Despite their lack of flowers they provide beauty and versatility in the garden and support wildlife in less noticeable but unique ways. Songbirds use fronds from some of the more delicate ferns like New York fern (Thelypteris noveboracensis) for nesting material. Insects feed on some ferns while others provide cover for reptiles, amphibians and small mammals.
Georgia has a bunch of indigenous ferns, many of which are perfectly suitable for average garden use, especially in shade/part-shade conditions. The larger ferns offer bold green foliage to be used as a foil against other plants. Small ferns can serve as accent pieces, particularly in tight spaces or at the base of trees. Wet tolerant ferns provide a solution to a difficult area and running ferns fill up spaces that might otherwise be hard to reach. I'd like to introduce you to the possibilities of using native ferns in Georgia.
|Northern maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum)|
Large ferns: size is subjective, of course, but these are the native ferns that in my garden grow fairly large: Christmas (Polystichum acrostichoides), sensitive (Onoclea sensibilis), southern shield/southern wood (Thelypteris kunthii), lady (Athyrium filix-femina), northern maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum), hay-scented (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), marginal wood (Dryopteris marginalis), cinnamon (Osmunda cinnamomea) and royal (Osmunda regalis).
|Red-stemmed lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)|
Small ferns: petite little wonders to tuck into special spots: ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron), brittle fern (Cystopteris protrusa), grape (Botrychium spp.), and adder's tongue fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum).
|Adder's tongue fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum) |
Photo by S. George
Running ferns: ferns that will send out rhizomes and increase in size by traveling: netted chain (Woodwardia areolata), New York (Thelypteris noveboracensis), sensitive (Onoclea sensibilis), broad beech (Phegopteris hexagonoptera), and Virginia chain fern (Woodwardia virginica).
|New York fern (Thelypteris noveboracensis)|
|Broad beech fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera)|
Wet tolerant: ferns that don't mind being wet occasionally or always: cinnamon (Osmunda cinnamomea), royal (Osmunda regalis), sensitive (Onoclea sensibilis), and netted chain (Woodwardia areolata).
|Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)|
Sun tolerant: ferns that can take more sun, especially full-on morning sun, after 1 pm is a little tricky for any of them: southern shield/southern wood (Thelypteris kunthii), and the very aggressive bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum). Both of these do run a bit and the more the moisture the more they run!
|A robust clump of Thelypteris kunthii|
Specimen: ferns that are especially attractive or unusual: northern maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum) and southern maidenhair (Adiantum capillus-veneris), rockcap fern (Polypodium virginianum), resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides), and American climbing fern (Lygodium palmatum).
|Rockcap fern growing on a log (Polypodium virginianum)|
Evergreen ferns: ferns that retain some fronds year round in the metro Atlanta area: Christmas (Polystichum acrostichoides), marginal wood (Dryopteris marginalis), ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron), rockcap fern (Polypodium virginianum), resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides), and the fall-appearing grapefern (Botrychium biternatum).
|A young Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)|
If you're not using native ferns in your garden, give them a try. They are a beautiful and useful addition to almost any condition.
Reference: Field Guide to the Ferns and Other Pteridophytes of Georgia by Lloyd Snyder and James Bruce