi-evergreen fronds. They are easy to grow and enjoy rich moist soil but will also adapt to dryish, rocky areas once established. They prefer a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. The rhizomes are short, creeping and can be divided in time or they will sometimes naturalize on their own from spores. Zones 5 - 8.

Dryopteris erythrosora, autumn fern. (18 - 24") This fern is known for its colorful new growth, resembling the copper and orange shades of autumn. The fronds are triangular with triangular, round segmented leaflets. New growth comes up coppery-pink changing to dark, glossy green. They are erect and evergreen, holding up well into the winter. 'Brilliance' is a selection that is particularly bright orange when it emerges. The sori (spore producing structures on the back on the leaflets) tend to be red, adding to this fern's color. They have short creeping rhizomes and are easy to grow. They prefer humus-rich, neutral to acidic soil but are not too particular about moisture. Zones 5 - 8.

Dryopteris filix-mas, male fern. (24 - 48") These ferns are mid to dark green, lance shaped and usually upright growing, giving it its common name. It is a very adaptable fern, growing just fine in even the darkest shade or even poor soil. They grow from an erect crown but after several years it may be possible to divide them. 'Linearis Polydactyla' is a variety with very narrow leaflets on upright fronds. Zones vary slightly, but most are hardy from zones 4 to 8.

Dryopteris marginalis, marginal wood fern, leather wood fern. (18 - 30") This fern looks similar to the lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) but is semi-evergreen, lasting well after the first fall frost. It has upright and arching, triangular shaped fronds with bluish-green, lance shaped leaflets. It is quite hardy and easy to grow. Zones 2 - 8.

How to Grow:  Dryopteris is a very large genus of ferns and the most widespread genus in the world. They can be found in areas that are dry or wet, growing in soil that is alkaline or acidic, growing in full shade or even in some sun. Each species requirements varies somewhat, but in culture it is best to give them moist but well-drained soil enriched deeply with humus, give them some shade, and water as needed. Ferns do not need much fertilizer, if any, and the soil around them should not be disturbed too often as the fine roots can be easily damaged. They are best tranplanted in spring or early summer planting the crowns just slightly below the soil and covering lightly with compost or fine mulch. Fall planted ferns do not always root out that well and may frost heave and dry out over the winter but if you are in warmer zones you can transplant almost any time.

Landscape uses:  Plant these ferns with hostas, heucheras, bleeding hearts, Tiarella, Epimedium or other shade plants. They look nice next to rocks or boulders or naturalized in the woodland garden. Because of the many forms and sizes they could work as an accent, specimen, or even as background plants, depending on the fern.

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