By Wayne Hutchins
One group of plants that grows very well in shade is ferns. Ferns are found worldwide in almost every habitat found on earth. As a group of plants, ferns have been on earth for almost 400 million years, as shown by the fossil record.
Ferns, unlike flowering plants, do not produce seed but reproduce by spores, which are dust like in size. The spores on many ferns are found in clusters on the ventral surface of a frond (leaf). Some ferns have modified leaves from which the spores are shed. From a spore to a mature fern could take from one year to several years depending upon the species.
As a fern frond emerges from the ground in the spring, it unrolls – hence the name fiddlehead. The fiddleheads of some species of ferns are used in foods in the U.S. One recent discovery found that some species of ferns can be used to remove the element arsenic from contaminated soil.
There are some 60 species of ferns found in North Carolina and many more found throughout the world. Many of these ferns can be used in landscapes and many are evergreen depending upon temperature.
Below you will find several varieties that grow quite well in Western North Carolina.
Dryopteris championii (Champion’s Woodfern) – This fern is evergreen and can reach a height of 3 feet.
Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern) – The new foliage come out red to orange before changing to green. This fern is evergreen and can reach a height of 3 feet.
Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas Fern) – An evergreen fern, native to Rutherford county and can reach a height of 2-2 ½ feet.
Adiantum pedatum (maidenhair fern) – The fronds form a semicircle and the fern is deciduous with a height of 2 feet.
Polystichum polyblephrum (tassel fern) – An evergreen fern with shiny fronds, ultimate height of 2 ½ feet.
Any shade garden must depend in part on plants with variation in shape and size. Ferns, hostas, and wildflowers can make any shade garden interesting to observe year round.