A few species extend into temperate regions as far north as Norway and as far south as the southern tip of Chile, most notably for gardeners, Blechnum spicant. In the tropics a few Blechnum species have trunks and are classified as tree ferns, but the temperate species of Blechnum are normal 'untrunked' ferns.

Here in the hot, humid southeast, we normally cannot grow Blechnum... even the hardy ones. The few Blechnum species that will survive in the South are fairly difficult to cultivate too. Like most fern plants, blechnum prefers partial shade, and a moist, well-drained, rich soil. Blechnum pairs well with hosta, helleborus, aspidistra, or bergenia.

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More Information About Blechnum

Blechnum has traditionally been treated as a large genus (over 200 species) with a worldwide distribution with diversity centers in the tropics and cool temperate forests such as the rainforests of southern Chile and New Zealand. Alas, this is another well-known genus of ferns that has recently undergone a major splitting into segregate genera. Only a few species are cold tolerant enough to grow in temperate gardens. Conversely, many species of Blechnum are also not very tolerant of heat and humidity! Most of the cold-hardy species prefer the gardens of the Pacific Northwest. Blechnum generally have once pinnate fronds (like a Boston fern). Most Blechnum have the typical fern habit but a few of the tropical species are ‘tree-ferns’ with trunks that can grow up to 9’ tall. The name Blechnum comes from the ancient Greek ‘blekhnon’ which means ‘fern’. This group includes many ferns with stiff foliage that are deer resistant. Every species that we are familiar with has fronds that are reddish when first emerging. These ferns produce two different looking types of fronds. The fertile fronds have wide pinnules, while the fertile fronds are upright and much more skeletal in appearance.

We are presenting the names that are relatively new along with their names as traditionally treated in the genus Blechnum. Knowing your family tree can be a blessing and a curse (particularly when it adds new genera to learn)! It turns out that none of the plants that are still maintained in the genus Blechnum are widely grown in the eastern US north of Florida. Though we have had far more failures than success stories, we continue to work on trialing new species looking for that next great woodland fern for the Southeast.

Struthiopteris amabilis = Blechnum amabile (Lovely Deer Fern) This native to China and Japan is similar to Struthiopteris niponica, but even smaller. Their well-behaved nature, beautiful and graceful form is deserving of the name amabile which translates as “lovely.” For us, these make a nearly flat clump of sterile fronds to 18” wide. When the plants get mature enough, they will produce fertile fronds tat rise to 1’ tall. (Hardiness Zone 7a-8b, at least)

Blechnum australe (Southern African Deer Fern) What? A Blechnum that’s still a Blechnum! We received this fern from Paul de Jaeger as wild-collected spore from South Africa. It went unidentified in our garden for 15 years where it has grown slowly…very slowly. This species produces sterile fronds that look a bit like an Alpine Water Fern, but should they ever gain enough energy in our climate to produce fertile fronds, those would be much taller and very different in appearance – erect and with wider-spaced pinnules that are more lance-triangular in outline. (Hardiness Zone 7b-8b, guessing)

Austroblechnum microphyllum = Blechnum microphyllum (Micro Deer Fern) Here’s a crazy little relative of the more widely cultivated (on the west coast and English gardens) Alpine Water Fern (Austroblechnum penna-marina) that has surprisingly survived in our woodland garden for nearly a decade. This native of southern South America often grows in rocky soil or on outcrops where the miniature (6” or less) fronds rise from crevices and sometimes form large clusters. This plant seems well suited to the shaded or semi-shaded rockery in our hot, humid Southeast. Virtually unknown in cultivation. (Hardiness Zone 6a-7b)

Struthiopteris niponica = Blechnum niponicum (Japanese Deer Fern) While most Deer Ferns hate our hot, humid summers, Struthiopteris niponica has proven quite reliable. Japanese Deer Fern makes a unique symmetrical evergreen clump of nearly flat, 1' long fronds with longer and more rigidly erect fertile fronds. Although it's not for beginners, a well-prepared, rich organic soil and an open woodland site have worked very well for us. (Hardiness Zone 6a-7b)

Struthiopteris (Blechnum) spicant ‘Fast Lane’ (Fast Lane Western Deer Fern) We have failed multiple times with this common west coast native, but we finally found a clone from Lane County, Oregon that has lived, formed fertile fronds, and looks great in our rock garden and crevice garden where it receives a little more than ½ day sun. (Hardiness Zone 7a-8b)

Plant Delights Nursery has a huge collection of over 1,000 ferns in our garden. We also have one of the largest and most esoteric selections of ferns for sale in the US. If you are looking to buy ferns, especially hard-to-find, cold hardy, garden ferns, then check here first.