Wood Fern, Thelypteris kunthii
Perennial for shade and moist soil
Wood Fern, Thelypteris kunthii, also called Southern Shield Fern and Kunth’s Maiden Fern, is a deciduous fern that grows 1-3 feet tall and 1-3 feet wide. Occasionally, specimens may reach 5 feet in height and diameter. In nature, Wood Fern is found in woodlands, wetlands, stream banks, and near seeps in Texas and the southeastern US. T. kunthii is named in honor of Carl Sigismund Kunth, a German botanist who studied American plants in the early 1800s. The fronds are light- to medium-green and will take on bronze color in the late fall and go brown as they die back in winter.
Flowers and Seeds:
Not applicable. Ferns reproduce using spores that form under their leaves. They do not flower or set seed.
Wood Fern thrives in part shade to full shade in moist sandy, loam, clay, or limestone-containing soils. It will tolerate poor drainage, as long as the soil is not compacted. Wood Fern requires moist soil and is not appropriate for soils that will completely dry out, although it can survive brief dry spells. It flourishes in average to rich soil and will appreciate organic soil amendments.
Wood Fern’s water requirements vary with the amount of sun it receives: the more sun it receives, the more water it will need. However, it does require supplemental water during a drought.
Wood Fern works well in a cottage garden, in mixed borders, and as a ground cover in shade and woodland gardens. It spreads easily by rhizomes to form colonies, but is not especially aggressive. Wood Fern is low maintenance: the brown fronds should be cut back before new growth appears in the spring. It is deer resistant. Consider planting Wood Fern instead of non-native, weedy, and invasive Mariana Maiden Fern (Macrothelypteris torresiana) or Marsh Fern (Thelypteris palustris). Companion plants include those with similar soil and water needs: Fall Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana), both Spring Obedient Plants (P. intermedia and P. pulchella), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana L.). Other Texas native plants that will tolerate moist soil are suitable as companions as well.
Written by Becca Dickstein.