A Frond Indeed

A few years ago I removed the foundation planting of yews that were in front of my house and replaced them with Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris). Overall, I have been happy with the switch, though it leaves the front of the house bare for several months of the year.

A foundation planting of Ostrich Ferns.
A foundation planting of Ostrich Ferns.

Right about now the Ostrich Ferns have completed unfurling. They stand nearly 4 feet tall, and they will keep stretching upward for a while yet.

Ostrich ferns: strrrreetch!
Ostrich ferns: strrrreetch!

They are majestic plants, but I always wondered why they were named after ostriches, because honestly I don’t see the resemblance. Well, it turns out that the species name struthiopteris comes from the Greek struthio for ostrich and pterion for wing. So, “ostrich wing”. Although, frankly, I still don’t see it.

Ostrich Fern and  Bleeding Heart
Ostrich Fern and Bleeding Heart

Our Ostrich Ferns are quite happy growing up against the north side of the house, where it’s moist and shady. They make a pretty good background plant for the Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) and others growing further out from the wall.

If Ostrich Ferns had elbows I would say they were elbowing their way to the front of the Bleeding Hearts.
If Ostrich Ferns had elbows I would say they were elbowing their way to the front of the Bleeding Hearts.

I say “pretty good” because Ostrich fern definitely has expansionist tendencies, and is a bit disgruntled with its role as a background plant. It’s sending rhizomes out to establish beachheads among and in front of the Bleeding Hearts. After the Bleeding Hearts are done blooming I will have to get my shovel and carry out a containment operation.

Cinnamon Ferns with Virginia Bluebell on a rainy Sunday.
Cinnamon Ferns with Virginia Bluebell on a rainy Sunday.

We have other ferns in the garden: Lady Ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) and (I think) Cinnamon Ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea). In fact, I will close with the above photo of Cinnamon Ferns with Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) that Judy took this past Sunday.

I’m linking this post to Foliage Follow-Up, hosted by Pam at Digging. Check out the foliage featured by other garden bloggers.

57 Comments on “A Frond Indeed

  1. Absolutely gorgeous…I’ve been thinking of adding a few to my shady area to block our a/c unit from view…love those tall shuttlecock silhouettes!

  2. Your ostrich ferns are fantastic!!!! They are quite majestic against your house and hold the backdrop wonderfully! My ferns are growing and multiplying and like you I had to get my shovel out and move some as they have become very bold! Have a great weekend Jason! Nicole

  3. I’m glad you explained the name. I was wondering if it was because of the height — like an ostrich neck! At any rate, it’s a lovely fern. I wish it grew in Austin.

  4. The ferns look good on your pictures Jason. I have some too, sometimes I think they are not from our planet:))

  5. I had myself quite a chuckle reading about your ‘containment operation.’ On Thursday, I spent considerable time doing containment by digging and pulling up the runners. I LOVE ferns of any kind but they can move about. 🙂 You mentioned Bleeding Hearts and I added a Valentine to my collection this week – beautiful red. Love it.

    • I planted a ‘Valentine’ but it died over the winter – which is odd because all the other Bleeding Hearts are very vigorous.

  6. Oh yes, those Ostrich ferns can be a real work horse in the garden. When they are in a moist area you do have to keep after them so they play nice with other plants. I just love them tho. I wonder if the Ostrich part is more for their dark seed fronds they put up in fall (I can’t think of the botanical name of them right now.) . That looks more like an Ostrich feather to me.

  7. Jason, I planted ostrich fern in the back bed of my new shade garden with the hopes that it will grow tall and provide a nice bottom “layer” to the fence. I notice my neighbor has ostrich fern that she has dug up for containment at the curb and expect I may be doing the same in a year or two. Great photos. I love the way the fronds unfurl.

    • You can count on needing to dig up some ostrich fern in a couple of years. Start thinking about who you might want some free ferns!

  8. Ah, yes. They do have a tendency to take over, don’t they?! I have an imaginary line in the garden, and when the Ostrich Ferns cross it, I lift them. The nice thing is, they’re most aggressive in the spring time and more well-behaved in the summer and fall. I love the second photo in this post–with the mid-distance focal point.

  9. Ferns are so cool! Wildlife friendly cottage gardens are the best and Illinois is too — from an old Champaign-Urbana boy. I like the short sparse winter part of gardening in Austin when half the garden goes bare as much as the other times. I came over from Pam’s Digging Blog. Her pictures are something aren’t they!

  10. I wish my ostrich ferns grew so well – mine have only mustered six rosettes in six years. I do have another one contained in a large pot and with plenty of water it has made a huge plant.
    We have had drying winds and late frosts in our part of the UK, York and my bleeding hearts have been severely checked.

  11. Spectacular! I am such a sucker for tall plants. I just love how lush and beautiful your ferns are.

      • Moss and ferns and very tall trees. But I grew up on the Canadian prairie where tall meant an aspen tree …. ’nuff said. haha

  12. An interesting read aa I’ve just planted ostrich ferns in my garden. I think it will take a year or two for them to settle in

  13. It’s always a balancing act between egging on plants to perform well and beating back the ones that overdo it. Personally,I don’t mind at all digging up and sharing things that get a little overenthusiastic.

  14. Hard to imagine Yew fitting in with your garden, I can see why you took it out. Your fern choices are really lovely as is Judy’s photography, especially the last photo.

  15. I’ve always heard that it was the fertile, female fronds that turn brown and persist in winter that looked like bird feathers and gave the fern its common name. Where and how ostriches come into the story I don’t know, but I do think the fertile fronds look feathery.
    I spent a lot of time keeping these ferns corralled at the rear of gardens where they belonged! Aggressive, but beautiful.

    • I should really pay more attention to the fertile fronds, but at that point in the year I tend to ignore the ferns.

  16. Ostrich ferns are beautiful but with enough aggressive growers in my garden I’ll admire them from afar. Are your other ferns well-behaved?

  17. Your ferns are lovely, there have such wonderful colour and form as they open in spring, but I’m not sure I would have removed a wonderful yew hedge to have them!

    • It was a foundation planting, I don’t think it really qualified as a hedge. Just yews planted at the base of the house and clipped unnaturally short so as not to block the windows.

  18. I think they are more suited to their other common name – shuttlecock fern. I think that one is used more often over here. They do look good and particularly with the bleeding hearts. They make such an impact in that whole area.

    • Never heard of that common name, and I have no idea what a shuttlecock is, but I’ll look it up. They do go well with the Bleeding Hearts.

  19. Your ferns are wonderful, I do like them, they always seem so old and primitive to me. I have had to dig lots out as they had taken over the horrible hedging border, I’ve left a few though!xxx

    • They do look like they come from the prehistoric era. I have sometimes teased neighborhood kids that they attract dinosaurs.

  20. I love the title of this post. So clever! I don’t have the moisture for many ferns but did add dwarf lady ferns that are doing well so far. I’m so glad you ripped out the yews and planted ferns, instead. Foundation plantings can be so boring and expected. These are so much more interesting.

  21. Love your beautiful ferns, and I love the title of this post, too!
    Long ago I was in a performing group when suddenly one of our ensemble players launched into a long, convoluted, and hilarious gardening joke (in front of an audience, yet) which ended with the punchline, “With fronds like that, who needs anemones?” …..lots of groans…..
    I can’t remember the joke itself – rats – but can never forget that punchline.
    Maybe someone here has heard it?

  22. I love big native ferns too and hope to add more to some shady spots…although I am being careful as I don’t want them to colonize the garden…it seems plant that can do here in my garden.

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