Ostrich Ferns

Matteuccia is a genus of ferns with one species: Matteuccia struthiopteris. The species epithet struthiopteris comes from Ancient Greek words στρουθίων "ostrich" and πτερίς "fern". “Ostrich fern” is the common name for Matteuccia struthiopteris, a deciduous fern with green fronds resembling ostrich feathers. The fern is a native plant in eastern North America and grows best in moist, cool climates. Ostrich ferns produce two types of fronds—showy, sterile fronds that begin as fiddleheads (furled fronds that form a spiral shape) and shorter, fertile fronds that produce spores.



The fronds are dimorphic, with the deciduous green sterile fronds being almost vertical, and broad, long-tapering to the base but short-tapering to the tip, so that they resemble ostrich plumes, hence the name. The fertile fronds are shorter, 40–65 cm (16–26 in) long, brown when ripe, with highly modified and constricted leaf tissue curled over the sporangia; they develop in autumn, persist erect over the winter and release the spores in early spring. Along with Dryopteris goldieana, it is one of the largest species of fern in eastern North America.


Table of Contents


Height(Avg)

2 - 8 feet


Width-Circumference (Avg)

3 - 8 feet


Approximate pH

5.0 - 6.5


Growing Ostrich Fern


One of the determining factors in your success growing Ostrich Ferns is planting them in the correct location. An advantage to this plant is that it can thrive with little or no attention once established. However, if you plant it somewhere where conditions aren’t right, your fern won’t be able to reach its full potential.


Ostrich Ferns grow best in temperate climates. They like to be planted in partial to full shade, with consistently moist soil. They are not picky about soil and are resistant to most pests and animals.


Ostrich Fern Care


Each specimen has a short rhizome but produces long stolons. Once established, ostrich ferns spread rapidly, and while not on the invasive plants' list, these can be considered invasive as they will overtake an area fairly quickly. Harvested from the garden or bought at a specialty market, young fronds of this plant can be eaten before they fully unroll, while they are very thick and succulent. The flavor is comparable to that of asparagus.


Offering attractive texture and form, they make good cut accents for bouquets. Ostrich ferns have no serious common pests and diseases and are resistant to rabbits and deer.


Light


This fern grows in part to full shade. Generally, open shade is best. Leaves may turn yellow and burn if exposed to full sun. Only if planted in an especially cool, moist location will it tolerate full sun.


Soil


Give the ostrich fern heavy clay soil that is humus-rich and moist. Maintain a neutral pH between 5 and 6.5. Native to marshes and creekbeds, they will tolerate some erosion and a lot of moisture.


Water


Water throughout the summer to maintain medium to wet conditions. Without enough moisture, the foliage may go dormant too early.


Fertilizer


While it is not necessary to fertilize an ostrich fern, if you are fertilizing other plants nearby, lightly fertilize the ferns, making sure not to overfertilize them as these plants are sensitive to fertilizer.


Pruning and Propagating Ostrich Fern


Pruning


Heavy pruning isn't needed, but light trimming keeps ostrich ferns looking fresh. Clean up any old or awkwardly-shaped fronds. Prune dead foliage and fertile fronds in the late winter.

Propagating Ostrich Ferns


Ostrich ferns are aggressive spreaders. They're bountiful, and can take over your garden, so since they spread by way of underground rhizomes, regular division each spring will keep them in their place. Here's how:

  1. Select a fern to divide that has gotten two or more times the original plant size.

  2. Use a shovel and dig around the entire outer perimeter of the chosen plant and dig it up.

  3. Shake off the dirt so you can see the separate rhizomes and split them up with a spade, sharp knife, or sometimes they can simply be pulled apart with your hands.

  4. Plant in the desired location and water.


Potting and Repotting Ostrich Ferns


If you plant an ostrich fern in a container, make sure that it is large enough to provide room for the fern to spread and grow as it matures. Plant it in rich, acidic clay soil and water regularly to keep the dirt moist. If keeping it indoors, provide it with the proper lighting. You will need to repot when the plant fills out the container and starts to become rootbound. These ferns do make a showy statement on outdoor patios and entryways when planted in a container.


Overwintering


Ostrich ferns are pretty hardy and can handle cold as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Besides pruning any dead fronds in the fall when they go dormant, there's not much more you need to do to overwinter these plants. New growth will pop back up in the spring.


Common Problems with Ostrich Fern


Ostrich fern is a relatively problem-free and deer-resistant plant. It can spread aggressively via rhizomes, so keep an eye on new plants popping up if you want to keep it within bounds.


Uses

  • The ostrich fern is a popular ornamental plant in gardens.

  • The tightly wound immature fronds, called fiddleheads, are also used as a cooked vegetable, and are considered a delicacy mainly in rural areas of northeastern North America. It is considered inadvisable to eat uncooked fiddleheads.[12] Brown "scales" are inedible and should be scraped or rinsed off.

  • The sprouts are also picked all over Japan, ("kogomi" in Japanese) where they are a delicacy.

  • Matteuccia species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Sthenopis pretiosus.

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