What is a Wood Fern?

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  • Written By: Jillian Peterson
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2019
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A wood fern is a type of fern in the Dryopteris family that grows in temperate forests in the Northern Hemisphere. There are more than 150 known species of Dryopteris ferns, and many are native to the United States, Europe and China. Dryopteris ferns are also called wood ferns, male ferns, shield ferns or buckler ferns. Many species of fern are considered wood ferns, but these species have many things in common, such as the shape of their fronds or growing environment. The wood fern is commonly cultivated as an ornamental plant and is popular in a hanging pot or as a house plant because the wood fern flourishes in low light. Wood ferns generally prefer moist soil and can tolerate low temperatures.

While different species vary in size, frond shape and hardiness, most wood ferns have a similar appearance. Green fronds can grow anywhere from 2 feet (about 65 cm) up to 5 feet (about 1.5 m). The leaves grow along the frond stems, wider at the base of the frond and narrowing as they reach the tip of the frond to create a blade-shaped frond. Most wood fern leaves have serrated edges, though they can vary in size and color depending on the species.


Wood ferns naturally grow on the forest floor, where the soil is rich with decomposing plant matter and the plant is shaded by tall trees. Dryopteris ferns are native to temperate forests where the air is humid and cool. When cultivating dryopteris ferns, the gardener should try to match the native environment of the plant so that it can flourish. In the case of wood ferns, this means planting in rich, moist soil in a shady spot with high humidity. Some species of wood fern can tolerate drought better than others, so the gardener should always research fern species before buying.

As a houseplant, the wood fern should be planted in soil that has a high peat moss content. Keep potted ferns in indirect light. Ferns like moisture but can suffer from root rot or other problems if overwatered. Make sure ferns are planted in pots with sufficient drainage so the soil stays damp but not wet. Ferns can be watered daily if the soil drains well enough. If the humidity surrounding the plant drops, ferns can be misted once a week but shouldn’t be misted too often because mold can grow on the delicate fronds.


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