The stately Ostrich Fern. This regal Spirit is the picture of grace. Its fronds shoot up from the center and arch like a fountain; it carries itself with a calm confidence. Give this spreader room to run to show it off to best advantage. It’s sublime in the dappled shade of a woodland garden, but it will flourish in any moist, shady spot in your landscape. In fall, the leaves turn yellow and die down, but interesting brown fertile fronds appear, lasting throughout the winter as ornaments during the cold months. These fronds make unique additions to dried arrangements.
Having been around for millions of years—since the time of the dinosaurs and before—ferns speak to a primal part of us. They give a sort of lush, prehistoric feel to shady garden retreats. Ostrich Fern is especially evocative of this mood, with its dramatic fronds, long and elegant like real ostrich feathers. It becomes most impressive in cool northern climates where it is happiest (it struggles in hot regions). Ostrich Fern has a surprisingly large native range and can be found growing wild in Europe, eastern Asia, and right here in the eastern U.S. (and Canada).
A gourmet treat in spring! The tightly coiled new Ostrich Fern fronds that emerge in spring are called fiddleheads, and fiddleheads are a gourmet delicacy. Fine restaurants pay top dollar for them. They must be cooked before being consumed and are most often sautéed in butter. You won’t find them at the supermarket, but if you grow these in your garden, you can enjoy them every spring!
How to Grow
Moisture is key to growing healthy Ostrich Ferns. They don’t like to dry out and will even grow in mucky soil if you have a troublesome area in your landscape that doesn’t drain well. Shade is also a necessity, especially during the hottest part of the day. Plants will tolerate more sun in cool-summer regions. After the season’s growth has died down, it’s best to wait until spring to trim the dead fronds off, though you can do this job in late fall if you find the old stems distracting—or, you can just leave them be, as in nature. Ostrich Fern will spread to form new clumps, so plant it with this in mind or confine it with a barrier.
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