Creature Feature Multimedia

Creature Feature: Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Christmas fern makes a stark contrast of green against autumn leaf litter. Photo by Emma Dean.

By Emma Dean, CG Science Editor

As an evergreen fern, Christmas fern is a perennial which maintains its green coloration throughout the year.  Because of this, it is still green while its surroundings dull during the holidays and so is aptly named.  There is, however, an additional explanation that the fronds were harvested, baled and sold to florists who would then weave them into a Christmas wreath.

Some find that the pinnaes or individual leaflets, resemble the shape of a Christmas stocking.  Others see a row of thumbs or mittens.

The fern is commonly found in woodland areas.  It thrives in such an area due to its preference for partial shade though it will tolerate direct sunlight providing that the soil is moist enough to keep the fern hydrated.  Christmas fern is tolerant of a variety of conditions including shallow rocky soil as well as wildlife including deer and rabbits.

Christmas fern is exceptional in its use for erosion control.  Also, it prefers the lower region of wooden hillsides and along stream banks.  About 20 fronds emerge from a central base and are of a somewhat leathery texture.

The pinnaes are said to either resemble thumbs, mittens and Christmas stockings. Photo by Emma Dean.

Fast Facts:

  • Christmas fern is often a host for butterfly larvae.
  • According to the USDA, Christmas fern is threatened in Minnesota and exploitably vulnerable in New York.
  • Christmas fern is present in eastern Canada as well as the eastern United States.
  • The fronds grow from a central crown which is covered by brown scales.


About Ferns

Missouri Botanical Garden

University of Arkansas