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Onoclea Sensibilis Sensitive Fern

Onoclea Sensibilis Sensitive Fern

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Onoclea Sensibilis, commonly known as the sensitive fern, is a deciduous fern species that is native to North America. This fern is notable for its distinctive fronds and adaptability to a variety of growing conditions. The name "sensitive fern" refers to its sensitivity to frost, as the fronds are susceptible to damage when exposed to early autumn frost.

The fronds of Onoclea sensibilis are deeply lobed and can reach a height of about 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 centimetres). They emerge in a vase-like arrangement, creating a visually interesting form. The fern is recognised for its ability to colonise and spread, forming dense stands in wetland areas, along stream banks, and in other damp habitats.

Cultivating the sensitive fern is relatively straightforward, as it is adaptable to both sun and shade. It thrives in moist to wet soil, making it well-suited for locations near water features, ponds, or in areas with consistently damp conditions. This adaptability allows the sensitive fern to be a versatile choice for various garden settings.

 At a glance

  • Perfect for the woodland garden
  • Generally low-maintenance
  • Spreads quite vigorously by means of a slender far-creeping rhizome when it is established
  • Requires a damp humus-rich site in partial shade with only a few hours of sun a day
  • Immature shoots and roots are edible with medicinal properties


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Common Name Sensitive fern
Genus Onoclea
Plant Form
Plant Type
Climate Temperate
Plant habitat Grow well in a bog or woodland garden, or on the water's edge where they may grow out over the water. 
Sunlight Partial shade, full shade
Watering Heavy
Flowering period
Flower Colour
Season of interest All year
Foliage Deciduous
Hardiness Rating (RHS)
Soil type Loam, peat
Soil PH H3 (-5 to 1 °C),H5 (-15 to -10 °C),H6 (-20 to -15 °C)
Size Height: 50cm, Spread: 50cm
Care notes Maintenance for the sensitive fern involves regular watering to maintain soil moisture, especially in drier periods. 
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