Hay Scented Fern Habitat Information: Growing Hay Scented Ferns

Hay Scented Fern Habitat Information: Growing Hay Scented Ferns

By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

If you’re a lover of ferns, then growing hay scented fern in the woodland garden will certainly feed your enjoyment of these plants. Read on to learn more.

Hay Scented Fern Habitat

Hay scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctiloba) is a deciduous fern that, when crushed, releases a scent of fresh mowed hay. They can grow up to 2 feet (60 cm.) in height and spread up to 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 m.) wide. This fern grows singly from underground stems, called rhizomes.

Hay scented fern is a bright green that turns to a soft yellow in the fall. This fern is invasive, which makes it excellent for ground coverage, but because of its hardiness, you will not want to plant this with weaker growing plants.

These ferns grow in colonies and naturally repel deer. If you are using them in landscaping, they are great for border edging, ground coverage and naturalizing your garden. Hay scented ferns are found from Newfoundland to Alabama, but are more abundant in the eastern states of North America.

Hay scented ferns are indigenous to USDA climate zones 3-8. They grow freely on the floors of forests, creating a green luxurious carpet. They can also be found in meadows, fields and rocky slopes.

How to Plant Hay Scented Fern

Growing hay scented ferns are fairly easy because these ferns are hardy and quick to be established. Plant these ferns in an area that provides good drainage. If your soil is poor, add some compost for extra enrichment.

Remember that these ferns grow rapidly and will spread quickly, so you will want to plant them about 18 inches (45 cm.) apart. These ferns prefer partial shade and slightly acidic soil. Although they will grow in full sun, they will not look as lush.

Hay Scented Fern Care

Once the hay scented fern takes root and starts to spread, there is little to do with the plant. If your garden is in need some thinning out from these persistent plants, you can easily control the spread by pulling out some of the growth in spring.

Caring for a hay scented fern requires only a little time and effort. If your ferns should go pale, a bit of fish emulsion fertilizer should put some color back into them. These hardy ferns have been known to live for 10 years.

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Eastern Hay-Scented & New York Fern

Eastern Hay-Scented Fern

Dennstaedtia punctilobula

The eastern hay-scented fern constitutes a great deal of the general carpet of ferns that one can see when looking out from the station in nearly every direction. Around here, it is often small, feathery, and wispy, although it can grow to the height of 90 cm (3 ft) in some areas. Its yellow-green fronds are about ⅓ as wide as they are tall the pinnae (leaflets) taper to a divided point at the top of the frond but only taper very slightly at the bottom. Each leaflet itself is pinnate—that is, it is divided into 10-20 “subleaflets” of its own. Each subpinna, in its turn, is lobed the effect of leaflets upon leaflets upon leaflets is what gives this fern its lacy, wispy appearance.

On the backside of the leaflets, small cup-shaped sporangia (spore-producing bodies) exist. During the summer and fall, spores are produced in these sporangia and distributed widely by the wind. Where these spores fall, they mature into free-living, haploid gametophytes—that is, they have only one copy of their chromosomes. These gametophytes resemble tiny, heart-shaped leaves growing out of the soil. When these gametophytes mature, they will produce eggs and sperm and fertilize either themselves or others. After fertilization, the haploid gametophyte develops into a diploid sporophyte, or the recognizable mature fern.

This fern is widely distributed across the eastern US and Canada. Although in some areas it forms aggressive mats across the forest floor or open areas, it generally prefers shade and can be found in clumps or patches. It is tolerant of very poor soils and full shade, provided that there is consistent moisture. These ferns often spread by rhizomes (“fern roots”) to form vegetative colonies. They are deciduous, and die back in the late summer or fall.

The hay-scented fern is so named because of a distinctive smell, similar to fresh hay, which can be created by walking through and bruising the ferns. They produce a similar, pleasant scent when they are dried in bundles indoors.


Plants→Dennstaedtia→Hay-scented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)

Common names:
(1) Hay-scented Fern
Eastern hay-scented fern
Eastern hayscented fern
Eastern Hay Scented Fern

General Plant Information (Edit)
Plant Habit: Fern
Sun Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Partial or Dappled Shade
Partial Shade to Full Shade
Full Shade
Water Preferences: Mesic
Soil pH Preferences: Slightly acid (6.1 – 6.5)
Neutral (6.6 – 7.3)
Minimum cold hardiness: Zone 3 -40 °C (-40 °F) to -37.2 °C (-35)
Maximum recommended zone: Zone 8b
Plant Height : 1.5 to 2 feet usually, to 3 to 4 feet
Plant Spread : spreads
Leaves: Good fall color
Deciduous
Underground structures: Rhizome
Uses: Groundcover
Will Naturalize
Resistances: Deer Resistant
Rabbit Resistant
Tolerates dry shade
Propagation: Other methods: Division
Stolons and runners
Miscellaneous: Tolerates poor soil
Conservation status: Least Concern (LC)


