Athyrium filix-femina

Lady fern

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Lacy pale fronds lend an air of fragility that conceals the Lady Fern’s tough nature. A harbinger of spring, Athyrium filix-femina is one of the earliest ferns to unravel those fresh green crosiers.

Origin: Temperate Northern Hemisphere
Genus: Athyrium filix-femina
Species / Cultivar: filix-femina
Common Name: Lady fern

Plant Biography

Lacy pale fronds lend an air of fragility that conceals the Lady Fern’s tough nature. A harbinger of spring, Athyrium filix-femina is one of the earliest ferns to unravel those fresh green crosiers. There is an almost endless list of cultivars as spore raised plants will often look different to the mother and Victorian fern lovers named a huge number.

A few theories abound as to how this fern came to be associated with stereotyped notions of femininity. Some refer to how the sori (reproductive structures) are concealed in an inconspicuous manner, whilst others point to notions of graceful ‘Ladylike’ elegance.

Growing across the Northern hemisphere, in particular there are Native American traditional uses for this fern: fiddleheads are consumed a number of ways including as tea to assist in pains related to childbirth. Oil from the roots have allegedly been used since the 1st century AD to get rid of worms.

Athyrium filix-femina
Soil: Moist but Well Drained
Soil that allows water to drain at a moderate rate, without the water pooling.
Growth Rate: Medium
Expect to see moderate growth during growing season.
Water Requirement: High
Likely to require supplementary watering in warmer months, even once established.
Maintenance: Low
Minimal skill or input needed beyond the basics, a very independent plant.
Situation: Part Shade to Full Shade
Can enjoy several hours of direct sunlight, but also happy in full shade.
Eventual Height: 0.9m
The plant's ultimate height in typical growing conditions.
Eventual Spread: 1m
The plant's ultimate spread in typical growing conditions.
Hardiness: Fully Hardy
Will survive unprotected outdoors in most areas of the UK, even in the harshest winters.
Habit: Deciduous
Sheds all its foliage annually, so for a period of the year it will be without foliage.
Care & Size Guidance

Care & Size Guidance

Given a position in full or dappled shade and a rich moist soil it will produce vigorous fresh-looking growth and remain attractive until frosts cut back the leaves. At maturity this fern can reach 80cm tall or more and slowly forms large clumps. They will look their best in a sheltered position where the finely toothed fronds can arrange themselves to their neatest undisturbed effect.

Expert Tip

There is some variation even in the species itself: some Athyrium filix-femina have green midribs whilst others have red ones.