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A Fern for the Holidays
It's unclear how the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) got its name. Some think it’s due to the shape of its leaflets, which resemble a stocking or a winter sleigh. It could also be that the Christmas fern is one of the few woodland plants still green in December, making it ideal for use in holiday decorations. They also serve as a welcome splash of color during any winter hike. Grab your hat and gloves and see if you can spot the Christmas Fern at our Pine Hills or Bluffs of Beaver Bend preserves.
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Regardless of how it got its name, the Christmas fern is one of the most common ferns in eastern United States. It can be found in a wide variety of habitats and locations, particularly on shady hillsides and wooded stream banks. The fern typically grows in a fountain-like clump to 2' tall and features leathery, lance-shaped evergreen fronds. Young fiddleheads (or crosiers) are silvery and scaled, and are found in the spring. Unlike some native ferns whose fiddleheads are edible and quite yummy (like the ostrich or garden fern), Christmas ferns are best left off the plant.
Because the Christmas fern forms a dense covering over the soil surface, large colonial masses or even a small cluster of two or three can help stabilize the soil and provide excellent erosion control. It also generates a protective, concealing habitat for a number of native ground-feeding and ground-nesting bird species.
Perfect in your own Backyard
Christmas ferns are great as wreaths and add beautiful greenery to a bare forest landscape, but it can also be a great addition to a backyard garden.
The fern is popular in cultivation because it is easy to grow and can be used in almost any setting or soil. It's an excellent choice for shaded gardens as it happily thrives under trees and rocky areas. Though it prefers partial shade, the Christmas fern also tolerates direct sun if the soil is kept damp. In the right conditions, it can even survive periods of drought.
Christmas ferns are quite hardy and require little care. Besides its ability to adapt to most growing conditions, it is also resistant to pests and diseases. Even deer tend to stay away from it when grazing in the woods (or, unfortunately, our backyards). If you're looking for an easy plant that will add some green in your garden over the winter, then the Christmas fern is definitely a good answer.