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Sensitive Fern- Onoclea Sensibilis While Named After Its Sensitivity To Snow, Is An Excellent Houseplant Choice
The sensitive fern, formally known as the Onoclea sensibilis or the bead fern in standard terms, is a coarse-textured deciduous perennial fern named after its sensitivity to frost sometimes treated as the only species in Onoclea. However, some authors do not consider the genus monotypic. Native to the tropics of Central and South America, the sensitive fern makes an excellent fast-growing houseplant and is generally low-maintenance.
Besides its wide native distribution in Northern America, the sensitive fern is native to the Russian Far East, China, and Eastern Asia, dwelling in various wet swamp and wood habitats. Thickets, bogs, wet meadows, and ditches on riverbanks and roadsides are some of its preferred growing locations. Within North America, its range spreads from Newfoundland south to Florida and west to Texas, the Rocky Mountains, North Dakota, Quebec, and Manitoba. These lush plants appear in irrigated areas, water gardens, yards, and even hazardous or at least uninhabited zones. What also sets itself apart from other ferns is that it is immune to herbivores, especially deer—truly a remarkable asset among other plants.
Sensitive Fern, Onoclea Sensibilis Has Both Sterile And Fertile Fronds, And Unlike Most Other Plants, It Is Immune To Deer
The sensitive fern differentiates itself from other ferns with its sterile and fertile fronds. The sterile fronds are a bright, yellowish-green and typically unfurl at intervals along a creeping rhizome, growing up to about ninety centimeters with a smooth stipe. Meanwhile, the non-green fertile fronds are much smaller, with narrow pinnae and sori clustered like beads or grapes, and its fiddleheads are a pale red hue. Whenever animals and birds try to peck at the fertile fronds, the sori would make a spectacle of bursting and releasing thousands of spores onto the snow. Stiff brown fronds emerge at the end of summer, remaining until winter, and its deeply-netted, beckoning triangular leaflets dangle from long stalks. Sensitive ferns grow best in areas with moist soil, along with full or partial shade. While it can tolerate drier conditions and soggy ground, it may need wet soil under full sunlight, and it can survive longer through the winter if dried fronts remain on the plant. Sensitive ferns spread to form colonies, often as the first to inhabit disturbed areas, and it serves as a facultative wetland indicator.
As people cultivate them as ornamental plants in traditional and native plant gardens, the sensitive fern is present in natural landscaping and habitat restoration projects. It is one of the plants that gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.