Colorful Ferns For Growers

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Adiantum hispidulum

If you think “green” when you hear the word “ferns,” you are missing out on some fabulous fern varieties. While many come in various shades of green, there are ferns that can provide you and your customers with some unique color options. Even better, many of these colorful ferns are hardy and have numerous applications in the landscape and container plantings.

Rosy Maidenhair Fern
Adiantum hispidulum

Adiantum hispidulum produces new glossy, rosy-pink fronds that mature to a dark green as the fronds age. The hand-shaped fronds have shiny, dark-green stems that reach 12 to 18 inches tall. This clumping-type plant spreads to 24 inches. The species name hispidulum is derived from the Latin hispis “hair” and means “minutely hairy.”

As a native of the South Pacific, including New Zealand, Australia and Southeast Asia, this plant does well in warm temperatures. It can tolerate higher light levels than most maidenhair ferns but prefers partial shade. It is more tolerant of sun and dry conditions than other fern species, however, don’t allow the growing medium to dry out.

This plant is evergreen in USDA Zones 8 to 11, although the fronds may be frost-tender. Plants that are borderline hardy often send out new fronds during mid-summer. Fronds will be late to re-emerge if winter temperatures were too cold.

Adiantum hispidulum is deer-resistant and can be used with perennials under shade trees in woodland, rock and water gardens. It can also be combined with tropical plants. It is evergreen indoors and can be used as a decorative table plant or in combination planters.

Regal Red Painted Fern
Athyrium nipponicum var. pictum ‘Regal Red’

Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Regal Red’ is a Japanese painted fern that has silver ruffled fronds with deep-burgundy stems and mid-veins. Although ‘Regal Red’ is deciduous, it holds its 8- to 20-inch-long fronds well into the fall, much longer than other athyriums. These mounding plants spread to 24 inches wide.

Hardy in Zones 4 to 9, the deer- and rabbit-resistant Regal Red is a colorful addition to woodland shade gardens. It can be used as an accent plant in rock gardens, as a border plant or massed as a ground cover. It also makes a beautiful specimen container plant and can be used in fresh cut arrangements.

Brilliance Autumn Fern
Dryopteris erthyrosora ‘Brilliance’

In the spring, Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ produces new bright orange/salmon and rose-toned fronds. As the fronds mature, they turn a shiny dark green during the summer. ‘Brilliance’ adds intense and lustrous color in partial to fully shaded landscape plantings. This evergreen fern reaches 18 to 24 inches tall and 30 inches wide.

Like most dryopteris, ‘Brilliance’ is drought tolerant once established and continues to look good after many companion shrubs show signs of wilting. This deer-resistant plant is hardy to Zones 5 to 8 and is tolerant of a wide range of planting conditions. Its slowly spreading habit and ability to tolerate neglect make it well-suited for use as a groundcover.

Koidzuma’s Wood Fern
Dryopteris koidzumiana

Dryopteris koidzumiana is an evergreen fern that is highly regarded for its colorful burgundy- to brick-red new growth that emerges during the summer. The wait for its intense color display, which lasts well into the summer, is well worth it. The deep-red color of the new fronds offers a beautiful contrast to the mature sage-green foliage.

This fern has an open and upright habit reaching 18 to 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide. It should be planted in a well-drained growing medium and provided with partial shade. With its leathery fronds, it makes a great specimen plant or can be placed in the landscape to provide a colorful accent or as a border plant. Evergreen in milder climates, it is hardy in Zones 7 to 10.

Golden Mist Wood Fern
Dryopteris labordei

Dryopteris labordei is an Australian discovery of what has also been classified as Dryopteris indusiata. The new fronds of this evergreen fern are yellow and contrast well with its mature, glossy, deep-green foliage. The arching, triangular-shaped fronds reach a height of 18 to 24 inches and a spread of 24 inches.

This deer- and rabbit-resistant plant does best in partial shade and is excellent for mass plantings in moist woodland areas. It is hardy in Zones 5 to 8.

Variegated Cretan Brake Fern
Pteris cretica var. albolineata

Since this very popular variegated fern is hardy in Zones 9 to 12, it is used primarily as an annual in the landscape or as a specimen container plant or in combinations including dish gardens. It is well-suited for indoor use. Don’t allow the growing medium to dry out.

Its fronds have a cream-white center and white lateral veins radiating to dark green. The plant reaches 12 to 18 inches tall and 18 inches wide.

Ruby Red Spikemoss
Selaginella erythropus ‘Sanguinea’

Similar in growth habit to Krauss spikemoss, this particular species is very distinctive with its bright-red stems and leaves (fronds) that have a dark-green upper leaf surface and ruby-red undersides. In cold temperatures, the upper surface of the foliage also turns red.

The striking color contrast is particularly nice in specimen containers, combination planters and hanging baskets and as an indoor houseplant. Its spreading habit makes it a good groundcover in shaded locations. This semi-evergreen fern is less than 12 inches tall and approximately 24 inches wide. It is hardy in Zones 8 to 12.

Jeweled Chain Fern
Woodwardia unigemmata

Tissue culture has enabled this Eastern Asian native, semi-evergreen fern to become commercially available. The new fronds are a brilliant red. The older fronds, which turn a dark green, grow to 3 to 7 feet long and naturally arch toward the ground, forming a cascade of colored foliage. A bulbil forms at the tip of each frond, weighing it down. The plant looks particularly beautiful planted atop a wall and allowed to drape downward. It is hardy in Zones 8 to 10.

David Kuack (dkuack@gmail.com) is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas.
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