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Royal Fern

Osmunda regalis

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Plant Profile

Osmundaceae (Royal Fern)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
2 metres tall
Bogs, cliffs, ditches, fens, fields, floodplains, gardens, marshes, meadows, mountains, riverbanks, riversides, sea cliffs, swamps, waterside, wetland, woodland.
Ferns reproduce by means of spores. The spores appear in flower spikes and are golden brown in colour. The spores appear from June to August.
A majestic and distinctive-looking perennial fern usually growing no taller than 1.2 metres. Pinnate fronds with oblong leaflets. The Royal Fern can be seen from April to November. Sometimes occurs as a garden escape.
The Royal Fern does not have a distinctive aroma. Unlike some plants or flowers known for their fragrances, Royal Ferns are not generally associated with any noticeable scent. The appeal of Royal Ferns lies more in their visual aesthetics and the lush, feathery appearance of their fronds rather than any aromatic qualities.
Other Names:
Blooming Fern, Bog Onion, Buckhorn Brake, Common Flowering Fern, Ditch Fern, Flower Fern, Herb Christopher, Hog Onion, Kidney Fern, King Fern, Osmund Royal, Osmund the Waterman, Regal Fern, Royal Osmund Fern, Rusty Fern, Water Fern.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Other Information


Osmunda regalis, also known as royal fern or flower fern, is a large and imposing species of fern that is native to North America, Europe, and Asia.

This fern is typically a perennial fern that can grow up to 4-6 ft tall and 2-3 ft wide. The fronds of O. regalis are large and bipinnate, which means that the fronds are divided into many small leaflets or pinnae, which are then further divided into smaller segments or pinnules. The leaves are dark green and glossy on the upper surface, and they are covered in rusty-brown scales on the lower surface. The fertile fronds, which produce spores, are distinguishable by their long, narrow, and spiky appearance. The rhizomes (underground stems) are thick and fibrous, and they help to anchor the fern in place.

Royal fern prefers moist, rich soils and partial to full shade, and it is commonly found in wetland habitats such as bogs, swamps, and along the banks of streams and rivers. It is considered an important food source for several species of wildlife. It is also a popular ornamental plant due to its large size and attractive foliage, and it can be grown in gardens, along borders, or as a specimen plant.

This fern is hardy in USDA zones 4-8, and it is relatively easy to grow if given suitable conditions. O. regalis is not considered as threatened species and it is commonly available commercially.


The Royal Fern, also known by its scientific name Osmunda regalis, is a magnificent plant that has been admired for its ornamental beauty and environmental benefits for centuries. This perennial fern is native to Europe, Asia, and North America and can be found in wetlands, swamps, and along the banks of streams and rivers.

Appearance and Characteristics

The Royal Fern is a large, herbaceous fern that can reach heights of up to six feet. Its fronds, or leaves, are long and feathery, with each frond consisting of numerous small, delicate leaflets. The leaves are a bright, lustrous green and can be up to four feet long. In the autumn, the fronds turn a vibrant yellow color before they die back in the winter.

One of the most unique features of the Royal Fern is its reproductive structure. The plant produces spores that are held in spore-bearing structures known as sporangia, which are clustered on the underside of the fertile fronds. These structures are protected by a membranous covering known as an indusium, which breaks open when the spores are mature, allowing them to be dispersed by the wind.

Ecological and Cultural Significance

The Royal Fern is an important plant for wetland ecosystems, as it provides shelter and habitat for many species of wildlife, including birds, reptiles, and amphibians. The plant's dense root system also helps to stabilize soil and prevent erosion, while its ability to absorb excess nutrients can help to improve water quality in wetland areas.

In addition to its ecological significance, the Royal Fern has also played an important role in human culture and history. In medieval Europe, the plant was believed to have magical properties and was often used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments. Its dried fronds were also used as packing material for delicate objects, such as china and glassware, due to their strength and durability.

Today, the Royal Fern is primarily grown as an ornamental plant in gardens and landscaping. Its striking appearance and hardy nature make it a popular choice for wetland restoration projects, as well as for adding a touch of elegance to water features and ponds.

Growing and Care

The Royal Fern is a relatively easy plant to grow, but it does require specific growing conditions to thrive. It prefers moist, acidic soils and partial to full shade, making it an ideal choice for wetland and woodland gardens. It can also tolerate a range of soil types, including sandy or clay soils, as long as they are well-draining.

When planting, it is important to space the plants at least two to three feet apart to allow for adequate air circulation and growth. Water regularly to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged, and fertilize with a slow-release, organic fertilizer in the spring.

Pruning is generally not necessary for the Royal Fern, but dead or damaged fronds can be removed in the winter or early spring. Propagation can be done by dividing the plant in the spring, taking care to keep the root system intact.


The Royal Fern has several cultivars available in the market, each with a unique set of characteristics. Some of the popular cultivars of Osmunda regalis include 'Cristata', 'Purpurascens', and 'Variegata'.

'Cristata' is a distinctive cultivar of the Royal Fern, known for its unique fronds with crested tips. These fronds create a striking focal point in a garden, and can be grown in partial to full shade. 'Purpurascens' is another cultivar of the Royal Fern, which has bronze-colored young fronds that gradually turn green as they mature. This cultivar thrives in full shade and moist soil.

'Variegata' is a cultivar that features green and creamy-white striped fronds, adding a striking contrast to any garden. It grows best in partial to full shade and moist soil, and is a popular choice for adding color to shady areas.

The Royal Fern has several medicinal properties, and has been used for centuries to treat various ailments. The roots and rhizomes of the plant contain tannins, flavonoids, and other compounds that have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and diuretic properties. They have been used to treat kidney and bladder disorders, gastrointestinal problems, and respiratory ailments.

