Sensitive Fern

Sensitive Fern Stand in WinterSensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) is also known as Bead Fern, and what better time to see where that name came from than in winter when only the beads remain.

Sensitive Fern Closeup

The beads are actually modified leaflets on the fertile frond.  Each rolled and dried leaflet contains spores – one of the ways that ferns reproduce.  Sensitive FernAs I was surfing around the ‘net to find interesting facts about this plant, I ran across the American Fern Society website.  If you need more proof of the incredible variety and wonder of the natural world, go to their site and click “Fern Basics”.  Read about fern reproduction.  I must have learned that years ago in Biology… But I had forgotten!  It’s pretty fascinating.  (Of course, I’m easily fascinated.)

The common name Sensitive Fern comes from the fact that this will be one of the first plants to wither with the first frost in late summer or fall.

Sensitive Fern withered after the first frost...

Range Map
North American Range Map for Sensitive Fern

Folks living along the east coast in the southern most states of this range should be aware that Netted Chain Fern (Woodwardia areolata) resembles and often grows with Sensitive Fern.  It’s fertile frond is completely different, however – green with spores forming on the underside of the leaflets.

Learn more:

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9 thoughts on “Sensitive Fern

  1. In Maine, we treasure the tender fiddleheads as a spring-time delicacy. I’m not sure if they are the shoots from the sensitive fern or not–we just pick them, wash them and saute them up!
    Beth

  2. I’ve never heard “bead fern” – I like that!

    @Beth – When I was a child in Maine, we used to eat fiddleheads too, but they were from ostrich ferns, not sensitive ferns. Some people might eat bracken also, I suppose.

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