January 04, 2011

Plant of the month: Fiddlehead Fern

It’s time for me to take a little break from the snowy pictures. This month’s plant, however, does boast winter interest. But this photo shows what it looks like in early May in my garden.

The Fiddlehead Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), also commonly called Ostrich Fern, is native to most of Canada and the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast U.S.

An aside: I’m back to work after a full week of vacation during the holidays. I mention this because, unfortunately, it’s still dark when I leave for work and the sun sets shortly after I get home. So, I haven’t had much time to snap photos the past couple of days. I’m planning to check out the Fiddleheads this weekend.

If you think I’m joking (considering it’s January in Wisconsin), I’m not. Fiddlehead Ferns are noteworthy in all four seasons:

  • Spring: The curled, emerging “fiddleheads” are fascinating to see. In their coiled state, they can be used for decoration or floral arrangements. They’re even edible. I don’t recommend eating them because I’ve never been brave enough to try them. But the Forager Press offers several ideas for preparing Fiddleheads for consumption.
  • Summer: Fiddlehead Ferns grow to about two to eight feet tall in summer. They're so easy to maintain in a shady Midwestern garden. In fact, I find I have to pull a few each year to make sure they don’t spread too much. I love the fact that they’re natives. And they form a tall, feathery frame at the back of perennial beds and along garden borders.
  • Fall: This is probably the messiest season for Fiddleheads. The “sterile” pluming fronds die back, and I usually trim them a bit before the first snowfall. The shorter “fertile” fronds turn brown and remain upright as the larger fronds collapse and begin to decompose.
  • Winter: The ferns’ cinnamon-colored fertile fronds retain winter interest as long as the snow doesn’t get too deep and bury them. Since we’ve had a bit of a January thaw, I can see the spore-producing fertile fronds out my back window during the day.

Fiddleheads are just one of thousands of varieties of Ferns. The Hardy Fern Foundation has a nifty web page full of tips for selecting the best Ferns for your garden. Ferns are excellent framing plants—usually not the focal point, but excellent foundation plants at the back of the garden.


  1. I do like fiddleheads for all the reasons you stated. I really like the architecture to the plant. I hope you are not taking a long break from the snowy photos though. I do like them too.

  2. Lovely post! I just planted an Ostrich Fern in my woodland garden this year. Surprisingly I didn't realize it was the same as a Fiddlehead Fern. Now I am more excited than ever to see it come up. Since I am in Georgia (zone 7b) this should be soon! Thanks for the reference too!

  3. I love ferns and want to add more to my garden. Thanks for the link to the Hardy Fern Foundation!

  4. @Donna: I appreciate the encouragement to get out and take more winter shots. I will try to do that this weekend.
    @Karin: Zone 7b! I am very jealous! I wonder if your Fiddleheads are starting to emerge now?
    @Ginny: You're very welcome. It's a great resource, isn't it?

  5. I love ferns, and this one looks like a good one. My favourite time is Spring, when the evergreen ferns unfurl fresh new growth and the deciduous ones start showing the heads again.

  6. Thanks for the info on fiddlehead ferns. I have some at the back of my shady garden under my deck. We love to watch them unfurl.

  7. @Janet: I agree. May is an amazing month around here.
    @Jonna: Certainly. They must be fun to watch while you relax on the deck in the springtime.

  8. Your photos are gorgeous. I love ferns too...mine don't seem to llok this nice in the winter, though. I seem to get my best photos during their 'unraveling' in the spring;-)

  9. Hmm, seems I was leaving a comment on a post with a photo in the snow but now I only see this one. Perhaps I've left this on a different post than the one I was reading? No matter...it's a great shot and I love the spring unravelings:-)