Wisconsin Native Ferns

Underrated and underutilized perennials, Wisconsin native ferns are staples in part-to-full shade landscapes. We commonly tout ferns for their ability to give any landscape setting a “woodsy” feel. The easily recognizable foliage offers shade environments a unique level of texture. These Wisconsin native perennials are commonly found in the understory of our woodland environments around Wisconsin.

Common Native Ferns Grown at Johnson’s Nursery

  • Osmunda cinnamomea

    Mat.Height: 3-5 feet

    Native: Yes

    Light: Partial Shade

    Flower: No flower, reproduces by spores

    Bloom: Small sporangia split open to release spores in the summer

  • Onoclea sensibilis

    Mat.Height: 1-2 feet

    Native: Yes

    Light: Partial Shade to Full Shade

    Flower: No flower, reproduces by spores

    Bloom: Releases spores summer to fall

  • Matteuccia struthiopteris

    Mat.Height: 2-4 feet

    Native: Yes

    Light: Full Sun to Full Shade

    Flower: No flower, reproduces by spores

    Bloom: Spores released from sporangia in Summer

  • Athyrium filix-femina

    Mat.Height: 2-3 feet

    Native: Yes

    Light: Partial Shade

    Flower: Not a flowering plant, reproduces by spores

    Bloom: Spores usually released late Summer to Fall

  • Adiantum pedatum

    Mat.Height: 1-2 feet

    Native: Yes

    Light: Partial Shade to Full Shade

    Flower: No flower, reproduces by spores

    Bloom: Spores are released throughout the Summer or Fall

  • Polystichum acrostichoides

    Mat.Height: 1-2.5 feet

    Native: Yes

    Light: Partial Shade to Full Shade

    Flower: No flower, reproduces by spores

    Bloom: Spores released mid-late summer

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!