Cinnamon Fern

This native fern thrives in shady, moist areas.

Cinnamon Fern Overview

Description 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.
Genus Name Osmundastrum cinnamomeum
Common Name Cinnamon Fern
Plant Type Perennial
Light Part Sun, Shade
Height 1 to 3 feet
Width 2 to 3 feet
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Colorful Fall Foliage
Special Features Low Maintenance
Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Propagation Division
Problem Solvers Deer Resistant, Groundcover, Slope/Erosion Control

Shade Lovers

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.

Colorful Combinations

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'll shine 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.

Cinnamon Fern Companion Plants

Joe Pye Weed

joe pye weed
Mike Jensen

Joe Pye weed is a showstopper of a prairie native, producing huge, puffy flower heads in late summer. It prefers moist soils, but with its extensive root system, it also tolerates drought well. It is a large plant, growing 4 to 6 feet tall. Closely related, hardy ageratum is a spreading plant that grows to only 2 feet tall. Another relative, white snakeroot, reaches 4 to 5 feet tall. All are great for naturalistic or cottage plantings and for attracting butterflies.


white bearded iris
Dean Schoeppner

Named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, iris indeed comes in a rainbow of colors and in many heights. All have the classic, impossibly intricate flowers. The flowers are constructed with three upright "standard" petals and three drooping "fall" petals, which are often different colors. The falls may be "bearded" or not. Some cultivars bloom a second time in late summer. Some species prefer alkaline soil, while others prefer acidic soil.


red lobelias blooms
Lynn Karlin

Colorful lobelias are a wonderful choice for landscaping around ponds and streams—anywhere the soil is consistently moist. In fact, lobelia even loves downright wet conditions, making it a top choice for bog gardens. Perennial type of lobelia (not to be confused with the low-growing, often blue annual types) are magnets for hummingbirds, so they're great for wildlife gardens. The foliage is a handsome rich green to sometimes dark reddish purple. The plant produces striking spikes of flowers in all shades of red, pink, blue, and white. Lobelia needs humus-rich soil. Mulch with a biodegradable material, such as wood bark or chopped leaves, to add humus to the soil.


Hosta Blooms
Julie Maris Semarco

This plant, hardly grown 40 years ago, is now one of the most commonly grown garden plants. But hosta has earned its spot in the hearts of gardeners—it's among the easiest plants to grow, as long as you have some shade and ample rainfall. Hostas vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive 4-foot clumps with heart-shaped leaves almost 2 feet long that can be puckered, wavy-edged, white or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged—the variations are virtually endless. Hostas in new sizes and touting new foliage features seem to appear each year. This tough, shade-loving perennial, also known as plaintain lily, blooms with white or purplish lavender funnel-shaped or flared flowers in summer. Some are intensely fragrant. Hostas are a favorite of slug and deer.

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