Tuesday, October 23, 2012

About the Eastern Hay-scented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)

Eastern Hay-scented fern, is a marvelous native plant for the shade garden. The fragrant, lacy green fronds turn yellow in fall and may linger through winter. Fronds are triangular to oval shaped and deeply divided, giving it a lacy appearance. Yes, the aroma is reminiscent of hay.

Its botanical name is Dennstaedtia punctilobula (pronounced "den-STET-ee-uh punk-tih-LOH-bew-luh"). Punctilobula refers to the dotted lobes. The genus was named by Andre Michaux in honor of August Wilhelm Dennstedt (1776–1826), German botanist, physician, and director of the Belvedere Garden. His works include Weimar's Flora: Pflanzen Mit Deutlichen Geschlechtern (1800), Schlussel Zum Hortus Indicus Malabaricus (1818), and Hortus Belvedereanus (1821).

Michaux, who explored extensively in North America, would have found Eastern hay-scented fern practically anywhere he traveled. The USDA PLANTS database shows Dennstaedtia punctilobula thrives from Quebec to Georgia, and westward to Missouri and Arkansas. Another species, Dennstaedtia bipinnata, is native to Florida, the West Indies, Central America, and south to Bolivia.

Hay-scented fern normally grows in loose clumps 15 to 30 inches tall and spreading to 24 inches. However it spreads via underground rhizomes and may colonize an area. It prefers partial to full shade in moist, well-drained soil high in organic matter with pH ranging from 5.1 to 6.5. Once established, hay-scented fern is rather drought tolerant. It is hardy from USDA climate zones 3 into 8.

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.

Dennstaedtia is easily and economically established by planting rhizome cuttings. My Youtube video on Planting Hay-scented Ferns demonstrates how to do it. After planting, apply a thin 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, hay-scented fern is insect and disease resistant.

Hay-scented fern is ideal as a ground cover for xeriscaping, naturalizing, shade gardens and woodland walks, fragrant gardens, fern collections, and native plant collections. Suitable companion plants include Astilbe, Chrysogonum, Galium, Hosta, Heuchera, Hyacinthoides, Sanguinaria, Scilla, Selaginella, and ferns with similar requirements.

Return to Ferns at GoGardenNow.com.

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