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Tall, elegant cinnamon fern features large, bright green fronds that spread out to form a vase-shape clump. The fronds leave enough room for contrasting underplantings such as spotted deadnettle.
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Cinnamon fern looks especially at home in wet areas beside ponds, streams, and water gardens—which play to its love of moist soil. It also grows well in shaded borders, woodland gardens, native plant gardens, and bogs. You probably won't find this fern at a local nursery or big box store because it's not a domesticated landscaping staple. (It's found wild in the Eastern United States and Canada.) Online stores can help.
Although their brilliant green color is a delight to behold, ferns are more commonly grown for the intriguing texture and softness they add to a garden space. Cinnamon fern adds an additional visual to the mix; it bears erect, spore-bearing fertile fronds in early spring that quickly turn from green into a contrasting shade of brown. After shedding their spores in late summer, the fertile fronds die back. Fuzzy fiddleheads (which can be cooked and eaten like asparagus) emerge from the base of the plant, later growing into gracefully arched green fronds (from 2 to 4 feet long) that spread outward to create a canopy. They strut their stuff all summer long before turning yellow and dying back for the winter.
Cinnamon Fern Care Must-Knows
In its natural habitat, cinnamon fern grows along stream beds. So in your landscape, it should be planted in moist, humus-rich, acidic-to- average soil in partial to full shade. Keep this plant well-watered (at least once a week)—especially during droughts to prevent it from getting brown and crispy. Cinnamon fern loves the shade, but can tolerate a little sun—as long as it lives in consistently moist soil.
Cinnamon fern spreads slowly via underground rhizomes that get tough and woody with age. These roots are sometimes harvested and used as a potting medium for orchids and other epiphytes. Or you can dig up the rhizomes every few years and divide them to create more plants. The best time to dig and divide cinnamon fern is in the spring, just as the new growth emerges. Keep the divided plants well-watered after replanting. You can also add new spores to potting medium, where they'll develop into full-fledged ferns.
And by the way: cinnamon fern's name has nothing to do with the spice or its aroma. It's because of the cinnamon-color fibers near the base of the plant.