Onoclea sensibilis

Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: sensitive fern 
Type: Fern
Family: Onocleaceae
Native Range: Eastern North America
Zone: 4 to 8
Height: 3.00 to 4.00 feet
Spread: 3.00 to 4.00 feet
Bloom Time: Non-flowering
Bloom Description: Non-flowering
Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Naturalize, Rain Garden
Tolerate: Rabbit, Heavy Shade, Clay Soil, Wet Soil, Black Walnut


Best grown in organically rich, medium moisture, well-drained soil in part shade to full shade. Needs consistent moisture. Although native to swampy and marshy areas, it grows quite well in average garden soil as long as 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.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Onoclea sensibilis, commonly called sensitive fern, is a large, somewhat coarse, Missouri native, deciduous fern which occurs statewide in wet woods and thickets and in moist soils along streams and springs. Grows up to 4' tall. 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.

Genus name comes from the Greek words onos meaning a vessel and kleio meaning to close in reference to the closely rolled fertile fronds.

Specific epithet means sensitive. In this case, the fronds are very sensitive to drought and the first fall frost.


No serious insect or disease problems. Foliage may depreciate as summer progresses in hot climates, particularly if soils are not kept moist.


Best in wet woodland gardens and moist locations along streams and ponds. Also appropriate for shaded areas of a native plant garden or naturalized planting.