Hay-scented Fern gets its common name from when the foliage is crushed, it smells like hay. It usually is 1.5 to 2 feet high, but can get to 3 or 4 feet high. It has lacy, very soft, thin, light green leaves that are erect or arching and the fronds are triangular in shape. The sori (spore-producing structures) under the leaves are along the leaflet (pinnae) margins and are cup-shaped. The species spreads quickly by the underground stems (rhizomes) to form a colony or a groundcover. My biggest customer has a nice patch in her shady front yard east corner that succeeded in producing another colony in the front yard close to the house among her Common Periwinkle groundcover, apparently by spores. She has me pulling out the fronds in that second area so that it is under control. This species is native from north Alabama & Georgia up into southern Newfoundland & southwest Quebec through southern Ontario through Michigan to southern Illinois & Missouri. I have seen often in the forests of eastern Pennsylvania. I see it very occasionally in some professional or plant enthusiast landscapes. It is sold by some larger, diverse conventional nurseries, native plant nurseries, and some mail order nurseries.

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4. In full sun

  • Ferns need not be restricted to a shady corner. Some, for example, the hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctiloba), which can be aggressive, grow well in nearly full sun.
  • Ferns in full sun can be used to cast interesting shadows.
  • Many ferns are evergreen and are invaluable for brightening up a garden in winter.
  • The shield ferns and the polypodies are particularly delightful, especially when their fronds are edged with frost.
  • In a rock garden the evergreen spleenworts (Asplenium) remain bright when most other plants have faded.

Aquarium Fern Types

1. Java Fern

Not exactly a houseplant as it is popular as an aquarium plant, there are various leaf shapes available, like ‘lance’, ‘needle’, and ‘trident’. Can grow half or fully submerged in water, and has a slow growth rate. The long curvy ‘leaves’ look nice when floating in tank water. Does well with occasional indirect sunlight.

Height/Width: 1-1.5 feet up to 1 foot

Ideal for: Aquarium planting as background

2. African Water Fern

A delicate fern with attractive dark green fronds that work well for soft water aquariums, t h e African water fern is also easy to take care of once established. Though slow-growing, it does get quite tall and works well as a bottom plant.

Height/Width: 1-1.5 feet 0.5-1 feet

Ideal for: Aquarium planting as background or foreground

The fiddleheads of certain ferns, including the western sword, ostrich, and royal are edible, commonly eaten as a vegetable. Though do not consider using all fern types for edible purposes as some have carcinogenic or cancer-causing effects.


Cleaning Spores

Cleanliness is the key to successful propagation from spores. After you've cleansed the fertile frond in the 5 to 10 percent bleach solution, tap the frond to release spores still stuck to it and discard it. The spores will be mixed with sporangial debris and maybe even some scales and hairs from the frond. The debris is lighter in color or at least a slightly different color from the spores and weighs less. By carefully lifting the paper and gently tapping from underneath, you can coax this fluffy debris to slide off the paper and discard it. An even more thorough cleaning can be achieved by sifting the spores through tissue paper used for cleaning camera lenses. I use two pieces laid across one another with the grain facing in opposite directions. The spores, generally smaller and heavier than the unwanted debris, fall through, leaving the debris in the lens paper. You can also use a fine screen however, thoroughly cleaning it between siftings is time-consuming.

Spores can be cleaned either well ahead of sowing or when you are ready to sow. I generally tap and remove fronds and do a preliminary "paper tap" cleaning before filing my spores away. I save the final operation of sifting through the lens-tissue for when I sow, as this tissue is a wonderful method for sprinkling spores evenly over the sterile medium.


Plant Finder

This graceful fern has lacy, arching fronds, fully grown by June, and soft yellow color in fall foliage is distinctively hay-scented when crushed a habitat for birds and bees prefers dappled shade instead of dense shade

Hay-Scented Fern's tiny ferny leaves are green in color. As an added bonus, the foliage turns a gorgeous yellow in the fall. Neither the flowers nor the fruit are ornamentally significant.

Hay-Scented Fern is an herbaceous evergreen fern with a shapely form and gracefully arching fronds. It brings an extremely fine and delicate texture to the garden composition and should be used to full effect.

This is a relatively low maintenance plant, and is best cleaned up in early spring before it resumes active growth for the season. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Hay-Scented Fern is recommended for the following landscape applications

  • Mass Planting
  • Border Edging
  • General Garden Use
  • Groundcover
  • Naturalizing And Woodland Gardens

Hay-Scented Fern will grow to be about 3 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 24 inches. Its foliage tends to remain dense right to the ground, not requiring facer plants in front. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 10 years. As this plant tends to go dormant in summer, it is best interplanted with late-season bloomers to hide the dying foliage.

This plant does best in partial shade to shade. It does best in average to evenly moist conditions, but will not tolerate standing water. It is not particular as to soil type, but has a definite preference for acidic soils. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. Consider applying a thick mulch around the root zone over the growing season to conserve soil moisture. This species is native to parts of North America. It can be propagated by division.


Watch the video: Invasive FERN