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Royal Fern
by John J. Marshall - posted 03/30/12

Photo by Esther Westerveld.

The royal fern is a solution plant for gardens with wet soil. Royal ferns are named so because they can grow to be rather large, up to 5 feet tall and 5 feet across. They make quite an impact in the garden. Sterile fronds emerge in spring yellowish green and tinged with terra-cotta. Mature fronds are bright green. Being deciduous, pleasing yellow and brown shades appear in fall. They are quite striking when backlit by the sun. Because they thrive in wet soil, they’re ideal beside freshwater streams and ponds, in bogs and rain gardens. Though they are most often found growing in light shade, royal ferns can tolerate full sun with sufficient moisture.

It’s a temptation to collect plants such as these from the wild, but I strongly discourage it. Native populations can be dangerously diminished through over-collecting. Suitable companion plants may include pond cypress, dawn redwood, red maple, Lyonia, inkberry holly, coastal leucothoe, water irises, rushes, horsetail and sweet flag.


Royal fern (Osmunda regalis) in spring.

Royal fern (Osmunda regalis) in fall.

Above two photos courtesy of John J. Marshall.


Common Name: Royal fern

Botanical Name: Osmunda regalis

Color: Bright green deciduous foliage turns yellow to brown in fall.

Zones: 3-10

Type: Perennial

Size: 24 to 60 inches tall x 24 to 60 inches wide

Exposure: Light shade to full sun (with sufficient moisture)

When to Plant: Mid to late spring or fall

How to Plant: Container-grown or bare-root plants spaced 24 to 48 inches apart

Soil: Moist to wet soil that is acidic

Watering: Soil moisture should be maintained.

When to Prune: Brown fronds may be removed in winter.

When to Fertilize: No fertilizer should be necessary.

In Your Landscape: Near ponds or streams, in bog gardens and rain gardens.


(From Georgia Gardening Volume X Issue III.)


John Marshall is a garden coach, blogger and the owner of