Thursday, February 5, 2009

Matteuccia struthiopteris

Mattueccia struthiopteris, Ostrich of Ostrich Plume Fern, just has to be one of my favorites. This is a North American native and although there is an oriental version, this is the one you will find labeled as Ostrich Fern. They are big plants, 3-6 feet tall and even a lot taller in the right location. They are very tropical looking though not a warm location fern since they grow from zone 2 to 6. It is vigorous and spreads rather rapidly, sometimes making babies a few feet away. We have these scattered all over the garden since we traded some hostas for a few wheelbarrow loads of these a few years ago with a neighbor who was re-doing a bed and wanted something other than ferns. These need moisture but don't seem to like wet feet. Ours grow in varying conditions, some in rich soil, some in pretty sparse soil on a hillside. Light shade seems to be best, especially if you want large plants. Some in deep shade are smaller here.
These are the ferns you want if you are tempted to try cooking some fiddleheads in the spring. Because they are so prolific, you won't damage your garden by harvesting some once they are established. If you want to try it, cut the fiddleheads when they are 2 to 3 inches tall and still tightly coiled. These come up really fast, so you have to keep watching. Just wash off the coating of loose, large, tan scales under running water with a little bit of rubbing and then boil them for three or four minutes. Drain and eat hot with just a little butter and salt or chill to use in a mixed salad. Think asparagus and use them in any recipe where that would be good.
These ferns make separate fertile fronds which arise later in the summer. These are sort of woody and make good additions to dried arrangements for fall and winter.

1 comment:

Northern Shade said...

I particularly appreciate how these ferns shoot up so quickly in the spring. Once they start, they can grow 4 feet in less than a month. As you mentioned, my M. struthiopteris in very deep shade, with root competition, grow about half that size. Even though they can look a little tattered by fall, their early spring exuberance is well worth it.