Lady Fern – Polypodiales Polypodiaceae Athyrium filix-femina

Identification & Description:
Lady Fern is a deciduous, perennial fern about 24 to 36 inches tall. Its light green, lacy leaves are about 24 to 30″ long and 6 to 9″ wide and tapered at both ends. The fronds are cut twice and grow from a central base. The J-shaped spore casings, or sori, grow on the underside of the leaf.

In the wild, Lady ferns can be found growing in meadows, open thickets, moist woods, and along stream beds. They also grow in the cracks of rocks. In the taiga it usually grows in the understory of white spruce, black spruce, Douglas-fir and western hemlock. Lady ferns prefer shaded areas.

Physical Characteristics
A decidious fern growing to 0.6m by 0.5m . It is hardy to zone 2. The seeds ripen from July to August. We rate it 2 out of 5 for usefulness.

The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, requires well-drained soil and can grow in heavy clay soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid soil. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) or semi-shade (light woodland). It requires moist soil.

Edible Uses
Leaves; Root.
Young shoots, harvested before they have fully unfolded, can be eaten cooked. They must not be eaten raw – see the notes above on toxicity. Used in spring, they are a bitter emergency food.

Rhizome – peeled and slow-baked. Reports that the root of this plant were eaten by native North American Indians are likely to be mistaken, it was probably Dryopteris expansa that was used.

Other Uses
Ground cover.
A good ground cover plant, forming a slowly spreading clump. The cultivar ‘Minor’ has a denser habit and spreads more freely, making a better cover.

Grizzly bears like to eat Lady ferns as a major food source. Elk will also eat it also. Native Americans had many uses for Lady ferns. They used lady ferns for drying berries on, and covering food. The young shoots, or fiddleheads, were cooked, baked or eaten raw. Tea was made from the leaves to help urination and to stop breast pain caused by childbirth. The tea was also used to ease labour pains. Roots were dried and ground into a dust to help heal wounds. Oil from the roots of Lady ferns has been used since the 1st century AD to get rid of worms. An overdose could cause weakness, coma, and often blindness.

Cultivation details
An easily grown plant, it is calcifuge and prefers an acid soil with a pH from 4.5 to 6.5, but it tolerates alkaline soils if plenty of leaf mould is added. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers a moist sheltered site with moderately high atmospheric humidity.

A very ornamental and polymorphic species, there are many named varieties selected for their ornamental value.

Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer.