The ostrich or shuttlecock fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris AGM) is a fabulous plant for damp, shady places in acid to neutral soil. It is at its most beautiful in spring and early summer when the large, vibrant green fronds unfurl and, when backlit by the sun, they are a spectacular sight.
The deciduous, sterile fronds are almost vertical and can grow up to 1.5m (5ft) tall.They taper to the base and to the tip, resembling ostrich plumes, hence the name. In Greek, struthio means ostrich and pterion means wing. The fertile fronds are shorter, dark brown, developing in autumn and persisting through winter, giving architectural interest. Be warned though, this fern can soon make very large colonies by spreading through underground rhizomes.
At Rosemoor, we grow this lovely plant in many locations, allowing it to colonise, making an impact in the borders. When planted with large, dark leaved shrubs such as Mahonia and Viburnum (as in the Foliage Garden) or Rhododendron (Rosemoor House drive beds and Stream Field), the bright green of the fronds is further enhanced. It also looks great with the young, bronze-purple leaves of Rodgersia on the banks of the lake and in Stream Field. A more subtle effect is achieved by planting with foliage of a similar hue but contrasting form as in the Foliage Garden with Ginkgo biloba 'Saratoga' AGM.
This large fern is effective as a backdrop for other mass plantings of smaller species. For example, near the lake, a carpet of geums, astilbes and hostas jostle for position in front of the ferns. It is, of course, perfect near water and along the stream at Rosemoor, it mingles with camassias, primulas and Carex elata 'Aurea' AGM making a wonderful mix of colour and form.
Bordering the Lawn in Lady Anne’s Garden, a fabulous contrast is achieved with the deep purple-red, young foliage of Acer palmatum and with the delicate foliage and white plumes of Astilbe 'White Queen' planted beneath.
This is one of the most beautiful of large ferns, and, if you have room or can keep it under control, it is perfect for permanently moist areas in the garden.
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