Majestic Shuttlecock Ferns

I cannot tell you the joy I feel each year when the majestic Shuttlecock Ferns start to unfurl in the dark recess of the shady, boggy border!

The Shuttlecock Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, which is also known as the Ostrich Fern, is a hardy, perennial fern which gracefully unfurls in Spring to produce elegant, arching, lime-green fronds. As the fronds droop slightly, it gives the effect of a giant shuttlecock.  

Those fronds can reach to 120cm/4ft in height so the Shuttlecock Fern offers a fabulous architectural structure to shady borders, to woodland gardens and at the edges of ponds. It likes moist, shady areas so it is always a great, big burst of beautiful green in those often awkward spaces. As the lance-shaped fronds arch outwards from the base, it makes a bold statement but doesn’t take up too much room at ground level so it can be underplanted with other shade lovers like Brunnera Machrophylis.

The Shuttlecock Fern is an incredibly low-maintenance addition to your garden needing no more care than moist soil at its base for it to thrive which is probably the reason that it has been around since the time the dinosaurs. It really does do best in full shade as the ones I’ve tried in a sunny spot, only grow to around a third of the size of the shade covered ones and indeed, are a bit partial to drooping and scorching in full sun.

In late Summer, shorter fertile fronds of around 50cm in height appear in the middle of the plant and they ripen to a dark brown. While the longer, green fronds are sterile and it those which are deciduous, these darker brown fronds persist over Winter which is very handy so you don’t dig up the dormant fern.

Slowly spreading by underground rhizomes, the Shuttlecock Fern soon forms groups of fern friends by sending out runners which can easily be lifted and spread around the borders or given away to real-life friends.

I absolutely love the handsome Shuttlecock Fern and so do the RHS as they have given it the prestigious Award of Garden Merit. Each year, I move more of them around to fill spaces at the back of shady areas. I literally still get a frisson of excitement when I start to see those fronds unfurl and if you have a Shuttlecock Fern or two in your garden, try not to miss the show this year as they perform their unfurling dance on the way to their majestic heights!

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