What is an Autumn Fern?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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An autumn fern is a type of fern noted for its ease in growth and striking colors at certain times of year. Much like a shrub in size and initial appearance, these plants can typically be grown in areas of shade or partial shade and require a fair amount of moisture to thrive. Depending on weather conditions, these ferns can be evergreens and typically prefer soil that is slightly acidic and moist. An autumn fern is recognized by its beautiful coloration, which resembles the colors of leaves changing in autumn to red and gold, though this occurs in the spring for autumn ferns.

Technically known as Dryopteris erythrosora, an autumn fern will usually grow in areas of full or partial shade. This is important since full sun can scorch or damage its relatively delicate fronds. An autumn fern can potentially grow in sunny areas, though it is usually vital for it to at least be protected from the hot afternoon sun. Frequent, but not abundant, watering is suggested for these plants, though a grower should wait until the soil is dry before watering, and misting is often the easiest way to ensure proper but not excessive watering.


An autumn fern will usually grow in moderate and moist climates, and will not typically do well in climates with extreme heat or cold. These ferns tend to grow to about 3 feet (about 0.9 meters) in height and about the same size in width as well. Regions with especially low or high temperatures may cause the ferns to grow more slowly, and extreme temperatures can prevent these ferns from thriving at all. An autumn fern is a perennial plant that produces new growth each year and in some climates acts as an evergreen.

Also known as a Japanese shield fern, an autumn fern gains its common name from the beautiful colors displayed on the fronds. In spring, these fronds become quite striking in shades of red, bronze, and gold, before turning a deep shade of green throughout the summer. The name stems from the resemblance of this plant to the leaves of deciduous trees in autumn, though the fern displays the colors in spring and not fall. Since an autumn fern produces new growth each year, dead or wilted growth should be trimmed back in the winter or early spring, in anticipation of new growth.


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