acid, rich, average, loam, clay, sand, gravel/rock
3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Polystichum acrostichoides is a stout and robust evergreen species that forms neat, somewhat asymmetrical, vase-shaped clumps up to 2’ tall with erect to arching stems and deep-green, leathery leaflets. The fronds emerge as hairy and silvery fiddleheads that arevery ornamental in their own right, and turn dark green as they mature. The foliage deteriorates late winter to early spring, just before the new growth emerges. It can be removed to maintain a well-kempt appearance, or left in place to create a natural mulch and weed barrier.
Christmas ferns are highly adaptable and will perform admirably in rich, well-drained soils as well as lean, rocky ones. Its native habitat includes open deciduous forests that receive a lot of moisture from fall through spring, but then dry out during the summer months. It is also found along woodland margins that are exposed to a lot of direct morning and/or afternoon light, but are sheltered from the scorching mid-day sun. The root system consists of a thick rhizome and spreading fibrous roots that are very effective at preventing erosion and stabilizing soil on steep banks and bluffs where it is often found growing in abundance. This fern stays in place, forming dense clumps over time. Under ideal conditions it will naturalize via spores, but this far from being an aggressive species and the process is slow. It is beautiful when planted as a specimen, or in large groups. It can be combined with a wide variety of shade-loving plants, including sedges for a striking textural contrast and creating a formidable groundcover. Zones 3-8
The genus is derived from the Greek words poly, meaning many or multiple, and stichos, meaning rows. This is a reference to the rows of spore cases (sori) on the underside of the fern’s leaflets. The specific epithet acrostichoides gets a bit more complicated, so bear with me. Acros, is also a word of Greek origin, meaning uppermost or topmost. Then there is a recurring reference to the word stichos, and lastly the suffix oides that means looks like. So, the specific epithet means that this fern looks like ferns in the Acrostichum genus that have the common feature of dense rows of sori under the uppermost leaflets of the fronds. The origin of the common name Christmas fern is anyone’s guess, but I don’t think you’d be going out on a limb if you were to suggest that it’s a reference to the fern still being green at that time of year. So, go for it: cut some fronds off for your holiday wreaths or flower arrangements...you’ll have a good story to tell.