Learn to Identify Christmas Ferns in Missouri's Landscape

Dec 10, 2017

December 13 - December 19

Discover Nature this week as you learn to identify the Christmas fern in Missouri’s landscape.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, Christmas ferns will be most visible on woodland slopes this week.  Most ferns are annual in Missouri, though the Christmas fern overwinters and adds color to our winter season.

Knowing the anatomy of a plant is the first key to identification. Leaves of ferns range from quite large to very small. The above ground stem portion is called the stipe and the expanded portion is called the blade.  The stipe and blade together form the frond.

The fronds of Christmas ferns grow to 60 centimeters tall and arch out from the center of the plant, like a typical fern.  Christmas ferns tolerate more sun and less water than others, and can be found on shaded, rocky wooded slopes throughout Missouri, though less common in the northwestern counties.

If you want to deepen your plant identification skills, you can keep an eye out for the Narrow-leaved Spleenwort, which is mistaken for Christmas ferns at a distance.  These ferns grow in clusters and can be near a meter tall.

After you get to know these ferns in the wild, you may want to consider using them in your landscaping at home.  Vegetation is the natural architecture that many wildlife species use for protection from predators and weather and for a place to rest and raise young. Ground cover provided by the Christmas fern or Narrow-leaved Spleenwort offer protection to ground-dwelling small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Ground-foraging tow-hees and thrushes also find these areas attractive.

For more information on how to identify Missouri’s native ferns, seek out the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Field Guide to Missouri’s Ferns, by James Key or go online to MissouriConservation.org.  The website also has additional information on how to use landscaping to attract wildlife to your yard throughout the seasons.