Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich Fern)
|Also known as:|
|Family:||Dryopteridaceae (Wood Fern)|
|Habitat:||part shade, shade, sun; moist to wet; swampy woods, thickets|
|Plant height:||2 to 6 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FAC|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Leaves and stems:
Leaf is once compound, leaflets deeply lobed, divided almost to mid-nerve. In outline, the leaf blade (frond) is widest above the middle, rapidly narrowing at the tip, gradually tapering to the base, nearly to the ground (shaped like an ostrich feather). The lowest leaflets are only about 1 inch long.
Veins are straight, not forked, in a chevron pattern most easily seen on the underside. The leaflet midrib may be covered to varying degrees in short hairs. The leaves, nearly erect to arching, grow in a circular clump with the fruiting fertile spike (if present) growing in the middle. The leaves die with the first frost.
Ostrich Fern has at least 1 spike 20 to 50 inches tall growing in the center of the leaf clump. 25 or more pairs of hard tubular-shaped "pods" contain the spores in somewhat bead-like structures. These fertile fronds are initially green but turn dark brown with maturity and persist through the winter, releasing spores the following spring before dying back.
Since the leaves, size and overall structure of Ostrich Fern, Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomea) and Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana) closely resemble each other, they can most easily be distinguished by the fruiting fertile fronds. If spores are not present, the easiest way to distinguish the 3 species is to turn over the leaf and see if there is a tuft of hair at the junction of the main stem and leaflet - only Cinnamon Fern has this feature. Ostrich Fern can further be distinguished by the ostrich-feather shape of the leaf, with very short leaflets going almost down to the ground, and the lack of forked veins on the underside of the leaflets. Interrupted Fern has forked veins and its lowest leaflets are about 3 inches long. The fertile fronds of Ostrich Fern are also similar to those of Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis), which is generally shorter and has only 5 to 11 pairs of spore-bearing structures. Ostrich Fern has been used in landscaping but can be a bit aggressive and form large colonies. The fiddleheads are edible, quite tasty sautéed in a little butter (what isn't!). There are 2 varieties of M. struthiopteris, with var. struthiopteris native to Eurasia and var. pensylvanica in North America.
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Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey and Pine counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Olmsted County and a private garden in Anoka County.
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