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Wood fern

This is one of the largest genera of ferns, with well over 100 species from many parts of the world. Use them in shade or woodland gardens, where their fronds contrast nicely with the foliage of other plants, especially large-leafed sorts such as hostas and hydrangeas.

Wood ferns grow best in rich soil with plenty of organic matter and regular moisture. They tolerate dry shade. As a rule, they are rather forgiving; a good choice for beginning gardeners. These plants are seldom bothered by deer or other pests.

Dryopteris dilatata

From western and central Europe. Usually deciduous. Vigorous grower to 3–4 ft. high and wide, with rich green fronds that are broadly triangular. Stalks and midribs are covered in dark brown scales. Adaptable and easy to grow.

Dryopteris erythrosora (photo courtesy of Janet Loughrey)
Dryopteris erythrosora (photo courtesy of Janet Loughrey)

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Dryopteris erythrosora

Native to China and Japan. Erect growth to 2 ft. tall and 1 1/2 ft. wide. One of the few ferns with seasonal color variation. Expanding fronds in spring are a blend of copper, pink, and yellow; they turn green in summer, then rusty brown in fall. Bright red spores, produced on leaf undersides, are an attractive winter feature.

Dryopteris filix-mas

Native to much of the Northern Hemisphere. Grows to 2–5 ft. tall and wide, with finely cut, medium green fronds to 1 ft. wide. Usually evergreen, sometimes deciduous. Tolerates considerable drought when grown in full shade.

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