Christmas Fern

Polystichum acrostichoides

Description & Overview

Featuring a unique year-round color, Christmas Fern is a wonderful way to add color to your landscape through the cold winter months. The 2.5ft 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. This fern is clump forming and will thrive on a shady slope of an understory. The plant is easy to establish. Rather than forming a ground-cover, it forms clumps about 2.5’ wide. The foliage color adds year-round interest and beautiful contrast to the 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. This stalk can be shorter in comparison to other fern varieties.

Salable size #1 container. Picture taken June 1.

Salable size #1 container. Picture taken June 1.

Wildlife Value:

Aphids may use the juice from the fern, and they are a food to many other species of animal 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 not typically a detrimental amount.

Maintenance Tips:

Christmas Fern is a low maintenance plant. Once established after the first year, the fern will be able to sustain itself efficiently. Upon planting, it is crucial to ensure that the soil stay moist because dry soil will cause the new fronds to brown and wilt. It is always best to water at the base of the fern, which allows the leaves to stay dry. This diminishes the chances of a wet humid environment to promote pest and disease problems.


Christmas Fern has few pest 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. This over-exposure will result in pale and stunted fronds. Over-saturated soil will cause the plant to lag and possibly rot. It is crucial that the fern 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 Christmas time the fronds can be used in wreaths, boughs and many other decorations.

Clever birds and mammals will stack fronds of the Christmas fern to create nests and shelter.

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 contrasts throughout the growing season. Redosier Dogwood will create a wonderful contrast when the red twigs are paired with the persisting green from the fern through the winter. There are many plants that can work with the Christmas Fern, taller accents to compliment the low green foliage will create a wonderful display.

johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32
johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32
johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32
johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32