Dryopteridaceae (wood fern family)
specimen showing sterile and fertile fronds; pardon the boot!
If you’ve been walking around the woods during this freakishly warm season, you’ve probably seen Christmas fern, a widespread evergreen fern of moist to dry woodlands that’s found all over the eastern part of North America. It’s a lovely plant for the garden, with glossy dark fronds adding winter interest, and a tidy, clump-forming habit.
young frond in July
Christmas fern stands about two feet tall, and is easily identified (especially in winter). Each pinna has a distinctive upward-pointing lobe near the base, variously described as a thumb, or toe, or ear. (The technical term is auricle, meaning ear-shaped lobe.)
The fertile fronds have a distinctive shape, with the sori-bearing pinna becoming shorter, narrower, and more widely spaced on the upper portion of the fronds:
sori on underside
crozier in July