8 Full Sun Ferns For The Landscape

When we think of ferns we generally think of shady place plants, but you’ll be surprised to know that there are actually quite a few ferns that can do very well in a part-to-full sun setting.

In this article, we introduce eight types of ferns that can do well in hot sunny climates.

Bright green leaves of Dryopteris wallichiana up close
Bright green leaves of Dryopteris fern | AngieC333-DepositPhotos

The Eight Most Sun Tolerant Types of Ferns

Osmunda Ferns

There are three species of ferns within the genus Osmunda. They are:

  • Cinnamon fern – Osmunda cinnamomea grow quite well in truly full, all day sunlight.
  • Interrupted fern – Osmunda claytoniana does best with some protection from the midday sun. Full morning sun seems to be the best choice for this fern.
  • Royal fern – Osmunda regalis is the most moisture loving of the three species within this genus. These ferns naturally grow in running streams. This type of fern also provides interesting color as the new growth in the springtime is an attractive shade of bronze. Royal fern prefers full afternoon sun.

All three Osmunda species like consistently moist soil, and all three are good choices as ocean side plantings. They do well in windy settings with quite a bit of exposure.

These are not easily spreading ferns, so they make good individual specimen plants.

These three species of ferns grow to a height of about 3’ feet tall. All are winter hardy down to USDA hardiness zone 3.

Athyrium Ferns

Within the Athyrium genus you will find the Lady fern (A. felix-femina). This was one of the most popular ferns during the Victorian era, and there are many different cultivars.

Lady ferns do well with some protection from the direct noonday sun. Excessive hot sunlight will cause crispy browning of the individual leaves of the fronds.

Even so, Lady fern is a good choice for exposed settings such as mountainsides and along the seaside.

For warmer settings, choose the Southern Lady fern (A. asplenioides) which is a bit more heat and sun hardy.

Both of these compact ferns grow to be approximately 2′ feet high. Both are winter hardy down to USDA hardiness zone 4.

Ostrich Fern

Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) can tolerate full sun in many parts of North America. Bear in mind that full sun in states such as Texas is quite different than full sun and states such as Minnesota.

In very hot states, it would be wise to provide some protection from the noonday and harsh afternoon sun.

Ostrich fern is a tall, slim plant which grows to be approximately 5′ feet high. Under ideal conditions, this tall, bright green plant spreads very easily through rhizomes. It is a good choice as a tall border or privacy hedge.

This deciduous fern is winter hardy down to USDA hardiness zone 3.

Dryopteris Ferns

Within the Dryopteris genus, the Evergreen Male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) and Scaly Golden Male fern (D. affinis) are very heat and sun tolerant. There are many different cultivars of each type.

These clumping ferns grow to be 4′ or 5′ feet high. Their tall, rugged, leathery fronds are dark green in color. They do well in a full sun setting and are winter hardy down to USDA hardiness zone 4.

Southern Shield Fern

Southern Shield Fern (Thelypteris kunthii) is a Florida native that thrives in high heat and humidity and lots of sun. This medium-sized fern reaches a height of 2′ to 4′ feet. It spreads at a moderate rate through rhizomes and can make a good, midsized groundcover.

Choose a location that has rich, well draining soil with plenty of organic matter to keep the roots slightly moist.

Southern Shield is winter hardy down to USDA hardiness zone 7.

Florida Shield Fern

Florida Shield fern (Dryopteris ludoviciana) is also known as Southern Wood fern. This is a tall, semi-evergreen fern which reaches a height of approximately 4′ feet.

This spreading fern is a good choice as a midsized privacy or border planting during the spring, summer and autumn. It will typically die back during the winter months.

Loose, rich, well draining soil is preferred.

Florida Shield is winter hardy to USDA hardiness zone 6.

Bracken Fern

Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) is a sun loving, rapidly spreading, mid to large size fern. Fronds may be between 2′ and 5′ feet high, and the plant spreads rapidly through rhizomes. This deciduous plant can easily become invasive, so care must be taken when planting. 

Bracken fern is winter hardy down to USDA hardiness zone 3. It provides pretty, bronze color in the autumn and can make a nice border/privacy planting.

Desert Setting Ferns

In a desert setting, there are several genera of ferns that are especially adapted to dealing with drought, hot temperatures and bright, constant sun. Among them are:

  • Lip ferns – Cheilanthes spp. have longish, slim fronds.
  • Cloak ferns – Notholaena spp. have broad, triangular fronds.
  • Tufted ferns – Astrolepis spp. have broad, triangular fronds. 

There are many cultivars within each group, but most are rather similar in appearance. Standing about a foot high, these types of ferns tend to be compact evergreens with grayish green, rather furry fronds.

All of these sun and drought resistant, semi-desert ferns are native to the state of Arizona. All are good choices as rock garden plants, xeriscaping additions and desert garden dwellers. All are winter hardy to USDA hardiness zone 6.

Ferns Cool and Soften Any Garden Setting

With their lush green leaves and cool appearance, ferns have been popular garden and house plants since Victorian times. During the Victorian era, the love of ferns was called pteridomania, fern fever or fern madness.

Victorian gardeners embarked upon many risky adventures in search of new additions to their collections. 

In the early days of fern collecting, ferns were thought of as being quite finicky; however, in the last fifty years or so many hardier and more heat resilient varieties have been curated, cultivated and made available to gardeners worldwide.

These rugged deciduous or evergreen ferns are better able to tolerate very cold temperatures as well as exposure to sun and wind. The main thing to remember when keeping most types of ferns is that they tend to prefer consistently moist soil.

There are more than 20,000 different types of ferns worldwide, and more and more are being made available to avid pteridomaniacs with each passing day. Explore the genera we have introduced here.

When you have determined which types will do best your particular setting, you can rest assured you will soon find more within that grouping to add to your collection.

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