Ostrich Fern

Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)


This is the true fiddlehead fern, though in early spring most fern fronds resemble the head of a fiddle. Considered a delicacy and heavily harvested as a cooking vegetable in New Brunswick, fiddlehead collecting has far less history on Prince Edward Island.


One of our most beautiful ferns, the large, lush ostrich fern grows from a fibrous clump that gets larger every year. The sterile fern fronds emerge as tightly curled fiddleheads, deep green with a brown, papery covering. The rich green and the shiny brown covering, combined with the large clump, offer easy identification in the spring. Spores of the Ostrich fern are born on a separate, dark brown frond. Only the sensitive fern has a similar-coloured spore frond, though the shapes are quite different. The fully developed fronds, from 90-120 cm (3-5′) high, taper very quickly at the tip and quite slowly at the base, making them appear top heavy.



In ideal conditions along shaded streams, ostrich ferns form thick mats. They thrive in moist flood plains with the coolness and high humidity associated with canopied streams.


While these ferns can be grown from spores, the easiest way is to find some that are growing in a wet ditch or a property where you have permission from the owner to dig. In early May, on a wet day when the plants are just starting to poke out their fiddleheads, transplant a few to pots. Be patient and always be thinking about how you are treating the site from where you’re digging. One of the most important things about ostrich fern propagation is that they spread by rhizomes, so that if you plant one, in a few years it will multiply. Then you can just keep moving the younger plants and soon you’ll have as many as you need.

Culinary uses:

While some ferns such as the bracken fern produce toxic fiddleheads, the ostrich fern is a culinary delight. As the stems begin to elongate and the fiddleheads are still tightly closed, use a sharp knife to cut off a few individual fronds from plants. It is best to keep the cut heads cool. To remove the husks, soak the heads in a spaghetti pot with strainer or some combination of strainer and pot. Gently rub the husks off with your hands and rinse fiddleheads until clean. To cook, boil for 10 minutes or steam for 20 minutes and eat as is or with butter and lemon. There are unconfirmed reports of people getting ill from eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads. The University of Maine has an excellent web page on fiddleheads, including lots of recipes.


Planting along streams is a good idea if proper conditions exist. Ostrich ferns appreciate high humidity and will do well in a flood plain with a high canopy of trees. They seem intolerant of dry conditions if there is any competition, such as from grasses, but grow well if mulched to keep down other competitors for scarce moisture. Scatter them throughout an area – if conditions are right, they will soon spread.

Upcoming Events

7:30 pm Owl Prowl
Owl Prowl
Apr 27 @ 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Come join the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project in celebrating the wonderful world of owls at one of this year’s Owl Prowls. To meet the growing interest in these fascinating birds, there will be Owl
2:00 pm Landscaping with Native Plants
Landscaping with Native Plants
May 4 @ 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Want to spend less time cutting grass and more time enjoying the beautiful plants around your home? This workshop introduces a variety of hardy native plants to attract wildlife and beautify your yard.
8:00 am Birds and Breakfast
Birds and Breakfast
May 11 @ 8:00 am – 10:00 am
The Macphail Homestead will be open at 7am to serve a free “early bird” breakfast. Join other birders beside the fireplace in the Great Room for at hot beverage and breakfast treats to start your
10:00 am Pruning Trees and Shrubs
Pruning Trees and Shrubs
May 18 @ 10:00 am – 11:30 am
Participants will practice pruning on a variety of plants in the nursery, arboretum and woodlands. Please bring along any of your favourite pruning tools. Workshop will include a slide show and demonstration of proper pruning
10:00 am Creating and Maintaining Hedgero...
Creating and Maintaining Hedgero...
May 25 @ 10:00 am – 11:30 am
This workshop will look at on creating diverse, beautiful and functional hedgerows and windbreaks using a variety of native plants. Participants will learn about which plants are best, spacing, planting and maintenance.

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