Sensitive Fern

Onoclea sensibilis

Sensitive Fern

Onoclea sensibilis, the sensitive fern, is so named because the fronds turn an autumnal yellow and die down with the first frost and are hence “sensitive” (and not because it is in the least bit difficult to cultivate). It is a very willing east coast native. Growers in the challenging cold of Zone 2 climates (think Nova Scotia) can easily establish this species and have a low maintenance ground cover. It will, of course, thrive in warmer climates all the way up to Zone 10, where even there it is deciduous. It is not fussy about soil types. This is a creeper with wavy lobed sterile fronds of a soft green. Plantings are enhanced with a contrasting framework of darker foliaged plants. The fertile fronds are erect brown stalks with clusters of bead like tan pods enclosing the spores. They emerge in late summer, turn woody and are held upright throughout the winter. They are popular in flower arranging but do let the spores drop first! Depending on your climate the fronds can reach 3 feet although they usually mature at around 2. They can quickly spread far and wide, however, especially in wet areas, so chose a spot where you would like it to roam. (Look for it as a common roadside planting from New England south through the Mid-Atlantic States.)

Habit: Spreading

Range: Zones 2 - 10 Learn more about zones


Type: Deciduous

Collection(s): Hardy, Native

Casa Flora Number: 67070