The Royal Fern also has cultural significance in various mythologies and folklore. In Irish folklore, the plant was associated with the fairy queen, who was believed to live among the ferns. In Native American culture, the plant was used in ceremonies and was believed to have healing powers.

The Royal Fern is a magnificent plant that has both practical and cultural significance. Its stunning appearance, ease of care, and environmental benefits make it an excellent addition to any garden or wetland restoration project, while its medicinal and cultural significance make it a plant of great historical and cultural value.

In addition to its ecological and cultural significance, the Royal Fern has also been used in the culinary industry. The young, tender shoots of the plant are edible and have a slightly sweet, nutty flavor. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and are often used in salads, soups, and stews. In Japan, the young shoots are considered a delicacy and are known as zenmai.

However, it's important to note that the Royal Fern should only be consumed in small amounts, as it contains thiaminase, an enzyme that can break down thiamine (vitamin B1) in the body. This can lead to a thiamine deficiency, which can cause serious health problems.

The Royal Fern is also an important component in traditional basket weaving. The strong, flexible stems of the plant were used to weave baskets, mats, and other household items. In some cultures, the plant was also used to make brooms and thatched roofs.

Due to its hardy nature and ornamental appeal, the Royal Fern has become a popular choice for landscaping and restoration projects around the world. The plant's extensive root system can help to prevent erosion and improve water quality, making it an excellent choice for wetland restoration projects. It can also be grown in garden beds, borders, and containers, and is an excellent choice for adding height and texture to a garden.

In conclusion, the Royal Fern is a versatile and valuable plant that has a long history of ecological, cultural, and practical uses. From its medicinal properties and culinary uses to its role in basket weaving and landscaping, the Royal Fern has a wide range of applications and benefits. Whether you're a gardener, environmentalist, or cultural enthusiast, the Royal Fern is a plant that is sure to impress and inspire.

30 Royal Fern Facts

  1. Scientific Name: The Royal Fern is scientifically known as Osmunda regalis.

  2. Habitat: Royal Ferns thrive in damp, shady areas, commonly found in wet woodlands, bogs, and along stream banks.

  3. Size: These ferns can grow to an impressive height of 5 to 6 feet, making them one of the larger fern species.

  4. Distinctive Foliage: Royal Ferns are recognized for their unique bipinnate fronds, giving them a feathery appearance.

  5. Deciduous Nature: They are deciduous ferns, meaning they shed their leaves annually, typically during the fall.

  6. Circumboreal Distribution: Royal Ferns are found in various parts of the Northern Hemisphere, including Europe, Asia, and North America.

  7. Reproduction: They reproduce through spores, which are produced on the undersides of the fertile fronds.

  8. Ancient Species: Royal Ferns are ancient plants with a lineage dating back to the time of dinosaurs, making them living fossils.

  9. Ecosystem Importance: They contribute to ecosystem health by providing habitat and food for various insects, birds, and small mammals.

  10. Medicinal Uses: Some cultures historically used extracts from Royal Ferns for medicinal purposes, although modern usage is limited.

  11. Ornamental Plant: Due to their striking appearance, Royal Ferns are popular as ornamental plants in gardens and landscaping.

  12. Shade Tolerance: These ferns are well-adapted to shaded environments and can be cultivated successfully in areas with limited sunlight.

  13. Sporangia Structure: The sporangia, or spore cases, are clustered in brown, fertile fronds, providing a distinctive contrast to the green sterile fronds.

  14. Fiddleheads: Like many ferns, Royal Ferns produce tightly coiled fiddleheads as they emerge in the spring, gradually unfurling into mature fronds.

  15. Soil Preference: They prefer moist, acidic to neutral soils, often growing near water sources.

  16. Seasonal Changes: The color of Royal Ferns can change throughout the seasons, with vibrant green in the growing season and a golden hue in the fall.

  17. Wildlife Shelter: The dense foliage of Royal Ferns provides shelter for various wildlife, offering a safe haven for insects and amphibians.

  18. Fern Allies: Despite their appearance, ferns are not true flowering plants; they belong to a group of plants known as "pteridophytes."

  19. Conservation: In some regions, Royal Ferns face threats from habitat loss and alterations to water flow, leading to conservation concerns.

  20. Adaptability: Royal Ferns have adapted to a variety of environments, from lowland forests to mountainous regions.

  21. Dramatic Landscape Feature: In large groups, Royal Ferns can create a dramatic and visually appealing landscape feature.

  22. Hybridization: Natural hybridization can occur between different Osmunda species, leading to variations in characteristics.

  23. Traditional Symbolism: Ferns, including the Royal Fern, have symbolized different things in various cultures, such as sincerity and magic.

  24. Ecosystem Restoration: Planting Royal Ferns is sometimes employed in wetland restoration projects to enhance biodiversity.

  25. Cultural Significance: In some societies, ferns, including the Royal Fern, have been associated with mythical stories and cultural beliefs.

  26. Slow Growth: Royal Ferns have a relatively slow growth rate, taking several years to reach maturity.

  27. Rhizomatous Growth: They spread through rhizomes, underground stems that give rise to new fern plants.

  28. Fern Spores: The tiny spores produced by Royal Ferns are crucial for their reproductive cycle, carried by wind to new locations.

  29. Indicators of Wetlands: Their presence in an area can indicate the health and moisture levels of a wetland ecosystem.

  30. Admired Foliage: The aesthetic appeal of Royal Ferns lies not only in their size but also in the graceful arrangement of their finely divided fronds.


Royal Ferns filmed at Foulshaw Moss in Cumbria on the 13th August 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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