While they may not possess the ornamental features of a vibrantly-colored flowering perennial, ferns possess a character all their own and provide valuable ecosystem services. Arguably one of our most recognizable woodland plants, the uniquely shaped fern fronds play a part in protecting ground creatures who seek a similar shady, moist habitat. Salamanders, frogs, and lizards rely on this understory plant for shelter from the heat and predators. Birds of all kinds utilize the foliage for nesting material, and the unfurling fronds make a tasty spring snack. And while you can’t see it, ferns help provide shade and moisture to soil microorganisms, keeping our forest soils healthy and diverse.
Wisconsin’s native ferns ask for very little other than being planted in the correct location. In the wrong site, they may develop brown spots, curling fronds, and discoloration. With adequate shade and moisture, ferns are low-maintenance perennials with no fall cleanup work needed. Beyond common cosmetic fungus like white Powdery Mildew, they have no major pests or diseases. The best part is that you can divide them after a few years in spring and spread the love throughout your woodland garden!