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Comptonia peregrina

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Plant types and subtypes: Trees & Shrubs, Shrubs, Deciduous

Light Requirements: sun, part-sun, part-shade

Water Use: low

Soil Moisture: dry, moist

Soil Description: acid, neutral, average, poor, loam, clay, sand, gravel/rock

Height: 2'-4'

Bloom Time: April, May

Bloom Color: white, yellow, green

Leaf Color: green

Hardiness Zone: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Additional Tags: attracts birds, attracts butterflies, colonizing, drought tolerant, edible, fragrant plant, rock garden plant

Foliage of Comptonia peregrina (sweet fern)
  • Foliage of Comptonia peregrina (sweet fern)
  • Foliage of Comptonia peregrina (sweet fern)
  • Foliage of Comptonia peregrina (sweet fern)
  • Foliage of Comptonia peregrina (sweet fern)

Pricing & Availability

Description

Comptonia peregrina

Also known as:

sweet fern

,

Scientific Synonyms:

Myrica aspleniifolia, Myrica peregrina

Description

Sweet fern is a small, clump forming, deciduous shrub growing to about 4' in height. The deeply divided leaves are reminiscent of fern fronds, which explains the species' common name. The yellowish flowers are inconspicuous, resembling catkins which appear before the foliage develops. By late summer, these produce nutlet-like fruit that mature in early fall. The foliage is fragrant, releasing its aroma when crushed.

Cultivation

Comptonia peregrina is tolerant of dry conditions and poor soil. The root system produces underground runners (hence the specific epithet peregrina) making it a good plant for stabilizing exposed areas susceptible to erosion. It can be grown along alleys, roadsides, steep embankments and rock gardens. Under ideal conditions, mature plants will slowly spread to form colonies. Sweet fern does not transplant well. Many native populations have become threatened by the collection of wild specimens. Blooms in mid spring: April and May. Zones 3-7

Propagation

Best propagated by root, or soft-wood cuttings. It may be propagated by seed, but the process is slow and difficult.

Additional Notes

Sweet fern has the ability to fix its own nitrogen. Though drought tolerant with the ability even to grow on sand dunes in coastal areas, it does poorly under high heat if combined with high humidity, and can be difficult to grow in areas warmer than zone 7. The leaves have been used in herbal teas and remedies, crushed or burned as a mosquito repellent.

Native Range & Classification

Recorded County Distribution: USDA data

Native Range:
CT, DC, DE, GA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, VA, VT, WI, WV

USDA Endangered Status:

  • Endangered: IL, KY, TN
  • Threatened: OH

Classification

Kingdom Plantae Plants
Subkingdom Tracheobionta Vascular plants
Superdivision Spermatophyta Seed plants
Division Magnoliophyta Flowering plants
Class Magnoliopsida Dicotyledons
Subclass Hamamelididae
Order Myricales
Family Myricaceae Bayberry family
Genus Comptonia sweet fern
Species Comptonia peregrina sweet fern