Sword Fern finds itself perfectly at home in any shady woodland or rock garden. This charming evergreen has tall arching fronds that partially unroll their “fiddleheads” by late May. Each frond has a small “thumb” at the bottom, making it resemble a sword. They add impressive visual interest and structure to the garden all year.
- Plant type/canopy layer: evergreen perennial fern
- Size at maturity: 2-4' tall, 2-3' wide
- Light requirements: full shade, part sun/part shade
- Moisture requirements: moist to dry soil
- Bloom time: n/a, spores usually mature in July
- Growth rate/ease: moderate growth rate, easy to grow
- Wildlife support: caterpillar host plant and larval food source, fronds provide cover and nesting sites for birds, small mammals and amphibians, and are browsed by deer, elk, black bear, and mountain beaver
- Native habitat/range: Common in the understory of moist coniferous forests and meadows at low elevations all along the Pacific coast from southeast Alaska to southern California, sea level to 2200 m. Portland Plant List - yes.
- Special features & uses: evergreen and deer resistant. The fronds are harvested for use in floral arrangements and have been traditionally used by native peoples for lining baking pits and storage baskets, as placemats, floor coverings, bedding; and for games, skirts and other decorations. The roots/rhizomes can be used as a famine food - but should be consumed in small quantities, if at all, due to possible presence of carcinogens or other toxins.
Gardening with Sword Fern: Sword fern will be happiest in your shady woodland garden, preferably in the understory of associate plants like conifers. Ideal soils for this species are well-drained, rich in humus (organic matter) and contain small stones. Sword ferns are very tough, and can survive summer drought once established. Although many plant lists will tell you that sword fern survives the sun, it doesn't thrive there, particularly in the extremely summer heat that climate change brings.
Photo Credits: 1, 2 & 5: Nikkie West, Sparrowhawk Native Plants
Photo Credits 3 & 4: Tara Lemezis