Saturday, November 26, 2011

Where The Autumn Fern Grows

Dryopteris erythrosora

Oh, what a glory doth the world put on
These peerless, perfect autumn days
There is a beautiful spirit of gladness everywhere.
The wooded waysides are luminous with brightly painted leaves;
The forest-trees with royal grace have donned
Their gorgeous autumn tapestries;
And even the rocks and fences are broidered
With ferns, sumachs and brilliantly tinted ivies.
But so exquisitely blended are the lights and shades
The golds, scarlets and purples, that no sense is wearied;
For God Himself hath painted the landscape
-Helen Keller, Autumn

Autumn Fern is one of the most colorful. Other common names include Japanese Shield Fern and Japanese Red Shield Fern. Its botanical name is Dryopteris erythrosora (pronounced dry-OPP-ter-iss ehr-ith-roh-SOR-ra), meaning "oak fern - red sori." The names refer to its habitat among broadleaf evergreen trees and the color of the spore-producing structures under the fronds. Obviously, the fern is native to Japan, but also to China and Korea.

Autumn fern's colors begin in spring when the garnet-red croziers (fiddleheads) begin to emerge. As the fresh young fronds unfurl, their colors change to bronze and finally mature to dark green. Oddly, Autumn ferns are more attractive in spring than autumn, yet the spring colors are reminiscent of fall.

Autumn fern normally grows in loose clumps 18 to 24 inches tall with an equal spread. It prefers partial to full shade in moist, well-drained soil high in organic matter with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.5. It is hardy from USDA climate zones 5 into 9.

Little soil preparation is needed before planting. Moist, well-drained soil high in organic matter shouldn't need tilling, especially if in a woodland setting. If the soil requires amendment to increase the level of organic matter, some tilling might be required. Remove all traces of weeds. Collect a soil sample and take it to the nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. Follow the instructions provided.

When planting, water the plants in their pots, then allow the pots to drain. Remove the plants from their pots and place in the planting holes at the same depth they grew previously. Water again. Finally, apply a layer of organic mulch to conserve moisture and discourage weeds.

Gardeners troubled by deer and rabbits will be glad to know that this fern is critter resistant. Similarly, autumn fern is insect and disease resistant.

Autumn fern is ideal as a ground cover for shade gardens and woodland walks, fern collections, and Asian plant collections. Suitable companion plants include Astilbe, Chrysogonum, Galium, Hosta, Heuchera, Hyacinthoides, Sanguinaria, Scilla, Selaginella, and ferns with similar requirements.

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