The Wabanaki-Acadian forest has a variety of native ferns. These species are an important part of the forest understory, providing habitat for animals and protecting the soil. They are adapted for different environments on the island. Below is a non-exhaustive list of some of the fern species we have on Prince Edward Island. 

Learn About The Acadian Forest  

Polystichum braunii

Rarity: S1 (critically imperilled)

Description: The frond can be evergreen in milder climates and is generally a dark green. The fronds have a narrowed tip and base, with scales on the underside. The fronds are typically large, growing up to 70cm high and 22 cm wide. The sub-leaflets of Braun’s holly fern have serrated margins with bristle-edged teeth. When ferns have these secondary serrations, they are called “twice cut.” The stem is short, stout, erect, and is covered in brown scales.

Habitat: Braun’s holly fern prefers cool, moist, and shaded areas within a forest, but is also capable of growing on rocky slopes and moist cliffs.

Planting conditions: excellent for forest restoration work, such as in riparian zones. It is showy enough to enhance hiking trails. Can thrive in shaded areas of yards, especially with good mulching. Keep out of direct sun and wind. 

Polystichum acrostichoides

Rarity: S2/S3 (imperilled/vulnerable)

Description: A medium sized fern. The fronds grow between 30-80cm long and 5-12 cm wide. The pinnae (leaflets) are divided into 20-35 pairs. The fronds are able to remain semi-erect until the first hard frost and remain green all year. In the spring, the young fiddleheads (crosiers) are silvery and scaled. The scaly stem (rhizome) of the Christmas fern is pale brown, stout, and subterranean. A distinctive characteristic of the fern is the decreased fertile pinnae size.

Habitat: Grows on the forest floor of shady, wooded areas

Planting conditions: Great for restoration plantings in woodlands, such as underplantings or patch cuts. Can be used in landscaping in sheltered, shady conditions. 

Osmundastrum cinnamomeum

Rarity: S5 (secure)

Description: Medium sized fern. Rises out of a woody clump. Has a separate spore frond, but in the cinnamon fern the frond is a light brown and is much less woody. The sterile fronds are a pale green, with a furry, light brown covering. 

Habitat: A woodland fern that thrives in rich, moist soil as an understory plant. 

Planting conditions: The cinnamon fern is an excellent choice for either woodlands or around homes. As long as the soil is rich and the plants are well-mulched, cinnamon ferns do well in most protected conditions. That means not at the edge of an open field, getting full sun and wind blown, though dry conditions in partial shade seem to be just fine.

Dryopteris cristata

Rarity: S5 (secure)

Description: A medium sized fern. A defining feature of the crested wood fern is the twisted pinnae (leaflets) which can turn up to 90°, giving it a comb-like profile. The crested wood fern features a large stem (rhizome) that is capable of branching off to create new crowns. The fronds grow about 60cm high and 12cm wide. The sterile fronds are evergreen, while the fertile fronds are deciduous. The fronds are slightly leathery and grow pinnae in 10-15 pairs.

Habitat: grows in wet environments, such as swampy woods, marshes and shrubby wetlands. 

Planting conditions: Good for restoration woodland plants in moist areas, as well as wetland plantings. 

Osmunda claytoniana

Rarity: S5 (secure)

Description: A large fern. Has a woody base and large, pale green fronds. It is one of the earliest ferns to emerge in the spring, arising from a white, cottony ball that was formed the previous fall. As the plant grows, the fertile leaflets appear in the middle of the frond (giving the plant its “interrupted” name). Once the spores mature, the fertile parts wither and fall off, leaving an empty area in the middle of each frond.

Habitat: This fern can often be seen growing with the cinnamon fern. It tolerates much the same conditions, preferring shaded woodlands with moist, rich soil. The interrupted fern does not establish itself quickly, so if habitat is destroyed, it will be slow to return. 

Planting conditions: Great for restoration plantings in woodlands, but can also be used in landscaping in sheltered, moist, shaded areas. 

Matteuccia struthiopteris

Rarity: S4 (apparently secure)

Description: A large fern. Its fronds that taper quickly at the tip and slowly at the base. Grows from a fibrous clump that gets larger every year. The sterile fern fronds emerge as tightly curled, edible 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. 

Habitat: 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.

Planting conditions: often used in our forest restoration work and planted in moist, shaded areas. Excellent choice for landscaping in protected, somewhat shady conditions. Can grow well in dry conditions if mulched well. Very showy and dramatic. 

Osmunda regalis

Rarity: S4 (apparently secure)

Description: A large fern (fronds exceed 120cm in height and 25cm in width), the royal fern is a close relative of the cinnamon fern and interrupted fern. The fronds are deciduous and are hairy when young and are slightly waxy. The stem (rhizome) is much bigger than most ferns and forms a trunk that is capable of branching. The frond does not look “fern-like” and turns a golden brown in the fall. The leaflets (pinnae) and sub-leaflets (pinnules) are widely spaced, with the leaflets grow in pairs of 6 or more. Fiddleheads can be found in the spring and are burgundy in colour.

Habitat: thrives in light shade and around wet, acidic swamps and bogs. 

Planting conditions: Great for restoration woodland plantings in wet areas with some sun. Can be used in landscaping work in areas with moist soil and some shade. 

Onoclea sensibilis 

Rarity: S5 (secure)

Description: A medium sized fern. Fronds can be 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.

Habitat: Sensitive ferns tolerate slightly acidic conditions and thrive in areas such as marshes, swamps, and thickets. They can also be found along roadsides in ditches. Sensitive ferns are typically not found in fully forested areas.

Planting conditions: Can be used in restorative wetland plantings, or in landscaping work in wet areas. 

Athryium filix-femina

Rarity: S5 (secure)

Description: A medium to large fern. Rises from a wooded clump. Its fronds are between 20–90 centimetres long and 5–25 cm broad. Fronds are very dissected, being thrice-cut. It has long, pale brown, papery scales at the base. In spring, the fiddleheads have black hairs on them, distinguishing them from other ferns. 

Habitat: Grows in shaded, moist woodlands. 

Planting conditions: Can be used in restoration plantings in woodland areas, or as a landscaping plant in sheltered moist soil. 

Dryopteris filix-mas

Rarity: S1 (critically imperilled)

Description: A medium sized fern with that have thrice cut leaves that are deep green in colour. The leaves can reach 1m in lenght and are lanced shaped. The leaf-stems are short and thickly covered in dark brown scales. It can be distinguished from other wood ferns by its waxy leaves and almost smooth margins. 

Habitat: Mature mixed forests, with standing water or poorly drained rich soil.  

Planting conditions: Great for restoration plantings in woodlands, but can also be used in landscaping in sheltered, moist, shaded areas. 

Contact Us