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For Your Garden - January 2009

During the cold and snow of winter a little touch of green in your garden or landscaping can remind you that spring will be arriving in just a few weeks. Native ferns with their beautiful, low-growing green foliage provide a nice ground cover in shaded areas and add a bit of color to the winter scenery. They are resistant to cold and drought and are rarely attacked by disease and insects. They are perennials that you can enjoy year after year.

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

The Christmas fern is a perennial plant that retains green foliage all year. The leaves may grow to about 20 inches in length. Each of the pinnae, units of the blade or leaf, is lance- or oblong-shaped. Pinnae are smooth on the upper surface, have tiny serrations along the edge and have a projection at the base. The pinnae at the bottom of the blade are larger than those at the top and are sterile. More than 30 pairs of pinnae may be present per leaf. Christmas fern grows naturally in Illinois woodlands in the southern two-thirds of the state, often associated with areas where rocks are present. It is a good choice for a shaded rock garden. It is called "Christmas" fern because it was gathered and used by pioneers for decorations during the holiday season.

Classification and taxonomy are based on Mohlenbrock, Robert H. 2014. Vascular flora of Illinois: A field guide. Fourth edition. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale. 536 pp.

Illinois Range

Native Plant Information

For more information about Illinois native plants, visit our Native Habitat Descriptions, Requirements, and Plant Lists page. The following publications are available from the IDNR on our publications page.


​Kingdom: Plantae
Phylum: Pteridophyta
Class: Filicopsida
Order: Polypodiales
Family: Dryopteridaceae

Illinois Status: common, native