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Onoclea sensibilis L.
Sensitive fern, Bead fern, Sympathy fern
USDA Symbol: ONSE
Sensitive fern varies in height from a few inches to more than 3 ft. Its sterile fronds, which wither early, are light to brown-mottled green and deeply cut into long lobes which almost reach the stem. Twice-pinnate fertile fronds appear in late summer and, though dead, remain upright through winter. Fiddleheads appear in the spring in shades of pale red. The roots colonize but are usually shallow, though hefty. The stalks of this fern are said to have a decorative, beaded appearance, lending the plant one of its common names, Bead Fern.
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial Habit: Herb
, Fern Leaf Retention: Deciduous Leaf:
Light green Flower:
Fruit: Size Class:
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Not Applicable
Bloom Notes: Not a flowering plant. Reproduces by spores.
, WV Canada: NB
, PE Native Distribution:
Newfoundland to Sask., s. to n. FL
& TX; also collected in Douglas Co., CO. Eastern North America, Zones 4 to 8. Native Habitat:
Moist woodlands, floodplains, stream banks, swamps, marshes
Growing ConditionsWater Use: Medium , High
Light Requirement: Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist , Wet
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
Drought Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Various loose, acidic, moist to wet soils. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Limestone-based.
Conditions Comments: Can grow in very wet soils as long as there is adequate oxygen. It cannot tolerate sour clay or stagnant water. Also, does not tolerate freezing well, turns black even in light frost.
Bog or pond area, Water garden Use Wildlife:
Shelters salamanders and frogs Use Other:
Cut fronds good for dried flower
arrangements Interesting Foliage:
Root Division Description:
Propagate by rhizome
division or spores. Commercially Avail:
If it gets too aggressive for your tastes, thin it out.
National Wetland Indicator Status
This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1
(Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here
for map of regions.
Record Last Modified: 2013-09-09
Research By: TWC Staff