Unusual British Native Evergreen Ferns

Some of the best and most unusual ferns are not only very frost hardy evergreens but also very distinctive and unusual looking. If you are going to grow them in your garden then why not choose ones that are native to the UK.

British natives are well adapted to our climate after all and what better way to support your local population of invertebrates. Not only are they adapted to local conditions they are also generally pest and disease free so unlikely to succumb to insect or disease damage.

So here I have picked what I think are the best and most unusual looking of our natives rather than what most people see as the traditional appearance of the fern.

small maidenhair fern
Distinctive dark stems of trichmanes.

Asplenium trichomanes (Maidenhair spleenwort)

The Maidenhair fern grows over most of the UK and is tolerant of most soils. It looks like it should be a houseplant and belong a humid bathroom but in this case looks are very deceptive. This is actually very cold hardy and can put up with extreme cold, shade and drought tolerant as it naturally grows in cracks on rocks and stone walls.

A. trichomanes could be described as a having a black to brown stem along which are lined small mid green rounded rectangular shaped leaves or pinna. It is very delicate looking hence it's common name of Maidenhair.

The Maidenhair spleenwort is rated as H6 hardy which means it can cope with very cold winters. It remains green throughout winter and is evergreen. I've grown it in the understorey of other plants as it can cope with shade and its unusual patterning give interest to areas where it is either too dark or dry for other plants.

Young Maidenhair fern
Young Maidenhair fern.
frond leaflets
Contrast of shell shaped leaflets against frond stem.
mature Hart's Tongue fern with spores
Solid upright fronds of the Hart's Tongue.

Asplenium scolopendrium (Hart's Tongue fern)

This is another Asplenium but a very different and again unusual one. A. scolopendrium is also an evergreen and a native to the British Isles and also very cold winter hardy and rated as H6 by the RHS.

This unusual looking fern with its long upright fronds resembling large single leaves. I grow this to add a tropical look to shaded understorey areas of the garden. When established they look impressive, almost prehistoric in their appearance remaining green, rigid and upright through winter.

One other notable feature are the brown spores that adorn the underside of the fronds adding to the unusual appearance.

Again this fern is easy to grow and tolerates most conditions but as with most ferns they do not like direct summer sunlight. Having grown the Hart's tongue in both sunny and shady spots it definitely prefers the shade.

scolopendrium established well in shade
Mature established Hart's tongue growing in shade.
new frond emerging in spring
New frond emerges in spring.
Mossy soft sheild fern
The dense fronds of this Soft Sheild fern give is a moss like appearance.

Polystichum setiferum 'Plumosum Densum' (Mossy Soft Shield fern)

Our third British native is the Soft Shield fern, specifically the Mossy 'Plumosum Densum' chosen for its denser overlapping leaflets giving it that moss like appearance.

Unlike our Aspleniums this looks more recognisable as a fern with the classic shape yet more lush in appearance. Again this is tolerant of most soils and easy to grow and also prefers shade, great for those north facing nooks in your garden.

It provides good winter foliage and is also evergreen providing a contrast to our previous two suggestions.

You will find it very tolerant of most condition and low maintenance and pretty much pest and disease resistant on the whole. It's also slightly more winter hardy rated as H7 by the RHS which makes it a great choice for adding lushness to those shady spots and to add interest to areas where taller deciduous plants and trees are being grown.

Fiddleheads emerging
The fiddleheads are the new emerging spring fronds.
frond detail
Fern frond detail.

Where to buy native evergreen ferns

There are many specialist fern nurseries here in the UK with a great range of both native and more exotic species.
It would be great if you could support a local family run garden centre or a specialist nursery online rather than a generic chain store. It ensures you get a better choice and helps maintain plant breed diversity which is good for wildlife.