I find the new fern fronds to be fascinating as they emerge in the garden. They are tightly rolled at first, and within days their fiddleheads unroll to reveal the new foliage. The shapes of the newly risen fronds are intriguing, standing tall with the curled end holding what will eventually become long fronds. These are the fiddleheads of Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich ferns).
It won’t take them long to stretch 90 to 120 cm tall (3 to 4 feet). The plants I have in the deep shade under a willow against the north side of a fence tend to be a little shorter, about 60 cm tall (2 feet). My tallest ones are on the northern side of a fence, but get an hour or 2 of sun in the early morning. They are also next to a birdbath and may get a little extra water. The blades are about 30 cm wide (1 foot) at the broadest part, tapering to a narrow rounded tip and very narrow base.
The ostrich fern’s overall shape is very distinctive, narrow at the bottom and wide at the top. I appreciate this fern’s height for the back of the shade border, and the way it makes an excellent backdrop for other perennials in the garden. They look great with woodland flowers planted around their base.
They spread slowly in my garden, with a few new M. struthiopteris coming up each spring a little ways out from the parent plants. For such a lush looking fern, these are very easy care and have no problems with a cold climate nor the shade. They die back quickly in the fall with the first frosts, but their dark fertile fronds are decorative so I leave them on until spring.
Aren’t the new fiddleheads fascinating? You can see the miniature versions of the leaflets in the curl as it uncoils upwards and then out. If you click on the bottom photo you can enlarge it and see the perfect leaflets emerging and the beads of water. When I look at this, I forget that I live on the prairies.