The Staunch Ostrich Fern


Meet the Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). With my propensity for ostrich feathers, it should come as no surprise that I love an Ostrich fern. At the house where I grew up, there was a stand of these in the woods behind the neighbor’s home. When their house was being sold, I moved a few to the wooded area behind our house in a questionably immoral decision. (Technically, they were semi-wild, and didn’t look to have been planted by anyone, and I didn’t take enough to make a dent in their stand of them.) Ours were in somewhat more amended soil, and took off, even treading numerous feet into one of the proper beds (where they retain a sizable, and threatening, hold).

Andy’s home was surrounded by these ferns as well, where they even escaped into the lawn. When we first moved into our home ten years ago we brought a few over in the spring. Today, there is the sizable grouping of them you see here, and a smaller patch in another corner. Contrary to popular belief, not all ferns require heavy shade and pampering. These monsters (they can get up to five feet tall in the right conditions) can do quite well in full sun provided they have plenty of water and a moisture retentive soil. The ones in these photos get strong sunlight for the majority of the day, with just a slight break in the late afternoon. They do require water to remain fresh in the summer, but it’s a small price to pay for such dramatic beauty.

This is one of the crown-forming ferns (as opposed to mat-forming) ~ they will form a central crown from which the fiddleheads emerge (these are the ones that you eat in the fancier restaurants) and send out black-hued sharp-ended runners that travel a few feet from the parent plant, eventually establishing a new crown of their own. I like the way they spread, in that they can managed by judiciously pruning these shoots, or allowing them to come up if you have the room.

These have been captured at the tail-end of my favorite stage – just as they first unfurl. You can still get a sense of their fiddlehead origins at the curled tips of the fronds. It’s a deceptively delicate pose from such a tenacious trooper, the feathery frills belying its stalwart nature. Little Edie of ‘Grey Gardens’ might be able to relate.

S-T-A-U-N-C-H. But how were they to know?…

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