Native Plant Trust

Athyrium angustum

lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)


Formerly placed in the superspecies Athyrium filix-femina, Athyrium angustum has been categorized as its own species, in contrast with the southern lady fern, Athyrium asplenioides, which has broader fronds at the base and, as the common name suggests, a more southerly distribution. Northern lady fern is a fine-textured species with a greenish to reddish rachis (stem). The soft visual texture of this plant and its versatility and tolerance for more open, sunny conditions makes it a unique choice for a variety of garden contexts.

Click on these links to read in detail:  General Description | Benefits | Ecology | References


Height: 12-24 in
Spread: 12-18 in
Hardiness Zone: 2-9


Bloom Color: Non-Flowering

Characteristics & Attributes

Cultivation Status
Species
Exposure
Part Shade
Shade
Soil Moisture
Wet
Average
Ecoregion
(58) Northeastern Highlands
(83) Eastern Great Lakes Lowlands
(59) Northeastern Coastal Zone
(84) Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens
(82) Acadian Plains and Hills
Attracts Wildlife
Other Pollinators/Wildlife
Tolerance
Deer/Rabbit Resistant
Additional Attributes
Low Maintenance


North American Distribution


General Description

Bloom Description: No flowers, the fiddleheads have scattered black scales on the light green stems

Growth Habit & Shape: A mid-sized, vase shaped fern that grows well in a variety of locations. It readily forms colonies in shade, but can also serve as a good specimen plant with a bit more sun.

Soil Preferences: Prefers organically-rich, average to moist soils.

Root Description: The roots are an upright rhizome, meaning that the plant forms individual vase-shaped clumps within a broad colony stemming from the same or overlapping rhizomes.

Garden Uses: Appropriate for shade gardens, Japanese-style gardens, shady corners, moist nooks and low spots.

Best Management & Maintenance: Athyrium angustum is easy to grow, tolerating dappled shade or morning sun. It prefers moister soil when planted in sunny spots, but in shade it thrives so long as drought is avoided. The main hazard faced by this fern as garden plant is trampling, which harms the shallow rhizome. Otherwise, this fern readily forms masses of individuals - sometimes fairly close together.

Common Problems: Abiotic: Intolerant of long periods of drought or of full sun.
Biotic: Generally none.

Benefits

Ornamental Value: Fine texture and loose colonies make this a great addition to the garden. This species blends in with numerous plants and is a good accent plant for the garden.

Wildlife Benefits: In New England, few wildlife benefits-- this species contains filicic acid, toxic to numerous mammals, but deer may browse in the absence of other food sources. Otherwise, it may serve as cover for a variety of small mammals and birds.

Other Practical/Environmental Benefits: Some soil stabilization when allowed to form colonies

Use in place of: Non-native ornamental fern species

Ecology

Habitat:
Floodplain (river or stream floodplains), forest edges, forests, swamps, woodlands


Response to Disturbance: Athyrium angustum is relatively easy to grow, having few problems and few pests.That said, fern roots and young fiddleheads grow close to the soil surface and can be easily damaged by trampling. Because this species is tolerant of a wide range of light and soil conditions, it will handle disturbance more readily than fern species that are typically found in deep woods settings. Plants may regenerate from fragments of rhizome.

Native State Distributions:
Canada: Greenland; Man., N.B., Nfld., N.S., Ont., P.E.I., Que., Sask.


USA: CT, DE, IL, IN, IA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MO, NE, NH, NJ, NY, NC, ND, OH, PA, RI, SD, VT, VA, WV, WI.


Wetland indicator status: FAC

References

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Photo by Dan Jaffe (c) Native Plant Trust 2020; for reuse inquiries, contact lgreen@nativeplanttrust.org
Photo by Dan Jaffe (c) Native Plant Trust
Photo by Dan Jaffe (c) Native Plant Trust 2020; for reuse inquiries, contact lgreen@nativeplanttrust.org
Photo by Dan Jaffe (c) Native Plant Trust