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Onoclea sensibilis

Common Name(s):
Bead fern, Sensitive fern
Ferns, Native Plants

Onoclea sensibilis, commonly called sensitive fern, is a large, somewhat coarse, deciduous fern which occurs in wet woods and thickets and in moist soils along streams and springs. It can grow up to 4' tall. It features long-stalked, deeply pinnatifid, bright green, vegetative (sterile) fronds (2-4' long) with leathery, triangular leaflets (pinnae) which have distinctively netted veins. Shorter, erect, woody-like fertile fronds (to 12" tall), whose ultimate divisions are bead-like segments, typically brown up in late summer and persist throughout the remaining season and winter. Commonly called sensitive fern because the green vegetative fronds are sensitive to and suffer almost immediate damage from the first fall frost. Also sensitive to drought.

It is best grown in organically rich, medium moisture, well-drained soil in part shade to full shade. It needs consistent moisture. Although native to swampy and marshy areas, it grows quite well in average garden soil as long as the soil is not allowed to dry out. Usually grows taller in wet soils which it tolerates well. Spreads by both creeping rhizomes and spores, and can be somewhat aggressive in optimum growing conditions.

Regions:  Mountain, Piedmont, Coastal Plains

Seasons of Interest: 

  Leaf:  Summer                 

Wildlife Value:  This plant is highly resistant to damage from deer.  It provides excellent ground cover.  

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems: The foliage may depreciate as summer progresses in hot climates, particularly if soils are not kept moist.

1-3 ft.
The sensitive fern has broad, almost triangular fronds. The sterile fronds are deeply pinnatified to bipinnatified, and thin texture. The fronds of most pinnae are nearly opposite, the rachis is smooth, pale tan or yellow. The fronds turn yellow or russet in the fall. Fertile fronds emerge in late summer, are woody with beadlike segments, brown and persist into winter. Stipes are long (one half to two-thirds of frond), network veined. It is dimorphic (occurring in or representing two distinct forms).
Part shade to full shade
naturalize, deciduous, rain garden, ncemgva2018

NCCES plant id: 210

Onoclea sensibilis Onoclea sensibilis
Dendroica cerulea, CC BY - 2.0
Onoclea sensibilis Onoclea sensibilis
Hornet Photography, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Onoclea sensibilis Onoclea sensibilisdro
Nicole Castle, CC BY-NC-ND - 2.0
Onoclea sensibilis Onoclea sensibilis
Tom Potterfield, CC-BY-SA-2.0