Ferns

In deciduous woods, cinnamon ferns grow three feet tall in a circle and about four feet wide.
In deciduous woods, cinnamon ferns grow three feet tall in a circle and about four feet wide.
Landscapers who design shady woodland gardens know that certain plant families offer a wow factor. If you’re looking for plants that stay green all summer long and dress up your landscape, ferns are a great choice for placing as understory of wooded areas or edging a foundation planting. Ferns add a variety of textures, patterns, heights, and shades of green. Some fern species grow in tidy clumps, while others spread out when given enough room. Ferns grow horizontally on the ground from rootstocks or rhizomes. In spring, the sprout of the fern is a small curled frond—called a fiddlehead because of its likeness to the musical instrument—until it unfurls upward and outward. During the growing season, each species produces both sterile, leafy fronds and spore-producing fertile fronds. Spore clusters form inside sori—round, oval, or kidney-shaped dots—on leaf undersides or on a separate stalk. Sori turn brown as they ripen and burst open only when the air is dry, releasing unicellular spores. The next part of the life cycle is inconspicuous. In moist soil, a ¼-inch, heart-shaped body—called a prothallus—develops microscopic male and female organs. After fertilization occurs, an embryo grows into a tiny, green leaf with roots, a process that takes place over many months. Ferns are classified by noting whether the fronds are cut once, twice, or three times into leaflets. The marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) species was named because the sori appear on the leaflet margins of the twice-cut fronds, which arch upward. This species grows in scattered clumps and remains conspicuously evergreen over dried leaves on the forest floor. The wood fern family shows off lacy-cut leaflets. With scaly stalks and clustered growth forms, the wood variety typifies the classic fern. Both the sterile and fertile fronds of wood ferns are similarly shaped. Look underneath leaflets for the kidney-shaped sori. The thrice-cut delicate fronds of the spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris spinulosa) rise from circular clusters. The scaly stalk is noticeable below the large paired leaflets, which taper to the tip. Ferns stabilize soil, prevent erosion, and are part of natural biodiversity. Cut fronds make nice additions to indoor floral arrangements, too.

In deciduous woods, cinnamon ferns grow three feet tall in a circle and about four feet wide.
In deciduous woods, cinnamon ferns grow three feet tall in a circle and about four feet wide.

Landscapers who design shady woodland gardens know that certain plant families offer a wow factor. If you’re looking for plants that stay green all summer long and dress up your landscape, ferns are a great choice for placing as understory of wooded areas or edging a foundation planting. Ferns add a variety of textures, patterns, heights, and shades of green. Some fern species grow in tidy clumps, while others spread out when given enough room.

Ferns grow horizontally on the ground from rootstocks or rhizomes. In spring, the sprout of the fern is a small curled frond—called a fiddlehead because of its likeness to the musical instrument—until it unfurls upward and outward. During the growing season, each species produces both sterile, leafy fronds and spore-producing fertile fronds.

Spore clusters form inside sori—round, oval, or kidney-shaped dots—on leaf undersides or on a separate stalk. Sori turn brown as they ripen and burst open only when the air is dry, releasing unicellular spores.

The next part of the life cycle is inconspicuous. In moist soil, a ¼-inch, heart-shaped body—called a prothallus—develops microscopic male and female organs. After fertilization occurs, an embryo grows into a tiny, green leaf with roots, a process that takes place over many months.

Ferns are classified by noting whether the fronds are cut once, twice, or three times into leaflets. The marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) species was named because the sori appear on the leaflet margins of the twice-cut fronds, which arch upward. This species grows in scattered clumps and remains conspicuously evergreen over dried leaves on the forest floor.

The wood fern family shows off lacy-cut leaflets. With scaly stalks and clustered growth forms, the wood variety typifies the classic fern. Both the sterile and fertile fronds of wood ferns are similarly shaped. Look underneath leaflets for the kidney-shaped sori.

The thrice-cut delicate fronds of the spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris spinulosa) rise from circular clusters. The scaly stalk is noticeable below the large paired leaflets, which taper to the tip.

Ferns stabilize soil, prevent erosion, and are part of natural biodiversity. Cut fronds make nice additions to indoor floral arrangements, too.

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