Athyrium filix-femina

Lady Fern

Lady Fern, Photo © by Earl J.S. Rook
Lady Fern
Lower Pauness Lake, BWCAW
Photo © by Earl J.S. Rook

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Athyrium , from the Greek, a, "without", qureos (thureos), "shield"
  • filix-femina, from the Latin, "fern-feminine"
  • Common Name, an anglicized version of the Latin species name
  • Other common names include Northern Lady Fern, Athyrium Fougère-femelle (Qué), Skogburkne (Nor), Majbräken (Swe), Fjerbregne (Dan), Soreahiirenporras, Hiirenporras (Fin), Fjöllaufungur (Is), Wald-Frauenfarn, Gemeiner Waldfarn (Ger), Raineach Moire (Gaelic)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Polypodiophyta, the True Ferns
      • Class Filicopsida
        • Order Polypodiales
          • Family Dryopteridaceae
            • Genus Athyrium, the Lady Ferns
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 17413


  • A lacy, deciduous, densely clumping, perennial fern, 24"-36" tall.
  • Fronds monomorphic, bright green, tufted, erect, 24"-36" long, 6-9" wide
    • Petiole (leaf stalk) tan, reddish or brownish, scales brown to dark brown, linear-lanceolate.
    • Blade elliptic, broadest near or just below middle, twice-cut
    • Pinnae (primary leaflets) short-stalked or sessile, lanceolate
    • Pinnules (secondary leaflets) deeply cut, linear to oblong
  • Rootstalk stout, chaffy.
  • Sori clustered at the pinnule base, straight, less frequently hooked or horseshoe-shaped; sporangial stalks bearing glandular hairs; indusia irregularly dentate, more or less ciliate. Ripen midsummer.


  • Distinguished from Spinulose Woodfern (Dryopteris carthusiana) by its elongate, sometimes curved (rather than round) sori, which are covered by an indusium attached on one side
  • Field Marks
    • lacy, twice cut fronds
    • undersides of the leaf segments carry pale J-shaped sori


  • Circumpolar; Alaska to Labrador and Greenland, south in North America to Saskatchewan, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia, and North Carolina.


  • Meadows, open thickets, moist woods, and occasionally swamps.
  • Can colonize cracks in rocks and crevices between rocks, as a pioneer species. More frequently occurs as a dominant on perennially wet soil with other herbs. Can survive severe battering if roots are protected and in constant contact with water.
  • Major competitor in boreal and sub-boreal spruce forests. Commonly grows in the understory of White Spruce (Picea glauca) and Black Spruce (Picea mariana).


  • Often occurs on wet sites that burn infrequently. Top-killed by fire, it resprouts from surviving rhizomes.



  • One of the most popular ferns during the Victorian fern craze.


  • A common landscape and garden plant.


  • Reproduces by spores and vegetatively by rhizomes


  • Division most successful method. Divide clumps in spring every few years and reposition crowns at soil level.
  • Can be propagated from spores.


  • A light green, fine textured, deciduous perennial; good for background foliage, naturalizing, woodland massing, and watersides. Easy to grow.
  • Hardy to USDA Zone 2 (average minimum annual temperature -50ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Full shade to partial shade or partial sun; full sun on wet sites
    • Rich, moist to wet, well-drained soil
    • Fertilization unnecessary
    • Growth rate moderate
    • 2'-3' H x 1'-2' W
    • Spacing 18"-24"
  • Shelter from wind to protect fronds from breaking.
  • A highly variable species, with numerous varieties taken into cultivation, some extremely odd in appearance. More than 300 cultivars have made their way to the market.
  • Available by mail order from specialty suppliers or at local nurseries.



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Last Updated on 26 February, 2004