Christmas Fern

Polystichum acrostichoides

Description & Overview

With year-round color, Christmas Fern is a wonderful way to add color to your landscape throughout the cold winter months. The 2.5-foot tall fern can reach 3 feet in the right environment and be a staple to a foundation of a landscape as a border planting or enjoyed as an accent.

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 1-2.5 ft
Mature Spread: 1-2.5 ft
Growth Rate: Perennial
Growth Form: Fountain-like clump
Light Requirements: Partial Shade to Full Shade
Site Requirements: Cool, moist, well-drained soil
Flower: No flower, reproduces by spores
Bloom Period: Spores released mid-late summer
Foliage: Evergreen, robust, tough, glossy fronds. Leaflet margins are finely toothed, venation of leaflet is pinnate
Fall Color: Evergreen
Fruit Notes: Reproduces by spores

Suggested Uses:

Christmas Fern can be used in many wooded areas and should be sited in a moist to dry location. Easy to establish, this fern is clump-forming and will thrive on a shady slope of an understory. Rather than forming a groundcover, it forms clumps about 2.5’ wide. The foliage color adds year-round interest and provides beautiful contrast to bright snow. In spring, grayish and scaly fiddleheads begin to emerge. On the undersides of upper leaflets, on fertile leaves, Christmas Ferns have spore-bearing structures called ‘sori.’ Another interesting aspect of Polystichum acrostichoides are the scales on the main stalks which are shorter compared to other varieties.

Salable size #1 container. Picture taken June 1.

Salable size #1 container. Picture taken June 1.

Wildlife Value:

Christmas Fern is food to many other species of animals in the food web. Gamebirds will feed on young fronds; you may also be able to catch a glimpse of a Wild Turkey or a Ruffed Grouse. At times during the winter, the fronds may be eaten by White-tailed Deer but typically not a detrimental amount. Clever birds and mammals will stack fronds of the Christmas fern to create nests and shelter.

Maintenance Tips:

Christmas Fern is a low-maintenance plant and once established, will be able to sustain itself efficiently. Upon planting, it is crucial to ensure that the soil stays moist as dry soil will cause new fronds to brown and wilt. It is always best to water at the base of the fern to keep the leaves dry and reduce pests and disease problems.


Christmas Fern has few pests or disease problems. Aphids may get nourishment from the juices from the leaves, but this shouldn’t cause concern. The small scales that are present on the fern can act as a simple deterrent for many pests. Most of the problems that can occur are a result of too much sun exposure which can result in pale and stunted fronds. Over-saturated soil will cause the plant to lag and possibly rot. The fern must be placed in an area that allows cool, moist, and shady environmental factors to dominate.

Leaf Lore:

Christmas Fern gets its name from the color that it keeps throughout the winter. During the holiday season, fronds can be used in wreaths, boughs, and many other decorations.

Companion Plants:

Christmas Fern is a great plant to use as a border or as an accent in a shady area. Pairing the fern with other natives, such as Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta), Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpureum), Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina), Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum) will create wonderful color contrast throughout the growing season. Redosier Dogwood will provide contrast when the red twigs are paired with the persisting green from the fern through the winter.

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