This fern is part of the Wood Fern family (Dryopteridacaea). It earned its name from early settlers who noticed that the fern is very sensitive to frost. The fronds die off quickly with the first frost. The deciduous sterile fronds can be identified by their exceptional width; they can spread over 30cm wide and 60cm in height. The sterile fronds are light green, leathery, and almost triangular, while the fertile fronds are brown with upward pointing leaflets (pinnae) that turn dark brown at maturity. The rhizomes creep along the soil surface and are thick, brown, and spread extensively. In the spring, the fiddleheads emerge with a pale red colouring.
The sensitive fern reproduces through spores and extensively vegetatively through the rhizomes, which often form thick stands.
Sensitive ferns tolerate slightly acidic conditions and thrive in areas such as marshes, swamps, and thickets. Sensitive ferns are typically not found in fully forested areas. They are great for planting in natural gardens and to provide shade undercover.