December 16, 2008

Featured Plant: Christmas Fern

This plant is hard to beat. It handles just about any soil, takes shade or sun, and is green year-round. It’s also one of the few plants native to our area that you can keep as a houseplant! I kept one in a pot indoors for a year before I decided to plant it in the garden.

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichroides) is named so because it is green even by the time Christmas rolls around. In the past (only in the U.S.), its fronds were used for holiday décor, probably similar to how we put up garlands of various evergreen plants. This tradition dates back to pre-Christian Europe when winter greenery symbolized the return of the summer and long, sunny days (the winter solstice being the shortest day of the year before the sun starts to “return”). Being native to North America, Christmas fern was obviously used in this fashion only within the past several hundred years.

The Christmas fern in our garden is growing beautifully in alkaline soil, shade, and right under a black walnut (these trees secrete a chemical into the soil called juglone which inhibits the growth of some plants). In the wild, this fern is usually found in moist, acidic woodlands. Christmas fern is perfect for Syracuse gardens in my opinion, as it keeps some green in the landscape year-round.