Matteuccia struthiopteris subsp. pensylvanica

Species Native to Missouri
Type: Fern
Family: Onocleaceae
Native Range: Northeastern North America
Zone: 3 to 8
Height: 2.00 to 6.00 feet
Spread: 2.00 to 3.00 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, Erosion, Clay Soil, Wet Soil


Easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in part shade to full shade. Best in rich soils with constant moisture. Soil must never be allowed to dry out. Spreads by underground rhizomes to form dense colonies in optimum growing conditions. Prefers cool summer climates and is generally intolerant of the hot and humid summers of the deep South. Avoid windy sites.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Matteuccia struthiopteris, commonly known as ostrich fern, is native to temperate regions of North America, Europe and northern Asia. It is typically found in wooded river bottomlands. It is a rhizomatous, clump-forming, deciduous fern which typically grows to 2-3' tall in cultivation, but may reach 6' tall in cool climates in the wild. This fern is dimorphic. The showy parts of the fern are the finely dissected, medium green sterile (vegetative) fronds which exhibit the feathery appearance of long ostrich plumes. The sterile fronds emerge at the base of the fern clump in spring as the familiar "fiddleheads" which unfold to as much as 4' tall. The sterile fronds usually depreciate as the summer proceeds, begin to look rather tattered by early fall and finally lose their leaflets later in the fall as the plant goes dormant for winter. The sterile fronds form a huge vase-like crown around the much less showy fertile fronds which are erect, spike-like and dark brown. The fertile fronds arise in mid-summer and persist through the winter.

Subsp. pensylvanica differs from the straight species by having a dark central stripe in the scales. This subspecies is native only to North America, and use of the subspecies name is a way of distinguishing this plant from European populations of the species. The Plant List currently considers this subsp. to be a synonym of the species. Subspecies name means of Pennsylvania.

Genus name honors Carlo Matteucci (1800-1863), Italian physicist.


No serious insect or disease problems.


Huge fern for shady locations in the landscape. Young fiddleheads are edible. The brown fertile fronds make attractive additions to winter arrangements.