Common name: Christmas Fern

Botanical name (genus and species): Polystichum acrostichoides

Plant family: Dryopteridaceae

Plant Description

  • Plant size: 1 to 2 feet
  • Plant life cycle: Perennial
  • Foliage color: Evergreen, vibrant green
  • Plant type: Evergreen
  • Bloom color: N/A
  • Bloom time: N/A
  • Seasonal interest: Year-round
  • Preferred sunlight: Part Shade to Full Shade
  • Soil type: Well-drained, loam, slightly acidic
  • Watering needs: Moderate

In the shaded woodlands of Maryland, the Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) reigns supreme as an evergreen emblem of resilience and beauty. This native fern, named for its ability to retain its vibrant green fronds throughout the winter, offers a touch of vitality to any woodland garden. The fronds, which resemble delicate arching branches, can reach a height of 1 to 2 feet in optimal conditions, creating a lush ground cover beneath trees. With a preference for partial to full shade, this hardy fern thrives in a variety of soil types, from well-drained loam to slightly acidic soils.

As a steadfast evergreen, the Christmas Fern provides year-round interest. While it does not bloom in the traditional sense, its greenery offers a refreshing contrast to the winter landscape, making it a valuable addition to Maryland gardens.

Common Problems

Christmas Fern is relatively resistant to pests and diseases. However, keeping an eye out for signs of stress, such as yellowing fronds, can indicate issues with soil drainage or light conditions. Adjusting these factors as needed will ensure the fern’s continued health.

Care and Maintenance

Caring for Christmas Fern is straightforward. It thrives in well-drained soil and requires moderate watering. While it is generally low-maintenance, periodically removing old or damaged fronds enhances its appearance. Applying a layer of organic mulch around the base helps retain moisture and suppress weeds. Do NOT cut back Christmas Fern fronds in fall. Instead, leave the green foliage to persist and provide interest throughout winter. Remove dried fronds in the spring after new growth emerges.

Garden Uses

The Christmas Fern is a versatile plant. Its evergreen foliage provides year-round structure to the garden, making it an ideal choice for woodland landscapes. Additionally, the fronds are popular in floral arrangements and can be harvested for decorative purposes.

Ecosystem Services

  • Wildlife Shelter

Christmas Fern’s dense evergreen foliage serves as shelter for small wildlife, offering a refuge for insects and other creatures.

Planting Suggestions

Enhance the woodland allure of Christmas Fern by planting it alongside companions such as Blood Root (Sanguinaria canadensis), Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), and Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica). These native plants create a harmonious woodland tapestry, thriving together in Maryland’s diverse ecosystems.

Cultural Significance

Traditionally, Christmas Fern  has been associated with winter festivities and is often used in holiday decorations, including wreaths and greenery arrangements dating back to colonial times in America. Its enduring evergreen presence symbolizes resilience and longevity.


  • Maryland Native Plant Society
  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
  • University of Maryland Extension