Ostrich Fern

Ostrich Fern
Plant Type
Sunlight Amount
ostrich fern matteuccia struthiopteris
Credit: Matthew Benson
ostrich fern matteuccia struthiopteris
Ostrich Fern

A staple plant of woodland gardens, the ostrich fern boasts stately, large upright fronds that resemble the large feathers of their namesake bird. They create a lovely backdrop for other plants and spread to easily fill a garden space. In spring, the numerous fiddleheads of emerging foliage can also be picked for a snack as the ostrich fern is edible. It also makes a stunning element in a fresh flower bouquet.

genus name
  • Matteuccia struthiopteris
  • Part Sun
  • Shade
  • Sun
plant type
  • 3 to 8 feet
  • From 3 to 5 feet
foliage color
season features
problem solvers
special features
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7

Colorful Combinations

More textural than colorful, ostrich ferns develop impressively large fronds of bright green foliage. When they first emerge in spring, their iconic fiddleheads are probably some of the most photographed plants in the garden. A unique trait of ostrich ferns, like a few other fern families, is that these plants have separate fertile and infertile fronds. The sterile fronds are what most people initially think of: large, bright green leaves. They emerge in spring and are held right alongside the previous year's fertile fronds. Come fall, these leaves turn a bright golden color. While the sterile leaves can reach impressive sizes of 3 or 4 feet tall, the fertile leaves generally reach only about 2 feet tall. The fertile fronds develop later from the centers of the plants and are much smaller and deeper green. Eventually they develop clusters of spores on the backside of the fronds. Even throughout the winter months, the fertile fronds are held perfectly upright. Come spring, the fronds release their spores and eventually die back.

Ostrich Fern Care Must-Knows

Like most ferns, ostrich ferns prefer moist soil. It is best to plant them in rich, organic soil that is somewhat acidic. Keeping them evenly moist to almost wet yields lush growth. Avoid letting this fern dry out, which leads to browning and drying of the foliage. Dry soil also results in slower, smaller growth.

Ostrich ferns prefer shady conditions. These ferns are tougher than most, though, and can tolerate a decent amount of sunlight as long as they do not dry out. The more sun they are in, the more moisture they require. In warmer climates, any more than part sun can also lead to foliage burn and additional water requirements. In general, ostrich ferns prefer cooler climates and struggle in warm southern climates.

In their ideal growing conditions, ostrich ferns can be aggressive spreaders. Keep this in mind when planting, as they can quickly fill a garden space and may outcompete less robust neighbors. Ostrich fern spreads by underground rhizomes and can be controlled by regular division to keep them in check. The best time to divide ostrich ferns is in early spring just as the new growth is beginning to emerge.

Ostrich Fern Companion Plants

Juncus effusus 'Spiralis'
Credit: Scott Little


The curious corkscrew rush loves wet or boggy conditions. It makes a fascinating architectural accent in planters, beds, and moist borders. It's technically leafless, with green cylindrical stems that are pointed at the tip. Plant rush alongside streams and ponds, though it will tolerate dryer conditions elsewhere. It's excellent in container gardens.

Iris Immortality
Credit: 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.

Pink 'Party Dress' Anemone
Credit: Dency Kane


Anemones are lovely, delicate flowers that dance atop slender stems, giving them their poetic common name—windflower. Depending on the type, anemones bloom in spring, summer, or through fall with pretty, slightly cupped flowers in rose, pink, or white rising over distinctive, deeply lobed foliage. Plants grow best in partial shade but tolerate full sun in Northern regions. If you're lucky, they'll be happy where they're planted. In some cases, you may even need to divide plants frequently to prevent them from overtaking neighboring perennials.


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