Royal Fern – Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis

See also: Native PlantsHerbaceous Perennials
Osmunda regalis spectabilis, royal fern, is a large fern that can grow to six feet tall and survive full sun if moisture is continuously available to the roots, such as in a bog garden where white-topped pitcher plant might be at home.

More commonly found growing to three feet or so tall in the shade or partially shady spots in the garden, royal fern is a big bold fern with big bold fronds.

royal fern Osmunda regalis

The royal fern pictured here is at least five feet tall and growing in full sun. It is also growing in a bog garden. Do not grow in full sun unless moisture is constantly supplied to the roots. Click for larger.

Royal fern is native to the eastern half of North America from Canada south to Florida. Royal fern is highly adaptable in the garden and easy to grow in the shade in soils with average to above average moisture.

The fronds are somewhat coarse looking, due to broadly pinnate habit. The spores are showy and appear in spring (see images above). Some people call Osmunda regalis 'flowering fern' due to the large spores found in clusters at the top of the fronds.

Osmunda are ancient ferns.

Ferns from the family Osmundaceae have been found in fossil remains dating back 230,000,000 years (Klekowski, Ed. University of Massachusetts). Osmunda ferns are found growing on all continents with the exception of Antarctica.

Royal fern naturally occurs in places with acidic, mucky soils. It is most at home in swampy areas and bogs. It can grow in shallow water. LIke many of our most valuable garden plants, royal fern is adaptable to many garden spaces and is considered easy to grow. The only real problem is dry soil conditions, especially in sunnier areas of the garden. Royal fern's habit is relatively coarse...use it in a place in the garden where you want to make a statement with bold texture.

Royal fern may sometimes be confused with cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea). Both come from the same genus, but cinnamon fern tends to have a more traditional rosette appearance. Cinnamon fern can also be grown in the sun but moisture must be constant. Cinnamon fern in particular will not do well if soil is allowed to dry.

Winter hardiness is excellent, as royal fern is found from Canada south to Florida. It is a deciduous fern, but fall color is a pleasant yellow.

Osmunda regalis spectabilis

Broadly pinnate fronds of royal fern. Click for larger.

Whomever gave royal fern its scientific name must have really been a fan. The genus name Osmunda is derived from the Anglo Saxon god of thunder (Osmunder). The species name regalis refers to a regal bearing (LaRue, Elizabeth. 2008. Muskegon Community College). Spectabilis is translated from Latin to mean attractiveness.

Scientific name: Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis, Osmunda spectabilis
Common name(s): royal fern, flowering fern
Plant type: Fern - herbaceous perennial
Height: 36"-72"
Native status: native across all of eastern North America
Winter hardiness:  3-9
Of note: Native fern that grows large in soil with lots of moisture. Does fine in ordinary garden soil in shade or partial shade once established. Easy to grow. Osmunda regalis roots are used as soil medium for orchids. Attractive yellow fall color.

royal fern

Huge royal fern at edge of small stream in Georgia. Click for larger.

About Barrie

Barrie earned both his Bachelor's (1990) and Master's (2006) degrees in landscape architecture from the University of Georgia. His favorite plant is the oakleaf hydrangea.