Matteuccia struthiopteris

Ostrich Fern

Ostrich Fern, Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and Robert W. Freckmann
Ostrich Fern
Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and Robert W. Freckmann

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


  • Matteuccia, named in honor of Carlo Matteucci (1800-1868), an Italian physicist.
  • struthiopteris, from the Greek, strouqeios (stroutheios), "of an ostrich", and pteris (pteris), "fern"
  • Common Name, from the resemblance of the fronds to the plumes of the large flightless bird of Africa.
  • Other common names include Fiddlehead Fern, Garden Fern, Hardy Fern, Fougère-à-l'autruche (Qué), Strutbräken, Foderbräken (Swe), Strutsveng (Nor), Strudsvinge (Dan), Kotkansiipi (Fin), Straußfarn (Ger), Matteuccia (It), Struccpáfrány (Hun), Pióropusznik strusi (Pol)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Polypodiophyta, the True Ferns
      • Class Filicopsida
        • Order Polypodiales
          • Family Dryopteridaceae
            • Genus Matteuccia
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 17596
  • Also known as Matteuccia pensylvanica, Matteuccia struthiopteris var. pensylvanica, Matteuccia struthiopteris var. pubescens, Onoclea struthiopteris, Onoclea struthiopteris var. pensylvanica, Pteretis nodulosa, Pteretis pensylvanica


  • A large, feathery, deciduous fern, 3'-5' tall.
  • Sterile Frond large, green, oblanceolate, up to 60" long, 12" wide, forming symmetrical, vaselike cluster.
    • Petiole (leaf stalk) black, to 12", flattened at base, becoming deeply grooved, scales pale orange-brown.
    • Pinnae (primary leaflets) linear, 20-60 per side, the longest near the tip, gradually decreasing in length toward base; leaflets further subdivided into 20-40 segments.
  • Fertile Frond dense and rigid, arising from the center of the clump in mid to late summer, persisting through winter; green maturing to dark brown.
    • Petiole (leaf stalk) 3"-8", with scaly base.
    • Blade lyre-shaped, oblong to oblanceolate, 6"-16"× 1"-2½".
    • Pinnae (primary leaflets) linear, 30-45 per side, 1¼"-2¼" long, rolled inward to clasp spores, forming hard "pod".
  • Stem stout, green, covered with white hairs.
  • Rhizome large, with a braided appearance.
  • Roots black and wiry.
  • As with Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis), forms intermediate between sterile fronds and fertile fronds are sometimes found.


  • Distinguished from other large ferns by the distinctive fertile frond, when present. In the absence of the spore-bearing structure, the twice-cut sterile fronds with white hairs on the stems mark this species.
  • Field Marks
    • large size
    • distinctive fertile frond, utterly unlike sterile fronds
    • twice-cut sterile fronds, broad near tip and tapering gradually to base
    • fine white hairs on stem


  • Alaska to Newfoundland, south to British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia.
  • Also Scandinavia, Central Europe, Russia, and Asia; introduced into Ireland and Great Britain from the continent.


  • Moist soil in deciduous and mixed forest, wooded river bottoms, and swamps.
  • Often in alluvial or mucky swamp soils.




  • The edible fiddlehead is the state vegetable of Vermont.


  • The most commonly sold species of generic garden fern.
  • Grown commercially for the decorative fronds.
  • Fiddleheads (young coiled sterile fronds) are considered a delicacy. Collected in early spring, they support a local canning industry in New England and adjacent Canada. For more information on preparation of fiddleheads, see University of Maine Extension Bulletin #4198


  • Reproduces by spores and vegetatively by rhizomes
  • Fertile fronds produced after vegetative fronds and persist throughout the following winter. Spores shed mid-winter.


  • Division most successful method. Best transplanted when dormant in early spring or fall but can, with care, survive transplantation at any time.
  • Can be grown from spores with sufficient patience.


  • An elegant, robust garden fern for moist, shaded sites. Very easy; low maintenance.
  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Light to full shade. Will yellow and burn in hot sun.
    • Soil highly organic, moist to swampy or boggy, slightly acid (pH of 5-6.5). Does well in ordinary garden loam or clay, however.
    • Consistent moisture; should not be allowed to dry out between waterings. The greater the sun exposure, the greater the moisture requirement.
    • Spacing: 24"-36"
    • Fertilization unnecessary
  • Size 24"W x 36"-60"H, the more sun and moisture, the larger the plant.
  • Growth rate moderate. However, under good conditions tends to spread aggressively by stout rhizomes. Excercise caution near smaller, less robust plants.
  • Good for foliage backdrop, foundation plantings, naturalizing.
  • Readily available by mail order or at local nurseries



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Last Updated on 3 July, 2004