Christmas Fern: An Evergreen New York Native

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Daniel Waldhorn / DEC

Sarah Gager/WSKG

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — The Christmas fern gets its name because the leaflets’ shape is similar to a Christmas stocking hung over the fireplace, with a lance tip and an asymmetrical base.

It’s also called Christmas fern because it’s evergreen, offering a dark green color in the winter when everything else has died back.

“When people would be making wreaths, they would often use this fern to incorporate in their wreaths and holiday decorations,” explained Daniel Waldhorn of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

The fern is currently protected. “It is illegal to dig them up or harvest them, but if you find them in a nursery, they make a great addition to a shade garden,” Waldhorn said.

Sarah Gager/WSKG

In the shade or even the deep shade of the woods, you’ll find them growing along rocky walls or along streams. Unlike some ferns which grow in a patch, spreading to mat the forest floor, Christmas ferns grown in clumps of just two or three plants.

If you find the Christmas Fern, you’ll know it by its leaflets. There are only two other species with a similar stocking shape.

“The western swordfern, which only lives in the Pacific Northwest, so you’re not likely to encounter it,” said Waldhorn. “Also, the boston fern, which grows in the tropics and is commonly grown as a houseplant, but it’s not really something you would find in the woods. So if you find something with that leaflet shape, it’s almost certainly a Christmas fern.”