How to Grow and Care for Lady Fern – Athyrium filix-femina

Athyrium felix-femina (uh-THEE-ree-um FY-liks fem-in-uh) is a non-flowering member of the Athyriaceae family which is commonly called Lady Fern. This deciduous perennial fern is native to northern temperate regions of the Americas.

The plants’ genus name, Athyrium, is derived from the Greek word “athyros”, which means “doorless”. This refers to the spore covers (indusia) which can be found on the undersides of the fronds. The indusia are hinged and open slowly to release spores.

Athyrium filix-femina growing in moist environment and shadePin
Lady fern growing in moist environment and shade | herukru-DepositPhotos

The specific epithet, felix-femina, is also Greek and means “fern woman”. Hence the common name, Lady Fern.

Lady Fern – Athyrium Filix-Femina Care

Size & Growth

In very conducive environments, this US native plant may grow to be 5’ feet high. Typically, Lady Fern grows to be between 1’ – 3’ feet high and has a spread as great as 2.5’ feet.

The fronds of the Lady Fern are erect and feature light green, lacy, finely divided leaflets. There are between twenty and thirty pairs of leaflets on each frond. In the autumn, this deciduous fern drops its leaves right after the first frost.

The stalks of the fronds may be green to match the leaves, or they may be reddish or purple.

Flowering & Fragrance

This plant is flowerless. It reproduces through spores.

Light & Temperature

A shady setting is best for the Lady Fern, but it can tolerate quite a bit of sun if kept well watered.

This plant is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4-8.

Watering & Feeding

This low maintenance plant does well in shady settings and has medium water requirements.

Soil & Transplanting

It is easy to grow Lady Fern in any wooded area with light, well-draining soil. Although these plants do require consistent moisture, they do not need as much moisture as most types of fern.

Consistently moist, rich soil (like that which is naturally found in a woodland setting) is best.

Grooming & Maintenance

This plant tends to look a bit battered by the middle of the summer, but this is only natural. Prune away damaged fronds to improve its appearance. 

Divide rhizomes every couple of years to promote good growth.


How To Propagate Lady Fern – Athyrium Felix-Femina

Lady Fern is best propagated by division. Divide the clumps in the springtime. The rhizomes are quite hardy and re-grow rapidly after the above ground portions of the plant have been destroyed by fire.

Of course, it is also possible to grow the plant from spores, which can be found on the undersides of the leaflets. This is an slow process, though. It is much easier and more practical to grow Lady Fern through rhizome division.

Lady Fern – Athyrium Felix-Femina Pests or Diseases

In its natural environment, Lady Fern experiences few, if any, pest or insect problems.

Like all plants, poorly draining soil, poor ventilation, and other adverse conditions will weaken the plant and cause problems such as rot, fungus, and bacterial infections. 

Weakened plants of all kinds will fall prey to pests more easily than healthy ones.

Is the Lady Fern Considered Toxic or Poisonous to People, Kids, Pets?

Lady Fern is generally considered non-toxic. It is a common source of food for wildlife, such as Roosevelt elk, grizzly bears and deer.

However, it does contain filicic acid, so it may be toxic to some types of domestic animals. Exercise normal precautions when allowing access to domestic livestock. [source]

Is The Lady Fern Considered Invasive?

Once established, Lady Fern will easily naturalize and can colonize large areas. This plant is native throughout North America and cannot be considered invasive in this setting.

In the state of Florida, this plant is listed as “threatened”. In the New York state, it is listed as “exploitably vulnerable”.

Uses For Lady Fern – Athyrium filix-femina 

In its natural environment, this pretty, compact fern grows in low lying areas as well as mid-elevations. You can find it growing naturally in swamps, along stream banks, in moist meadows and woodland settings.

Lady Fern does well in any shady garden setting. It is excellent for naturalizing in a wooded area and makes a fine addition to a shady rock garden. It can be pretty at the front of a shaded border or growing at the verge of a pond or stream.

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