Fact Sheets‎ > ‎


Gardening with Three Native Ferns 


First and foremost, I must stress that the ferns should not be taken from of the wild.  This presentation was done for the Minden and District Horticultural Society.  Many of its members have woodland properties where these ferns are found.  I stated during the presentation that if a person had some of these ferns in their woodlot then only one out of ten should be relocated to the garden.  The rest need to be left to ensure propagation of the species.  

It is best to purchase the ferns from a reputable nursery.  A simple online search using keywords such as ‘native Ontario ferns nursery’ should take you to a number of sites.  

All ferns need moist, fertile soil which contains organic matter.  Most are shade-loving.

Ostrich Fern  (Matteuccia struthiopteris)  aka Fiddlehead Fern

This is a lovely looking fern and the best fern        

for fiddleheads.  Be sure to harvest only a few                                                                                                 

when they are first emerging in the spring, when                          

they appear as pictured below.                                                                    


The sori or spores are not produced on the underside of fronds as with most ferns, but on a separate set of fertile fronds.  These fronds remain over the winter and look rather unsightly in early spring.  This, however, does make them easy to identify at that time.

All of the fronds grow from a single point called a black knob.  

Ostrich ferns will tolerate standing water only for a short time in the spring.

Intermediate Wood Fern  (Dryopteris intermedia)  aka Evergreen Wood Fern, Intermediate Shield Fern

The Intermediate Wood Fern has an attractive, compact shape which compliments hostas and  other broad-leafed plants in the garden landscape.  It does not wilt and fade from the autumn garden as some ferns are known to do.   It maintains its green into the fall and winter which makes it appealing for a three season, northern garden.  Because it is evergreen it is easily recognized in the spring.  

Another way to identify this fern is to look at the fronds.  The first lower pinnule is         shorter than the second.


Oak Fern  Gymnocarpium dryopteris

This is a cute little fern which stands about five inches high.       

The appeal is that it emerges bright green in early spring and 

spreads to form a ground cover in the shade garden.  

It prefers moist soil but does not like standing water.

 It has a long creeping rhizome and the stem or rachis is very delicate

It looks like a miniature bracken fern in that the three fronds attach to the main rachis of the plant.

An important note on Edible Fiddleheads    - condensed from Fine Gardening magazine, #108, p. 20   by Ruth Lively

Throughout the world, several types of fiddleheads are eaten, though most contain toxic compounds. 

The most commonly eaten and most esteemed fiddlehead is that of the ostrich fern, often simply called fiddlehead fern. The ostrich fern is the safest fern to eat, even though it too can contain toxins. 

The fiddleheads of cinnamon fern, lady fern and bracken fern can also be eaten, but all are at least mildly toxic and can cause nausea, dizziness, and headache.  It’s probably best to avoid them

The safest way to eat fiddleheads is to stick to ostrich ferns and to eat them in small quantities. 

For more information, there is a very good website for Ontario Ferns:  

                                                                                http://www.ontarioferns.com/       by Walter Muma


Walter Muma: ontarioferns.com

©  S. Flinders-Adams