Royal Ferns Make Regal Garden Plants

By Jeff Nurge of Native Choice Nursery

Royal fern
With the exception of Hawaii, Florida has more native ferns than any other state in the Union. There are approximately 130 species of fern native to Florida, of which only a handful are in widespread cultivation. Thankfully the royal fern, Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis, is one of them.

The royal fern can reach a striking three to four feet high. From his book A Gardener's Guide to Florida Native Plants, author, Rufino Osorio writes, "with age, royal ferns assume a stunning architectural quality. The long, erect fronds are finely divided and this results in a surprisingly delicate effect for so large a plant."

Among the fronds are spore stalks (a.k.a. "fiddleheads") that run from green to a rusty brown, which are set off quite nicely by the evergreen foliage. This perennial fern also forms a trunk-like rhizome as it ages, which gives it a solidly regal appearance in the garden.

Cultural Requirements
Cinnamon fern
The royal fern loves rich moist soil and can be found in its natural areas among the swamps and marches of South Florida. Needless to say, it needs consistent moisture for optimal good health. It will tolerate a couple of hours of full sun but it is best not to exceed that time. Bright light or filtered sun is preferred for the remainder of the day. This clumping fern has a moderate growth rate which keeps it well behaved in a garden setting. Propagation can be achieved by dividing larger plants.

Related Species
Another fern in the royal family that is in cultivation and worth seeking out is the cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea). It has a more wispy appearance, is not usually as large as the royal fern, and the spore stalks resemble sticks of cinnamon!

Osmunder (a.k.a. "Thor")
Fun Facts
(From Floridata)  Royal fern is truly the king of the ferns. It is the largest and most spectacular fern occurring in North America. The genus is named for Osmunder (also known as Thor), the Saxon god of war. 

Like the cinnamon fern, royal fern is listed by The Florida Department of Agriculture as a "Commercially Exploited Species," which means that it cannot be removed from the wild for commercial purposes without a permit. Royal fern is, however, legally available from nurseries specializing in native plants. 

Interested in purchasing one of these beautiful ferns? Use the plant finder feature on either or

Plant images courtesy of Shirley Denton
Edited and posted by Laurie Sheldon


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